Great Stuff — A Clergy Dominated Church?

Another great post found over on Gottesdienst Online:

 

President KieschnickThe president-emeritus of the LCMS, the Rev. Gerald Kieschnick, has written a blogpost expressing his “perspective” positing that the LCMS has a culture that is unfriendly to the laity.  However, the title he chose, “A Clergy Dominated Church?” makes use of the question mark, which seems to invite answers to his “question.”

We respectfully disagree with his premise that the LCMS is a church body in which the laity are dominated, denied a voice in the governing of the church, and treated with disrespect by her pastors – especially in the “direction the LCMS seems to be heading these days.”

This is a not-so-subtle reference to the fact that the current synod president defeated the Rev. Kieschnick three years ago, and in some ways broke ranks with the style and substance of the past administration.  It is no surprise that this is a source of disagreement for the Rev. Kieschnick, and may well be especially frustrating given the landslide victory – what secular pundits might consider a “mandate” – in the Rev. Matthew Harrison’s recent reelection.  Of course, the Rev. Kieschnick’s minority view should be heard and considered, and he is entitled to his dissent.

He writes: “Clergy dominance was particularly evident at last week’s Synod convention, even more so than in the past. In worship services, on the podium and at microphones, black shirts and white collars were abundant.”

We think the Rev. Kieschnick’s reference to collars is misleading.  There may well have been more pastors wearing clerical attire, as this does seem to be a trend among younger pastors, but there were not more pastors than in the past.  Delegates to the convention are half clergy and half laity.  That formula has not changed.  And in fact, the representation of every congregation by a lay person belies the claim that pastors “dominate” the representative process.

Moreover, it should strike no-one as odd to see a lot of clergy at a church convention.  One would expect to see a good number of lawyers at a bar association meeting, a large proportion of medical doctors at a gathering of the AMA, or a lot of really big tall men at a meeting of the NBA player’s union.  This is not a conspiracy – it reflects the reality that in the LCMS, all pastors are members of synod.

He also mentions a dearth of laity in “positions of significant leadership in our church body. That includes, for example, university presidents, significant missionary supervisors, and other leadership positions at the national level.”  Of course, the Rev. Kieschnick spent several terms as synod president, as well as previous service as a district president.  Neither of those positions is open to laypeople.  Were the bylaws changed with the new administration to restrict the roles of the laity?  The Council of Presidents is certainly the single most powerful body in the LCMS – and laymen and laywomen are not permitted to serve on this council.  Was the Rev. Kieschnick lobbying for lay membership in the COP when he was a member?

He writes: “Furthermore, there’s a discernible aloofness and even pharisaical demeanor exhibited by some pastors, obvious during worship services and in pastoral ministry functions as well. Intentionally or unintentionally, this telegraphs a ‘holier than thou’ attitude in both work and worship.”

He provides no examples of this sinful and disgraceful attitude.  We do not believe such sweeping generalizations about pastors are particularly helpful.  The strong consensus of delegates and attendees who were at the convention is quite at odds with his description.  To the contrary, there seemed to be a great deal of concord and  harmony at this convention.  We disagree with his conclusion and would not describe our pastors to be “aloof.”  To be sure, as with any other group of people, there is a bell curve of any and all human traits, good and bad.  The vast majority of parish pastors are not snobs.  They do not enjoy six figure salaries, big expense accounts, finely tailored suits, expensive cars, and palatial mansions to live in.  Indeed, most parish pastors are endowed with every manner of human sin and frailty.  They often live and work in rather humble circumstances, and relate to the average layperson in a much closer and less aloof manner than those who occupy lofty bureaucratic positions.  And we do believe this observation – which is admittedly anecdotal – is a very good argument for ordained presbyters in the LCMS who hold bureaucratic offices to serve a parish in some capacity, perhaps as an associate pastor, such as the example set by the Rev. Harrison.  We do believe it is very easy for men to lose touch with how ordinary people live when they are treated like princes of the church.  Continued service as a parish pastor is a humbling and grounding opportunity for service.

