This is a transcript of the speech made by District President-Elect, Rev. Dr. Glenn Schaeffer, to the assembled delegates and guests at the District Convention held at Prince of Peace School on May 24. From his mouth to your eyes, as it were. Note that since there’s no official recording I had to rely on very helpful reader of the blog to record it via smartphone. The recording quality is fair – I mean, it’s in a gym – but it’s good enough to get 99% of the speech.
Words or phrases that I’m not 100% sure about are in (brackets). Words or phrases that I couldn’t make out are labelled as (unintelligible).
You can listen to the audio and/or read along..
Rev. Dr. Glenn Schaeffer, President-Elect of ABC District
Let’s first begin with a short prayer. O Holy Spirit, give us lips to sing they glory, tongues they mercy to proclaim, throats to shout the hope that fills us, mouths to speak thy holy name. Amen.
Dear President Schiemann, President Bugbee, and fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
I have to admit that I feel a little bit out of place here, in that I wasn’t going to mention my confirmation verse in this speech. But since confirmation verses have been the theme of the day, I will start with mine and get it out of the way so I can move on to the work before me. My confirmation verse was from First Timothy 6:12. “Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made the good confession in the presence of men.” I often sign my letters with that verse. And I think that Pastor Schulz, Gerald Schulz who gave me that verse knew that I was a fighter. It’s amazing how you kind of live up to some of these Bible passages…(unintelligible). Now that’s out of the way and I can get to what I’ve written here.
Over the past few months I have spent some time reading Leonard Sweet’s book, “I am a follower.” Sweet points out that the first words Jesus’ disciples often heard were, “Follow me.” The first words that Jesus spoke to Peter were, “Follow me.” The last words that Jesus spoke to Peter were, “Follow me.”
Sweet says Jesus wasn’t looking for leaders at all. Jesus was looking for followers. The life story of all Christians should be that they left (all?) and followed Jesus.
Friends in Christ, through the gathered assembly, God has called me to be the next District President. But please hear this, if I may borrow some words from Leonard Sweet, I do not stand here today as a leader. My fundamental identity is I’m a follower. A follower of Jesus Christ. I’m a servant of a servant. For there really is only one leader in the church, and that is Jesus Christ.
Numerous articles have been written over the years about the shortage of able, visionary leaders, whether that be that in our government, or the corporate world or even the Christian church. The belief is that if we could just get better leadership, we’ll be able to solve our moral and social and spiritual disintegration. The truth is we do not need new and improved leadership. What we need is more followership. What we need are more disciples who are willing and able to follow Jesus’ leadership. We need followers who are willing to take up their basin and towel and serve sacrificially. And that is the Jesus paradox this week: Christians lead by following. By following Jesus. We all follow the leader.
Hence the reason why we come to Him who answers prayer. Hence the reason why we pray for the harvest. Hence the reason why we prioritize reading and studying God’s word. Hence the reason why we gather and worship on a weekly basis. Hence the reason why we hang around with other followers of Jesus. We want to follow Jesus, our crucified, our resurrected, our triumphant, our ascended reigning King.
So with these thoughts in mind, as your next District President of the ABC District I pledge to lead by following. By following the leader; the head of the church, Jesus Christ.
I have learned that following the leader, Jesus Christ, often leads a person to where he or she doesn’t expect to go or maybe even want to go. To be quite frank, doubting my abilities, recognizing my shortcomings when it comes to being responsible for CEO duties, and understanding that I am mistrusted by people in our District, and synod, or at least some of them, because of my involvement with the District these past ten years, and being acutely aware of my own simpleness, I contemplated withdrawing my name from the slate of District President as late as this past week. But I ultimately concluded that when Jesus says, “Follow me,” he means, “Follow me,” even into challenging, high-charged situations that will be messy.
And so I trust Him, that he would speak through you. And the fact that I’m standing here this afternoon, confirms that Jesus wants me to follow Him, in this work no matter where it leads or how messy it might be or how challenging it might be for me personally.
To those of you who mistrust me, and question my credibility, I pray that we’ll have an opportunity in the very near future to talk to one another. And so that we can speak to one another in a spirit of fraternal love as brothers and sisters in Christ. So that we can meet at the foot of the cross of Jesus and be reconciled to one another. So that we can pray with and for one another. There is never an appropriate time for God’s people to be divided.
But with the the trials we are experiencing as a synod and the challenges we face as followers of Jesus in this post-church Canada, there’s just no room for us to be divided.
When Jesus prayed for the hearts, that is for those of us who believe, he prayed for the unity of His followers: “Father, may they be one as we are one.” And that is one of my prayers for our District and for our Synod; that we may be one, reconciled to one another in Jesus Christ.
