So you don’t think I am just a bomb-lobbing curmudgeon, I thought I would offer a few thoughts by way of solution to the CUS problem I identified in a post the other day.
Since starting BJS a few years ago and writing several articles pointing out the dark side of the LCMS, I have experienced an interesting thing. People who don’t know me started assuming I am some sort melancholic curmudgeon. Actually, I am the happiest person I know. After all, I have a cat named Happy Bob who is my good buddy. He greets me at the door every night, follows me around the house, sleeps at (and sometimes on) my feet each night and lowers my blood pressure. In addition once golf season ends I spend a couple hours a week painting pretty little scenes from my travels in watercolors. (I have sold a dozen or so, some for as much as $500.) I also tend our sub-division entrance garden with my wife as well as the dozen flower beds around our house. If that weren’t enough I also do flower arrangements. (The attached picture is the arrangement currently sitting on our kitchen table – hydrangeas, zinnias and sand cherry branches.) Does that sound like a curmudgeon?
More to the point, I put my money where my mouth is concerning problems in the church. I am currently in a discussion with a fellow pastor and a synod official over a matter of erring church practice, I have worked with my elders to stand strong on several occasions against members who thought and practiced contrary to Scripture and we intentionally work at hiring and maintaining a confessional staff at our church and school. I put this forward as an example of how the problem of creeping paganism in our CUS (Concordia University System) can be handled.
I practice what I preach. I, my fellow pastors and lay elders have occasionally had to deal with problems of false teaching and practice in our day school here at Bethany Lutheran, Naperville, Illinois. Despite standing firm on true doctrine and practice, our school has remained strong and in a day and age of shrinking and vanishing Lutheran Day Schools, we have even held our own and actually grown over the last few years. (We have over 250 students in K-8th.)
It is a solid, confessional school and staff but it did not happen by accident. Here are the intentional steps that have been taken to get there and remain there.
1. Make a commitment to confessional, called staff. When I first came to Bethany 21 years ago I was blessed to have a principal who along with me looked at our school staff that was then less than a third called and made it a goal that we would work to get every teacher LCMS trained and called. A few years later we actually wrote this requirement into our constitution. The point is that it takes intention. You can’t just talk about it. You have to make it happen by your action. Why is it that we had gotten to that point? It was because of taking the easy way out. It is easier to just hire a teacher from the area but after a a few years of this slothfulness, you wake up one day you have essentially, a non-confessional school.
2. Employ only called teachers. Once you make it a principal you then have to work the plan over time. It can take several years but if you never start, it will only get worse as has happened at our Concordias. Next to preaching and teaching, one of the things I give most of my attention to as the Sr. Pastor is interviewing candidates to fill our vacancies. Because of the situation today in our Concordias, seminaries included, you need to do heavy and serious theological inquisition before calling a staff person. It is never a sure thing because people can be deceptive when they are interviewed. However, being very clear in interviews about what sort of doctrine and practice you expect from staff makes it a lot easier when you discover some one not living up to the requirements. You are able to remind them that from the get go, this is what we had made clear was the standard.
3. Keep an eye on curriculum. One of the little stinks that we had to make in our school was addressing the use of one of the weekly readers. Sadly these have gone the way of all flesh and promote a very liberal agenda. Changing the reader was not fun but it had to be done. It made a couple of teachers unhappy because they had been using them for years but after a couple of years of discussion we changed to the weakly reader put out by World Magazine.
4. Maintain church discipline. More stink came when we realized that we had a teacher aide who was promoting evolution in one of our lower grades. We talked with her about it and after a a few weeks she decided this was not the place for her to be and we were able to put a new aid in that room. We also had a situation with a teacher getting caught up in some lies and gossip. It was not fun but the principal and I worked through the issue with them and it ended up with this staff member apologizing to the voters assembly for passing on the gossip.
5. Require teachers to be involved in the parish. We have anywhere from 6 to 12 teachers and aids who come to our Voters meetings. We also have teachers who are parish musicians, ushers, and doing other volunteer work. It provides more opportunities for the staff to be aligned with the goals of the parish. (I credit this to our principal. Every year she asks each teacher not if they are going to be involved in the parish but what one or two things they will be doing in the parish.)
6. Teach confirmation and staff Bible study in the school. I am amazed at how many pastors do not teach confirmation in their day school. It is a great way to earn the respect of the staff and to be involved in the school. Most teachers will sit in class while you teach which provides another vehicle for immersing them in confessional theology. A few years ago Pastor Fisk started teaching the staff Bible study and that too has been a great way to sync the school and parish philosophy and goals. (We also have a unified budget. We probably have anywhere from $200,000 to $300,000 a year going toward the school from the church but we never identify that number. The school and the church financial blessings or struggles are born together without any finger pointing.)
7. For pastors – develop a personal and strong connection with the principal and teachers. Invest your time in them. Support the work of the school. I drop into my principal’s office or she in mine two or three times a day. This is not to discuss business but just to shoot the breeze. We also have a two hour weekly staff meeting that is attended by the three Pastors, the Principal, Vice Principal, School Admissions Director and the Program Administrator where are all of the major goals and work of both the church and the school are decided on together.
It is not easy maintaining a confessional standard in doctrine and practice but if you put your mind to it, work at it and are willing to apply discipline when things get out of line it can be done. The school staff knows I can be firm but they also know I have a cat named Happy Bob, that I paint pretty pictures, that I arrange flowers and that I love them and am not a curmudgeon.