LCMS Ministerial Growth and Support Department Eliminated – “Good Riddance,” by Pr. Rossow

The December issue of the Reporter includes an insert in which the LCMS Department of Ministerial Growth and Support announces that due to the structural changes approved at the July synod convention, their department has been eliminated. To that, I say “bravo” and “good riddance.” I pray this is only the first in a number of psychologically and sociologically ginned up programs based on felt needs to get the axe in the LCMS. It is too bad that it took a financial crisis to bring this about.

I do not know the people in the department personally. My guess is that they are very loving and sensitive people. I am not saying “good riddance” to people but to a department that is built on the chimera of felt needs and is redundant if our circuits and bishops are doing their jobs.

Here are some items discovered in the 2010 convention report (see p. 92 ff.) of the Department of Ministerial Support and Growth that bring me to say “good riddance.”

With the dismantling of this department we will thankfully hear fewer “gobbledy-gook” phrases such as “relational vitality.” It was one of the departments key goals in the last triennium. Such vitality is described by the department as church workers “living in trust, respect and love for one another.” Such trust, respect and love for fellow church workers would not be an issue if the same people and mindset that brought us this department would not have also introduced such non-Lutheran practices and innovations as contemporary worship, tolerance sensitive women communion assistants, and a communion rail wide enough for an eighteen-wheeler to pass through. We do not love and trust each other because certain folks have introduced harmful innovations that have divided us.

Another significant way to understand the work of the now dismissed department is this list of pastoral concerns that they highlighted from recent surveys and that they saw as their mission to alleviate.

  1. emotional drain
  2. long hours
  3. strain on family
  4. low compensation/pay and benefits
  5. antagonistic flock
  6. staff conflict
  7. educational debt

As important and real as they are, we do not need a synod department to deal with these concerns. “Emotional drain” is a part of the calling. Get used to it pastors. I know of very few vocations that do not involve emotional drainage and the pastoral vocation is actually designed that way by God. “He must increase and I must decrease” says John the Baptist in response to the emotional drain of the office of the ministry. Jeremiah says “would someone please get me out of this cistern.” The office of the ministry calls for men with the intestinal fortitude to survive in the cistern. Creating departments to deal with it makes us weaker, not stronger. Luther says it is prayer, meditation on the word and suffering that makes the pastor.

It is a tough job and put very bluntly, we simply need men who are up to it. I am speaking from gut-wrenching experience here. My wife can vouch for the fact that I have had such intense “emotional drainage” from serving in this office that I spent several nights with headaches leading to dry-heaves and lying prostrate on the floorof our den, trying to get as low as possible because of extreme dizziness again caused by the stress of the office. I lived through it and am a better pastor for it. This office brings emotional and physical pain.

I realize that on occasion a good pastor might succumb to emotional break-down. In that case, professional help can be sought out, recommended by the bishop and if possible, after time the pastor may be able to return to the ministry. We have seen this happen. But that does not mean that we need a department for this. This is what district presidents (i.e. bishops) are for, and all of this should happen as a matter of common sense.

Likewise “long hours” and a “strain on the family” are certainly real concerns. Pastors need to use a little common sense in prioritizing their time and their families need to be given high priority, second only to God and his calling. Common sense and good leadership from district presidents is needed to address these concerns, not an over-psychologizing commission.

Low compensation, an antagonistic flock and educational debt are hazards of the job. This is where you lay people reading this can make a difference. Speak out against the antagonizers in the congregation and do what you can to help your pastor get a decent wage. Also bishops should be involved in each of these areas, teaching the pastor how to deal with antagonism, upholding good Lutheran practice to the lay members and just simply reminding the pastor that it is difficult work taking on the devil and his minions. Instead, our district presidents are off to St. Louis, Fort Lauderdale, or Fuller Seminary in California, chasing after more psychologizing and sociologizing programs to dump in the over-burdened pastor’s lap.

Here are some more items from the convention report that make me say “good riddanceto this department.

  • The PALS program – This is a program that mentors young pastors fresh out of the seminary. Certainly good things came from this program but this should be done organically through our existing circuit structure and also by those young pastors in need simply seeking out more experienced pastors in the field and asking their help.
  • Working alongside the ELCA on the ILCCMHW (see p. 95) to improve  clergy wellness. How is working with an apostate group that violates the office by filling it with gays and women going to help a confessional Lutheran church like the LCMS?
  • Revised the “Wellness Wheel” to include financial wellness. I didn’t even know there was a wellness wheel. Maybe I could have spun it around while I was laying prostrate on the floor to help me with my stress induced dizziness. Actually, spinning that wheel around would have made me more dizzy come to think of it.
  • Identification and training of the “Critical Incident Support Team.” As far as I am concerned, the critical incident is elicited and supported by the preaching of law and gospel in which we were trained at the seminary.

Speaking of training at the seminary, this department was also responsible for on-going ministerial training. There is a great irony here. The mindset that brought us this department is the same mindset that replaced the old fashioned, real ministerial growth endorsed by Luther and Walther, doctrinal studies at conventions and conferences, with new-fangled psychological presentations and sociological programs for church growth. In our grandfather’s church we had doctrinal presentations at pastors and district conventions. Here is the irony. We created a bureaucratic solution (the Department of Ministerial Growth and Support) that is intended to increase pastoral education and yet the bureaucracy undoes the very thing it is intended to engender by dumping real doctrinal training and in its place promoting “relational vitality,” ignoring the Word of Life that alone can give the vitality and growth pastors need.

I took out my copy of Walther’s “Pastoral Theology” to compare his approach to the training and sustaining of pastors in the holy office to the work of the now defunct department. In its three hundred pages or so he says precious little about the pastor as a person and when he talks of pastoral growth, he encourages the very doctrinal studies that our new psychological and sociological mindset has diminished. The Department of Ministerial Support and Growth conducted survey upon survey upon survey. Walther had no time for surveys. He understood from Scripture where Satan would attack the office and in response wrote about how pastors are to administer God’s word and sacraments faithfully.

Ironically, there are now two more reverends who are without work because of the demise of this department. The same spirit of psychologizing, sociologizing and relational-vitalizing that brought this department into existence also brought us such questionable programs as SMP (specific ministry pastors), DELTO (long distance education and training of pastors), “lay ministers” (the classic relational oxymoron) and the like, and now because of a glut of partially trained pastors from these programs, these two men will have a difficult time finding a call.

Ding dong, the department is dead! Resources and emphasis given to the emotional well-being of pastors, while not insignificant, is bewitching and takes our eyes off the prize. Here’s to some more inane psychologically and sociologically based departments being dissolved.

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