More on President Harrison’s call to serve as assistant pastor

The Rev. Matthew Harrison wrote a note to District Presidents about his acceptance of the call to serve at Village Lutheran in Ladue. Here is the text of that note:

From: Matthew Harrison, President of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod

Date: December 19, 2010

Grace and peace in Jesus, “the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Peter 2:25)!

This morning, Sunday, December 19, 2010, I personally informed the pastor, elders and members of Village Lutheran Church, Ladue, Missouri, that I had accepted the congregation’s call to serve as their assistant pastor. The call was not acted upon hastily, or without significant consultation.

In providing you with the following information, I want to lay out for you a brief explanation of the personal and theological reasons why I am taking this path.

The constitution and bylaws of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod specifically allow the President of the Synod to hold such an office. The bylaws state: The President of the Synod shall be a full-­?time executive and shall serve as a voting member of the Board of Directors of the Synod. (a) He shall not be in charge of a congregation or hold a chair at any educational institution but may be called as an assistant pastor, provided such services do not interfere with his official duties as President. (3.3.1)

There are a number of reasons for this action. I shall only note a few items here.

With respect to the Synod’s national office:

• Though no President (or congregation) has acted on this privilege for many decades, in its wisdom the Synod recognizes that its President may be a called pastor at a local parish. This was long the practice of the Missouri Synod, and has been the practice of the Lutheran Church in general for most of its history.

• While those of us in national leadership have noted a lessening of local loyalty to the national church, we have less often acknowledged the local perception that the national office has distanced itself from congregations. Accepting this call is my own concrete affirmation of the vital, in fact, most vital role of local congregations and pastors in our mission, mercy, and life together as a Synod (John 10:12-­?16).

• The new structure of the Synod greatly increases the CEO responsibilities of the President. It is more vital than ever that amidst the many tasks of the office, it be carried out pastorally, and with the church’s pastoral and missionary task firmly in focus and close at hand (1 Pet. 5:2).

• In this called, pastoral position, I am directly responsible to the senior pastor and board of elders of Village Lutheran for my preaching and teaching there. I believe it is healthy even (especially!) for the President of Synod to be directly accountable to a local congregation in this way, and to God himself for such a congregation (Heb. 13:17).

With respect to my particular person I note the following.

• St. Paul states, “The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task” (1 Tim. 3:1).

• In the core of my being, I am a pastor. I view life pastorally. I view the mission of the church pastorally (Jer. 3:15). My work at LCMS World Relief and Human Care moved the church’s work of mercy to a pastoral model, closely connecting care with local altars, fonts, and pulpits worldwide.

• I am energized by and find great joy in preaching, teaching, and pastoral visitation (2 Cor. 1:24).

• A called pastoral relationship with a local congregation allows me and my family to be cared for by a group of Christians in a way that would otherwise not occur (Gal. 6:6). Village Ladue recognizes this care as a vocation of service to the Synod.

• My two boys are in high school. Their time at home is short. For ten years they have rarely heard me preach or teach. I desire to preach to my own children in these vital years of their Christian formation. As Synod President I could well be absent every weekend. For the sake of my wife and boys at this stage of our lives, travel must be reasonably limited. Wonderful things may be accomplished for the Missouri Synod over the next number of years, but (God help me) not at the expense of the faith of my own family (Eph. 5:25; 1 Tim. 3:4).

The bylaw states that the president “may be called as an assistant pastor, provided such services do not interfere with his official duties as President.” I note the following:

• This called pastoral position involves preaching once every month or two; teaching the occasional Sunday Bible study; and visiting a handful of shut-­ ins each month (1 Tim. 5:17; Matt. 25:36). It involves no meetings and no administrative duties. I shall receive from this position no compensation, or even reimbursement for mileage. This call is a gift. My service shall be a gift (1 Thess. 2:9). This call is not a so-­?called “status call”—a call merely for the purpose of an ordained man being able to remain on the LCMS roster.

• My clear priority is and has to be the called position of Synod President, which is more than full-­?time (Luke 17:10; 1 Cor. 15:58).

With respect to district presidents:

• While I have chosen to act upon a matter of freedom, not all district presidents have such freedom in their respective district constitutions, nor are their respective circumstances the same. I will guard each district president’s freedom, right, and responsibility to act as he and his district believe is best for his particular circumstances (2 Cor. 3:17; Gal. 5:13). Their office alone makes them worthy of our deepest love, support, and continual prayer (2 Cor. 11:28).

Finally:

Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things. . . . Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen (Hebrews 13:18-­21).