As to the conclusion that the LCMS is a “clergy dominated” church body, we should consider the following:

  • Most parish pastors are overseen not only by an ordained (but for all practical purposes laicized) district president, who holds an enormous amount of power over him), but they are also overseen by a parochial board of elders, almost exclusively composed of laymen (and in some cases, laywomen).
  • The LCMS holds the laity in such high regard as to permit them to speak the words of institution over bread and wine and to preach from the pulpit – a practice unheard of in other historic Catholic communions (not to mention prohibited by our own confessional documents, to which all pastors and almost no laypeople are bound by oath) – but one that was approved by synod conventions comprised of 50% lay delegates.
  • The LCMS considers schoolteachers and other lay church workers to be “ministers of religion.”
  • The LCMS has “licensed lay deacons” – whereas among many of our partner churches around the world, deacons are ordained ministers.  Some LCMS congregations even vest laywomen in albs and stoles and position them at the altar during the Divine Service without censure.
  • The LCMS has the confusing notion of “lay ministry,” as well as outstanding lay training institutes, and many resources for lay people to study theology – both formally and informally.  Laypeople can, and are, fine instructors at our seminaries, professors at our universities, authors, and administrators.  Laypeople typically serve ably in nearly every capacity in our congregations, including those who teach Sunday school, and those who serve on, and chair, boards and committees.
  • It should also be noted that recent changes in the synod’s structure to consolidate a great deal of authority at the presidential level (thus making synod more hierarchical and less democratic) were conceived and implemented with the encouragement and leadership of then-synod-president the Rev. Kieschnick and his administration.

While we respect former president Kieschnick’s right to his own perspective on the governance of our church body, we believe he could not be more wrong.

One of the issues that has come to fore of late (including at the recent convention) is the scandal of the many pastors who were removed from their congregations for unscriptural reasons and who languish on CRM status.  These men, in most cases, were removed by laypeople who oversee them on boards of elders, church councils, or voters assemblies.  In those cases of unscriptural removal from office, the “clergy dominated church” could be interpreted to mean that the clergy is being dominated.

The word “dominate” finds its roots in the Latin word Dominus – which is a title that is applied to our Lord Jesus Christ.  Rather than pit “missionals” against “confessionals”; or “conservatives” against “liberals”; or pastors against laypeople, we should find ways to reconcile, to dialogue, to find mutual respect among all of the Church’s royal priesthood – which includes pastors and laypeople.  We should encourage the preachers of the Word, our shepherds, to be shepherds – not hirelings or fence-sitters.  And we should encourage our hearers of the word, our laity, to bring their gifts and talents to the table in areas where they provide valuable expertise lacking by our clergy.  We most definitely should not encourage laypeople to usurp offices to which they have not been called and ordained.

Instead of arguing over domination by clergy over the laity, or domination by the laity over the clergy, we should all humbly submit to our Dominus, the Lord of the Church, our Great High Priest, who has come to serve and to save.

About Norm Fisher

Norm was raised in the UCC in Connecticut, and like many fell away from the church after high school. With this background he saw it primarily as a service organization. On the miracle of his first child he came back to the church. On moving to Texas a few years later he found a home in Lutheranism when he was invited to a confessional church a half-hour away by our new neighbors.

He is one of those people who found a like mind in computers while in Middle School and has been programming ever since. He’s responsible for many websites, including the Book of Concord, LCMSsermons.com, and several other sites.

He has served the church in various positions, including financial secretary, sunday school teacher, elder, PTF board member, and choir member.

More of his work can be found at KNFA.net.


Comments

Great Stuff — A Clergy Dominated Church? — 173 Comments

  1. @goober #47
    At the same time, President Jerry was unelected fair and square.

    “President Jerry” was not acting in the Office of the Holy Ministry.
    He “ran” for President of Synod, a bureaucratic job.
    In the political positions, people may be dismissed or voted out of office.

    In the office of Pastor, other rules apply in Missouri Synod.
    [Or should apply, if the people know what the rules are or they are taught, if they don’t know.]

  2. “Clergy dominance was particularly evident at last week’s Synod convention, even more so than in the past. In worship services, on the podium and at microphones, black shirts and white collars were abundant.”

    A black (polo) shirt wearer (sans white collar) greeted delegates at the LC-C 2011 convention in Hamilton, Ontario.

  3. Of course, my posts are all tongue in cheek.

    We are to believe that a young man goes to school for 8 years, builds up a 40k debt, and goes to serve in a small parish in the middle of nowhere, being paid a salary that is low enough to keep he and his family in debt for most of the rest of their lives (and they do this eagerly and with joy) because he wants to dominate the laity?

    We all need to stop seeing each other as enemies. The real enemy is laughing his way to the bank.

  4. I think we (left and right, top to bottom) are obligated to assume that young men enter the ministry out of a deep love for Christ and the people of God. They want to serve the church and care for her faithfully. The Bible calls this “noble.” For good reason.

    Should pastors get heavy handed or domineering, yelling at them won’t help. We need first to ask the question of what happened to make them that way, since they most likely prepared for the ministry with noble motive and entered into it with good spirited intent to serve. And then we need to take measures to remedy the situation.

