Geographic circuit congregations have the potential of being so much better together. As a pastoral pragmatist, I have been wondering why circuit churches didn’t collaborate intentionally. It seems like a simple idea, but the problem is complex.
First, I will list three problems I’ve observed. I will then offer three simple, though difficult to implement, solutions.
1. Pastors are competitive and insecure.
Ugh. It feels yucky to even speak. Yet, this has been my 15-year experience. There is a prideful place in every pastor’s heart, especially in growing urban and suburban communities, that truly believes his church should be the biggest and best in the geographic area. And (this is where it gets tough) we are easily insecure if our church isn’t growing and thriving. Some pastors even justify their lack of growth under the cloak of orthodoxy. It may sound like this: That pastor must be compromising theology in some way if his congregation is growing.
2. Circuit visitors are often not catalytic leaders able to inspire collaborative mission.
The LCMS Handbook (yes, you should dust it off) casts the vision of circuit forums and
convocations being utilized to inspire new mission and ministry within the geographic circuit. Unfortunately, catalytic leaders are often not chosen to be circuit visitors. In my doctoral research, I discovered that often the most passive pastors are chosen to be circuit visitors. Why? I believe subconsciously the pastors who nominate and select circuit visitors would rather their church not be challenged to innovate and collaborate for the sake of the lost. Again, few pastors would ever verbalize this reality, but qualitative observations and quantitative research tell a different story.
3. Geographic circuit congregations are too diverse (size and ministry philosophy) to collaborate.
I have heard some pastors argue for “affinity circuits” based on congregations of similar sizes. Informally, I think this already occurs in the LCMS through various organizations. Nonetheless, theology of place still matters. Churches in the same area, regardless of size, should deeply honor and respect the congregations in their geographic area. This is just a short list of the problems between circuit congregations. Let’s dream about solutions. Here are three possible solutions.
1. Pastors humbly and clearly articulate their gifts and gaps.
Not every pastor has the same gifts. Not every pastor has the entirety of gifts needed to engage their community with the gospel. This should necessitate every pastor raising up lay leaders to fill in their gaps. Yet, I truly believe all the gifts needed for amazing pastoral leadership are found at the circuit level.
I think it would sound like this. One pastor says, “I love starting new churches, but I struggle with sustaining existing churches. Deep discipleship is not my thing.” Another says, “I have a strong passion for seeing the baptized grow in faith, but I have no idea what to do with some of my entrepreneurial leaders who want to start new churches. Could we collaborate so I can help you develop your discipleship plan, and you help me invest in my future kingdom entrepreneurs?” If only it were that simple. A guy can dream, can’t he?
2. A circuit executive director helps the circuit visitor execute the shared circuit vision to reach their geographic area.
This is not a role currently recognized in the LCMS. It should be. I could not do my daily work without my executive director, Jack Kalleberg, taking my vision and moving it to execution. Imagine if circuit visitors eagerly brought a lay executive director to the table and encouraged every congregation to do the same. There are so many lay leaders, especially newly retired baby boomers, eager to be “at the table” and move vision to execution.
We should also use assessments (such as the Harrison Assessment) to help determine who is
the holistically and relationally healthiest pastor. This data should then be shared with circuit pastors in order to help them assess who to nominate. Better yet, the data should be shared with respective district leaders, who advise the pastors of whom they believe should be the circuit visitor. I know, Synod and District are advisory, but pastors could certainly use their advice, especially if data from a trusted assessment backed that advice. Click HERE to set up a chat with me to hear more about the Harrison Assessment.
3. Build scale around each congregation’s felt needs.
I know. This sounds like corporate America. It’s not. It would simply be good stewardship. Think about all of the “back office” needs that individual secretaries often take care of in small congregations: benefits, H.R., accounting, contracts, social media, marketing, etc. There are so many functions that smaller churches could receive if circuit congregations built a “back office” department for their circuit. The scaled quality of services provided to local congregations would be amazing!
All of this relies upon mutually beneficial relationships of trust. I have no “pipe dream” that these visions would occur quickly. Trust must be developed.
Healthy circuit visitors must be trained to view themselves as leaders in mission in their geography. Collaborative tests would need to be run. Build. Measure. Learn. Yet, I truly believe this is a journey worth taking…all for the sake of the lost.
Join the ULC as we seek to reimagine circuit congregations! uniteleadership.org