Pastor Matthew Harrison


Comments

More on President Harrison’s call to serve as assistant pastor — 29 Comments

  1. Can someone explain why this is even an issue ? Why cannot the president preach if he visits somewhere since the president is chosen from the clergy in the first place.

    I’m more than a little confused why the leader of the LCMS would not be able to speak a pulpit if he wanted to without formally being tied to a particular parish and certainly why him being tied to a parish would in any way be controversial.

    Yet this long explanation, and discussions I see elsewhere, suggest that this is indeed some sort of an issue.

    Thanks

  2. Wow, I just love this guy. That is all.

    Actually, that is not all.

    I pray for him every single day. Go and do thou likewise!

  3. These explanations given by President Harrison are very commendable. They are fine examples of humility, service and proper prioritization. Our president is quite a teacher. How refreshing it is to have a leader who has such a servant’s heart. How refreshing to have an administrator who also wants to do the work of pastor.

  4. Our praises go up to God on behalf of pastor Harrison’s acceptance of the call to Village Lutheran in Ladue. What a blessed thing to have the leader of our people back in the highest office of the church! God’s richest blessings to him, his new flock and to his family as well as the church at large.

  5. @Lucias #2
    Not sure that this is an “issue” per se, but Harrison has done something here that few other have in recent decades. It shows his mindset that the “real action” of the Christian faith is not in the synodical organization, but in the Divine Service. That is the spiritual core of our Lutheranism. Harrison, in wanting to serve as a pastor even as he upholds his duties as Synodical President, displays a mindset of ministry, not politics; care and concern for the proper preaching and teaching of God’s word, and a desire to feed a flock with the veritable body and blood of Jesus, not just procedure and synod business. If it is an “issue,” it is only because he is doing something that is laudable, but has been ignored for a very long time. So I applaud his decision. It is leading by example, not executive fiat. Harrison’s heart as a pastor should be a shining example to all that being Synodical President and a shepherd of souls are not mutually exclusive. As President, he is behaving as a pastor, which should give all of our pastors comfort and support. I think it is significant.

  6. It shows his mindset that the “real action” of the Christian faith is not in the synodical organization, but in the Divine Service. That is the spiritual core of our Lutheranism.

    It is leading by example, not executive fiat.

    As did his installation service.

  7. Stephen R. Johnson said: As President, he is behaving as a pastor, which should give all of our pastors comfort and support.” For what it’s worth, I, too, am comforted and supported by Pastor Harrison’s actions and leadership in a manner completely unprecedented in my 24 years in the Holy Ministry. From the very first words out of his mouth in Houston back in July through every statement following, we have been pointed to our Good Shepherd Christ Jesus as the one who will build and sustain His Church. By God’s grace, we might even follow him back to the house of our fathers.

  8. My own pastor has said on more than one occasion that Pr. Harrison is a true bishop in that he embodies the mindset of a pastor. This has been of great comfort to him and to me as well. Thank you for your comments.

  9. Thanks for the explanation. I’m still a bit confused and don’t come from a Lutheran background. In my protestant background the ministerial secretary, or the conference president was allowed to preach, wherever and was always an ordained minister. This was true on the state/region/national or worldwide level.

    Why wouldn’t the head of the synod, who is called “Reverend” Harrison, be allowed to preach/celebrate communion unless he was an assistant pastor ? I understand the fact that he isn’t allowed to, and certain regulations cited here and elsewhere behind that. But I don’t understand the WHY.

    Why was it decided that the head of the clergy was not allowed to preach and celebrate in any church under his jurisdiction. Ie. Why can’t the District President exercise that across the district and the Synod president across the entire synod ?

    What was the thought process behind this ?

    Thanks for educating me.

  10. Here are some comments on the four bulleted reasons given with respect to the Synod’s national office for accepting the uncompensated call to Village Lutheran:

    1. The practice of having the Missouri Synod President also having a call as a pastor to a local congregation occurred with C.F.W. Walther, who was pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church from 1841 until his death in 1887, and H. C. Schwan, who remain pastor of Zion Lutheran Church, Cleveland, OH, for the first four years of his presidency and then became an assistant pastor for the remainder. The other ten previous Missouri Synod presidents did not serve as called pastors while holding the synodical office; this has been the practice of the Missouri Synod in general for most of its history, and especially since members of synod congregations increased to over 1/2 million after WWI. Of course, the Evangelical Lutheran Church, in its history and regions of the world, has had polities other than that of the Missouri Synod, so a historical comparison with the Lutheran Church is not really relevant.

    2. It is not clear what “national church” is being referred to. The Evangelical Lutheran Church is a world-wide, not a national, church. And, of course, the Missouri Synod is NOT a church, but rather a synod of churches.