Although I know that my primary focus over these next number of months will be that of the CEO – the responsibility of the District President role, I also wanted to spend a little bit of time focusing on some of the thoughts I shared in my biographical information in the workbook. As I see myself being a follower of Jesus and leading you into other areas of ministry in the future.
As followers of Jesus Christ I see us as being adaptable. Adaptable. Little did I know when I wrote these words in that biographical information I submitted to the nomination committee a few months ago, that I might have to be the first one to have to adapt. To adapt to sharing the role of District President with an Interim Pastoral worker and with whom I’m actually looking forward to working with.
Certainly with the passing of a resolution to look at the restructuring of synod, we need to adapt to whatever that is. But as we follow our leader, I wonder if we have the resolve to adjust and be flexible in light of the reality of being God’s missionary people in a post-church Canada, and in view of the financial and ministry challenges being experienced district-wide.
I wonder if we’re willing to come together as a circuit or circuits to discuss how we might better utilize our God-given resources. To serve as God’s people especially in those areas of our District where communities and congregations are simultaneously declining in numbers.
I wonder if we might be ready to embrace an urban parish model, where two or three or four communities of faith call workers together to serve and lead them in God’s mission and ministry.
I wonder if urban congregations are willing to embrace the birthing of missional communities so that we can represent Jesus in our ever expanding suburbs in cities like Vancouver and Edmonton and Calgary. These places are growing up all over the place and we have no presence among them.
I wonder if we’re willing to sell our church buildings if they become a stumbling block to our witness because we’re burdened by debt, or just by maintaining that structure.
I wonder if we’re willing to resurrect a circuit rider who travels around from congregation to congregation serving God’s people.
I wonder if we’re willing to embrace the training of a local church member to be a congregation’s on-site bi-vocational pastor, so that many of our smaller congregations unable to afford a full-time pastor can receive spiritual care and pastoral leadership on a regular basis.
I wonder if we’re willing not only to see ourselves as members of a church, where we come to be served, but also as God’s missionary people sent into the world to be His witnesses.
I wonder if we’re willing to embrace the notion that the end goal of every congregation is to be a mission outpost where people are fed and nourished and trained and discipled, so that as Jesus said once, they may make disciples who in turn make other disciples.
As Jesus’ followers we need to be adaptable, but also be bible-based.
I love Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones in Ezekiel 37. Here is a portion of that vision, we heard it this morning. “The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley;[a] it was full of bones. 2 And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. 3 And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” 4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. 5 Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath[b] to enter you, and you shall live. …10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.” Ezekiel 37: 1-5, 10 Let me borrow some words from the report, the outreach report, that is in your handbook. Ezekiel’s prophecy is like a scene from the Walking Dead TV series. The skeletons receiving new life were not flesh-eating zombies. The valley of the dry bones symbolizes the spiritual conditions of the people of Judah. Some people suggest that the valley of dry bones depicts Canada’s spiritual condition and to some degree the spiritual condition of the Christian church in Canada. And certainly a follower of Jesus is enticed by worldly values and behaviors. Surveys reveal that a significant number of Canadians who identify themselves as Christians share similar beliefs and values and practices with non-Christian people concerning moral issues like abortion, euthanasia, homosexuality, same-sex marriage, cohabitation, and gender. Followers of Jesus are subject to being seduced by the lure of money and material possessions, with the result that the treasures that God considers important are relegated to the fringes of our life. Even Jesus’ followers are prone to making worship a mere formality while their knowledge and use of scripture is at an all-time low.
We might rightly ask, as did Ezekiel, can these bones live? Can spiritually dead Canadians receive life? Can spiritually anemic Christians experience renewal of heart and spirit?
The vision described in Ezekiel 37 responds “absolutely.” God gives life to lifeless bones through his Word. And the one who claimed I am the resurrection and the life, he who believes in me will live, even though he dies and whoever lives and believes in me will never die, can resurrect and revive and renew people through the power of His Word. So the Word is our foundation.
God’s word is a lamp to our feet. God’s word is truth. God’s word is living and active, it’s sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating to dividing soul and spirit as it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. God’s word makes us wise for salvation. God’s word is the power of God, the salvation of everyone who believes. God’s word has been written so that we may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that we may have life in His name. God’s word is profitable for teaching and rebuking and correcting and training the righteousness so that every follower of Jesus may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
We know these statements are true. Now it’s a matter of getting it from the head to the heart. So that we, the followers of Jesus, are diligent stewards of word. I mean, how can we expect to follow the leader, how can you remain grounded amidst dramatic change, how can we discern truth from error, if we don’t know what our leader says?
Until Jesus’ followers, until we become serious humans of God’s word we will not experience a personal or congregation’s spiritual revitalization. We will remain a valley of dry bones. As Pastor Bode so emphatically stated this morning, without the gospel of Jesus Christ we are powerless. But with the gospel we our powerful.
