Monday, April 5, 2010

Missouri District Final Report on Zion Congregation


Final Report

April 5, 2010

Zion, Poplar Bluff, MO

Rev. Gene Wyssmann

 

I wish to begin by thanking those members of the Reconciliation Committee who have, and who continue to work tirelessly, to bring peace and unity to Zion Lutheran Church.  May God continue to bless their efforts!  I also thank each of the congregation members who have prayed, worked, and provided input to improve the ministry of Zion congregation.

 

THE PROCESS:

 

            The conversation to work toward reconciliation for Zion began in 2007 when the District President sent a Vice President to visit with the pastor and congregation. 

 

            In 2008 Pastors Dissen and Wollenburg met with the congregation in an effort to bring about reconciliation.

 

            Many contacts and letters of concerns were sent through 2008 -2009 to the Missouri District office.

 

            Beginning on May 30, 2009, President Mirly and Pr. Wyssmann met with a small group of people to begin addressing the issues.  From that meeting the reconciliation committee was formed.

 

            The next meeting was held on June 30 with the reconciliation committee at which time they prioritized the issues of concern they had identified.  In order of priority:

            1. Unity of the congregation.

            2. A more loving church

            3. Peace

            4. Genuine Lutheranism

            5. Aloofness of leadership

            6. Church attendance

            7. Outreach

            8. Inviting to the public

Out of this meeting the reconciliation group was to engage the members of the congregation about their feelings on these issues.

 

            An intervening event, in my opinion, challenged efforts toward reconciliation when a motion was brought to the July voters’ assembly to ask the pastor to place his name on a call list. This took place before the reconciliation committee could effectively begin their work.  I believe that this caused a lingering sense of an unresolved issue until the voters resolved the issue at the subsequent voters meeting three months later.

 

            The next meeting was held on Aug. 4, and it was an open meeting to congregational members.  An estimated 70–80 people were in attendance, and they gave voice to the deep division within the congregation between “those who favor” the ministry of the pastor, and “those who do not favor” the ministry of the pastor.  Each group was passionate and vocal in their position.  From that meeting, it was determined that the reconciliation group would continue their efforts.

 

            At the subsequent reconciliation group meetings, efforts were focused on gathering the congregation together in cottage meetings, to discuss issues about the priority of the congregation.  Since that time they have been working to enhance fellowship in the congregation, begin a choir, and work to improve the physical properties.

 

            In the past several months repeated requests have been made to the congregation members, to set up one on one visits with the Pr. Reed, with Pr. Wyssmann serving as a facilitator of the conversation.  One individual was willing to have that conversation, but no one else came forward to take advantage of this opportunity for reconciliation.  Additionally, one small group meeting with Pr. Reed, Pr. Henrichs (circuit counselor), an elder, and five persons with concerns about the pastor’s ministry was held. This meeting brought up no new issues, and reaffirmed the division in the congregation.

 

            There have been a total of eleven visits by District staff since May 2009, with over 4000 miles traveled to and from Poplar Bluff. 

 

ISSUES:

 

            The primary division in the congregation focuses on the pastoral ministry.  For sake of description, the two groups are identified as “those who favor” the pastor’s ministry, and “those who do not favor” the pastor’s ministry.  The primary concern that was expressed by “those who do not favor” is that during the time of Pr. Reed’s ministry, worship attendance and financial support for the congregation has declined. “Those who do not favor” the pastor’s ministry express that the only thing that will bring about a change in the welfare of the congregation, in their opinion, is for the pastor to leave.  This concern is based upon the pastoral style that they perceive as being focused more on law than gospel, and they believe that offensive statements and actions have alienated people from the congregation.

 

            By contrast, “those who favor” the pastor’s ministry, have expressed no concerned over the pastoral style, and have expressed appreciation for the pastor’s ministry among them.

 

            Perhaps a point of clarification would be helpful to understand who has the authority to issue and to rescind a divine call.  That authority rests with the congregation.  Just as the congregation issues the call for a pastor to serve them in the Holy Ministry, so it is only the congregation that has the authority to rescind that call.  Districts serve only in an advisory capacity.  According to the doctrine of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, there are three reasons for which a pastor might be dismissed from service.  In each case, charges need to be officially brought forward, and legitimate proof must be demonstrated and substantiated, before action can be taken by a congregation to rescind a pastor’s call from office.  The three reasons for dismissal are the teaching of false doctrine, living an immoral lifestyle, and willful negligence of duty.  Although many concerns by “those who do not favor” the pastor’s ministry have been expressed, nothing has been clearly shown that would give cause for dismissal based on the three reasons for dismissal previously stated.       

