Proposed Constitutional Changes at St. Peter

On June 28, 2010, the voters of St. Peter met to consider proposed changes to our congregation’s constitution and bylaws.  A number of changes were approved, and these proposed changes will be voted on at the Autumn voters’ meeting sometime in November 2010.

Article VI, Powers and Rights of the Congregation, Section 4, of our current (unchanged) constitution reads as follows:

No group or society may be organized within the congregation without the approval of the congregation.  The congregation shall be assured that the aims of such a group are in complete harmony with the congregation’s aims before it grants its approval (1 Corinthians 1:10; 12:25).

This is the proposal that was presented to the voters on June 28:

No group or society may be organized within the congregation without first speaking with the pastor(s) who will discuss it with the church council (the approval of the congregation).  The congregation shall be assured that the aims of such a group are in complete harmony with the congregation’s aims (before it grants its approval) (1 Corinthians 1:10; 12:25).

I moved to delete the parenthesis, and add a comma & the word “and” after “council,” so that the first sentence would read:

No group or society may be organized within the congregation without first speaking with the pastor(s) who will discuss it with the church council, and the approval of the congregation.

I believed that “the approval of the congregation” was the most important phrase, and was too important to be relegated between parenthesis.  As part of the discussion, Pastor Glende revealed that the parenthesis were supposed to mean that what was between the parenthesis would be deleted, and that the words in parenthesis were intended to show what the original language was.  (16:30).  (My impression was that most people did not catch that the parentheticals were proposed deletions).

So to clarify for the reader, here is what was actually being proposed (with the proposed additions underlined, and the proposed deletions crossed out):

No group or society may be organized within the congregation without first speaking with the pastor(s) who will discuss it with the church council the approval of the congregation.  The congregation shall be assured that the aims of such a group are in complete harmony with the congregation’s aims before it grants its approval (1 Corinthians 1:10; 12:25).

The first problem with this language is that in order for someone to form a small group, all they have to do is first speak with the pastor.  Nothing is said about the pastor’s approval.  That is not what was intended, but that is what the language says.  I believe the intent was to take away group and society approval from the congregation, and give it to the pastor(s) and council.  Pastor Glende said this would make small group approval more efficient.

I believe that it is important for the congregation to have the only say with regard to any group or society formed within the congregation.  The ratification of any small group or society within a congregation is too vital a power to take away from the full congregation.

Because my motion was seconded, there was a vote.  However, the person who seconded my motion apologized for doing so, and explained that his second was only so that we could have some discussion, not because he actually supported my motion.  Thus, lacking any additional support, my motion was defeated.

A church council member stated that our “church council has been elected to make decisions for the congregation,” and we need to trust them.  If “there is anything major, then it will be brought to the congregation for a vote.  But if it’s a minor group that wants to start up, the pastors and church council should have the right to allow them to do that.”  (35:15).  He then proposed language which the congregation adopted:

No group or society may be organized within the congregation without first speaking with the pastor(s) who will discuss it with the church council the approval of the congregation.  The congregation shall be assured that the aims of such a group are in complete harmony with the congregation’s aims before it grants its approval (1 Corinthians 1:10; 12:25).

The “approval of the congregation” was struck from the first sentence.  Receiving only one “no” vote, this proposed language passed.  The end result is unclear.  (However, when a written constitution is unclear, it allows the interpreters to forbid and permit what the interpreters wish).

Overall, because the proposed constitutional changes were presented to the voters in bold and (parenthesis) instead of being underlined and crossed out, it is difficult to determine what was supposed to be in parenthesis (such as Bible citations) and what was actually supposed to be deleted.  (When I read through the proposed changes before the meeting, I did not fully realize that some of what was in parenthesis were proposed deletions).

Moreover, some language in the proposal just disappeared without any parenthesis.  (Article VIII of the Constitution “Officers of the Congregation,” Section 3 would be an example of quietly disappeared/changed language).

Below are some additional changes to our constitution and bylaws that passed this first meeting with little discussion.  For purposes of clarity, disappeared language from our present bylaws is included here (and crossed out), and the proposed new language is underlined, so that the reader can see more clearly the proposed changes:

  • Committee members shall be elected approved at the October June voters’ meeting.  (Bylaws, Article IV, Section 7. Terms of Office, A – Committees of the Church Council).
  • Vacancies occurring on any of these committees shall be filled through appointment approved by the church council.  (Bylaws, Article IV, Section 8. Vacancies – Committees of the Church Council).
  • Language in the constitution was made gender-neutral.
  • Also, numerous bylaws were made to be non-binding by changing words like “shall” to “should.”  For example, in Article IV, Section 4 the Committee of Elders no longer “shall consist of at least three members,” but instead “should consist of at least three members…”

One of the reasons given for these proposed changes is that we need to bring our constitution and bylaws in line with “reality,” i.e. what works and what we are actually doing.  (34:20).  If the congregation approves the proposals a second time, they will then be sent to the Synod for final approval.

Recently, all of St. Peter’s members were encouraged to fill out a congregational survey that was supposed to identify our membership’s strengths and weaknesses.  This was to assist the “Vision Team” as they work to modify the congregation’s “Vision.”  One of the purposes of this effort is to help establish more small groups.

