Rev. Stephen Cook, Synod Minister
Report to Synod Council, Jan. 12, 2019
My aunt Shirley asked me, "So what is you do in your new position?"
I said I was the Synod Minister for Equipping Congregations. I am part of a team, led by the bishop. Working with my staff colleagues, I help congregations who need a pastor and pastors looking for a congregation to serve find each other. I consult with congregations who experience difficulties. In particular, I attend to local congregations and there leaders, many of which are small, who struggle with a future with declining resources, but which continue to be vital to the health and stability of their communities.
Shirley said, "What do you equip them for and with what?" I thought these were excellent questions and told her so.
As I write this report I have been in this ministry for 10 weeks, so I am still trying to figure out good answers to these questions. This is what I've come up with for now.
I hope to find ways for congregations to be a little calmer, a little more thoughtful, and a little more relaxed in how they deal with each other when faced with challenges.
I hope to help congregations be a little more creative with the resources they do have and open themselves up to share what they have with their community as it is now, not as it might have been at some other time.
I hope to help congregations find strength in their weekly gatherings, where they share the promise of God in Christ in scripture proclaimed in preaching, in the water and in the meal, and in the love and support they share.
I hope to help congregations see themselves as part of a larger fellowship, with partners in our Southwestern Minnesota Synod, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, our full communion partners, and the worldwide fellowship of Jesus followers. I hope to help them see these relationships as ones where they can contribute unique gifts.
I hope to help congregations see themselves as transitional, no matter when they are in their life cycle. Everything has a beginning, middle, and end. Local congregations are not exceptions. If the story that scripture tells means anything, it means that God is in all of this - endings as much as the beginnings. Perhaps if congregations were a little less absorbed in survival they might have more fun together, might serve their community with more impact and - perhaps - might do so for a longer time.
You will notice that these thoughts are around relationships more than activities. Programs, training, surveys and consultants can be of use to a congregation that is calm enough to consider new ideas and approaches. Unless a congregation is open enough such great ideas and techniques are more likely to increase conflict than lower it.
Of course, learning new ideas and programs can be important. Other people have been down the trail before us and have left us marks to follow. Wise and gifted people have thought long and deeply about how to respond. We should learn from them!
Part of the answer to "with what?" leads us to the many events our Synod arranges to equip congregations. Some upcoming ones are:
Planning is well underway for the Equipping Congregation Day, February 23rd in Willmar.
Conference and Synod Assemblies are places where we gather to build community and build each other up by sharing common ministries beyond the local congregations.
The Equipping Congregations Board is planning an event in the November for lay worship leaders. In many of our congregations lay people are taking on larger and more frequent roles in planning and leading worship. We hope that this event will help build confidence and skills in these roles.
For the last 2 ½ years I have offered a monthly seminar to assist rostered and lay leaders to deal with the anxieties of leadership in this age of mission. Calmer, less reactive, and more thoughtful leaders are more likely to form calmer, less reactive, and more thoughtful congregations. We do this by coaching each other in applying the insights of natural/family systems thinking to concrete situations which challenge leaders.
It is a privilege to have the opportunity to serve the Synod in the vital work of equipping congregations for a new age of mission. I am grateful for the opportunity.