Great Stuff Found on the Web — Brother Pastor, I’ve Got Your Back

March 19th, 2013 Post by

Another great post found on Pastor Surburg’s blog, surburg.blogspot.com:

 

PrSurburgBrother pastor, I want you to know that I’ve got your back.  My first move will always be to believe you and to believe in you.  When I hear accusations against you, my first assumption will be that they are not true.  I will not speak publicly about accusations as if they were true.

I say this because I know what it is like out there in the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. It’s open season on pastors, and especially on pastors who want to practice what the Scriptures say and what the Book of Concord confesses.  I know that the seminary does an outstanding job of teaching you what God’s Word says.  I know that it does an excellent job in teaching you to love Lutheran theology.  I know that it instills in you a deep sense of responsibility for your service to Christ’s Church as you serve in his Office of the Holy Ministry.

When you were ordained and installed, and in each installation since, you believed what the Scriptures say about the Office and its responsibilities. You knew that Paul had said, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood (Acts 20:28). You knew that that Peter wrote, “So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering overthose in your charge, but being examples to the flock (1 Peter 5:1-3).  And so you knew that God had placed you to care for that congregation.  God had placed you, and therefore you were keeping watch over those for whom you “will have to give an account” before him (Heb 13:17).

You believed what your ordination vows say: that the Old and New Testaments are the inspired Word of God and the only infallible rule of faith and practice; that the Ecumenical Creeds are faithful testimonies to the truth of the Holy Scriptures; that the Book of Concord is a true exposition of Holy Scripture and a correct exhibition of the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Lutheran Service Book Agenda, 166-167).

Hebrews 13:17 says, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” It is found the Small Catechism’s Table of Duties and in the installation rite of a pastor (Lutheran Service Book Agenda, 180).  And so you believed the congregation when it answered “We will, with the help of God,” to the question, “Will you receive him, show him that love, honor and obedience in the Lord that you owe to the shepherd and teacher placed over you by your Lord Jesus Christ, and will you support him by your gifts and pray for him always that in his labors he may retain a cheerful spirit, and that his ministry among you may be abundantly blessed” (Lutheran Service Book Agenda, 180).

But I also know the reality.  There are congregations that don’t believe Lutheran theology all that deeply.  Some congregations would rather operate in the way of American evangelicalism. Some congregations would rather sing “Shine, Jesus shine” than sing the Gloria in excelsis and the Sanctus. Some congregations don’t want to practice closed communion, even though it is the biblical and the official stance of our synod – especially when it involves their ELCA family member.  Some congregations don’t want to practice pastoral discipline towards those who are living together outside of marriage – especially when it involves their son or daughter. Some congregations have powerful forces who know it is their church.  Pastors come and pastors go but the congregational leaders are really in charge and they don’t need to follow anyone. There are alligators in the water.

Awhile back under the previous synodical administration there were a series of conferences about the ministry entitled “Who’s in charge.”  You had already learned the answer to that question for the LCMS.  The congregation is in charge.  In a congregational polity, they write your pay check and therefore they are in charge.  They are in charge because you learn very quickly that from the district president’s perspective the pastor is expendable.  You can always get another one.  Congregations can’t be replaced.  Therefore the congregation can do almost anything because no one is going to remove it from synod.

And so here’s how it works.  Influential congregation members decide for any number of reasons that they don’t want you as pastor.  The reasons are not legitimate. But that doesn’t matter.  They begin to work in the congregation to stir up criticism and resentment.  They look for any opportunity to take offense at you.  They make life uncomfortable by refusing to give you a raise and by lowering your health care coverage.

If this doesn’t get rid of you fast enough, they start to contact your circuit counselor and district president.  They are still operating in the church and so they couch their accusations in the form of: “He doesn’t have good people skills.”; “He’s lazy.”; “He’s too rigid.”  The circuit counselor and district president may share the same beliefs as the congregation.  They may not want to be biblical and Lutheran in practice, and so they are only too happy to take its side.  There is talk of “syndical reconcilers” and the like, but the die has been cast.

Finally, the congregation just declares that after such and such a date, it will no longer pay you. Perhaps the leaders have met with the district president and out of “Christian love” they have agreed to give you a six month “severance package.”  You learn that your divine call means nothing because the congregation writes the checks and the district doesn’t want to lose the congregation.

Now I have to be honest with you.  This is not my situation. By God’s grace I am blessed with a congregation that has a long history of loving, supporting and respecting the pastor.  I am in a circuit where the congregations and pastors want to be Lutheran.  I have a solid and supporting circuit counselor (in fact for the last six years they’ve tried to get me to be circuit counselor).  I am in a district that wants to be Lutheran and have been blessed with former and present district presidents who are everything for which a Lutheran pastor could ask. But I have seen so many brothers – so many brothers who were not lazy and did not have bad people skills – mistreated in this way.  They were good men – faithful pastors who were operating under the assumption they were supposed to be Lutheran pastors. I am grieved that the LCMS allows her pastors to be abused in this way.