According to a sermon preached by Pastor Sievert on September 16, 2010, St. Peter will be aggressively targeting and training lay-leaders and facilitators to conduct small group programs outside of the church building.  The lay-leaders and facilitators will be chosen and trained beginning in October 2010, and the entire membership will be encouraged to join a small group starting in January 2011.  (Sermon entitled “Be the Church: Devoted to God’s People,” 38:30).

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2 thoughts on “Proposed Constitutional Changes at St. Peter

  1. Rick,

    After reading your post it is very clear to me that your current church leadership is attempting to take away the powers and rights of the congregation, unfortunately, piece by piece. However, the current constitution’s language that states “without the approval of the congregation” is amibiguous and poorly written, as well. Normally, in WELS congregations, the congregation is not the approval authority. I much prefer constitutional language that states “with the approval of the Voters’ Assembly” since that is really the body that speaks and approves for the congregation as a whole.

    With that being said, it appears that the St. Peter’s Voters’ Assembly is willing to make these changes as indicated by the overwhelming preliminary approval vote taken in June. I am only guessing now, but I doubt that a majority of the eligible voters of St Peter’s were at that June 28th meeting, since it was held during the summer vacation period. Doesn’t really matter though. It has been my experience that most voters don’t have a clue on the impact and rammification of their votes. They usually blindly follow the church council and/or pastor’s desires. Unless there is an awakening within the St Peter’s Voters’ Assembly, it looks like the recommended changes will pass. Perhaps, you may want to consider changing your membership to one of the plethora of other WELS congregations in the Fox River Valley.

    On the other hand, small group programs (sometimes called growth groups) are something I would encourage congregations to consider. I am familiar with a very large congregation in which over 80% of the weekend adult attendance attend a layman-led small group during the week. The focus on this small group (usually 14-16 people) is to further form a commitment to God and His Word and to foster Christian relationships, which is especially hard to do in such a large congregation. Most small groups meet during the next week to discuss the pastor’s Sunday sermon, although there are other small groups that focus on other topics such as parenting, marriage enhancement, and Christian basics for new believers. Additionally, these small groups can be divided into a variety of categories (age, single or married, children’s ages, men/women, military, etc) to fit a particular person’s desires or needs.

    Those small groups that focus on the pastor’s sermon have a basic sermon outline to follow and blanks to fill in. Additionally, there is the homework that must be completed prior to the small group’s meeting. This past week there were 36 supporting scriptural passages to look up and 18 questions to complete that related to this week’s teaching (Luke 2 and 3). It took me a little over an hour to complete the homework.

    These small groups meet for approximately two hours each week. Although each group can have a different format the normal routine is: 20 minutes of fellowship usually with desert/coffee/tea/soda; 10-15 minutes of hymn singing; 70 minutes discussing the sermon (or other subject) and the homework, and 10-20 minutes of praying together and for each other, which I find to be very comforting.

    The laymen leaders are hand-picked to lead these groups and from what I have seen are very well versed in the Bible. Additionally, the church provides leader guides to assist the laymen with leading the discussion. There is also a pastor who serves as the small group program coordinator so if a lay leader needs additional assistance with a particular lesson. I am always amazed at the depth of Biblical knowledge that group members have and I have learned much from them.

    Another aspect of small groups is the Christian fellowship that it provides. Our group is a mixture of long-time Christians and newer Christians. Each of us has had a variety of life experiences, good and bad. It’s a rewarding and benefical experience to help others and be helped by others, especially with sound Christian advice and encouragement. My wife and I have become good friends with our small group and we often get together at other times to socialize by going out for dinner, to a ball game, to concerts, and other events. Additionally, each semester our group completes a community service project which is a good way for Christians to be seen in the much larger general society.

    From my vantage point, I see small group programs as an invaluable asset to a congregation to further study God’s Word and then to put His Word into action. There are a variety of resources available, some better than others, to assist congregations in starting these programs.

    Finally, with the outline filled in and the homework assigned one will never again walk out of church on a Sunday morning and 30 minutes later say to oneself, “What was the pastor’s sermon all about?”

    P. C. Christian

    “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)

  2. The only cautions I would urge in regards to small groups…

    Lay leaders are chosen based on commitment and understanding of Biblical/WELS doctrines. Screening for Lay leaders who might say… “I don’t know if I agree with WELS on that” or I don’t like that WELS does this. I have heard that exact statement from people who led “Bible classes’. If a leader feels that way they should be seeking understanding of the particular disagreement without leading others to become confused.

    A danger to be opinion based. I heard a comment about one another churches’ small group. “It’s really neat that our group is “mostly on the same page’. If we think that the Bible can be interpreted many ways and it’s all ok to have our own opinion, then the small groups are a breeding ground for false doctrine. Of course some things aren’t talked about specifically in the Bible and there may be discussion on if it is a best practice within the church. However, I know of some members that attend non-denominational or other religious Bible discussion groups or churches on a regular bases and they discuss it openly in front of other members. Is it really a good thing for me spiritually to be in a small group with such members who already are ok with associating with those who promote false doctrines?

    My definition of a Bible Class is not a discussion of a reformed pastor’s book or teachings but one that truly focuses on God’s word in The Bible and doctrines/subject from The Bible. Personally, I would rather attend a Bible Class taught by a Pastor who is more familiar with the original translations of the Bible.

    Tammy

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