The Metropolitan Chicago Synod Assembly 2000 included a daylong leadership event in which pastors, lay delegates to the Assembly and other leaders of our congregational and institutional ministries were invited. As one of the members of the planning group for this daylong event, I would like to share our objectives and the reasons we ultimately chose the program that we offered. As I share my thoughts and personal evaluation, I emphasize that I do not speak for the planning team, but for myself.
Why Change At All?
One of the things that past Assemblies have offered to Assembly delegates and visitors in many and various ways were opportunities for practical growth and opportunities to learn about ministries. Typically these events lasted anywhere from 30 minutes to one hour. These proved fruitful for many people as they were able to bring ideas and excitement back to their own ministry settings. Thus, in addition to the business of the Synod which we attend to at a Synod Assembly, the Synod has found it beneficial to offer some education and growth opportunities for those leaders in attendance.
As the planners thought about this portion of the Assembly we realized that too often only the delegates to the Assembly attended these growth events. One objective of this year’s daylong event was to gather a larger and broader group of leaders within our Synod to participate in an event that would provide support for ministry in Jesus’ name and that would do so with more depth than can be achieved in a short presentation.
There were many appropriate topics to choose from that would fit such an event. We chose to raise up leadership, in order to thank, equip, inspire, and celebrate leaders through their ministries of discipleship development.
Why leadership development? I believe that leadership development is one of the keys to growing healthy and faithful ministries that honor God and serve the mission of the church. Why discipleship development? Growing faithful, knowledgeable, and active disciples is part of the mission of the Metropolitan Chicago Synod, and I am assuming,most of our congregational ministries.
Inviting leaders to give a day to leadership development is, in itself, an important way to thank and honor them. By inviting those who are leaders both formally and informally, we tell them that they are important to the fulfillment of the mission in their context and in the wider mission of the church. In my own context, I was able to affirm my leaders as I invited them and then thanked them for giving of themselves for a day devoted to God and their mission of serving God.
At Shepherd of the Lakes Church at which I am honored to serve, we believe that when we call people into ministry we need to help equip them with the tools necessary to fulfill their mission. We provide up-front training and equipping for those new to a ministry as well as monthly leadership equipping events for all leaders.
During the course of this daylong Synod Assembly event we sought to provide conversation and tools relating to the topic of discipleship development. We felt that one way to do this was to learn from a ministry leader who has had success in raising up faithful, knowledgeable, and active disciples. There are many ministries in the church at large that do this, but we decided to choose a ministry within the ELCA. We thus chose Michael Foss from Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Burnesville, Minnesota. Pastor Foss has a thriving ministry of discipleship development, and he is experienced in providing leadership development in this area.
We knew that offering one presenter for the entire day would preclude offering a broad variety of approaches to discipleship development. On the other hand, we also knew that a single presenter could share more depth of what his/her church does and why. All choices are limiting. Choosing a broad approach with little time results in diversity but no depth. Focusing on one thing for a daylong event results in depth without diversity. I believe that there are appropriate times for either and that there are also times for a compromise of the two.
In offering the event as we did, I believe that we gave our leaders the opportunity to see how one particular ministry sees the call to discipleship development and how that ministry goes about fulfilling the call in its context. It was my hope that this would provide insight, conversation, and self-evaluation of the ministries in which the gathered leaders of the Synod are engaged. I believe that when we give leaders the opportunity to see a ministry in-depth, those leaders can evaluate and grow their own ministries.
Leaders are inspired in many ways. Hearing the call to lead a ministry of purpose is inspiring in itself. Calling leaders together to learn, grow, and strategize about discipleship development is inspiring. Seeing and hearing about a particular ministry can inspire others to the possibilities for their own ministries. Hearing stories of successful discipleship ministries by a leader who is faithful and passionate can bring hope and courage to leaders who work tirelessly themselves and who need to see other visions for carrying out the mission of the church.
Inspiration also comes through honoring and worshipping God. Thus, we offered worship in the form of praise songs, prayer, and closing worship. Since the prayer and worship opportunities offered on Friday of the Assembly and at the Service of Ordination on Friday evening were of a more traditional nature, the planning committee felt it would be beneficial to offer a different style of worship at the Saturday event. I realize that there are numerous styles of worship in addition to traditional and contemporary offered up to honor and praise God by our churches. By choosing a particular contemporary style for the Saturday leadership event we were aware that we were not offering up other worship styles such as traditional, contemplative, gospel music-based, harder-edged (post-modern worship) or those originating in many of the other cultures that are represented in God’s creation. I hope and expect that those styles would be offered up in future events since each style offers an invitation and a pathway to inspire us to honor and praise God!
I also believe that the events of the day will inspire critical conversation among the gathered leaders. Not only is this a way to continue to equip the leaders, but the process of conversation can be inspirational in itself as it moves people to share their hearts, their critiques and their ideas for successful ministry.
Celebrate God & God’s Leaders
By gathering leaders within our Synod we not only celebrate God in worship. We also celebrate the leaders who have gathered to learn, grow, and serve God, and we celebrate the mission of discipleship development that we have been called to lead. By hearing from a leader the insights gained in his ministries, we celebrate that ministry. By continuing the conversation about ministry in our own context we celebrate God and the call to our own mission.
Some Final Thoughts
The hardworking, faithful and passionate leaders in the ministries of the Metropolitan Chicago Synod are too important not to thank, equip, inspire, and celebrate. I feel that one of the ways we can do this is with a daylong event connected to the business gathering of the Synod Assembly. Judging from some of the responses that I have personally received from leaders, both lay and clergy, I feel that many people were served by this event. God was honored. Conversation was initiated. Ideas were generated.
Did the event serve everyone? No. Can any one event serve everyone? No. Should we take a day each year to gather leaders for growth and development? Yes. I believe that gathering our leaders once a year for some type of growth and learning event is an important opportunity that the Metropolitan Chicago Synod should provide. Should the same program be offered? No. We did that, and there remain many more topics and concepts to be offered up that will assist our leaders in the fulfillment of their mission.