My first move will always be to believe you and to believe in you.  When I hear accusations against you, my first assumption will be that they are not true.  That doesn’t mean that I will ignore the evidence that arises to support the accusations.  I am a fallen sinner and you are too.  I know that there are pastors out there who are lazy; who do have problems dealing with people; who do make big mistakes.  If you see that in me, I expect you to come to me privately and talk to me.  I need to hear the Law.  I promise that if I see it in you, I will do the same.

Because of what the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions say about the Office of the Holy Ministry, there are occasions when you or I may need to be removed.  This is necessary when there is immoral conduct such as fornication, adultery, sexual abuse or theft.  It must happen when there is false doctrine and a refusal to admit this and repent.  It will be necessary if you or I abandon the responsibilities for which we have been called (and the standard of proof on this must be exceptionally high – this is not to be a tool for removing faithful pastors). Where there is clear and unambiguous evidence this must happen.

What I won’t do is speak publicly about accusations as if they were true when there is no such evidence.  I won’t do it because the greatest threat to the ministry of the LCMS is not lazy pastors or pastors with bad people skills or pastors who make mistakes.  The greatest threat is a general denial of the Office of the Holy Ministry and what it means for the way God deals with the congregation and the way congregations need to relate to their pastor.  I won’t speak in a way that supports this denial.  Brother  pastor, I’ve got your back.

 






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  1. Marc from Cincy
    March 19th, 2013 at 22:51 | #1

    My first post after months of lurking, but i just have to say God bless all you Pastors reading this blog. From us laymen, thank you for all you do, especially as most of what you do goes unseen, seemingly unnoticed, and definitely under-appreciated.

    I’m blessed to have a confessional pastor leading our congregation and I promise there are lay people in yours’ who also appreciate and pray for you and your family. Chin up!

  2. T Rossow
    March 20th, 2013 at 07:46 | #2

    Thank you Marc for posting. It is greatly encouraging for us when people like you take the time to post.

  3. Carl Vehse
    March 20th, 2013 at 09:50 | #3

    “Therefore the congregation can do almost anything because no one is going to remove it from synod.”

    This is the result of some synodical problems. A synodical bylaw system is in place for an ecclesiastical supervisor rightfully determining and carrying out an Article XIII expulsion of a congregational member. A synodical bylaw system is in place for rightfully determining and carrying out an Article XIII expulsion of an individual member, who refuses to carry out his sworn duties as a ecclesiastical supervisor.

    When these synodical systems are simply ignored, you have the above result.

  4. helen
    March 20th, 2013 at 11:41 | #4

    @Carl Vehse #3
    When these synodical systems are simply ignored, you have the above result.

    But if a faithful Pastor is relieved of his call illegally, the first reaction will be “What did the Pastor do wrong?”, as if congregations, and district officers are infallibly correct in all that they do!

    Meanwhile, we can waste time correcting one another’s sentences about the Pope.
    We have no solution for our own glaring problems and our 35 “pope-wannabes” who are faithfully prayed for, whether or not they are faithful!

  5. Martin R. Noland
    March 20th, 2013 at 12:10 | #5

    Dear Pastor Surburg,

    Thanks for an excellent post! This really gets to the heart of a lot of problems in the LCMS today. I hope you are encouraged to submit more posts of this quality for a wider readership here at BJS.

    Dear BJS Bloggers,

    If we could “lick” this problem in the LCMS, we would in a generation surpass the ELCA in outreach, Gospel impact, finances, numbers, etc., etc. I think that is plenty of incentive to work on this problem. Understanding that it is a problem is the first step toward its resolution.

    “Carl Vehse” seems to blame the Circuit Counselors and District Presidents. I have seen both sides, in many cases, and things are not as facile as “Vehse” thinks. Just because you know LCMS canon law, as “Vehse” apparently does, does not mean you understand the reality of how things actually work. Pastor Surburg, on the other hand, really does understand how things work, which is why his essay is so helpful.

    Circuit Counselors and District Presidents represent the synod, which synod according to Constitution Article VII is advisory in its relations to congregations. Congregations, per the same Constitution, hold all the financial and legal “cards” with regard to their employees, finances, and property.

    If a congregation makes up its corporate “mind” to get rid of their pastor, there is very little a Circuit Counselor or District President can do. The only thing they can do is either 1) refuse to cooperate in the call process for the removed pastor’s replacement, which the congregation can bypass through calling straight from the Lutheran Annual; and/or 2) expel the congregation from synod. I do not believe that “restriction and suspension” bylaws apply to congregations.

    If a congregation is intractable in this matter, the District President could advise its members who are cooperative to join a neighboring LCMS congregation, if there is one within decent commuting distance. Then expulsion of the remaining intractables in that congregation could be a reasonable choice, after a reasonable process of “futile admonition.”

    Asking the cooperative members of such a congregation to start a brand new church, using all their own personal funds and lots of volunteer labor, would be a much more difficult choice–unless the district had already planned to start a new mission church in the area.

    If the District President did expel a congregation, which he has the authority to do under Constitution Article XIII, what would become of the people in that congregation who are cooperative and want to be Lutheran, if there are no other congregations in that area? They would be left without a congregational home, and his action of expulsion would alienate them toward the Lutheran church. These type of actions can have long term, multi-generational effects, which the District President also has to consider.

