I have a bar ministry* (from Mollie)

Could we discuss the theology included in this Reporter story:

Mark Couser, 26, has been working with the Lutheran Inner-City Network Coalition (LINC) North Texas, in Dallas-Fort Worth, for the past five years, helping to train church planters and other leaders.

He’s “felt the call to pastoral ministry for awhile,” Couser admits, but also feels called to serve in the rapidly growing, ethnically diverse, Dallas-Fort Worth area.   It would be hard for him to leave the ministry — and relationships — he’s been building for five years to attend a traditional residential seminary program, he says.

And now, he doesn’t have to.   As one of the first 29 students admitted to the new Specific Ministry Pastor (SMP) Program at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Couser is elated that he can fulfill both dreams: train for the pastoral ministry and continue his full-time work with LINC.

While he’s excited about finally beginning seminary studies, which will give him a “stronger theological foundation,” Couser says he’s glad he can also stay with LINC, continuing “to be in that [ethnically diverse] field and to plant more churches and to reach the lost, reach the nations” with the Gospel.

The SMP program — endorsed by LCMS convention delegates in July 2007 — prepares a new category of clergy via “distance education,” enabling students to continue their own “specific ministries” as they complete seminary courses at home.

Some 50 SMP students are beginning their studies this fall at both Missouri Synod seminaries.

What does it mean to “feel the call” to ministry? Is a call an objective thing issued by a congregation? Or is it a subjective feeling that is self-determined? And what is this about the “ministry” he’s been building for the last five years? What does that mean?

*Sometimes I like to joke that I have a bar ministry. I like to go to bars. I like to talk to people in bars. I feel called to go to bars. I have frequented bars for years. Sometimes, if I’ve had the right beverages, I talk about religion in bars. I am pretty sure this qualifies as a bar ministry.


I have a bar ministry* (from Mollie) — 76 Comments

  1. From a scriptural/Art XIV standpoint the issue is the office of the ministry. The scriptures and confessions don’t mandate the MDiv, but they do mandate the office. If SMP lowers the bar for ordination, while returning preaching and the administration of the sacraments unequivocally to the called and ordained office, isn’t that a win from a scriptural/Art XIV standpoint? Perhaps the best construction we can put on the seminaries’ involvement in SMP is this: as a practical matter of “theological triage,” it’s better to ordain these men than to allow them to (pretend) to preach and administer the sacraments as laymen. I’m sure the seminaries’ goal is reestablishing the Biblical precedent that laymen can’t “play church.”
    -Matt Mills

  2. Steve,
    The Confessions alone, as they are a faithful witness to Scripture is the “authority”.
    Were you aware that even arguably one of the most “confessional” reformers compromised the Confessions ?
    Melancthon wrote much of the Confessions, and yet, after Luther’s death, he started to compromise for the sake of political unity in Germany some of those very Confessions of faith–[if memory serves, he became Calvanistic?]

    One’s view is subjective. The Confessions are objective, as they are based on Objective Truth.
    If one supports a program that is not confessional, then can they really be called confessional any longer?
    This is why this BJS site is so important. Even seminary professors need to constantly study the Confessions and Scripture to ensure their teachings remain steadfast.

  3. Good point Matt. I think that is very valid. If these men are to do word and sacrament ministry, then by all means let us ordain them. So is the question more of a quality question when it regards the education required for ordination? Is that really a confessional question? (the level of “quality” education required for ordination?) I’m not sure ??
    Oh, yes, and Heartbroken, I know the confessions are objective, so is the Scripture. The question for me is in how these objective texts are interpreted. Just like the Mormons “believe” the Bible, but interpret it radically different than orthodox Christianity. It’s not so much that one says that he/she “believes’ the Scriptures and confessions, but what is it that you believe the Scriptures and confessions teach – exactly. And that, I believe, involves some areas of grey when it comes to practice as is evident in the differences of opinion on subjects such as this among very learned and confessionally respected pastors, teachers and doctors of the church.