    This is what you do if you want to lead in a way that resolves problems, instead of using problems as political fodder to gain votes. But to be fair, our polity encourages adversarial relationships in much the same way as our nation’s politics does.

    –the goob

  5. @goober #4

    Goober, if you want to be “tongue in cheek” let us know. 8-^) will do nicely (if it comes thru here).
    Or a smiley… That’s colon & right paren 🙂

    Glad to see you can talk sense!

  6. helen :
    @David Hartung #45
    Helen, I seriously doubt that many pastors are removed for “frivolous” reasons, at least not in the LCMS. Looking from the outside in, you may think that “frivolity” is involved, but you do not know the entire story.
    David, have you been on the inside looking out?
    In the cases I know, the “Lutheran reasons” (which I listed) were not involved. All else is as arbitrary [and wrong] as goober’s “IF we don’t like them, we unelect them!”

    Miss Helen,

    My personal knowledge is somewhat limited. In the few situations of which I have personal knowledge, and in which the pastor involved claimed to have been improperly removed, there was always something going on that the pastor didn’t mention. This something always seemed to be something the pastor had done which caused him to lose the trust of the congregation. This loss of trust was not based upon theological differences, but upon a lack of, or a lapse in judgement. Once the pastor has lost the congregation’s trust, he is in effect unable to perform his office.

    One last thing, this comment is based upon my personal observations, and I do not claim that this is the situation in every, or even most cases. I merely point this out to make the point that even pastors are sinners, and are capable of presenting their situation in a manner to make themselves appear blameless. Put bluntly, when anyone, even a pastor claims that he was improperly fired, that claim should be viewed sceptically, until it is verified.

  7. David Hartung :

    helen :@David Hartung #45 Helen, I seriously doubt that many pastors are removed for “frivolous” reasons, at least not in the LCMS. Looking from the outside in, you may think that “frivolity” is involved, but you do not know the entire story.David, have you been on the inside looking out?In the cases I know, the “Lutheran reasons” (which I listed) were not involved. All else is as arbitrary [and wrong] as goober’s “IF we don’t like them, we unelect them!”

    Miss Helen,
    My personal knowledge is somewhat limited. In the few situations of which I have personal knowledge, and in which the pastor involved claimed to have been improperly removed, there was always something going on that the pastor didn’t mention. This something always seemed to be something the pastor had done which caused him to lose the trust of the congregation. This loss of trust was not based upon theological differences, but upon a lack of, or a lapse in judgement. Once the pastor has lost the congregation’s trust, he is in effect unable to perform his office.
    One last thing, this comment is based upon my personal observations, and I do not claim that this is the situation in every, or even most cases. I merely point this out to make the point that even pastors are sinners, and are capable of presenting their situation in a manner to make themselves appear blameless. Put bluntly, when anyone, even a pastor claims that he was improperly fired, that claim should be viewed sceptically, until it is verified.

    No doubt the pastors sin and make all kinds of mistakes. But “Losing the trust of the congregation” is a slippery accusation to substantiate. It can be an entirely political matter. Perhaps in some cases both the pastor and the congregation are a bit dysfunctional due to poor treatment, health issues, general orneriness, etc… Of course, since the congregants do not recieve their paycheck, food for their kids, and healthcare from the pastor, but the pastor does from the congregation, the pastor is in a pretty doggone difficult and vulnerable position. I can get a crowd of my friends and relatives worked up, get a pastor fired, and then go on about my business. No biggie for me. Even if I am shown to be wrong, I still have my job, family, food, friends, and the like. Not so if I am the pastor.

    Even when a pastor is entirely at fault, we do well to explore how that developed. Did we authorize a man for ministry who was not competent to be a pastor in the first place? If so, we bear some responsibility for it and need to be gracious and helpful toward him. Did he develop some kind of emotional problem that affects his performance? If so, mercy is called for. Was he mistreated and under great strain due to congregational conflict which he inherited adn he reacted improperly to that? If so, we need to bend over backwards to give him help on a variety of levels. Kicking he and his wife and hungry little kids to the curb should not be an option.

    Look, if we are going to treat a pastor as just another employee, then fine. But please tell these guys before they get all the training and spend all the time and money. They need to know this ahead of time. Furthermore, even the pagans have labor laws and unemployment checks. Shouldn’t the church have the same, if she treats her worker as just another hired person?