 

            My opinion is that the congregation, through its established decision making gathering, the voters’ assembly, has brought resolution to the issue as to whether or not they desire for the pastor to continue in his ministry among them. At the Oct. 11, 2009 voters’ assembly, the congregation with nearly a 2/3 majority, voted that the pastor not place his name on a call list.  A troubling concern is that while a definitive decision has been made with regard to the issue, reconciliation has not been reached, reconciliation being a mutual repenting and forgiving of one another, that brings a genuine sense of peace and unity to the congregation.  While the issue has been resolved, the division continues.

 

MOVING FORWARD:

 

Study God’s Word together and individually.  Be faithful in worship and Bible Study.  Search the Scriptures and discuss our Lutheran Confessions in light of God’s Word.

 

Communication is a major concern.  There is a sense by some that those in leadership positions are trying to “control” the congregation.  The perception seems to be that in the past, leaders have made decisions, but those decisions have not always been clearly communicated to the general congregation.  Particularly in situations where there is a lack of confidence and trust, it becomes even more important that communication is clear.  Clear communication at Zion would be a priority.

 

            It would also be suggested that those who are in decision making positions would be very intentional about presenting issues and seeking input and discussion about those issues prior to presenting them to the voters’ assembly for a decision.  There is a sense among some in the congregation that leaders make decisions and “spring” them on the congregation without advance notification.  For the sake of moving forward in peace and unity, it would be important that full disclosure and discussion take place prior to decision making in order to promote harmony.

 

            One of the priorities listed by the reconciliation committee was to promote genuine Lutheranism. We need to be clear in communicating the teachings of our Lutheran heritage, and in order that  the gospel of Jesus Christ is presented in a winsome way, it is important to be clear about the basis of what we believe, teach, and proclaim.  Some confusion has been expressed by the members of Zion as to whether the congregation is founded upon the Holy Scriptures or whether it is founded upon the Lutheran Confessions, the Catechism, etc. While both are true it is very important to be clear that we are Christians who follow the inerrant and inspired Scriptures, the Bible (Sola Scriptura), and that the Lutheran Confessions are taught by us, because they are a clear exposition of what the Scriptures proclaim. Some have expressed concern that it seems Zion follows the Lutheran Confessions more than Scripture itself.  It is critically important that people clearly hear that our LCMS is built solidly upon the Word of God.  

 

            A major concern in the past few years has been the decline in worship attendance and financial support for the ministry.  An important part of moving forward would be to refocus efforts on reaching out to the community with the gospel of Jesus Christ, and an intentional focus on Christian stewardship would be most appropriate. It would be recommended that the congregation develop an intentional plan for ministry to encompass spiritual growth, outreach, service, and improved stewardship.                

 

Finally, work tirelessly toward true reconciliation.  There is resolution to the issue, but reconciliation still is needed.  Divisions happen in the church.  The Apostle Paul was clear about that when in I Corinthians 1:11-13a he said “My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, ‘I follow Paul’; another, ‘I follow Apollos’; another, ‘I follow Cephas’; still another, ‘I follow Christ’. Is Christ divided?” 

 

People will always have different opinions and different points of view, and although it is important to share those differing ideas, often when given voice they will tend to separate and divide.  It is important to be mindful that the one thing that brings God’s people together is the common mercy and grace that sinful people have received through our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.  When people focus on each other, it is easy to see the differences, but if we focus our attention on God’s Word and “fix our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith” Heb. 12:2, then we will see the One who has united us in His suffering, death, and resurrection.   Study the Scriptures together.  Talk with one another.  Discuss the issues that cause division.  Repent when you are wrong, and forgive one another, just as for Christ’s sake, God has forgiven you. 

 

Paul writes, “I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.” I Cor. 1:10

 

Again Paul writes, “If you have any encouragement from being united in Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.”  Phil. 2:1-2

 

Respectfully submitted in Christ Jesus,

Rev. Gene A. Wyssmann

Assistant to the President for Family Life & Youth, and Congregational Health