    3. It is not clear how a synodical president who is also a called pastor will affirm the vital role of local congregations in the life together as a Synod, at a time when the President’s CEO power “greatly increases” in a Synod that supposedly is an “advisory body.” And as C.F.W. Walther noted in his first presidential address that “we as servants of the church and as members of an ecclesiastical synod claim no other power than the power of the Word.” Today there is ongoing and blatant disregard of the Synod’s longstanding confessional position by a significant number of individual and congregational members. Today, also, the synodical organization through one of its districts is currently spending over $1 million and using the corporate Board’s lawyer to financially bleed four women in court with a lawsuit to decide if the District gets the church property. Perhaps some of that greatly increased CEO power could be used to call the corporate lawyer up on the phone and tell her, “Stop!”

    4. I agree with President Harrison’s view that “it is healthy even (especially!) for the President of Synod to be directly accountable to a local congregation in this way, and to God himself for such a congregation.” This, of course, is concurrent, but not congruent, with the President of the Synod being directly accountable to the BOD, the COP, and ultimately to the Synodical Convention, i.e., the representatives of local congregations, and to God Himself, for using the office of the President to bring confessional unity in the Synod.

    In addition Pres. Harrison made it clear that he is not expecting the District Presidents to follow his lead in becoming an uncompensated assistant pastor of a local church.

  11. Dear BJS Bloggers,

    Thanks to Mollie for this significant post!

    Actually, I think that a few more LCMS Presidents than just Walther and Schwan served as assistant pastors during their tenure as president.

    A recent article in Concordia Historical Institute Quarterly talked about Pfotenhauer, whom I thought was assistant pastor at Saint Andrews in Chicago. I thought that Pieper’s biography had him serving as an assistant pastor in a north Saint Louis city church. I seem to remember reading in Behnken’s autobiography that he served as assistant pastor at Saint John, Forest Park, before moving to Saint Louis. I don’t think he served as an assistant after moving to Saint Louis. That is probably when the tradition was broken.

    There is always an acute danger that a synodical president, or other synodical or district official, will forget in his heart what pastoral ministry and the church is all about. Of course, he rarely “forgets” in an intellectual sense. But being a pastor is more than exercising one’s intellect. It is, as American sociologist Christopher Lasch has stated, “a habit of the heart.” It is a habit of the heart in relating God and His Word to individual people that one knows (i.e., the congregation). If a habit is not practiced, it is easily lost.

    I hope that others follow President Harrison’s excellent example, when and where they are able to do so.

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  12. Although I read ‘called’ to the position of LCMS President I would beg to differ. The position is an elected position and basically political as we have seen during the years that I have been a lay member of a congregation of the LCMS. Please correct me if I am incorrect, but I believe that the only person to administer the sacrament of the Lords Supper is a “Called and Ordained Servant of the Word”. Thus President Harrison is once again in that position as previously he, as have many other elected officers of the synod, had returned his call to assume his position as President of the LCMS. It is a wonderful thing that he is once again a “called servant”! This man is without doubt the right man for the position!

  13. This demonstrates that we certainly do have a pastor for a president, rather than a president who happens to be a pastor.

    I’ve experienced both personally.

    I served for nine years as the host of Issues, Etc. without a call to a congregation (and was continually reminded that I was just an “employee” by the lay management at KFUO and LCMS Inc.).

    More recently, I have served the last three years as the host of Issues, Etc. with a call to a congregation, under my senior pastor.

    There is an enormous difference.

    How much of the nonsense in the LCMS could we avoid if our ordained leaders, our DPs, and even our pastors remembered that they are pastors?

    TW

  14. How much of the nonsense in the LCMS could we avoid if our ordained leaders, our DPs, and even our pastors remembered that they are pastors?
    @Todd Wilken #14

    Seems like we’d avoid even more nonsense, if they remembered they signed on as Lutheran pastors and stopped importing reformed and secular parlor tricks.

  15. Do we need to capitalize Divine Call to distinguish between it and the other “calls” we refer to, (which are jobs or vocations)?

  16. Yes. You might as well not use the word Call in relation to a pastor or a church unless talking about a pastor’s Divine Call.

    Vocation is a good word that should be used more often.

  17. Regarding the possibility discussed in #12 of other synodical presidents serving as called pastors of Missouri Synod congregations:

    The Christian Cyclopedia on the LCMS website does not mention any pastorate during their presidencies for Franz August Otto Pieper, Johann Friedrich Pfotenhauer, or
    John William Behnken.

