We've been through hell ; now what? : congregational conflict, renewal and hope.

Date of Award


Document Type



Drew Theological School

Degree Name

Doctor of Ministry


I am an ordained pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and have served the people of St. Paul's since December of 2002. St. Paul's was once the "power church" in Karnes City, but as it has aged and as the Church has been pushed closer to society's margins, it has seen its membership and influence wane. This has been the cause of much anxiety and has embroiled the congregation in round after round of conflict, causing a loss of missional vision and further erosion of membership and influence. The title of the project and subsequent thesis draws its name from a comment made at a gathering of St. Paul's members following the conclusion of the latest round of conflict that drew to a close with the adoption of the recommendations from the Synod Consultation Committee. It was realized that some clear direction needed to be established or St. Paul's would soon find itself back in conflict. It was the intent of the project to help move St. Paul's through healing toward focusing on a renewed sense of its mission and purpose. Using a model of inward, upward, and outward, the project began with a Lenten book study in Lutheran spirituality, moved to a Lenten worship service of healing, Holy Communion, blessing and sending, and then post Easter to a process for beginning to establish a Strategic Mission plan for St. Paul's. The thesis is a narrative recounting of the journey of the pastor and people of St. Paul's together through the hell of conflict and beyond into the hopefulness of God's future. Through Christ's descent into hell, a connection with God and God's love is established that cannot be broken and which connects us together even when the forces of conflict and chaos threaten to tear us apart. The surprising grace of this love held the pastor and people of St. Paul's together and gave them the opportunity to live into a hopeful future through participating in The Missional River Initiative, a joint venture between the Southwestern Texas Synod, ELCA, and the Missional Network.