Welcome back to the Monday Morning Church podcast. Mark Molter is joining us today, from Community Lutheran church in Frankford, Delaware. Mark, great to have you on the show.
I’m glad to be here.
Mark, tell us a little bit about your position there at Community Lutheran and how you got there.
Well, I’m a Lutheran pastor, and so normally we go through seminar education, and go through a call process. This is my first call, the first church I’ve been called to. And we go through a process where we submit paperwork, and we go through a bunch of bishops, and our denomination can select people that would fit within their senate or district area. And then from there, we are hooked up with different churches, and we go through an interview process for each church. And then I’m called by the congregation, as I was called here at Community Lutheran church. It was kind of a mutual agreement between the church, getting a pastor and me needing a call, and we kind of arranged that together. And I’m a soul pastor here, and I have a secretary, and an organist.
So are you from that area in Delaware originally?
I grew up in Virginia, so my home congregation was in Virginia, and that’s why I did, we call it, candidacy process. So you go through the formation process of being a pastor in your home congregation, and then when you’re called within the ELCA Lutheran church, you’re called to the whole church. So depending on where your family are, where your family is, you can restrict where you want to be. But I was open to going anywhere, and so that’s how I got into Delaware.
So tell us a little more about Community Lutheran. How the church is structured and exactly what falls under your responsibility on a Sunday morning, but also that Monday through Friday time?
So… Community Lutheran church, we go by a model constitution set up by our denomination. And we have a church council, which consists of a council president, a vice president, a secretary, and we have a treasurer. And then, we have some, kind of at large, members and total council is about 10 or 12 people. And so we decide on church decisions together, and my role, as pastor generally on Sunday morning, is to preach the sermon, to administer the sacraments, usually holy communion. And I preside at weddings and funerals occasionally, and that’s on the Sunday morning, and I help develop the liturgies and how worship works. And then during the week, usually I’ll do various visitations. I’m a member of a local ministration group with other clergy, and we get together and plan community events and help out with some social services in the area. And then usually I’ll go to one or two committee meetings, depending on whether they need me to be there or not. And most of my time I spend trying to be out in the community, and developing relationships. And our congregation is mostly older congregation, so I’ve had to teach technology to some of the people. And so I help set our church up on Google calendar, and helped set up the church webpage, and on Facebook, and other things. And so, a lot of my job is equipping and helping train people to do the work of a ministry that we have here together.
Now, what would you say, of all of those things that in fall under your responsibility, what’s your favorite thing to work on?
I think my favorite thing to work on, I think is being engaged in the biblical text, and helping guide the congregation, and to think biblically about a lot of things. My role as pastor, it’s easy to get bogged down in the nitty-gritty, and you wanna get involved and crunching the numbers with the finance team, whatever else. But the role of pastors relate to help people to think about Jesus more, because a lot of times churches… They can end up trying to think of the church as a social club, and the only person there that’s kind of thinking about Jesus is the pastor sometimes. And so my role is, if I can get people excited about Jesus, and help them relate to what they’re doing in the church, and what they’re doing outside the church, then I feel like I’m doing a great job.
Now, having this, you know, you’re two years into your first calling. So coming out of seminary, and now being two years into this calling, what are some of your reflections, maybe some of your perspectives before actually having your own church, and now being two years in?
I think sometimes in seminary, we have this ideal vision of the church. And so I love my congregation a lot, but there are moments when it’s a lot like going back to high school and having little clicks and other things. And so, learning how to navigate those, and just learning to take people as they are. Sometimes in seminary we get this ideal vision of the church, it is great and wonderful. But sometimes church can be a little bit mean, and a little bit daunting to realize, but just learning to have grace with people, and learning to talk about Jesus more, cause we all need more of that.
Absolutely. Churches and pulpits are filled with humans.
What is one solution, or best practice that you’ve implemented there at Community Lutheran, that you’ve seen success from, that might be interesting to some other ministers who might be listening?
I guess a… We’ve had cottage meetings, allowing moments for small groups, and we usually do that before annual meeting, and we’ve done two rounds of that. First, when I got there, to get the congregation to know me a little bit, but now I’m starting the second year. We’re trying to make goals and do some planning, and for me, it’s been helpful to get to know the congregation better, get to know what their strengths and weaknesses are. And also it helps other people in congregation get to know each other. We have an 8 o’clock and a 10:30 service, and sometimes it’s like having two different congregations with the two different services. And so at those cottage meetings, sometimes people get to know each other, that they didn’t get to know each other before, because they go to two different services. During the cottage meetings, we talk about goals and where we wanna be. I always take some part, and we start with a bible study. I use the African bible study method, where you read a passage three times, and you offer different questions and reflections each time you read it. And that helps frame our conversation, and it’s just been really fruitful. I think it helps get people focused towards the gospel, allows a lot of communication between everybody and gives everybody a voice in what’s happening with the congregation. Cause I think sometimes churches, they think everything, it’s up to the pastor what happens. Well, we’re a community and we need to work towards things together.