    In his book, A Century of Grace, (CPH, 1947, p. 347) Walter A Baepler, in discussing the deaths of Pieper and Pfotenhauer, notes that Pieper served two Missouri Synod congregations (Centerville and Manitowoc in WI), which agrees with the Concordia Historical Institute web page on President Pieper.

    The Concordia Historical Institute web page on Friedrich Pfotenhauer notes that his call as pastor to Hamburg, MN, ended when he became Synodical President, and that at the end of his presidency in 1935, Rev. Pfotenhauer “returned to the parish ministry as an associate pastor at Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Chicago.”

    A Concordia Historical Institute Biographical Note on Pres. Behnken notes only his pastorates at Redeemer Lutheran Church and Trinity Lutheran Church in Houston. The CHI also notes on its general sermon folio:

    “Behnken delivered some of these sermons at St. Andrew Lutheran Church in Chicago from 1937 to circa 1951. This was the period of time during which the Behnkens resided in Oak Park, Illinois. He also delivered other general sermons dating from 1952 to 1962 at St. Peter Lutheran Church, St. Louis, after the Behnkens relocated there from Oak Park.”

    .

  18. @Lucias #10
    Hi Lucias – in the LCMS, there is nothing that prohibits pastors who are serving in elected or appointed positions from preaching or administering the sacraments. The synodical president, district presidents, or seminary professors (for example) regularly preach and administer the sacraments without a call to a local congregation. If a man is on the clergy roster (barring some exceptional circumstance – I can’t even think of what one would be), he can exercise the duties of the pastoral office. Pres. Harrison’s acceptance of the call was exceptional for other reasons, explained earlier in this post. He did not gain “pulpit priviledges” by doing so – he already had ém.

  19. Jim Tino :If a man is on the clergy roster (barring some exceptional circumstance – I can’t even think of what one would be), he can exercise the duties of the pastoral office.

    That’s with the invitation/permission of the local pastor and congregation, usually through their board of elders. They can’t just start preaching and administering the Sacrament anywhere the want.

  20. This enthusiasm for the presidency and pastoral call of Pres. Harrison ought to be tempered with a dose of reality. Nothing on the local level of the LCMS in our churches will change. The false doctrine and nonsense will continue, as usual. Good leadership and materials will come from the president’s office, but don’t look for any improvement in doctrine and practice in our churches. Harrison is one man in an administrative office, who supervises not our churches, but synod employees. The beat will go on and ought not be deluded into visions of grandeur. The divisions of doctrine and practice exist and will continue, regardless of who holds the office of president, due to many factors.

  21. Soldier of Christ :
    This enthusiasm for the presidency and pastoral call of Pres. Harrison ought to be tempered with a dose of reality. Nothing on the local level of the LCMS in our churches will change. The false doctrine and nonsense will continue, as usual. Good leadership and materials will come from the president’s office, but don’t look for any improvement in doctrine and practice in our churches. Harrison is one man in an administrative office, who supervises not our churches, but synod employees. The beat will go on and ought not be deluded into visions of grandeur. The divisions of doctrine and practice exist and will continue, regardless of who holds the office of president, due to many factors.

    I don’t expect Pastor Harrison to wave a wand or wield a sword or even use significant penstrokes to make everything right in our beloved Synod.

    I know the problems.

    I hate it that I can’t just send anyone, anywhere to any local, unknown LCMS congregation with confidence that the beliefs, teachings, and confessions will be as they should be, let alone the practices.

    It’s very disturbing that we have no real ‘normalcy’.

    However, I love what Pastor Harrison says and does. I just love it. He is so pastoral and Godly in his work. He represents and expresses all that is best about our Faith, and so far he done so in a consistent and exemplary way. This is worth celebrating!

    In church and in life I want and intend to affirm the good, not just condemn the bad.

    Perhaps, by the grace of God, Pastor Harrison’s example and actions will help to carry our church forward into being more like what we should be. And perhaps not. Either way, I will celebrate that example.

  22. To add to and correct my comment #12:

    Theodore Graebner, “Dr. Francis Pieper: A Biographical Sketch”, p. 25, notes that when Francis Pieper moved to Saint Louis he joined Immanuel Lutheran Church (north side) where he became assistant pastor and remained there until his death. P. 47 states that, in 1911, due to Pieper’s fatigue, the synod resolved “to sever the general presidencey from any pastorate or professorships.” I have understood that phrase to mean that the president was no longer expected to be called as a pastor or professor, that ALL previous Presidents had been, and that thereafter it was an option.