    –the goob

  8. @goober #3
    Looking back at your remark, it makes sense that they were made “tongue in cheek”. You certainly got me, though, and probably not through any fault of your own. You may have assumed that your utterances were so far out in form as well as content that everybody would know immediately that you what you were presenting was pure parody.
    What is really sad is that your tongue in cheek comments so closely resemble not only the attitude of disregard for the Word of God and the consequential contempt for the Pastoral office, and for human life and Christian love, but also the actual utterances some of us have actually encountered, hearing them expressed by congregational members, deadly serious and with no sense of irony whatsoever, and seen them enthusiastically endorsed by brother pastors and District Presidents.
    Sometimes reality is every bit as grotesque as satire. And in this case, that is what is really sad.

  9. Jais Tinglund :@goober #3 Looking back at your remark, it makes sense that they were made “tongue in cheek”. You certainly got me, though, and probably not through any fault of your own. You may have assumed that your utterances were so far out in form as well as content that everybody would know immediately that you what you were presenting was pure parody.What is really sad is that your tongue in cheek comments so closely resemble not only the attitude of disregard for the Word of God and the consequential contempt for the Pastoral office, and for human life and Christian love, but also the actual utterances some of us have actually encountered, hearing them expressed by congregational members, deadly serious and with no sense of irony whatsoever, and seen them enthusiastically endorsed by brother pastors and District Presidents.Sometimes reality is every bit as grotesque as satire. And in this case, that is what is really sad.

    I do not have any intention to slam anyone….laity, DP’s, etc… So please don’t interpret my agreement with the point of my approach being what you note above as indicating that. But what you say about my parody is true. What I said was no more outrageous than what I have read and heard and seen actually occur. We need to change this adversarial culture in which we live as a synod.

    Any old goober can cause all kinds of commotion and trouble….be he pastor, layperson, DP, whomever.

  10. @David Hartung #45

    “My personal knowledge is somewhat limited. In the few situations of which I have personal knowledge, and in which the pastor involved claimed to have been improperly removed, there was always something going on that the pastor didn’t mention. This something always seemed to be something the pastor had done which caused him to lose the trust of the congregation.”

    Now, do you know this for a fact – or is it possible that the stories about what the pastor had done perhaps misunderstandings, exaggerations or outright lies?

    “when anyone, even a pastor claims that he was improperly fired, that claim should be viewed sceptically, until it is verified.”

    And so should allegations of outlandish and absurd behaviour on the part of a pastor – under the Eight Commandment …

  11. @David Hartung #6
    Put bluntly, when anyone, even a pastor claims that he was improperly fired, that claim should be viewed sceptically, until it is verified.

    Pastors are not “fired”, David. That’s so Walmart!

    They are pressured to resign, because, if they resign the onus is on them, not the congregation, or so the congregation deludes itself. Only if the Pastor refuses to go along with that charade, is a call “rescinded.”

    David, did you perhaps step into someone else’s shoes? The only other person I know, who is so convinced as you are that “any Pastor unjustly removed deserved it”, wants to believe it because he took one of those vacancies.

  12. @helen #11

    Call it what you will, but being forced out in any way amounts to being fired. You might also wish to pay attention to what I actually said. I did not say that any man “unjustly removed” deserved it. What I said is that pastors are human, and are as capable as anyone else of relating events to make themselves look blameless. When a pastor claims to have been unjustly removed, before accepting such claims, one should really do some checking.

    We should always consider that in there are two sides to any issue, and that a congregation in the position of asking their pastor to resign, does not do so lightly.

    No, I did not come into a parish behind a pastor who was forced out. I came in behind a man who surprised the congregation by giving two weeks notice that he was resigning his call.

  13. So what do we do with a pastor who was “fired” even if the firing was justified? Because unless a guy is SMP, he has an enormous amount to lose and few marketable skills. Are there any safety nets? Do we have any retraining programs in place to prepare the pastor to “make a living” doing something else?

    Who feeds his kids?

    Just curious.

