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Partners in ministry

How called workers and lay leaders can work better together in God’s kingdom.

Are you kidding me? Absolutely not. No way. I am too busy and have no time. I am surely not qualified for this assignment.

These were my initial thoughts when my pastor asked me to present with him at the WELS leadership conference in Chicago, Ill., in January 2023. I mean, let’s be serious. What is a Presbyterian-raised layperson supposed to add to a WELS conference on leadership? My sinful nature thought up many reasons not to do this. However, I needed at least to listen to my pastor before formulating the reasons to say no.

“Okay,” I said. “What’s the topic and thoughts on the presentation?”

My pastor explained that the plan would be to “joint” present on the topic of pastor/lay leader relationships and working together. Please note the quotation marks around the word joint. Considering that most pastors like to talk, I thought this might just work out. Put a couple slides together, give my opinion on my experiences, and call it a day. After a long discussion, we decided to put together a presentation: “Ministry Partners—A Blessed Privilege.” Our plan was to show called workers what lay leaders expect of them and share with lay leaders what called workers expect of them. After 30 years of working with pastors, vicars, staff ministers, preschool directors, and teachers, I have some opinions.

Before we start, here’s a little background on me. My family and I have been members of Christ Our Savior, Columbia, Tenn., since 1992. All our kids were baptized and confirmed at Christ Our Savior, and two have been married here. I am an engineer and lead a service organization for a large health care company. I have held leadership positions at the church, such as youth coordi-nator and evangelism chairman. Currently, I serve as congregational chairman. I also serve as the financial chairman on WELS’ Synodical Council.

Exectations for lay leaders

The Lord set up his church to be managed by called workers in partnership with the members of the church. In my experience, we need to hold ourselves to certain expectations as lay leaders:

  • Support your called workers—with prayer, programs, facilities, and money. Be a leader in your congregation to support the people called to spread God’s Word. This includes a strong compensation plan!
  • Be an evangelist—both with the gospel and with your church’s mission. As a leader, you must be a positive force in your congregation. Many times, our sinful natures divide us, and the devil tries to divert our attention away from what is important. Our job as leaders is to help refocus all our efforts on the gospel and its spread throughout the world.
  • Be open to change. This expectation is for lay leaders and pastors—and it’s one that isn’t always a strength in WELS. How many times have we heard in a voters’, congregational, or council meeting that the idea presented will not work? Excuses then follow. God’s Word does not and will not change, but the way we run our churches can change in many ways. We need to be open in our thoughts and discussions.
  • Be a leader in church attendance, Bible study, and other church activities. How can you be a church leader and not lead in these areas? This is not done out of obligation but as a loving response of your faith.

Expectations for pastors/called workers

Following God’s directives in the Bible, congregations set expectations for their called workers. A broad set of expectations is even included in the call document. Called workers need to adhere to these expectations. Here are some important ones:

  • Preach, teach, and spread the gospel. Call me Mr. Obvious, but this must be the first expectation we have. We cannot waver on this.
  • Foster and train lay leaders. Yes, this is your job. Ephesians 4:11-13 is clear that it is part of your role. It is easy for pastors and called workers not to foster leaders. That can lead to inefficient church operations and less involvement by lay members. Have a plan to build and create strong leaders and then empower them to do their role. Empowerment encourages lay leaders and helps the church do more.
  • Ensure the church has a strong ministry plan. Empower your lay leaders to create a ministry plan, but review it and modify it regularly. The church cannot be led if you do not know where you are going and what you want to do in the future.
  • Create a partnership culture. This is NOT the pastor’s church. It is the members of the congregation’s church. To lead a church effectively, you must create consensus and a culture of partnership. We are all in this together; let’s not let the devil divide us. The key to this is strong communication between called workers, lay leaders, and the entire congregation. It is everyone’s job, but creating this culture lies in the lap of the pastor.

Lessons learned

Along the way, I have learned a few things about the partnership between lay leaders and called workers in running a congregation.

  • The church is not a corporation and should not be run like one. I have experienced this many times and have set back our church because of my inability to learn this lesson and change. Churches must be led and run with love, consensus, and always a focus on the gospel. We all need to check our egos and humbly do the Lord’s work.
  • Pastors are generally not good delegators. They want to make sure the work gets done, so instead of creating leaders, empowering them, and letting them do the work, they do it themselves. How many times have you seen a pastor cutting the lawn or cleaning up before a church service? This is unacceptable. Lay leaders and the congregation must support their called workers so they can focus on preaching and teaching the gospel. Pastors must make sure they let go of nonessential work and empower their leaders.
  • Lay leaders need a push and encouragement. It is too easy for laypeople to say, “No, I am too busy,” when asked to do something. As lay leaders, we need a push. I encourage our pastors and called workers to continue to encourage us. Do not give up on us!

My intention here isn’t to make you feel guilty. My prayer is that you humbly look at yourself and evaluate your leadership against these principles. When I do this, I come up woefully short and feel disappointed in my leadership. My sin gets in the way and leads me in the wrong direction. Jealousy, an inability to recognize my own weaknesses, pride . . . the list goes on. But we have a Savior who paid for all these sins and makes us sinless.

So as leaders we need to get up off our knees and get to work doing the Lord’s work together with our partners.

Author: John Fowler
Volume 110, Number 11
Issue: November 2023

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This entry is part 14 of 16 in the series lutheran leadership

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