Who needs honor anyway? Jesus, Nazareth, and “home-grown” pastors. By Rev. Joshua V. Scheer

Many denominations practice calling someone from within the congregation to be their pastor.  This “home-grown (SMP, DELTO, list your favorite acronym here)” is also in the LCMS.  First, there are examples in the Scripture of men who are appointed as pastors in towns (Titus 1:5), so this article is not about condemning the calling of home-grown pastors.  There is an account which needs to be considered concerning the “home-grown” pastor concept.  It should serve to caution us and season those men seeking to be and congregations seeking to call a “home-grown” pastor.

For your consideration: Matthew 13:53-58 and its parallel Mark 6:1-7.  These are the accounts of Jesus’ return to Nazareth to minister there.  These texts provide a cautionary backdrop for anyone who desires to be a pastor in and around his hometown or even his home congregation.  The texts speak clearly about the difficulty in doing any ministry in an area that is “home” before being a pastor (or perhaps “buddy pastors” too).

At Nazareth, Jesus preached and taught in the Synagogue, and even performed some miracles there (Mt 13:54; Mk 6:2), and His reward was offense and the unbelief of the people who heard and saw Him minister (Mt 13:57-58; Mk 6:6).  Jesus’ example here teaches how drastically a pastor’s ministry can be diminished and negated by what I will call “familiarity”.

Take for example the words of the people concerning Jesus.  They first begin by asking questions designed to discredit Jesus.  This is emphasized by the citation of relatives of Jesus (Mt 13:55-56; Mk 6:3).  All of these questions lead to the people to reject Jesus and become offended at Him.  Jesus confirms this in His statement about a prophet and his honor (Mt 13:57; Mk 6:4).  The result of Jesus’ ministry in Nazareth is that many are offended, and only some received healing.  The text says that He could do no mighty work there (Mk 6:5).

This same familiarity could pose real difficulty for the man called to be pastor among people with whom he is familiar.  The congregation could find it difficult to see past the man who they have known for years, and see the pastor who is called by God to serve them.  The pastor may find it difficult to see past the friends and foes of the past years and see sheep in need of a shepherd.

In Christ’s case this familiarity hindered people from receiving Him.  It could in home-grown pastor situations as well.  Familiarity also now includes the past sins of the man now called pastor.  How much would those past sins hurt his being above reproach or worse, be a stumbling-block or excuse for the sins of the people?  Jesus was sinless and yet struggled to serve at home.  A casual observer could almost hear the folk-talk of the crowd that day – Isn’t that Joe’s son?  Doesn’t he have a mom, and a whole lot of brothers and sisters?  Wasn’t he brought up as a carpenter?  How could a carpenter know anything about God?  And in the questions, the great teaching is lost.  The person is too familiar, and the hurdles in the crowd’s mind are too great.  The message is lost, unbelief reigns among the familiar.  How much more difficult will it be with the pastor whose congregation has intimate knowledge of past sins and offenses? How many people in the congregation has the pastor sinned against in his previous years?  A wise man once taught me that the most “sanctified” person in the congregation has to be the pastor’s wife because she has to hear the Word of God from a man whose sins she knows all too well.  By having home-grown pastors do we cause the same difficulty?

So what does this mean for home-grown pastors and the programs that create them?  It really should cause us to pause and think about both candidate and congregation on whether the practice is a good idea.  Is there any special teaching that needs to be done both to men and congregations to help understand the difficulties that come with “familiarity”?  Certainly, the practice is lawful, but not all things that are lawful are expedient as St. Paul tells us.  Does the practice of “home-grown” pastors and the programs that create them run the risk of creating prophets who are not given honor?  Jesus hometown ministry example should season our conversation.

About Pastor Joshua Scheer

Pastor Joshua Scheer is the Senior Pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church in Cheyenne, Wyoming. He is also the Editor-in-chief of Brothers of John the Steadfast. He oversees all of the work done by Steadfast Lutherans. He is a regular host of Concord Matters on KFUO. Pastor Scheer and his lovely wife Holly (who writes and manages the Katie Luther Sisters) have four children and enjoy living in Wyoming.

