Call for Insights into PLI, by Pr. Rossow

We recently had a request for a review of the work of PLI – Pastoral Leadership Institute. I am not aware of any reviews that we have done here on BJS. Does anyone know of any written review/critique of  PLI? If so please drop a note and a link on the comment section below.

PLI is a group that trains LCMS pastors in the “things that they do not learn” at the seminary. It is training in practical leadership for pastors. I look forward to your comments below on the matter but also offer my two cents on the matter. When it comes to the office of the ministry I am skeptical of phrases like “things you did not learn in seminary.” It smacks of American Pragmatism which basically teaches the pagan approach that truth is what works.

I have heard pastors and others say that all you get at the seminary is that “ivory tower” and “scholastic” stuff (e.g. How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?) That is just not the case. The Augsburg Confession teaches that the church is where the Gospel is proclaimed in its purity and the sacraments are administered according to Christ’s command. Therefore, that is what effective pastors need to be trained to do. Many people don’t want to hear this but training pastors to do just that means that it will include a lot of academic work in understanding the Word of God but it hardly ivory tower stuff.

Many people think that a pastor’s job is to relate to people and be relevant. Of course these are fine qualities but they do not define the pastor. What defines the pastor, as St. Louis Emeritus Professor Dr. Norman Nagel says, is his lips. The only thing that needs to work on a pastor is his lips so that he can speak the word of God (and I guess his hands to so he can deliver the visible word of baptism and the Lord’s Supper). Our seminaries do an excellent job of preparing men to preach the pure Gospel and administer the sacraments as Christ commanded. They are great institutions of “lip service training.” Speaking the word of God purely is not mere ivory-towerishness.

PLI teaches pastors to be courageous leaders. This emphasis on “leadership” at the Pastoral Leadership Institute is cause for hesitancy. I do not know if this is how it goes at PLI but this is how it is in the evangelical world. “Leadership” is code for changing the old stodgy parish into “the church of what’s happenin’ now.” In other words, pastors need to be leaders, i.e. change agents who move the congregation away from the old, stale 2,000 year old liturgy and traditions and into a style of worship and ministry that excites people. Sadly, this is often what the Intentional Interim Pastor program is all about as well. It is code for bringing your parish up to speed with the modern culture (praise bands, “relevant” preaching that meets peoples practical needs, etc.). I cannot say from experience that PLI does this but a review of the required readings in the pastor’s packet (downloadable from the website) shows a heavy reliance on these non-sacramental writers who specialize in secular leadership training for agents of change.

Ironically, leadership is not a prominent Biblical theme. Where it is discussed it is done in the anti-leadership institute way. Jesus says do not be a leader like you see in the world. Be a servant of all. Pastors are not called to be bold innovators but to pass on what they have received from the apostles, who got it from the Son who got it from the Father (I Cor. 11:23, John 17:8). I am not opposed to bold innovation. I have been the “leader” of a few innovations in my 25 years as a pastor. But, those innovations do not characterize the work I have done or define what God has asked me to do. God will grow his church. He is not dependent on the bold leadership of men. I am sure that PLI teaches Jesus words about servant leadership. The concern is that it also teaches open and up-front in their mission statement that they are about teaching courageous leadership. I hope and pray this is merely a passing phase in the LCMS and that we will soon stop looking for courageous leaders and instead pray that our pastors are lip-people who are committed first and foremost to simply being a mouth-piece for God’s word of Law and Gospel.

A cursory look at the PLI mentor congregations also indicates that we are not talking about the hall of fame of LCMS congregations committed to the 2,000 year old historic and Biblical liturgy. Instead it is a list of innovators and “relevant” ministries.

I am sure that PLI does some good for the church. It most likely offers some helpful skills to pastors but the problem is that those planning, organizing and leadership skills are just not as necessary or as crucial as PLI makes them out to be.

If you know of any written critiques of PLI please let us know about them and also feel free to share below in the comment section your constructive criticism and/or praise of the work of PLI.

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