  4. “I am pretty sure this qualifies as a bar ministry”

    I thought you might enjoy this story. Quite a few years ago, there was an older man who went to the same church I did. His wife was gone and he did not know what to do to fill his time in the evenings after work. He moved into a small apartment downtown near his work in our city with a large university. With the pastors’ permission, he began to frequent the bars and engage the students trying to get to know them and share his faith in Christ.

    After several months, he showed up one Sunday morning with a prostitute who looked every bit a prostitute. Talk about a hoot! He treated her like a real lady and no one dared say a word. She came for a number of Sundays and eventually became a believer and slowly changed her ways and became a member.

    He continued in what he called his ‘bar ministry’ for many years. We never knew who he would show up with. But it truly spoke volumes to all of us about how to evangelize. I would not recommend a ‘bar ministry’ it to everyone, but he certainly knew how to go into the highways and byways asking people to come and meet Jesus! 🙂

  5. Matthew, you raise some good questions. Is it better to have men trained as pastors & then ordained into the Office of Holy Ministry rather than have them running around unordained doing Word & Sacrament ministry?

    Certainly that would be preferable, but I’m not sure the SMP program will really answer that question or that it will do so adequately. For one, we now have this program but laymen are still doing Word & Sacrament ministry even before they enroll in & complete this program. And DP’s are still licensing unordained men to do so. So, we have this program to solve this problem, but it may or may not be used.

    Is this not equivalent to allowing someone to practice medicine or law & saying that they’ll get some minimal training in the future, whenever they decide to enroll in it? If not, it’s still pretty close.

    Which brings up another problem with the SMP program. Perhaps the question isn’t, is this the right or wrong way to train pastors for the church, but is it the best way or most beneficial way to train pastors for the church?

    Certainly the church is free to train pastors in a variety of ways but are all the various varieties the most helpful or beneficial, both to the pastors & the church? Sure, we can train men in ten classes of theology & practice & then ordain them into full Word & Sacrament ministry. But is that wise? Is it helpful to both the pastor & to his congregation? In what other professions do we give people minimal training & then say, “Have at it; you’re fully prepared now to do your job.”

    Could a doctor or a lawyer be given 10 classes & then be fully certified to practice medicine or law? Sure. Would anyone feel confident & comfortable going to such a doctor or lawyer? Could they get the job done assigned to them? Perhaps, but wouldn’t people always be second guessing their decisions?

    If we wouldn’t entrust our health & legal affairs to such trained men, why would we entrust the care of our eternal souls to men with such minimal training?

    Is the 4 year MDiv program of the LCMS the only way to train pastors? Is it the only God pleasing way? No, but it does seem to match up pretty well with our Lord’s way of training His disciples. 3 years of schooling with kind of a continuous vicarage compared to 3 years of schooling & one year of vicarage.

  6. Matthew, the situation you describe in Alaska is indeed troubling. And as I mentioned before it certainly is preferable to have men trained & then ordained so that there is some certainty about their work.

    But the situation in Alaska seems more to be one of lack of will at doing it properly than of actually trying to get well trained men to be pastors. We have the situation now in the LCMS where having a DP give permission for something is tantamount to the imprimatur of a bishop. Because he decrees, it is okay. Which is very Roman Catholic but not very Lutheran.

    And as I’ve mentioned & also Pastor Beane, this situation is not likely to change because of the SMP program.

    BTW, I had forgotten about your post on your blog, Pastor Beane. That really goes a long way to saying it all!

  7. Thanks Pastors,
    I hope I didn’t give the opinion that I thought the MDiv program was more than our clergy needed. The purpose of any “second route” ordination program shouldn’t be to reduce the quality of education our pastor/theologians receive, but to drive a fat wooden stake through the heart of so called “lay-ministry.” A few conventions ago it looked like we were going to do just that; grandfather existing oxymoronic “lay-ministers” who enrolled in whatever the acronym of the day was, and close the door behind them (but a laywoman from my adopted state of Alaska got up and cried in front of the convention, and the door stayed open.)
    If SMP is the wrong tool, then it’s the wrong tool, but I’m in general ok the triage concept of replacing the heresy of lay-ministers with the foolishness of under qualified pastors (preferably in someone else’s congregation of course).
    Pax Christi +,
    -Matt Mills