Comments

Who needs honor anyway? Jesus, Nazareth, and “home-grown” pastors. By Rev. Joshua V. Scheer — 19 Comments

  1. To be sure, “familiarity breeds contempt,” but in this example from the life of our Lord, familiarity was a stumbling block to faith.

    Both Matthew 13:58 and Mark 6:6 show that the teaching here is about the contrast between faith and unbelief in Jesus. Apart from the Spirit’s work, the Nazarenes couldn’t believe that this “homeboy” was teaching them such marvelous, divine things.

    Ironically, those who thought they knew Jesus best knew Him least. God grant us faith to trust in Jesus.

    Robert at bioethike.com

  2. Pastor Joshua,
    I have found in pastoral ministry that loving others in the name of Jesus, serving them for their own good and for the good it brings to them, means that I must establish and cultivate all relationships within the congregation I serve with the resolve to put their need for a pastor before my need for a friend. I enjoy your thoughts. Thanks for posting them.

    Denton

  3. Ironically, some people use the opposite extreme as an excuse for rejecting a pastor. If he is not enough like them can be just as much a stumbling block as if he is too familiar.

  4. There is also an issue with ecclesiastical familiarity. I found it most valuable to see how other congregations operate through my home, field work, and vicarage congregation. Being able to compare and contrast the personality, traditions, and structure of these (and other) congregations has been most beneficial to me.

  5. Nice article. Thought provoking.

    I’d opt for the preaching of the word from a qualified leader in the church vs. having no one preach.

    I wonder if Mary Magdaline would have seen Jesus as a “buddy pastor”?

  6. @Bo #5
    Based upon John 20:13-18 I would doubt that Jesus was a “buddy” to Mary.

    I also would hope that a congregation would set (by calling and ordaining) a qualified man (based upon the qualifications of Scripture, 1 Tim 3 and so forth) up in front of them to preach, teach, and administer the sacraments rather than go without hearing the Word. With that comes some trappings, some of which is what I believe the Matthew and Mark texts help point out.

  7. @rev. a. eckert #3
    There is a balance that is always hard to maintain – as you probably know. On the one side, the pastor can be cold and unfriendly. On the other side is too friendly – either extreme can become a hindrance in ministry.

  8. For me, I guess I struggle with the idea, and what route I would choose if I enter the ministry. WHile SMP woudl be tempting, in part because it’s easier, that is the very same reason why I am leary of it. Practical arguments were made creating such a program. But these same practical arguments start to undermine the concept. Would these local leaders receive a thorough enough training? Would the congregation be spiritually mature enough to know how to raise up an internal leader, and know which one would be best suited? It is not a popularity contest, or someone who could be control by more powerful interests.

    Just like Ablaze, TCN, DELTO, SMP, Blue Ribbon Task Force, all these sound so good at first. But once you start getting into the detials, I find they lose a lot of luster. SMP may have benefits, but I would not like to see ordinations handed out like candy to any warm body. If it was easy, anybody could do it. To quote A League of Their Own, “Of course it’s [baseball] is hard. It’s the hard that makes it great.”

  9. Unfortunately, if we used rejection of Jesus as the template to decide who could minister where, no one could minister anywhere. Jesus was pretty consistently rejected everywhere he went. Nathanael seems to have overcome his objections just fine. As for Biblical examples of “home-grown pastors”, how about Barnabas, who twice went on missionary journeys to his home of Cyprus (once with Paul, once with Mark after he and Paul had disagreed)? That is to say nothing of the fact that all the Old Testament priests and Levites were “home-grown”.

    I am sympathetic to concerns over DELTO (less so, especially now that it’s defunct) and SMP, but using Jesus’ rejection in his hometown as the basis for these objections seems like isogesis to me. In fact, I fear that teaching that someone’s hometown or home congregation were reason enough to disqualify them from serving as a pastor could actually undermine a theology of divine calling. And that’s the precise concern that drives objections to DELTO and SMP. In other words, there are plenty of Biblical reasons for concern over DELTO and SMP. I just don’t think these passages are among them.

  10. Distance-based education, coupled with a residency under a supervising pastor? I could understand the need if you are a career changer with a family and you don’t live within driving distance of the seminaries. How many MDiv courses could be offered online? I suspect that many pastors who sweated the traditional route deeply resent those SMP people who took the easy “shortcut” to become pastors.

