(Editor’s Note: we welcome Pastor Ben Ball from St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Brookfield, Illinois. He will be offering analysis and commentary on the church in this regular column.)
Calls and Catechesis
I received a letter in the mail a while ago “asking for my prayers and assistance” from the members of a parish’s call committee. This parish is seeking a “personable man with good sermon abilities…a pastor with larger church skills and first hand experience in growing a church with multi-staff environment”. They also included a list of traits they are seeking in their new senior pastor: Top notch worship planner/leader/preacher, Experienced leader in enabling outreach and growth, Able to administrate a staff, Minimum of 6 years of ministry experience. There was an invitation to contact them if I had interest in talking with them further so that they could work through the various districts, all the while keeping my response confidential.
Knowing that I only had one of the traits, I have 9 years of “ministry experience”, I wrote an email in reply stating that I believed that the Lord still had use of me where He had put me and that I would pray that the Lord would send a man to them who would preach the Word of God and administer the Holy Sacraments according to Christ’s institution. By that brief sentence I hoped to focus them on the one trait in a pastor they should be looking for more than any other. So it was an opportunity for a bit of catechesis.
I did look at this congregation’s website. There I found that one can attend Majestic Praise Service on Sunday morning, or if that isn’t your style you can check out Expression of Praise. I guess if you aren’t looking for majesty or expressiveness you could attend the early service, a Liturgy of Praise Service, with its predominance of traditional hymn tunes with liturgical settings from a hymnal not recognized by our Synod (it has a green cover) and with occasional use of other traditional liturgies. I wonder do they break out Luther’s Formula Missae of 1523 sometimes? I know that I would not be top notch planner of all these kinds of services, as what happens where I have been put isn’t much more than putting a page number on the hymn board every Sunday morning.
I trust that the members of the call committee of this congregation are seeking to be diligent in the task given to them, but I have to ask, where is the ecclesiastical supervision in all of this? Isn’t there a circuit counselor or a district president who can tell these dear Christian people not to send out letters fishing for preachers interested in a call? Aren’t there ecclesiastical supervisors who can tell congregations that what they need the most are faithful pastors who will preach, teach, administer the sacraments, use the keys, do the work of an evangelist, make visits, pray, serve and even suffer, all in the name of Christ? And what about the list of traits? Who wouldn’t want their pastor to be personable, but why is it that congregations of our synod are so removed from using the traits the Scriptures say a man should possess; blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous, ruling his own house well, not a novice, a good testimony with outsiders? (1 Timothy 3:2-7) It has been heard many times at gatherings of preachers talking about such things that none of the blessed apostles would have their names end up on the call lists of today’s LCMS, and certainly not the former monk from Wittenberg. Would LCMS call committee members consider the reformer of blessed and holy memory to be considered top notch in today’s church? Too harsh! Not personable! Too focused on doctrine! A bit out of shape too!
Pastoral vacancies can be difficult times in congregations. Life together, pastor and people, can be even more difficult if members of congregations do not understand what pastors are to do, and what kind of pastor they should seek. It is even worse if pastors forget what they are to do! It isn’t all a bed of Luther roses out there, so the answer is to turn to the Word of God and see again what our Lord Christ sends men to do. It is not to be a top notch preacher, whatever that is, but to preach Him crucified (1 Corinthians 1:23). It is not to be a leader according to worldly wisdom and the latest theories, but to be a servant following Christ (Luke 22:26). It is not to enable outreach and growth but to confess Christ, for He builds His Church (Matthew 16:18). It is not to administrate a staff, but to administer the Blessed Sacraments (1 Corinthians 4:1-2). It is not to be top notch anything really, but to be the last so that Christ may be all. A pastor is to be willing to say words that his own flesh would rather have him not say and go places that he would not rather go, even to death, to feed the sheep and in doing so glorify Christ (John 21:15-19). Steadfast laymen, when your parish is vacant, seek pastors with these traits. And steadfast laymen, direct the pastor you have already back to them, in love for him and for the saints gathered by and around the means of grace where you are.