Ministry in Context

Step This Way, Please: A Reflection on Leadership

I’ve occasionally had guilt pangs about not doing enough as a volunteer in the church we belong to, so during the most recent “Time and Talent” survey, I signed up to be an usher. We’re in church most Sundays anyway, so it didn’t seem like an imposition on my schedule. Now I have actually ushered a few times, and, let me tell you, this ushering business is a great gig, one of the best church assignments I’ve had in years.

People come in and I greet them and hand out bulletins. Once they get more or less settled I can sneak out for a cup of coffee to sip on during the sermon. Collecting the offering is not overly taxing. And then comes the really good part: communion.

When I was a young pastor... I had the naïve notion that because I had a seminary degree and the church had seen fit to ordain me, all I had to do in a congregation was say “go” and they would go. It never worked that way. People tended to be not as impressed as I thought they should be by that seminary degree. For some folks the ordination business was a red flag signaling that I was not to be trusted.

As a communion usher all I have to do is tell people where to go and when, and they do it. They just do it. They don’t argue with me. Nobody ever says “we never walked over that way before.” Nobody ever says “in my sister’s church they don’t walk that way.” Nobody ever says “I think we ought to walk that way.” I say “go.” They “go.” Neat. I’ve never had so much power in the church!

When I was a young pastor (and sometimes when I was a somewhat older pastor) I had the naïve notion that because I had a seminary degree and the church had seen fit to ordain me, all I had to do in a congregation was say “go” and they would go. It never worked that way. People tended to be not as impressed as I thought they should be by that seminary degree. For some folks the ordination business was a red flag signaling that I was not to be trusted. Leading a congregation always meant dealing with resistance, taking time to listen, being willing to compromise now and then, and being very, very patient.

Leaders soon learn that even when change is absolutely necessary there will be resistance, because change is painful, especially for those upon whom the change is being imposed. Those who have been students at Luther Seminary in the last couple years will certainly remember that when they are leading congregations and are not the ones on whom the change is being imposed, but rather the ones doing the imposing.

Interns and Supervisors: next Sunday when you are leading worship, take a minute to admire the power the ushers have. Sometimes it is more that you have!

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