    When I got my first teaching job, I stumbled with the boring administrative duties, the lesson plans, the teaching, and handling student needs. NONE of my Education courses covered any of the practical stuff I needed to be successful. I suspect an MDiv degree would have the same effect.

    Most aspiring teachers want to return to their home towns to teach. Not bad, as they get new students every year. Mistakes are not permanent. Pick yourself up and try something new with a completely new batch of kids the following year. But becoming a church worker in your home congregation? How do you learn to see things from an outside perspective. How do you learn how to achieve the elusive sense of emotional detachment with people you have known for 20+ years.

  11. @Rob #9
    Rob –
    Please reread my opening paragraph. I deliberately state “this article is not about condemning the calling of home-grown pastors” because I fully believe that a call extended to a man who is home-grown is still a Divine Call (to be recognized publicly by ordination). My use of the passages in Matthew and Mark are meant to help season the instruction or preparation of both candidate and congregation in those cases.

  12. By the way, regarding salary……. School districts want to hire the naive 21 year old girl with a bachelors degree. A new teacher with a masters degree has an impossible time finding a first job. They don’t want you, as your starting salary would automatically be several thousand dollars more on the salary scale.

    Is SMP a cheap way to avoid hiring an MDiv?

  13. @James #12
    Is SMP a cheap way to avoid hiring an MDiv?

    That’s one question.
    Another is whether an SMP is more “malleable” (for want of a better term this morning) more adaptable to questionable district “programs” simply because he owes his place primarily to district and doesn’t know anyone who “knows better.”
    IMO, there’s a reason why SMP’s got assignments from DP’s while graduates didn’t.
    I doubt it was always money. I hope it never happens again but that might take some changes at DP level.

  14. @James #10
    “Not bad, as they get new students every year. Mistakes are not permanent. Pick yourself up and try something new with a completely new batch of kids the following year.”

    Yikes! You make it sound like kids are disposable lumps.
    Who cannot remember, even decades later, a teacher who was very good…
    or very bad?

  15. One gigantic drawback to SMP is the seminary experience. There is a lot of learning that just happens in having to pack up and move so much (a little bit of sacrifice of yourself). There is a lot of learning in the separation from your former life (again a personal sacrifice). There is a lot learned in attending chapel every day (some days multiple times). There is even more learning that takes place in the conversations and informal meetings outside of the classroom. If it was just a matter of coursework, then take it online – but it is so much more than that, and that is a major deficiency in any distance program for pastoral education.

    I don’t know any pastors who resent the SMP guys (I suppose there are those who resent it), but are concerned for the men and congregations going through it. Early on, when SMP was introduced, many men were concerned that this would open up another “class” of pastor (which has happened given that SMP Pastors are limited in their call situations).

    I would not trade my residential seminary education for anything – and I don’t think the congregation I serve would either.

  16. Rob #9 brings up the interesting theme of how to interpret the Bible.

    It seems that most of this thread is about the danger of pastoral familiarity especially vis-a-vis SMP and Delto, but I’m not able to make the leap from my initial comment about these passages (Robert #1) to that discussion.

    What unstated inference(s) am I missing? If we look closely at what is written in these texts, it seems to me that the message is “repent and believe in Jesus of Nazareth, the promised Messiah.”

    Robert at bioethike.com

  17. @Robert #16
    Robert,
    Sorry your initial comments did get unanswered. As far as the general meaning of the text goes, you are correct. I think Jesus’ admonition in verse 57 is applicable to the situation of home-grown pastors though (as a good cautionary statement).

    The men took offense at Jesus – their questions about him reflect one of the causes of their struggle – their familiarity with him.

  18. @James #12
    Dear brother James,
    The Lord be with you. First, you cannot “hire a M.Div.” Men who hold a M.Div. degree are called by Christ, through the Church, to serve as pastors (under-shepherds) of our Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ. – Second, if a congregation is only think about dollars and cents, they probably should remain vacant until they repent of their unbelief. I do not support the SMP program that the LCMS is offering. I feel that through the offering of such a program, the Synod is setting the man up to fail and also doing a disservice to the congregation he is sent to serve.
    Peace be with you.

    + Pastor Wurst

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