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—let go, 'God is faithful'

by Paul Andell (WordAlone board member)

News: August 8, 2006

Back in the late 1980s, before I discovered more realistic goals for ministry, I was overextended, understaffed and headed for burnout at church and at home. photo of Paul AndellWith three Christmas Eve services scheduled, my wife made a reasonable request in her mind that I find someone to officiate on Christmas Day's service so that I could spend that morning with my family of four children.

I reluctantly agreed and contacted a second career man [Ed. Note: a person who went into the ministry after a first career in another profession] who had ably served as our seminarian in field education from the Philadelphia Seminary. Later he had been ordained into the then Lutheran Church in America and served an area congregation. For reasons of scriptural concern he had left his call recently and the newly formed ELCA and went onto the clergy roster with another Lutheran body. He was willing to come and, as he was known and trusted as a person of faith and a Lutheran, I didn't foresee a problem.

His name was announced in the bulletin as the upcoming Christmas presider. Somehow word reached the then bishop of my action. On Christmas Eve, I was startled to receive a phone call from him. He was emphatic that I could not allow this pastor to officiate at Holy Communion because we were not in fellowship with his church. Those were the rules. Pastoral care was not of primary concern to him. My Christmas morning was spent in church after all.

In my ministry and as a sometime community leader, I am continually analyzing my effectiveness as a leader and the leadership of others. Outside the authority of his office, which I believe was misplaced; I lost faith in the pastoral office of bishop that night. And, in successive windows of opportunity for us both, the affirmation I hoped for was never clear.

Included in my summer reading has been a helpful leadership piece written by Hans Finzel, excecutive director of Conservative Baptist International, an organization that has placed 650 missionaries in 64 countries. In his "The Ten Top Mistakes Leaders Make," he reflects on his growth in leadership through the pain of mistakes. The first five mistakes on his list are especially indicting and notable for those of us who service Christ's church, including bishops. The first mistake is a "Top Down Attitude," followed by "Putting Paperwork Before People Work." The next three lead off with "The Absence of Affirmation," then "Not Room for Mavericks" and "Dictatorship in Decision-making."

During my pastorate of 30 years in Philadelphia I have ministered to hundreds of Roman Catholics whose church was more invested in gate keeping than in affirming them as persons in whom God delights. I have also spent these years battling a mindset among the vast numbers of the unchurched baby boomers that the Church does not have a message that can be trusted.

The ironic thing is that I have labored increasingly, as a baby boomer myself, in an institution and with a bureaucracy that I often do not trust. As leaders in church and community, we can all benefit from the insights of a Finzel who, like us, has "been there, done that" and reminds us in his sixth mistake "Refusing to Relax, Let Go" that God is faithful. Our trust is, finally, in Him for the sake of the Gospel and the edification of His people.