It’s Not all a Bed of Luther Roses Out There, by Pr. Ben Ball

(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.

About Pastor Tim Rossow

Rev. Dr. Timothy Rossow is the Director of Development for Lutherans in Africa. He served Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, IL as the Sr. Pastor for 22 years (1994-2016) and was Sr. Pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran in Dearborn, MI prior to that. He is the founder of Brothers of John the Steadfast but handed off the Sr. Editor position to Rev. Joshua Scheer in 2015. He currently resides in Ocean Shores WA with his wife Phyllis. He regularly teaches in Africa. He also paints watercolors, reads philosophy and golfs. He is currently represented in two art galleries in the Pacific Northwest. His M Div is from Concordia, St. Louis and he has an MA in philosophy from St. Louis University and a D Min from Concordia, Fort Wayne.

Comments

It’s Not all a Bed of Luther Roses Out There, by Pr. Ben Ball — 16 Comments

  1. Nicely said! I’m always most thankful to have a church where the pastors preach the word and administer the sacraments faithfully, and thankful too that I’ve been educated about what our pastors are supposed to do.

    I imagine what you’ve said might be incomprehensible to the CEO-pastors and MBA-leaders we seem to be graced with.

  2. Well done, good and faithful servant!
    Would that these words were cast in bronze and sent to every congregation in the Synod.
    Ex-Chairman of one and member of a second call committee.

  3. There are many churches that have been lead astray, especially when they have had the same pastor for decades. One would hope that the interim process would cause them to reflect and correct their thinking, but when the outgoing pastor stacks the deck several years before his retirement so as to assure the continuation of his ideology, what kind of shepherd do they seek?
    This is the posted list of desirable and undesirable traits the one church posted on line as they seek a new shepherd. It didn’t take long to realize that “I need not apply!” The list was compiled by the elders from input from the congregation, but I think there are some traits that are actually contradictory.

    Desired
    • Experience in leading a well-balanced ministry as indicated by references from former churches and reputation
    • Feel genuinely called to lead and support us in our SMP journey
    • Respect [previous minister’s] ministry and its value in growing our church in the community
    • Be a “pastor” in true sense
    • Integrity
    • Eloquence, not glibness
    • Community involvement
    • Compassion
    • Listening skills
    • Sense of humor
    • Follow the word in teaching/preaching
    • Continued excellent liaison with members
    • Informality
    • Caring for those less fortunate
    • Believes in ecumenical Christianity
    • Preaches Jesus – love, peace, non-judgmental
    • Intellectually honest
    • Married with children
    • Committed to ministering to this church and its members first, other activities second
    • Full support of traditional LCMS church/worship
    • Unifier
    • Strong pastoral abilities
    Not Desired
    • Arrogance, materialism, lack of humility (especially if he is young)
    • Inexperience with community relations, preschools
    • “Super intellectual pastor” who does not relate to congregation’s needs
    • Thinks that Lutheranism is the only way to heaven
    • Believes in closed communion
    • Against women being involved in church organization/running

  4. Pastor Ball,
    I have to point out that you also have one of the other qualities on that list–I think you are very personable!
    We’ve met and shaken hands before. 🙂
    Thank you for being a faithful confessional Lutheran pastor and for writing this article.

  5. As a pastor who has been on “Candidate” status for going on three years, I read this thread with mixed emotions. When I read JamesBob’s “list,” I was especially saddened. One wonders if this is why I haven’t received anything close to a call from a congregation … because I would resoundly fail to qualify for such lists.

    No, it is not a bed of roses. We have struggled mightily while I wait for the Lord to send me a call … any call. But I remain confident that the Lord knows what He is doing … that He knows the plans that He has for me; plans to prosper me and not to harm me, plans to give me and my wife hope and a future.

    Rev. Ball, thank you for writing what you did. Your words need to be heard. There is a lot of truth in them.

  6. As a seminarian who will be up for a call in a few years, this post and the list/comments that followed mirrors my fears for myself. I have few of the qualities listed, but I love the doctrine because I love the people–and visa versa. Every article of faith proclaims Christ and his saving work alone; therefore, the confession of the Church is everything Christ is: loving, caring, complete, and in no need of reform. That’s neither arrogant nor “super intellectual”.

  7. JamesBob-
    thanks for posting this list. It gets to my point about ecclesiastical supervision. I believe that before a congregation calls a pastor again, district presidents, VP’s and circuit counselors should be addressing these matters, that would avoid much of the conflict we see in parishes.

    Heartbroken-
    thanks for the kind words. If you ever run into me again let me know who you are!