That is why, as I pray for the harvest, I borrow these words from St. Paul, I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious father, may give you the spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you. The riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people.
So followers of Jesus are adaptable, they are also bible based, but they are also compassionate.
A few weeks ago I had the privilege of leading the fourteenth Transforming for Mission consultation in our District at one of our District congregations. And as I normally do, I had a group of five people draw a picture of how they see themselves relating to the neighborhood around the church building. One of the groups drew a picture of a person’s head, with the nose turned up in kind of a snobbish kind of look. And then I had the group explain what that picture meant, and the group explained that their congregation has a theological arrogance about itself – it turns people off. That they have a self-righteous pride that deters unchurched people from being able to relate to them. It made her sorrowful for that.
There’s nothing snobbish about our heavenly father or about for our savior Jesus Christ. The Bible tells us that Jesus is full of compassion and mercy.
And as we follow the leader, living in our baptismal grace, we clothe ourselves with compassion and kindness and humility and gentleness and patience and bearing with each other. And forgiving whatever grievances you have against one another. Jesus’ followers have compassion for the lost and hurting people in our communities. We can’t help but have that compassion, can we, when we follow the leader?
He moves us with His own compassion for us. He moves us to take up our basin and towel and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.
So my prayer for the harvest is that the people of our communities would say of our congregations, “Behold, how they love us.”
Jesus’ followers also have compassion for our dispirited church workers and discouraged lay people. Which means that in the future we need to continue to address the emotional and physical and spiritual needs of our church workers. Church work is hard, I’m telling you that which you already know. It’s draining physically, mentally, spiritually. I pray that in the months and years that lie ahead that we may continue to strengthen our circuit meetings so that when church workers come together around the word of God, and to worship, that they can truly build each other up in the faith as they’ve done in the past and as they continue into the future. I pray that will continue to support our deacons and pastors with grants for continuing education opportunities like Pastoral Leadership Institute or Doxology or WikiFiveTWo or whatever it is that that church worker finds beneficial to their spiritual growth and their development as a worker in God’s kingdom. Oh, my prayer for our church workers is that they are able to proclaim to one another, “how we care and love one another.”
And I pray that our congregations be safe places. Places where God’s grace, forgiveness and love and truth and hope abound. Where we can gather together as the family around our Lord’s table to receive His body and blood and be assured of the forgiveness of our sins. Where we can gather to speak and sing God’s absolution to one another. Where we can celebrate together the new life that we have as God’s baptized people. Where we can weep with those who weep and where we can rejoice with those who rejoice. Oh my prayer for the harvest is that visitors to our congregations will declare, “Behold, how they love one another.”
It’s also my prayer that Jesus’ followers will have compassion for the people impacted by the CEF crisis. Especially compassion for the CEF investors. I pray that his compassion will move us to resolve these issues in a Godly, sensible manner. As President Bugbee said earlier today, this is to be of our (unintelligible).
Followers of Jesus are also discipleship (boats). Sweet writes in the book I mentioned earlier, “Consumerism, materialism, and individualism have (blended a form of hollow chocolate bunny). (unintelligible) the American Dream. I wonder if materialism and consumerism and individualism aren’t also creating a hollow chocolate spiritual church. It looks pretty good on the outside, but you if poke it you’ll find that it’s pretty hollow on the inside.
It speaks to the importance of what I mentioned earlier about being a bible-based church, because we know that is what gives us the substance, that’s what fills the hollow chocolate Easter bunny. To be people of the word, to be disciples of that word, to be students of that word. Jesus said, “Go and make disciples of all nations,” which means that His followers are His apprentices. As His spirit-filled apprentices we work together toward a goal of being disciples who can disciple other people who in turn can disciple other people so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach (unintelligible) in faith in the knowledge of the Son of God become mature, obtaining to the whole measure and fullness of Christ.
The disciple (unintelligible) the church is also an evangelizing church. I often like to remind the students who participate in my class at the seminary that God is both the sender and the one sent. John’s gospel makes it clear that the Father sent the Son. And as we heard in the reading for this morning, the Father and Son sent the Holy Spirit. And then we also know the words of John 20, where Jesus says, “even as the Father sent me, now I send you.” In Luke 24 Jesus makes it so clear that, not only did He suffer and die for us as an act of redemption, but he also continues to proclaim the word – it’s His proclamation of the word. And I often remind my students, and I want to remind you today, that as we go out and participate in Jesus’ mission it’s really Jesus’ mission and we have the privilege of participating in it. We are merely his hands and feet and his mouth. What a mission Jesus gives us to participate in. He gives us this wonderful word that brings hope and life and meaning and purpose to people’s lives. He sends us out.
