Pastor’s Blog: Fiefdoms
the estate or domain of a feudal lord.
Informal. anything, as an organization or real estate, owned or controlled by one dominant person or group” (www.dictionary.com ).
Our congregation’s constitution makes one thing perfectly clear in chapter 3.
*C3.01. All power in the Church belongs to our Lord Jesus Christ, its head. All actions of this congregation are to be carried out under his rule and authority.
The congregation, namely the people who gather for worship, the members of the congregation, and the congregation’s assets do not belong to anyone but to the Lord Jesus Christ. We are stewards of those assets for a brief life span, and then we die and give an account to God of our stewardship (management) of His things – time, talent, treasure, and relationships, too.
The Lord Jesus has been given all authority by His Father after His resurrection from the dead, and the Ascension Day feast ten days before Pentecost celebrates His universal Lordship. When pastors are ordained into the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, they are given authority to preach, teach, and celebrate the sacraments in the stead and by the command of the Lord Jesus Christ. Pastors have a unique ministry within the priesthood of believers, and when they receive a regular call to a particular ministry, they are authorized by the Church (local and wider) to exercise that authority.
Pastors are not given power by the congregation or the wider Church. They are given authority to serve in a particular way for a particular time. As with a marriage, the pastor makes promises on the day of installation to the congregation (or otherwise authorizing body such as the synod in the case of bishops,) and the congregation or otherwise authorizing body makes promises to the pastor.
Likewise congregations elect from their membership persons to serve in leadership alongside the pastor and on behalf of the congregation. Typically, we are speaking here of officers, council members, lay voting members to the synod assembly, and members of the endowment team. At its first meeting each year, the new council also approves various appointments such as recording secretary, parish records secretary, financial secretary, and members of teams designated in the bylaws to be appointed by the council. When the congregation employs new staff members, the council approves their hiring and defers the oversight of the staff to the Senior Pastor as head of staff. The congregation approves their annual compensation in the annual budget.
All authority and power belongs to Jesus Christ in the Church. Various persons are elected or appointed and given authority by the congregation for particular functions or roles, but always those persons are subject to the authority and power that resides in Jesus Christ, the Lord of the Church. Each congregation or authorizing body always lays out very clearly for what people are authorized and how to deal with those who misuse their authority as if they were in the place of the Lord. Even the individual members of a congregation are subject to the Lord’s authority, especially when they act or fail to act in accordance with the responsibilities of membership, and sadly and rarely members may be disciplined for these failures.
Among the many sayings attributed to Martin Luther: “Where God builds a church, the devil builds a chapel.” This saying speaks to the misuse of authority and the abuse of power in the Church. As one pastoral counselor wrote, each congregation must develop an immune system that recognizes what does not belong in the Body of Christ. The misuse of authority and the abuse of power are rooted in evil, whether we are speaking of Christ’s Church, any structures in the world, or even in our own families.
Fiefdoms in congregations almost always occur when sinful human beings confuse authority with power. In one congregation, an officer had been in place so long that he began to believe he had the sole authority to act. When the church council voted 12-1 to approve an action, this officer refused to carry out the action because he didn’t agree with it. When confronted by another officer and the pastor acting on behalf of the whole council, the man threatened to resign…certain no one would accept that resignation. He was shocked when the council accepted his resignation. The congregation was not his fiefdom. His years of faithful service were finally undone by his “lord of the manor” ways.
Endless stories could be told about bishops, denominational leaders, pastors, staff members, and lay leaders who have confused authority with power and have forgotten Who the ultimate authority is and Who alone wields all power in the Church. In such instances, the devil has built a chapel in the hearts of some and, sadly, sometimes in the hearts of many. It is no small thing that the Lord Jesus tells the parable of the vineyard owner who destroys the wicked tenants when they murder his son to claim the vineyard for themselves (Luke 20:9-19). In many ways, the slow decline of congregations and even of denominations may be seen as illustrations both of our Lord’s gut-wrenching prediction of His own crucifixion and God’s judgment on those who would kill Him to claim a fiefdom for themselves.
Many of us have had to leave congregations where the devil built a chapel. Some of us have even had to leave denominations that had become devilish fiefdoms of those confusing authority with power and forgetting Who holds all authority and power in the Church. Where God’s Word is rightly proclaimed as Law and Gospel and where the Sacraments are rightly administered in accordance with the Gospel, there you always find the Lord Jesus Christ offering the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation. Where you hear the steady drumbeat of “empowerment,” watch out! All authority and power belongs to Jesus Christ. He is not in the business of empowering people to build little fiefdoms.
The best defense against the devil, the world, and our sinful selves is always faithfully receiving the Lord’s Supper, gladly hearing and studying His Word, praying daily to do our heavenly Father’s good and gracious will. The other actions follow: serving at and beyond St. Matthew’s; being in relationship to encourage spiritual growth in others; and giving generously of God’s time, talent, and resources.
Now hear our new congregational mission statement approved by the Church Council:
“As a Lutheran community of faith, we continue our history of proclaiming Christ crucified through Word and Sacrament in joyful service to God and our neighbor.”
Expect to hear that statement, and to say it, often to work to avoid fiefdoms at St. Matthew’s!