    Kantor B-
    as you know it is the Holy Spirit who makes us overseers, and perhaps he is sparing you now from the trial that would come if you would be put in a place such as JamesBob posted.

    Pr. Ball+

  8. Califiowan-
    As a member of a call committee, would you consider calling Kantor B. ?
    Just a thought, as I’m not completely aware of the call process, but his name appears to be on a list somewhere, and so he’s definitely available.

  9. Sorry, folk. I should have made it clearer that I was FORMERLY Chair of one Call Committee and FORMERLY member of another one. Not presently involved.
    But, yes, if I were, I’d certainly consider Kantor B, or anyone else with Confessional credentials. Lists from District Presidents are generally the pits.

  10. Rev. Ball,

    Your thoughts about being in JamesBob’s situation did cross my mind as well. At least, where I am, fulfilling the calling of kantor in a small congregation, I get to work with a solidly confession pastor, who I am not ashamed to admit I have learned more than a few things from. He truly has been a blessing to me.

    To all:

    Thank you for your thoughts, your compliments and your prayers. And, yes, it is truly in the Lord’s hands.

  11. Hello Ben,
    Thanks for your comments on a practice that unfortunately cannot be disuaded by saying in so many words “be careful what you wish for, you might just get it.” Trolling for a pastor is fairly common and the circuit counselor indeed ought to be putting a stop to it.
    At times it takes an exceptionally firm hand to keep a comittee from deligitemizing the congregation’s call in their zeal to find exactly ther right man. The call of a new pastor can quickly shift from calling someone who is suited for the ministry to solving all the problems of the church.
    Solving problems through the call leads to overly detailed (and contradictory) lists of qualifications as posted by James. He must be intellectually honest but not a super intellectual, married with children and involved in the community but is expected to put the church first, believes in traditional worship, but not close communion, must follow the Word in preaching and teaching but not be against women running the church.
    What sort of a person would actually pass muster with such a list of requirments? He would either be spring loaded for failure with such contradictory expectations or have to be so obsequious that one wonders if he would be able to get through the rite of installation without equivocating.
    You can tell that list of desired and not desired was written by a committee. Non judgmental-just like Jesus! So I guess there will be no preaching about the final judgment of all men, or how the Lord took the Pharisees to task for their hypocrisy and hard hearts. He should be humble especially if he is young (does that mean old guys like me don’t have to be humble?)
    Then again, if you’re truly humble how in the world could you read that list and say “yeah, that’s me I’m all that!”

  12. Pr. Ball
    It is a faithful response to this congregation’s call committee. It is sad to hear about such unbiblical expectations of a Pastor. Who could fit such qualifications? I assume that this was a fairly large church.

    I am a confessional pastor whose name has been circulating in my district and other disticts for some time. I have been in my present congregation going on 8 years. My congregation is small and I have been working in another vocation as well to provide for my family with two children in college. My congregational leadership has taken the attitude that the call is temprary and even took a pole of the small voters assemble as to having a pastoral change. It’s a no win situation with the DP siding with the congergational leaders. Although I have yet to be asked to resign, criticism have been intence. I remain stedfast and faithful in my call. Not looking forward to the next voters meeting in January. Please share my name if you have oppertunity.

    What is also sad is the fact that calls are few and DP try their best to be match makers. When it gets a little rocky in the church the DP’s response often is: “oh, it must be a mis-match”. I don’t believe that God messes up. People do!

    On of my organists recently state that she likes the LSB but feels that the LCMS has lost its mission and direction. I don’t think she is too far off.

  13. I have a son who is a confessional pastor of a small congregation that loves the liturgy. My son loves his congregation and they love him, but there always is the issue of how long can they survive and support his ministry. I visit many different LCMS congregations when traveling and am acquainted with those in the area where I live. I honestly don’t think there’s a place for my son in any place I’m familiar with. It is sad because he is adamant about catechesis, adamant about weekly communion, adamant about using all the beautiful aspects of the liturgy–qualities I believe are necessary for a good Lutheran pastor. BUT…the big BUT…he would insist on using the traditional liturgy for worship, not the contemporary formats…that leaves him out of most LCMS churches today. Even though many pastors prefer the traditional liturgy, they have succombed to the demands of “uneducated” members, or members from evangelical denominations, to have, well, what do we call them, Praise Services? Contemporary Worship? Whatever. This is where the idea of the congregation members running the church has gone amok. As laity, too often we simply don’t understand and we need pastoral guidance, which I guess we often don’t get…and now we have this mess (I mean, contemporary worship or whatever it may be called).

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