Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us from God the Father, and from the living Jesus Christ, the Father’s Son, through the truth and love made known to us in God’s Holy Spirit.
Over the last few months we have been discovering together ways in which we, as a rural, multi-point parish, can build vitality and find hope for our future in spreading the gospel message. In doing so, we have looked at some key areas of vital ministry of rural congregations; prayer, worship, evangelism, and caring ministries, following the chapters in the book Discovering Hope: Building Vitality in Rural Congregations (2001) by David Poling-Goldenne and L. Shannon Jung. This month we look to begin to tie all of these ministries together.
In order for all of these ministries to happen within a vital rural congregation, there is one underlying need that is of utmost importance. It may be obvious to some people what that need is, but maybe not in the way that one would expect. In order for these ministries to occur and bring vitality to a rural congregations, or any congregation for that matter, there needs to be a strong sense of leadership. Now, when many congregations, and according to authors Poling-Goldenne and Jung, think about strong leadership, they generally think of the one person who has historically been seen as the primary leader; that is the pastor. Fifty some years ago that was the way things were done, especially in small rural congregations; the pastor was the one “driving the tractor,” borrowing language from Poling-Goldenne and Jung. And to tell the truth, this is still found in some churches to this day. In fact when I first got to Medina and Streeter almost three years ago, I remember hearing language like this, “Oh Pastor, it is whatever you want to do.”
However, what the study done, that this book is the byproduct of, found out is that the congregations that found themselves as vital rural congregations where viewing leadership in a different way than this top down approach where it is the “Pastor Show,” and the church just follows suit. What these congregations came to realize is that when they shifted their style of leadership to a more team approach, they were able to move away from just being able to maintain the church to being able to do ministry as a church. As Poling-Goldenne and Jung state, “Leadership is like a dance in which someone can take the lead sometimes and follow at other times;” and again, “In this model of shared leadership, people pass the baton of leadership back and forth to each other” (85).
Now, it is not like these churches just pulled this idea randomly out of thin air and ran with it. No, they came to this model of leadership by looking to Scripture and learning from the model of leadership that Jesus himself demonstrated. This pattern of leadership is modeled on Jesus and his ministry and thus seek his will in their ministries through prayer, Bible Study, worship, preaching, and committees or ministry teams, the very thing vital congregations are trying to do. “These congregations embrace images of Jesus as servant leader. Jesus loved others in life-transforming ways. Trained others by employing a multitude of creative teaching strategies” (86).
When leadership is done in this way, as these congregations found out, effective leaders where then able to cast a vision of mission that others were able to get on board with, and initiate change, not for changes sake, but for the sake of the gospel. They were then able to manage conflict, which undoubtedly will arise whenever undergoing any kind of change, and where able to do so with the foundation of prayer and study.
In this model of leadership, the pastor steps out of the way in order to let leadership happen, while still being a key source of mentorship, training, and support. As Poling-Goldenne and Jung state, “When pastors lead others to a fuller appreciation of their gifts and empower them to take on spiritual and programmatic leadership, either within or outside of the faith community, the whole congregation grows together” (87).
As the pastor of the churches of the Medina-Streeter Lutheran Parish, this is a pattern of leadership that I have been trying to model, as best I can, but it is going to take more than just me in order for this to become a full reality for us. From where I sit now, I know that some of the pieces are already there for this to fully happen. We already have great leaders within our churches. My challenge to all of us is to continue to encourage each other, using our own individual gifts, in order for us to fully reach our potential as a vital rural multipoint parish, constantly looking to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ as true leader of us all.
May the living Christ be with you always!