  8. From what I’ve seen, you’re right about the situation in AK Pastor. (The district could probably man a reasonable outreach mission to rural AK communities using only the MDiv holding confessional pastors who have been forced out of their calls up here.) You are also right about the part played by the abuse of authority by DP’s. That’s why the important part of any second track program is not so much the program itself (we can always tinker with that) but reestablishing the link between ordination and W&S ministry. A second track will only improve things if it replaces the discretion currently given to DPs to authorize “lay-ministry.”

  9. Matt, no problem. I didn’t think that’s what you meant.

    I think I was at the convention of which you speak. Was it 2001? I remember at that convention we were on the verge of finally overturning Wichita when someone offered an amendment which sounded good but which totally reaffirmed Wichita. Despite a seminary professor’s attempt to show that what was proposed directly contradicted what the seminaries were suggesting in the resolution, that is, the overturn of Wichita, someone, maybe the woman delegate you referenced, made an impassioned plea that totally obfuscated the issue & led the convention to directly contradict the heart of the resolution by adopting the amendment which reaffirmed Wichita!

    To quote Kent Brockman from The Simpson’s, “I’ve said it before, people, democracy just doesn’t work.”

  10. I fear we’re stuck w/ the Winston Churchill quote: “democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.”

  11. “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple…In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26-27,33)

    That Jesus, he was so non-practical. It’s a good thing we’ve got SMP for pragmatism.

  12. That’s the one quote from Churchill everyone remembers. Here’s one nobody remembers, “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.”

  13. revgeorge #64 It’s a good argument against our “modern” education too. And I agree with Matt. Kyrie Eleison!
    In Christ
    Jenn at Bull Run

  14. Friends:

    The comments above have given rise to a couple of questions and comments:

    Please explain in more detail the concerns raised above about validity of baptisms performed by the unordained, wrongly ordained or heterodoxically ordained. I’d like get a little more explanation. I certainly don’t want to demean or diminish the office of the ministry, particularly with respect to administering the sacraments, but my dad was baptized (and read the last rites) by a nun/nurse in the scrub sink of a delivery room at a catholic hospital, who thought he was going to die immediately following his birth. His Lutheran Pastor said that it was an acceptable baptism and would not re-baptize him. The same thing happened with a friend of mine at my previous congregation, where he baptized his daughter in the delivery room under similar conditions and our Pastor didn’t re-baptize her either.

    With respect to unplaced seminary graduates, and pastors who have been unbiblically removed from their congregations, are they uncalled? Have the DP’s and synodical people who are keeping them off of call lists taking it upon them selves to be Christ’s gate keepers with respect to their calling? Is that within their authority to do that?

    I think the laity really needs more education about what it means to be called as in “called and ordained.” Particularly during catechesis training. As a young man I had a strong desire to go to the seminary and study to be a Pastor, but after waiting around to receive a mystical tap on the shoulder and hear Christ whisper in my ear to come and join the ministry, I moved on to another vocation. It wasn’t until years later that an emissary of one of the seminaries came to our church to recruit new seminarians that anyone EVER explained that being called wasn’t some mystical feeling, but rather something much more practical and direct. I believe that I’m called to be where I am in my current vocation, but I have to admit, I was angry that no one had explained it to me in direct and blunt terms before. I wonder how many young men in our congregations are ignorantly sitting around waiting to hear that little voice or get that “feeling” that that are being called.

    Finally, while I hate to do it, honesty compels me to point out to the person who asked about other professions that require education and licensure reducing their standards (and with a bit of a nod to Matt in Alaska), I can’t remember the last time I was able to see an actual physician at the local clinic in a timely manner or without scheduling an appointment way in advance. If you have an immediate need, you see a physician’s assisitant or nurse practitioner. I understand that at many law firms it’s not uncommon to consult with a paralegal bout minor issues or before receiving an audience with an actual attorney. Maybe that’s where this is leading. We are producing para-pastors. That’s my $0.02 (what happened to the cent key?!).

