What’s it All About?

Four years ago a dedicated, discerning group of six members of Grace Lutheran worked together to produce a document titled, “Leadership and Communication: Toward a Congregational Conversation.”  Four years later conversation continues.  This is a good thing.  Some who have been here much longer than I may be tiring of the conversation, wondering where it will eventually lead, or if it will ever lead anywhere other than where we are now.  Others who, like me, have just recently entered into this conversation find it intriguing.  I am grateful that people care so much about this community of faith that they are willing to talk, argue, despair, hope, endure, believe and participate.

More than four years ago, leaders at Grace began to explore new models for ministry and discern what might bring new life and new directions to our mission as well as sustain important traditions of the past.  As far as I can tell, from my new-comer status, a bold interplay of ideas, energy, frustrations, creativity, leavings and entries ensued.  Much conversation and action has revolved and continues to revolve around what the document refers to as a permission giving model as well as an attempt to restore some of the more helpful structural foundational pieces unintentionally lost along the way.

At last month’s Church Council Retreat the phrase, “permission giving,” surfaced in some new ways.  Since that time, the following thoughts have crossed my mind.  Permission that is given has its source in the giver.  Who or what is it that gives one permission?  Also, what kind of permission is sought within a community of faith?  How is that different than other types of permission one might seek, e.g., to provide medical treatment, to enter a foreign country, or to board a ship.

As Christians is it not our baptism that gives permission, that authorizes us to freely share our gifts?  It is in baptism that “we are united with all the baptized in the one body of Christ, anointed with the gift of the Holy Spirit, and joined in God’s mission for the life of the world.”  (ELW, p. 227)  I find it helpful that the word, ‘mission’ is contained within the word, ‘permission.’  Through our baptism, we are given permission for mission – for that which gives life to us, to the congregation and to the world.

Yet, baptism does not happen outside of or apart from the church.  Perhaps this is where that word, ‘accountability,’ comes into play.  Our permissioning, our commissioning, takes place within the context of the church which sends us out into mission.  We are accountable to our brothers and sisters with whom we live and share mission.  When I responded to a call to serve the church as a pastor, it took more than me giving myself permission to pursue such a call.  In the ELCA, it takes a Candidacy Committee, theological education, certain practical experiences and training, seminary faculty, and, finally, a call from a congregation.  These things all provide elements of affirmation and accountability along the way.

Are our systems of permission giving and accountability perfect?  Of course not.  Imperfection, however, does not deter us from pursuing that to which God has called us all.  In the church it is also important to remember that not only does our baptism and the congregation as a whole grant permission to do certain things, but, at times, we also need permission not to do things.  It is right, proper, and healthy to sometimes refrain from doing.  When was the last time someone gave you permission to not do something?

Below are some words and phrases, some of which I heard at our Council Retreat, that I associate with:
1.    Permission giving (empowerment, collaboration, mutual invitation, service), and
2.    Accountability (one’s place within and relationship to the whole, responsibility, respect, reverence)

Now, it’s your turn to think and to talk – to engage and be engaged in conversation.  What’s it all about?  How is it that both permission giving and accountability strengthen the mission of Grace Lutheran?

Eager to hear your thoughts,
Pastor Netsie