As I continue to make my way through this first year and work with individuals and congregations alike, it occurs to me that it would be really helpful if all of us who are part of a congregation, whether as a rostered leader or congregational member, could agree to a basic set of principles. Of course we have the whole of Scripture, Confessions and Tradition to turn to, but there are just a few fundamental behaviors that, if we all abided by them, would save a whole lot of pain and effort. And would leave the synod staff with a lot less to do.
I would appreciate your thoughts on what such a list would include. It would be helpful if we had a Bill of Rights and Responsibilities posted in every congregation of the Nebraska Synod, and reminded ourselves of it every time we gather in Assembly, seat a new Council, welcome new members, or begin any effort. What needs to be modified, removed or added to the following?
We, the members of the Body of Christ, commit to recognize and fulfill the following Rights and Responsibilities:
1. To communicate with and not about. It’s impossible to estimate how many difficult situations arise because we don’t talk to each other–or how many difficult situations get worse because we talk about each other, instead of directly to each other.
2. To have clear expectations, and to be given helpful feedback about them. Whether a pastor, a Council member, a Sunday School teacher, a worship leader or a volunteer, all of us step into expectations. We need to be clear about what those expectations are, and helpful and honest in giving feedback about them.
3. To be in prayer. Too often prayer is an agenda item we just check off, and not a life-giving conversation with God in which we all participate. Congregational (and individual!) vitality and prayer are linked. Every event, every effort, every day should begin and end in prayer.
4. To be in the Word. Daily reading of the Bible, regular opportunities–long- and short- term–for Bible study, and sermons filled with the Word should be markers of our lives together. Pastors and parishioners should demand as much of each other.
5. To learn, endlessly. Lifelong learning is a proven element of mission vitality in congregations, and a contributor to health and happiness in individual lives. Congregations have a duty to insist that their rostered leaders make regular use of their Continuing Education time and funds–and rostered leaders have a duty to expect as much of congregational members.
6. To live gratefully in God’s abundance. We are in bondage to the consumerist definition of “enough,” which is “more than I have right now.” It puts us in a perpetual condition of scarcity. Faith recognizes what we have and from Whom it comes. It lets us get beyond “Can we afford it?” to “What is God calling us to?”
7. To be healthy. Physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, social and financial health are all intertwined, and are directly related to healthy boundaries in our daily schedules and daily choices. Making–and honoring–decisions about those boundaries is critical. And making use of professionals in each of those areas should simply be expected, whether it’s an annual physical check-up, an occasional visit with a counselor, a season of discernment with a spiritual director, or a conversation with a financial advisor.
8. To forgive and be forgiven. Painful as it sometimes is, acknowledging our own errors and apologizing for them is often the shortest–and healthiest–route between a mess we’re in and the healthy resolution we could achieve. And forgiving others sets us free from a limiting past to a limitless future. “To err is human. To acknowledge error is exceptional.”
9. To enter worship with expectancy, ready to encounter the living God. Thriving congregations are marked by two elements of worship, and they aren’t the music or the preaching. They’re a sense of anticipation and the experience of God’s presence. Leaders and worshipers alike are responsible for both.
10. To die. Daily. Experiencing these rights and fulfilling these responsibilities are all possible when we let the demands of our pride and the shame of our sin die a watery death, and rise up anew to live as the baptized people of God. These are not high-sounding theological terms. This is what we are called to do, and we need to be more honest in holding one another accountable to it.
I am eager for the collective wisdom of this community to help draft this list. What do “We the people” have to say?