    Eric Ramer

  15. At least the seminaries can screen and educate these candidates. If the Seminaries would have said no to this program then I guarantee you they would have been forced out and would have had nothing to say about this program. The Seminaries were placed in a difficult position. Most of Sem. profs are faithful to Lutheran doctrine and practice and don’t like the program–I’m sure. What else were they to do in the face of the current LCMS politicians and a majority of laity who could care less about the Office or the AC?

    Personally I think this program is a very bad idea. I wish it didn’t exist, but it does. I thank God that if something like this is going to be railroaded through, that at least the Seminaries are able to screen these guys and provide them with some theological foundation–even if it is sadly lacking.

  16. If the Seminaries would have said no to this program then I guarantee you they would have been forced out and would have had nothing to say about this program.

    Personally, I think that my guarantee is as good as your guarantee—maybe better—and I guarantee you that they would not have been forced out (any more than they will be now).

    Why can I say that? Because if the seminaries wouldn’t have pushed it, 1) it probably wouldn’t have passed or 2) the resolution wouldn’t have been amended to eliminate the seminaries (or, if it had been, it wouldn’t have passed).

    OTOH, if it had been so amended and passed, at least Missourians wouldn’t be fighting about it anymore, because you would all smell it for what it is.


  17. I think I’m with Matt from Alaska: I’d rather be stupid and ugly than false. Not that I’m happy with any of the above.

    The parallel I see in Lutheran history is the place of the Loehe-men who served to form much of what today is the LCMS. Here were loosely trained and ordained men sent to do a job that no regularly called man of the day was willing to submit to, aka, worker-priest, circuit-riding, dirt-eating Word and Sacrament Ministry. The distinction lies in who’s doing the short-term seminari-ing.

    I’m glad the Seminaries have their foot in the door, but really, the formation is all going to come down to the supervising bishop. Unless the Seminaries hike up on the cojones and simply deny access to SMP to those who’s bishops clearly will fight against Lutheran theology, it doesn’t matter what books they “assign.”

    But honestly, having come through the sem recently, cooperate and graduate was well in effect amongst the charismatic-evy-free’s. Plenty came to the Sem already knowing what they needed to know (in their minds at least.) And a few more were done in by vicarages and field ed’s which “taught” them how backwards them confessions were.

    The real fact remains that until Paul’s words to Timothy to “silence false teachers” and “rebuke them sharply” and “not let them speak” are put into practice by Seminaries and circuits alike, there will be little any of us can do about any situation but watch and bemoan and complain – and, of course, catechize the dizzy daylights out of anyone we can get our hands on.

    All the same – better to be an honest idiot than a clever liar.

  18. Actually, the “emergency” preachers or pastors that Loehe sent were not men who did Word & Sacrament ministry before they were ordained nor did they receive a bare bones education & then were considered as fully certified pastors.

    A quote from a paper I’ve recently read is helpful on this:

    “A year of intense study followed, with Loehe assuming the vast majority of the training of
    the workers himself. The students studied in the morning. Courses included selected
    readings of Scripture, the Book of Concord, church history, geography, English grammar,
    composition, penmanship, singing, piano, methods in reading and writing, Christian
    doctrine, pastoral theology, catechetics, liturgics, homiletics, participation in the divine
    services and in congregational life. In the afternoons, Loehe lectured the students.
    They met every evening for evening prayers at his parsonage. They accompanied him on
    sick calls and taught the Catechism to children, under his strict observation and
    supervision. On Saturdays they would practice the musical sections of the Lutheran
    Liturgy (chanting) with Friedrich Hommel, a renowned liturgiologist. At the evening
    prayer services the students would take turns leading the devotion and Loehe would
    critique them. After more than twelve months of this intense study, Loehe, reluctantly and
    only after Wyneken’s urging, sent them to America. Ernst and Burger were the first
    Sendlinge, that is emissaries of Loehe. They were sent with this ringing endorsement, “It
    is better that the poor sheep be led to the green pastures and the still waters by you than by
    no one at all.”
    Loehe sent them with strict instructions. They carried with them a statement that
    they were leaving Germany under their own free will. They also carried a pledge of
    allegiance to the Confessional Writings of the Lutheran Church79 and very detailed
    instructions regarding their missionary activities. He also advised them to join a truly
    Lutheran Synod, like the Ohio Synod. They journeyed to Columbus, Ohio, with Burger
    immediately enrolling in the seminary and Ernst teaching in a German School by day and
    working as a cobbler by night, supporting them both. Loehe had considered these two
    men unfit and ill prepared for the task before them; the Ohio Synod wrote back to Loehe