Our leader sends us out into the mission field, if you will. To go out into our homes, and our workplaces, our schools and our neighborhoods. He sends us out into the rinks and coffee shops. He sends us out wherever our vocations take us as we go as His representatives and as His ambassadors. And as an evangelizing church we make it a priority to got the person who doesn’t know Jesus as his savior or her savior.
C.F.W. Walther, the first president of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod said, “You see dear brethren, we are assembled here not for our sake, we are in a faith and by this faith we hope to be saved. But there are still millions who have no faith, and this is why we are here: so that we might bring to salvation to as many people as we possibly can. Only for this reason does our gracious God allow Christians to live on Earth, that they might bring others to this saving faith. Otherwise God would immediately take the Christian to heaven as soon as he is converted.”
Yes, Jesus sends us, his living people, amongst the valley of dry bones, so that the living might call up to the dead. And that’s really why God’s people remain in the valley of dry bones. So that we like Ezekiel might prophecy, we may speak, we might share with lifeless bones, God’s word of life. So that the spirit of God can resurrect a vast army.
Those are my five focuses.
For the past ten years I’ve been privileged to serve with many outstanding, dedicated lay people and church workers, whether it be a person on the board of directors or a department committee at a congregational level. I cannot thank the previous Board of Directors enough for their service in very trying times. You performed admirably, and we thank you.
I look forward to continued partnership with those people even though they’re not in elected positions anymore. I know they’re leaders in our church and they’ll continue to be so. But I also look forward to working with the interim pastoral leader in the days and months that lie ahead. I look forward to working with the newly elected vice-presidents and the board of directors and the restructuring committees and all the other committees I’ll be working with.
I’m excited to work with leaders in various institutions and agencies across Lutheran Church – Canada, as we address the challenges we face as a church in a post-church era. I also want to thank all the people who allowed their name to stand for election, but were not elected. We appreciate your willingness to serve. And we know that you’ll continue to serve, and follow Jesus.
And now to the part of the speech that will make me emotional.
I especially thank God for the privilege and honour of serving with and alongside some of the most dedicated followers of Jesus that I know. You know them as District staff and executives. But I know them as servants of Jesus Christ. Some have served our District for many years with distinction but whose service is coming to an end. I know them to be people who love their Lord and desire to see God’s people grow in their faith and for countless others to come to faith in Jesus Christ. I know them to be compassionate, caring people, who have had many restless nights as they worked to resolve the financial crisis. I know them to be people committed, committed to resolving the CEF crisis even as their integrity was questioned. Even though they knew their jobs were coming to an end. I know them as my co-workers. But they’re more than co-workers. They’re my friends. They’re my family.
In particular I want to thank God for the opportunity to serve alongside my fellow executives Daryl Becker, Kurt Robinson, and District President Don Schiemann. Words can never adequately express the love and respect I have for them and the impact that Jesus has made in my life as a result of my relationship with them.
Leonard Sweet begins his book, “I’m a Follower,” by encouraging the reader to watch a popular video on YouTube. The video was taken in the 2009 Sasquatch Festival. Hundreds of people are sitting on the side of the hill. The song “Unstoppable” can be heard in the background. One shirtless guy is swaying to the music. No ambition. No pride. Just swaying to the music. Next comes the often ignored but absolutely vital component for any kind of movement, the first follower. This guy must have been sitting in the side watching the solitary dancer but then casting aside his ambitions he joins that one person and dances so there are two dancing. Soon there are three or four more people who join in the dance. Soon there are groups of people running down the hill to join in the dance and within three minutes hundreds of festival attendees are following the leader and joining him in his dance.
Some of you may recall the Christian song from the 60s and 70s, “The Lord of the Dance,” by Sydney Carter. One of the lines of that song says, “Dance, then, wherever you may be. I am the Lord of the Dance said he. I’ll lead you all, wherever you may be, I’ll lead you all in the Dance said he.”
Sweet says we have our leader. We have our first dancing guy. It’s Jesus. He’s the lord of the dance. He waves us in; come, dance with me.
The question, of course, is whether we’re willing to follow our leader. Whether or not we’ll allow the lord of the dance to lead us. Well, as the next District President, I’m willing to follow. I’m willing to follow the lord of the dance, Jesus, in that dance, whatever it might be. What about you? Jesus, our leader, invites you to follow Him to join in His dance.
I want to thank you for electing me to this office. Thank you for your prayers and support. I look forward to serving you. Yes, to serving you as your next District President, as a follower of Jesus Christ.
Andreas Schwabe is editor and publisher of SolaGratia.ca, and an Edmonton-based multimedia & communication strategist and producer. His focus for SolaGratia is on administration, governance, and issues of faith. For clients, he writes or produces just about anything.