Romans 12:6 “We have different gifts according to the grace given us…”
Those who have served in the military will remember how, right before the cadre said, “You may fire when ready”, he said, “watch your lane”. The instruction was simple: Keep an eye on your own target.
No matter how many times you would go to the shooting range, the instructions were the same. “Watch your lane”. You’d think that after a while, something could go without saying. That would make sense, but as one trip to the qualification range after another confirmed, people can get confused easily when there are a lot of targets to look at. In this case, you could pretty much expect that (especially between two new soldiers) there’d be one target with as many as 80 out of 40 possible holes in it while the other target was blank (without holes). What happened? Someone didn’t watch their lane or they got confused about which lane was theirs.
The same thing happens in the church. I remember when I first got here, I was asked whether or not some old hymnals and choir robes could be thrown out. The hymnals weren’t mine and I’d never seen, let alone worn or purchased the choir robes. So, whose decision should this have been?
The truth is, all church property belongs to the congregation. The congregation has final say in whether or not something is disposed of or if something should be kept or even purchased. That being the case, does each little action require a congregational vote? Thankfully, no. When a congregation elects officers to discharge certain duties within a certain “lane of responsibility”, those officers have the authority (granted to them by the congregation) to make those kinds of decisions. If they have any doubt, they can bring it up to a council meeting and together, along with the chairman, they can come to a consensus regarding a particular action. The bottom line is, if you are an officer, “watch your lane”. Fire at your target. Get the job done.
How, though, do you know which target is yours? When we went out to qualify with our M-16’s, there were 100-meter targets; 150-meter targets…all the way up to 300-meter targets. In the same way, an officer likely has more than simply one job that they need to keep their eyes on. So, how do you know what they are?
This congregation is blessed to have had a pastor in its past with as much administrative skill as Russ Sommerfeld. Russ has had a distinguished career in service of our Synod on account of his exceptional, administrative ability and while Russ was here, he accomplished a lot of things that should still be guiding our congregation today.
The first of these accomplishments was that he saw two constitutions ratified (1989 and 1991) during his tenure. The second was that he not only spelled out the duties of our officers in the By-Laws of our constitution, he also wrote an administrative manual for the offices that are required by Immanuel’s constitution. His efforts remain the most definitive description of our officer’s duties and authority to this day.
It’s important to understand these things. The pastor himself also has his own duties defined under this constitution. The pastor isn’t supposed to be making decisions about the congregation’s property. He shouldn't have “final say” in terms of what carpet is purchased or who should get the contract for the new roof or the new sidewalk or even who will dig a grave when it’s required. All those things fall under the responsibility of various officers.
At the same time, it’s important to understand what the pastor’s duties are. The pastor is required, not only by Immanuel’s constitution, but by the Kansas District constitution and the Synod’s constitution to conduct his ministry in particular ways. He is charged to both preach, teach and administer the sacraments in accord with the Word of God as understood and confessed by our Lutheran Confessions. The unity of our congregations is based on this teaching and preaching. The pastor is not a community organizer. He's a care-giver for souls. He's a mouthpiece for the Lord. The true, Christian fellowship that we have is based on our common understanding of God’s Word as preached and taught from our pulpits.
What happens when those that don’t hold his office begin to fire at “targets” which are in his “lane”? In other words, what happens when those who neither know, respect or believe the Word of God (as understood and confessed by our Lutheran Confessions) begin to teach and even preach as if their word and their own personal understanding is “rule of the day”? The answer is: Division.
The original confessors were united in their confession of the faith. So much so, that seven princes once knelt before the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, offering that they’d rather lose the head off of their shoulders than recant what they’d professed to believe. Would that all professing Lutherans held such a united confession with such fervor in our day!
Our confessions claim that what you say matters and that what you hear is no small thing. False doctrine is a slippery slope. It causes people to lose sight of their target. It cause people to lose sight of their lane. It can even cause a person, in a spiritual sense, to start shooting for the wrong team. It’s a big deal. Are you saved by grace? Then why boast as if your salvation was the result of something you did, rather than received? Do God-pleasing works flow from faith? Then why focus so much on what we can do? Is it truly God who draws men to Himself? Then why the emphasis on our activities in place of the Word and prayer? Does God work through the “means of grace” as we understand them? Then why do we think we can do without them? Such questions are only skimming the surface of what Lutherans believe, teach and confess but they are fundamental to who we are, what we’re about, and how it is that we’re being saved. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that it doesn’t matter if they hear something that’s wrong. The world is under a constant barrage of false confessions. When someone speaks in Jesus’ Name, make sure it’s actually what our Lord would say!
As I’ve gone through life, I’ve realize just how applicable the instructions from my military training are to other aspects of life. “Watch your lane”. It’s not just about where your targets are. It’s about knocking out the one’s that belong to you. It’s also about making sure you don’t end up confusing the results of the guy beside you. We might do well to consider how this applies to our church.