    and begged him to send more such well trained men as these. His “sendlings” had
    indeed received only a little more than a year of training and schooling, but Loehe had
    condensed nearly an entire seminary course and curriculum into that year.”

    So, is what Loehe did comparable to the SMP? I’m guessing, no. It was better. And Loehe didn’t allow for a bunch of loopholes in the program nor did he allow for some elected bureaucrat with the collusion of the seminaries to “license” some vicar to preside at the Lord’s Supper.

    The SMP program on the surface sounds nice. It sounds like we are being honest & closing up loopholes but if you read through the FAQs on the synod’s website, one can see that all the loopholes & exceptions for unordained men, & even unordained men who have no intention of being certified as an ordained pastor but of being lay ministers, to fully serve in Word & Sacrament ministry are all still there.

    And the true problem is not the intention of the program but of the will of those who are charged to implement it. If the District Presidents truly implemented this program & eliminated their faulty practice of preparing lay ministers, whatever they are, & their practice of licensing vicars to preside at the Lord’s Supper, especially when there are willing & able pastors ready to help out congregations in these matters, then I don’t think most of us would be all that against the SMP program.

    And the other problem as Pastor Fisk pointed out is that so many pastors are being ordained from the seminaries, who despite their character or qualifications, are not Lutheran.

    But then I’m probably just hateful & unloving & don’t want people to be saved. 😉

  19. Here’s my 2 cents. I agree with Rev. Fisk (comment #71). It’s better to “be an honest idiot than a clever liar”, but when did this become our choice if Loehe could do it in a year, why can’t we do it in four? Why can’t this Synod of ours, Sems included, put together a good distance education program for training men and ordaining them at the beginning or the end, but not letting them preach/administer the Sacraments w/out being ordained? While we are at it, why are vicars administering the Sacraments/preaching without being ordained? Why aren’t the Sems being honest with the men they are educating and letting them know that dual or triple parish situtations await them, or at least being worker-priests? Why is our Synod contributing less than 1% to at least Fort Wayne? I don’t know what St. Louis gets.

    The SMP is symptonmatic of a larger problem which has been stated quite well here. Well, let’s be honest it is more like a partly treated staph infection. Get rid of the staph the wound is still there. The wound is

    1. DP’s acting like Bishops (in the negative sense of thinking that they can do whatever they like)
    2. No one silencing false teachers. Well because the false teachers are the ones in control.

    Well, where does that leave us? I pray for the Pastors and future Pastors who are/will uphold the Confessions as the true exposition of the Scripture and are teaching those in their congregations to do the same and the laity who are holding to the same and calling faithful Pastors, but guys I am afraid this is just the tip of the iceberg. Maybe this just the beginning of us feeling the results of the iceberg that we have already hit.

  20. EJG #70,

    I have a question, since I wasn’t around back then: Did the Seminaries start and or support the DELTO program? I believe the SMP is the latest rendition of DELTO, and I thought (but may be wrong) that the seminaries had little to do with DELTO. Did DELTO pass through convention back in the day with or without the support of the Sems? Thx

  21. For the record – let us not attack Mark. I know his sister extremely well; I worked with her for two years and still keep in touch and have met him through her. He is a young man who strives to follow the Word and will of God, which is a lot more than can be said for the majority of young men these days.
    The program is a bad idea. We can attack that. We should refrain from doing so to people.

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