  14. @David Hartung #12
    As much as you strive to appear not to be biased against removed pastors, but rather presenting an objective and nuanced way of looking at things, a strong bias still does shine through in your posts.
    For example, when stating as a fact that “a congregation in the position of asking their pastor to resign, does not do so lightly” – do you actually know for a fact that that is never the case? Have you given any thought to how hurtful a such absolute statement might be to the pastor removed without just cause – if it is not true that no congregation has ever taken the removal of a pastor too lightly?
    And: “When a pastor claims to have been unjustly removed, before accepting such claims, one should really do some checking” – you seem to find it unnecessary to question any claims made by the pastor’s enemies.
    As it stands, your position comes out as being that there are two sides to any issue (only two?), and one of these sides is always the only truth, namely the way the congregation sees it (is “the congregation” here code for: “that part of the congregation that wants to get rid of the pastor”?).
    It seems to me that a truly nuanced position, and a reasonable one, would be to admit 1) that some pastors are actually treated unjustly, and much so; 2) that in some congregations there are members who are ignorant of and/or indifferent to the teachings of Holy Scripture regarding the pastoral office, Christian love, communion with those of different faith, the sanctity of marriage, what the faith is and what should be preached, and several other issues, and such members are often allowed to exercise undue influence in congregations; 3) that one should not immediately believe what is being said about a pastor (or about anybody else) without giving room for the possibility of fallible sinners misunderstanding things, exaggerating, putting a spin on things, lying, or having been influenced by somebody misunderstanding things, exaggerating, putting a spin on things or lying; 4) that even some faithful and theologically highly competent pastors might engage in such abusive or otherwise offensive behaviour that they need to resign or be removed from office; 5) that some such pastors might not be willing to acknowledge or admit that other factors than faithfulness contributed to their removal; 6) and that neither you nor I nor anybody else know what is always true, or even almost always, in all cases in which a pastor is removed from or harassed out of a congregation …

  15. @goober #9
    A culture that assumes an adversarial relationship between pastor and congregation, clergy and laity, pastors against District Presidents, is indeed unhealthy. Even more so is a culture that disregards not only what Holy Scripture teaches about the Pastoral Office, but also what it teaches about Christian love, so that attitudes are encouraged against pastors that no Christian should be able to express against anyone, pastor or otherwise, without being put under discipline until repentance has taken place and the perpetrator has (again?) embraced Christ in faith. This was what I tried to express by pointing out that the attitude portrayed in your posts was an attitude of contempt not only for the pastoral office, but also for human life and Christian love.
    My sense is that sometimes that is the problem: that matters are too often dealt with in a manner that is not only anti-clerical or anti-laity, but simply anti-Christian.

  16. Very true.

    If we continue to look at our christian brothers and sisters with the old stinkeye….pastors, laity, conservative, liberal, confessional, contemporary, liturgical, baptistic….whatever and whomever….then we all lose. My brother’s problem is my problem, too. We are called to bear one another’s burdens. We are called to remove the slivers and restore sinners gently. We are our brother’s keeper.

    It is the devil who is out to kill, steal, and destroy.

    Should I use my brother’s sin against him, then my sin is worse than his.

    Imagine how the world would consider us if we actually practiced this kind of Christian love. I think that would be quite missional.

    Over and out.

    –the goob

  17. @David Hartung #12
    I came in behind a man who surprised the congregation by giving two weeks notice that he was resigning his call.

    Now that I would wonder about! 🙁
    [Unless I was told why.]

  18. I forget who the wag was that said this, but given all the anecdotal evidence in so many comments, it just seemed appropriate (believe it was in a reformed publication) . . .

    “After two or three pastors are removed, it is time to replace the congregation. That usually does the trick.”

  19. @Jais H. Tinglund #14

    Think about this. For several years I have watched people in this forum consistently blame congregations when a pastor leaves under a cloud. This is done without any attempt to ascertain the facts. When I suggest that perhaps getting the facts is the thing to do, I am accused of a cold hearted attack on the pastors.

    How very amazing.

  20. Neither the Bible nor longstanding church tradition supports David’s contention that we should not give the deposed or resigned pastor the benefit of the doubt. David’s advice is, therefore, most likely unhealthy for the church and her pastors.

    Funny thing when you read that pesky Bible, the brutal Roman courts were kinder and fairer to Jesus and Paul and the other apostles than were the religious crowds, leaders, and courts.

    Pastors are, of course, placed into and office whereby they represent Christ, so to speak, and preach the apostolic Word. Gives one pause, does it not?

    While it is no doubt true that there are pastors who have sinned greatly and need to be removed, the onus is on the congregation and synodical leaders to prove the case beyond a shadow of a doubt. Jesus was, essentially, found guilty due to religious crowds and leaders breaking the 8th commandment. He didn’t even try to defend himself against that. How can you?

    –The goob

  21. @David Hartung #19
    Truth be told, David, you do not really come across as merely suggesting that “perhaps getting the facts is the thing to do”. It seems to me that such suggestions on your part are more often than not accompanied by a statement that rather than consistently blaming congregations one should consistently blame pastors.
    Again, I am thinking of such statements as that the testimony of a pastor should always be assumed to be untruthful – whereas you seem to leave no room whatsoever for any doubts when it comes to the testimony of congregational members.
    I am thinking of such statements as that no congregation ever has nor ever will take the removal of a pastor too lightly.
    Statements like that makes it difficult to see you as a voice of reason and impartiality. And without being accompanied by such statements, I think your suggestions might have been received differently. At least I hope so.

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