    John Behnken, “This I Recall,” pp. 50-51, talks about the Behnkens’ membership at St John, Forest Park, Illinois, and his regrets that he was not involved in the pastoral ministry when he took up the Presidency. So that is strong evidence that Behnken was not serving as an assistant pastor throughout his Presidential career.

    I cannot find my copies of Concordia Historical Institute Quarterly (still unpacking!). One article in the last five years, or so, talks about Saint Andrew, Chicago, where Frederick Pfotenhauer was a member. That article was by Scott Meyer. The other article is by Samuel Schuldheisz, CHIQ 82 #2 & 3 (2009), also about Pfotenhauer. One of those two articles, or both, will answer the question about his presidency.

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  23. #22:

    I don’t expect Pastor Harrison to wave a wand or wield a sword or even use significant penstrokes to make everything right in our beloved Synod.

    Yes, I just checked the LCMS Constitution and Bylaws and there is nothing in it about the the use of swords in correcting problems in the Synod.

    But I have confirmed on the LCMS web site that Rev. Harrison was elected at the July convention and installed on September 11 as President of the Missouri Synod.

    This indicates Rev. Harrison now has the authority and responsibility to exercise the power of his presidential office. His efforts in organizing the Koinonia Project will no doubt be beneficial to the more tractable or ignorant synodical members who have drifted into heterodoxy. However the presidential office also includes “ecclesiastical supervision of all officers of the Synod and its agencies, the individual districts of the Synod, and all district presidents.” And that includes using Bylaw 2.15 as a method of straightening out errant DPs, other officers and agencies, and remove those that are recalcitrant and intractable.

  24. Given that

    1. The LCMS website’s Christian Cyclopedia was produced by Concordia Publishing House, the official publisher for the LCMS, and is the electronic version of the 1975 revised edition of the earlier 1954 edition and further updated with additions and corrections through 1998, and was prepared by various editors and staff from the Concordia Historical Institute, Concordia Publishing House, Concordia Seminary, the Foundation for Reformation Research, and numerous other individuals (including Theodore Graebner for the 1st edition) noted in the Prefaces to the various Editions, and

    2. Concordia Historical Institute describes itself as “the Department of Archives and History of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod and that the information posted at the links I provided in #18 has been there for many years, and

    3. In his A Century of Grace, Dr. Baepler noted (p. 169-170) that during the presidency of H.C. Schwan, the Synod resolved in 1881 that the Synodical President would no longer be a full-time pastor, but that he “perform pastoral duties only in so far as they would not interfere with his presidential duties,” and as noted by Baepler (p. 272), Concordia Historical Institute’s bio on H.C. Schwan, and the Christian Cyclopedia that H.C. Schwan then became an assistant pastor after 1881 until the end of his presidency in 1899,

    it is disconcerting that all of these synodically official or officially commissioned references, which recognized (amid many other details not included here) the pastorates of previous synodical presidents, including the assistant pastorate of President Schwan would somehow omit any reference to the Divine Calls of two important Missouri Synod Presidents of the 20th century.

    I did finally find one reference that specifically indicates Franz Pieper was an assistant pastor during his synodical presidency (1899-1911) – St. Louis County Library’s Index to Eightieth Anniversary: Immanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church, Saint Louis, Missouri, 1847-1928 [R977.866 E34], where it lists:

    Pieper, F, Professor (Rev. Dr.) Assistant Pastor 1883 –

    BTW, Immanuel’s pastor from 1847-1882 was Johann Friedrich Buenger, brother-in-law to C.F.W. Walther and Ottomar Fuerbringer.

  25. @Old Time St. John’s #22
    I agree with you when you say you can’t really have confidence in any LCMS congregation to hold to our historic faith. Both of my kids go to LCMS churches, but I can’t really say I like to attend with them because their pastors have followed other shepherds and are trying to remake what worked so well (overall) for 500 years. Maybe Pastor Harrison can break down some of those fences that some of our pastors are looking over to find greener grass by showing them how fertile our own soil really is. God Bless him as he tries.

  26. Some of what I’ve heard about Pres. Harrison’s call that is “controversial is that…
    1) the call didn’t come through the regular process… 2) the congregation is not financially supportive of district/synod.

  27. @Dan #27

    1) the call didn’t come through the regular process…

    Which ‘process’ was that?
    If the congregation elected to make it, that was all that was necessary.

    2) the congregation is not financially supportive of district/synod

    [Perhaps that is “was not”?]
    Have you read Walther on the subject of support of district and synod?
    It’s supposed to be primarily for education and missions. Some congregations didn’t see that happening and didn’t see the need to support programs destructive of Lutheran doctrine and practice.

    (That is a general comment because I don’t know if this congregation was one of them.)

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