So you start these cottage meetings out with this bible study. Is there a solid structure to the meeting that follows or it just kind of… do you go on with the certain agenda or itinerary?
I kind of stage it in three or four parts, so I try not to focus on the negative, but focuse on the positive, and share what are we doing well, and I allow people to talk. I also hand out note cards, so people can write it down. Cause some people like writing down, better than talking to the group. And then we talk about, well… what are some areas where we can improve on, or we need to work on? And then we do a third set of questions, on what do we hope to see in the future. And sometimes we get off topic, and sometimes we kind of focus on a particular thing more than we need to. But that general framework tends to keep things moving along and helps focus the conversation.
That’s really helpful. So now on the flip side, what is one current, maybe administrative challenge that you haven’t yet found a solution for within the church and it doesn’t have to be administrative either, even ministerial?
The two things, I think every church always struggles with this. And sometimes you’ll find solutions, but it’s always a continual struggle. One is communication. We put out a calendar, and then dates change, and then people get all confused. And we try to communicate it in a bunch of different ways, and yet people still are confused about what’s happening when. We’ve done Google calendars, and that’s helped a little bit, but for me it’s like, when you’re communicating, you need to communicate at least three different ways, and one of them has to be face to face, for it to be successful. And even then, it’s still an uphold battle to communicate effectively. And then in that, just finding leaders in the church, nobody really wants to volunteer for stuff. And then if they do volunteer, they feel like they have to be in charge. I think that’s the cost challenge for me, especially as a pastor. A pastor is called to equip people, and so always looking for ways to equip people, and help people lead effectively. That’s a constant struggle, but it’s a struggle I gladly keep on going towards, cause everybody needs improvement on their leadership skills.
Yeah, absolutely. So Mark, where do you go to be encouraged, and to learn about being better at your role?
The one book that I tend to read every six months is “In the name of Jesus” by Henri Nouwen. I have it on my desk, and I just occasionally flip through it. And it’s just a reminder for me that if we’re not growing to be more like Jesus than maybe we’re missing the mark. And for me, it’s a wonderful reflection and Christian leadership. I have all my council people read through it, and I go for that for inspiration and guidance all the time. I’m a member of the Order of Lutheran Franciscans, which is a spiritual group. And occasionally I’ll have a conversation with one of the brothers, and we’ll hash out through things that we’re going through. My colleagues, regardless of what denomination they’re from, colleagues are essential to learning how to be a great leader and just being able to vent and get ideas and bounce off each other with ideas and all that.
Yeah, absolutely. I’m personally pleased that you brought up Henri now and he’s one of my favorites.
I also started…there’s one book that I started reading called “Start with why” by Simon Sinek. And that’s been a really great book for me, because most time we’re… We’re leading churches, the most time we don’t understand why we’re doing it. And for me to always ask this, well, why are we doing this? And that’s kind of an essential question. We need to be asking as we’re leading people. Because if people know why they’re doing it, and they’re excited about it, then it creates a lot of momentum.
So you’ve answered this a bit, but then I have to ask you, why are you doing it?
I love talking about Jesus, and I love the transformational power of the resurrection. And for me, nothing is more powerful than seeing people transformed by the love of Jesus. And I see it all the time, especially when I’m visiting some folks in their homes. And they feel like they’re at a moment when they have a little bit less hope, and I just remind them of how much Jesus loves them, and it’s just amazing how that can transform someone’s life.
Absolutely. Mark, I’d like to end with this. What encouragement would you give to others in church leadership?
I would say, I make it a point to say thank you, often. I think as pastors, you rely on volunteers a lot. And so being able to say thank you, often, I think goes a long way in helping people feel appreciated and then they wanna come back and continue their efforts. I also think sticking to your role as a pastor, I can get bogged down with some of the details, but realizing we have a treasurer and let him be the treasurer, and you don’t have to get into thick of it. But just let people do the job that they’re required to do, and you do yours, and everything will work out great. I think the lasting is just to pray often, personal prayer, but also spending that time in different committees talking and praying with the leaders. Because if we aren’t focused on Jesus, and we don’t allow the Holy Spirit to come in with whatever we’re doing, then it’s pointless.
Mark, I love your practical advice. But then the ending on the most important things staying focused on Jesus.
Yeah, that’s why we’re here. It’s all about Jesus.
Mark, thanks so much for being on the podcast today.
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