    This is why there are so few expulsions of congregations. Don’t go blaming Circuit Counselors or District Presidents for this situation. If a congregation refuses to accept their advice, they have to weigh the pros and cons of the “common good,” and that usually means a pastor has to find a new call.

    What I really like about Pastor Surburg’s article is that he affirms what every street-smart Circuit Counselor and street-smart District President already knows, namely, that there can be a whole lot of breaking of the 8th Commandment when a congregation decides to get rid of its pastor for unjust causes.

    The other problem for the Circuit Counselor or District President is trying to discover the truth about the pastor, especially when a group of people in a congregation conspire to tell lies and half-truths about their pastor. If someone can crack the nut of “conspiracies to tell lies and half-truths about their pastor,” we would be well on the way to solving this problem.

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  6. LW
    March 20th, 2013 at 12:15 | #6

    District Presidents certainly need our prayers. Sometimes it seems they are tempted as much if not more than pastors and laymen. We’ve all heard of the temptations inherent among people in positions of power and authority. I pray that our Lord will give them servant’s hearts, that they will make wise decisions and that they will not look down on those for whom they have been elected to serve. In the past I have had hard questions for the president of my district. He didn’t always answer them as I wished and he does some things I am diametrically apposed to, but I have still often found him to be a faithful servant and blessing to the pastors and congregations he serves.

  7. helen
    March 20th, 2013 at 13:16 | #7

    @Martin R. Noland #5
    The only thing they can do is either 1) refuse to cooperate in the call process for the removed pastor’s replacement, which the congregation can bypass through calling straight from the Lutheran Annual

    If District seriously wanted to defend faithful Pastors, unjustly removed, they could refuse to cooperate in the call process, yes. They could also make known the reason for their refusal to any prospect. Short of lying through their teeth, (and that’s been done, too) I should think the congregation would have a hard time pursuing a call. Unless a man is desperate, why would he risk being blackballed by a congregation which has already done it to someone else?

    District uses all the “advisory” power it has to put “praise” pastors/lay ministers in place!
    If it were used in defense of the Gospel and faithful Pastors we’d have a much different Synod.
    If District would only make an honest effort to erase the “black mark” and put CRMS on call lists with indication of approval, it would help! [I'm not holding my breath!]

  8. Carl Vehse
    March 20th, 2013 at 15:13 | #8

    @Martin R. Noland #5: “Carl Vehse” seems to blame the Circuit Counselors and District Presidents.

    Huh?!? I never mentioned Circuit Counselors. And “seems to blame” for what?! Not ecclesiastically supervising synodical members according to ecclesiastical supervision bylaws, which ecclesiastical supervisors solemnly promised to perform as the duties of their office in accordance with the Confessions, or Symbols, and in accordance with the Constitution and Bylaws of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod to the glory of Christ, our Lord, and in service to His holy Church? Oh dear… how so very facile of my motivational thinking.

    Just because you know LCMS canon law, as “Vehse” apparently does, does not mean you understand the reality of how things actually work.

    It helps to be familiar with the responsiblities specified in LCMS Constitution and Bylaws when one is actually talking about how things in the LCMS should work if one does not want to see that a “congregation can do almost anything because no one is going to remove it from synod.”

    The only thing they can do is either 1) refuse to cooperate in the call process for the removed pastor’s replacement

    But then the CCs and DPs would be violating the solemn promise they took when they were installed into their circuit or district offices.

    … and/or 2) expel the congregation from synod.

    Bylaw 2.14 is not as facile as stated in this simplistic dichotomy.

  9. helen
    March 20th, 2013 at 16:39 | #9

    @Martin R. Noland #5
    These type of actions can have long term, multi-generational effects, which the District President also has to consider.

    There are regular wails about the way the “youth” (broadly defined) are leaving the church.
    It might be well if the DP’s considered the effect, “multi-generational”, on conspicuous lack of discipline in the church and conspicuous lack of catechesis which might lead to self-discipline. Youth and “church leaders conferences” might profitably consider these topics instead of entertaining themselves with non-Lutheran trash.

  10. Marc from Cincy
    March 20th, 2013 at 21:20 | #10

    You’re welcome Pastor Tim. If reading my earlier post adds some joy to one of your brethren’s otherwise fatiguing day, then my heart truly rejoices!

    I only wish that I could say I have always uplifted my pastors with my thoughts and actions but alas, I can’t. God forgive me.

  11. jb
    March 22nd, 2013 at 00:09 | #11

    Richard –

    I understand it might be a titanic struggle for you to do so, but have you ever on this site strung together the two words . . .

    “Nice post.” ?

    By the way, my wife wants to know whether you’d like her special meatballs, or are you a steak and spuds kinda guy? She wants a set menu to serve when you arrive.

    Pax – jb

  12. March 24th, 2013 at 20:50 | #12

    I wish that your brothers and leaders were ours-watch your back for your family and faithful members and never give in or give up-their are many heros of faith Watch the cc’s and dp’s.Enough foolishness and sellouts of Truth and servants -Enough!!!!!

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