Serving Together without Serving Together: A Closer Look at the Relationship between Lay Leaders & Called Workers, Rev. Joel Heckendorf and John Tappe
Lay Leader. Called Worker. Ever find it interesting the way we describe the people who serve side-by-side in God’s kingdom? Why is the called person a “worker” and why is the layperson the leader? Is that the way it should be? Is it wrong if the called person is the “leader” and the layperson is the “worker?”
To ask it another way, what is the role of the pastor? Is he simply the resident theologian who provides spiritual guidance and feeds the faith of the flock while men with more “real world experience” chart the course and steer the ship of the church? In what role do the members see him functioning? How does the pastor view himself? What if those views conflict? Where does giftedness fit into this discussion?
It’s been said that Satan if can’t affect our doctrine, he can still try and affect our relationships. So, that is often where he’ll often attack. If you have enough experience in the Church Militant, you can point to examples of soured relationships between called and lay people that hindered the gospel ministry. Unfortunately, it’s more common than we wish. What’s the cause? Are there preventative measures that can be taken? Is it merely personality conflict or is it perhaps a misunderstanding of respective roles?
The presenters for this session – Mr. John Tappe and Rev. Joel Heckendorf – have been members at the same congregation. Ironically, they never officially served together in an official capacity. John was never an elected leader when Joel served as his pastor. And yet, for seven years they “served together without serving together.” For the last eleven years, they continue to serve the kingdom together without officially serving together.
As they share the experiences and insights of their relationship, we pray God will provide the called and lay leaders of this conference some practical tools in strengthening ministry partnerships even if you’re not serving on boards or committees together. Topics include:
- Shepherding the Shepherd & His Family
- Positive Reinforcement Both Directions
- Complementary Gifts
- Functions of Ministry vs. Titles (Ephesians 4)
Rev. Joel Heckendorf
Growing up in southeastern Wisconsin, Joel saw first-hand how the lay/called worker relationship can be a mutual blessing as he watched his father serve in various capacities at their local congregation. While attending the Seminary, one of Joel’s consistent prayers was to have a member like his father when he would enter the ministry. That prayer was answered in the person of John Tappe, when Joel was assigned to serve as his pastor at St. Peter, Schofield, Wis., in 2001. Joel and John served together in Schofield for seven years, with one highlight being the addition of a second-campus that included a childcare and community center.
From 2008-2018, Joel served as the coordinating pastor at Immanuel, Greenville, Wis. Again blessed to serve alongside tremendous leaders (some of whom are presenting at this conference), Joel had the privilege of watching an exciting ministry boom, as the congregation went from 550 in weekly worship to over a 1,000 (1,200 members to 2,600 members) during his decade of service. While in Greenville, Joel also was blessed to serve as a vice-president of the Northern Wisconsin District, seeing leadership from a different perspective. He also began serving as the WELS Multi-Language Publications chairman, a position he currently holds.
In December 2018, Joel became the first pastor at Light of the Valleys Lutheran Church in Reno, Nev., hoping to bring the blessings of working with gifted leaders to the mission field. Joel prays that his positive interaction with layleaders in the past will serve as a great model as he works side-by-side with God’s people to establish a new congregation.
On a personal level, Joel and his wife, Mary, are blessed with three children, Alyssa (Martin Luther College), Caleb & Connor (Luther Preparatory School).
John Tappe currently lives northwest of Medford, Wis., since retiring in 2009. Prior to his retirement, John was employed in residential real estate sales and home building in the Wausau, Wis. metropolitan area since 1970. His last 20 years years he was a partner with his oldest son, building and developing single family homes and subdivisions. During most of this time he owned and managed a small real estate sales team.
Over the past 50 years John has been blessed to served his Savior in both congregational and synod leadership positions. As a member of St. Peter Lutheran Church in Schofield, Wis., from 1970-2007, he served on the Church Council, chairing the Long Range Planning Committee, the Building Committee for the new grade school, and the Building Committee for the Key to Life Childcare and Community Center. Since joining Immanuel Lutheran Church in Medford in 2007, John has served on the Church Council, chairing the School and Child Care Center Board, the Long Range Planning Committee, and currently is serving on the Building Committee for a new child care center.
Areas in which John has been blessed to served the WELS are: Western Wisconsin District Mission Board (12 years), 6 of which were also served on the Board for Home Missions. He has served on the Synodical Conference (4 years), and also the Church Extension Fund Board of Directors (11 years).
On a personal level John and his wife, Jan, are blessed with 6 children and 29 grandchild. They enjoy traveling the United States, spending the winter in sunny Naples, Fla., where they attend Crown of Life Lutheran Church in Ft. Myers, camping with family and spending time with the grandchildren. John also enjoys hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation.