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Leadership on the Line: Navigating the Diversity of Ministry

Healthy leaders function on the line. Unwise leaders step over the line. Cowardly leaders never approach the line

If the image of a leader “walking the tightrope” makes more sense to you, feel free to use that image. I’m simply afraid of heights and would never risk my life to walk on a tightrope. The metaphor of a line feels much safer for me and my height-adverse friends. Yet, the line is no less dangerous. Let me explain. 

Some of the ULC podcasts (Lead Time and American Reformation) and blogs live on the line. Some of them may risk crossing the line. Here is where the nuance of the line metaphor must be discussed. All of our lines are roughly different due to the varying nature of risk acceptance and avoidance. 

My general assessment of life as a leader in the LCMS is this. The world has radically changed. Secularism and neo-paganism have taken root in our culture. Following Jesus is not popular in the mainstream—not by a long shot. No one denies this. What is the line in this context? Doing whatever it takes by the Spirit’s power to not compromise the truths of our Christian faith as grounded in Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions (the entirety of The Book of Concord) and take the Gospel winsomely to the lost. 

That sounds simple enough. It is anything but simple. Why? Our contexts are so radically different. Urban ministry is radically different from rural ministry. Suburban ministry is radically different from small-town ministry. Cross-cultural and inter-cultural ministry are radically different from the homogeneous nature of the majority of our LCMS congregations. 

Here is where leadership along the line gets messy. The line in one cultural context could mean a balancing act to return to the truths of our Lutheran confessions. This balancing act rejects heresy—a very good thing to do. The line in another cultural context could mean a balancing act to make sure the local church realizes she exists to carry out God’s mission to get all of His kids back. This balancing act rejects legalism—also, a very good thing to do. 

Much of the ULC’s content is identifying an LCMS cultural imbalance toward legalism around things that are adiaphora. See the ongoing conversation around pastoral formation. Nonetheless, I confess that sometimes I am not as charitable toward my “residential only” brothers in the LCMS as I should be. I step across the line. I humbly acknowledge that those connected to leading our seminaries have more to lose than me, a simple parish pastor frustrated with the current pastoral formation reality. Those who agree with my assertions often have less to lose. I pray my brothers and sisters connected to our institutions can forgive me. 

At the same time, having been somewhat removed from the advent of contemporary worship in the LCMS, it is easier for me to objectively stand back and admit that some of the songs we sang were not theologically sound. Forsaking Lutheran liturgy for the sake of being “trendy” was not a good choice. Some in the LCMS warned that we were approaching the heretical line. Thank you. 

You can see how leading adaptive change in an ever-changing context is a messy endeavor, indeed. What is the answer?  Trust developed over time. 

The answer is brothers in different contexts with different ministry approaches working toward fellowship with one another. Forgive one another. Commune with one another. Put the best construction on all things. The answer is baptized believers and leaders speaking a Word of Law and Gospel to one another. 

Staying united in our common confession of Christ crucified in the LCMS is messy. It will require (necessitate?) difficult conversations with those we disagree with on practical ministry topics. It will require confession when we don’t speak or behave appropriately and cross the proverbial line. We’re sinners. This is why Jesus came. 

You may be asking, “Where is this blog coming from?” Two things. 

  1. I’m preparing for an interview with Vanessa Seifert on adaptive change. I’m currently reading Leadership on the Line by Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky. It is a “secular” leadership read with so many church applications. 

  2. I recently released a Lead Time podcast with former LCMS President, Jerry Kieschnick. Jerry shared his presentation on the twelve reasons the LCMS is in decline. I agree with many of his assertions. Nonetheless, a brother in the LCMS emailed me frustrated that I didn’t challenge Jerry on a few of his claims. (See the chat on “Prior Approval” lists, women, mistaken changing Synod and Convention priorities, the Lord’s Supper, among other topics.) He basically was saying, “The conversation crossed the line.” Maybe it did. Please forgive me. 

Unfortunately, this brother rejected coming on the podcast with me. I think this is a “loss” for the wider church. My assessment is that those who reject podcast invitations simply have more to lose than I do. I understand. 

Leading podcasts is fun and hard. Modeling civil disagreement is harder. Sometimes I speak when I should not, and other times I remain silent when I should speak. I am a sinful leader. Praise God for His grace in Christ Jesus. 

One final point. I will probably get few, if any, objections to this blog. Confession and absolution is not “trendy.” Admitting nuanced fault is not “clickbait” worthy. Nonetheless, for the sake of unity in the LCMS I had to write this. 

Let’s walk the messy line together all for the sake of our common Lutheran confession centered in making Christ known in the church and world.


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