Scary Words: I’m from the District and I’m here to help

I’m stealing this idea from someone else but remember President Reagan’s joke about the nine most terrifying words in the English language: ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’

Well, word has exploded over the internet today about an unbelievably bizarre effort from the Board for Pastoral Education and the Council of Presidents where confidential questionnaires about pastors are distributed to laypeople and the substance of the questionnaires is such that respondents are encouraged to think ill of their pastors. Those questionnaires are then given back to District or Synod officials who then compile the reports. You can read about it over at Gottesdienst Online. A sample of the types of questions being asked:

How often have you seen that [your pastor]
Expresses his confidence in the Lord.
Recognizes his own intellectual, emotional and physical limitations.
Focuses on important issues in a conflict situation.
Worries about what others think of him.
Belittles a person in front of others.
Appears to believe his own opinions as a pastor should be accepted without question.
Tends to be pessimistic and negative in his attitudes.
Talks and acts as though he is unable to forgive himself.

Now, it’s not that anyone will argue that pastors are without fault or couldn’t use assistance in various areas. But who in the world thought this was a good way to assist? Many if not most of the questions have no Scriptural basis in regard to the pastoral office and even if they did, the asking behind someone’s back and false claim that the pastor is asking people to do so is a blatant breaking of the Eighth Commandment.

As the essay notes:

There are 117 questions in all. Each question is framed in a way that asks the participant to make a moral or value judgment about the pastor.

Frankly, it’s all rather creepy. It’s really creepy. Here we have the bureaucracy of the Missouri Synod butting its nose into the life of the parish, and for what purpose? What good could possibly come of this kind of thing? In the first place, the parishioners are subtly being asked here to craft their thinking in a way that is manifestly contrary to the meaning of the Eighth Commandment, which tells us to “explain everything in the kindest way.” But no matter: the survey needs to be filled out, which apparently grants permission to set the divine directive aside for a moment and become judge and jury! And to judge the pastor, of all people to forget to treat with the benefit of the doubt!

The funniest part of the essay is where the pastor in question calls the Executive Director of the Board for Pastoral Education to ask him what in the world is going on and the pastor notes the Synodical official did “‘appear to believe his own opinions should be accepted without question,’ and while he was polite, he also came off as rather ‘argumentative’ to me.” Not that there’s much a parish pastor can do about that, obviously.

What’s particularly weird about the whole operation is that the pastor also gets a survey. But his survey really does have innocuous and mostly demographic questions.

Pastors are reporting that these surveys are being sent out right now.

Again, I’m all for helping pastors. But as the recent events with the taking of the ULC chapel show, many times the folks least capable of providing assistance to pastors are the folks shuttered in District offices.

This was either a great idea poorly executed or just a bad idea.

If it were me, I’d just politely decline the surveys and perhaps lovingly explain to Synod why the effort is misguided. Others are suggesting more drastic measures. What’s your take?


Scary Words: I’m from the District and I’m here to help — 122 Comments

  1. @mbw #97


    Please bear with me as I repeat my argument again and clarify based on your helpful insights, all the while attempting to remain pithy:

    Anonymous suggestions and complaints can only take an issue so far. Recall, it is for this reason that I was “immediately put off” when I learned of the use of anonymity in the district survey that currently sits on my desk.

    I am not saying that the people who comment here anonymously cannot or should not be trusted, but it’s hard to take their views seriously when they find a need to remove their names from their words. I have written in this thread and in the past that this website is a helpful tool in improving our synod. Important matters and areas of necessary change are discussed here. Practices within our synod engaged in by our brothers and sisters in Christ are criticized, many of which with good reason. In light of these realities, the practice of welcoming anonymous comments here cheapens the arguments presented here. I suspect that many of this website’s critics (theological or otherwise) see the anonymity here and scoff. In fact, it is because of the use of anonymity here that I consider myself more a cousin of John the Steadfast than a brother. I wonder if that web address is taken…

    Another issue I have with this is that if I suddenly began using a creative pseudonym (say, like, “Rev. Jacob Gilbert–okay bad joke), I would be able to shed my previous identity here and start anew. I assure you, this is a very strong temptation for me as a result of the connections many readers here make with my name. Reliability and credibility hang in the balance where this option is available to anyone.

    The argument of the recognizable handle seems to fall somewhat short as well, because it amazes me how many times commenters I have interacted with extensively here in the past do not recognize my real name until later in the conversation. (Though I have been consistently vocal against certain practices and have submitted one article here.)

    Yes, I have repeated my opinion here often. Due to my own inability to clearly demonstrate it, I suspect that my view has been misunderstood. I do not find the anonymous commenters here automatically untrustworthy, nor am I saying that their opinions are to be ignored and their concerns are invalid. Of course, very little happens when people criticize each other or complain anonymously. My point is that the practice of employing (and allowing) such behavior drags down outsiders’ opinions and prevents this site from doing more good work within our synod. The welcoming of this behavior brings harm to those who think it must be a fine way to live within the body of Christ if a pastor says it’s okay. The most common argument I hear against my view is that the administrators/moderators allow it and they are trusted. When I look at the Lutheran understanding of Baptism and the unity we share in the body of Christ as laid out in Holy Scripture (see comment 87), I am not convinced that the administrators are engaged in fruitful behavior.

    We simply have no good reason to hide our identities from our fellow members of the body. In the setting of a family, a brother is recognized and known by his siblings. Christ knows each of us by name, and yet here the administrators are telling their readers that they can put on a mask and speak to extremely important matters pertaining to our church and faith.

    One of the biggest points of confusion for me on this matter is that, especially with laypeople, real names are probably unrecognizable to begin with. If someone wants to hide his or her name here, the question of “why” is a very important one to ask. Do you agree?

  2. Please cease talk about the anonymous policy of this website and get back to the real topic of discussion. Unfortunately this thread appears to have been completely sidetracked.

  3. Oh nice, now the Synod is appealing to the laymen’s sinful nature instead of throwing out pastors who do not uphold the Confessions and the Bible as the Word of God. I have had pastors in the past who were not perfect but they preached the Word and actually matched the qualifications of a pastor as noted in Timothy and Titus. LCMS continues to be an embarassment to all Lutherans because they refuse to get rid of the pastors who do not care a whit about sound doctrine and continue to mirror churches like Calvary chapel and many other seeker sensitive churches. This is why I am not amused by this Synod and am proud to be a member of the ELS. Come on LCMS, be a church and not just another place to drink coffee and cake.

  4. We have 35 district presidents whose primary obligation is visitation of congregations in order to preserve and promote the unity of the true faith. They have circuit counselors who assist in that task, and even VPs who can also assist.

    What is wrong with this picture?

    So— how’s this “unity thing” going, anyways?

    Norm–I hope this helps us return to the thread–thanks for the gentle reminder!


  5. Johannes wrote….We have 35 district presidents whose primary obligation is visitation of congregations….. LOL…that is a joke. I have lived in 6 districts over a 35 yr period and only once did a DP bother to show his face in one of the congregations and that was for an installation. The DP’s do not have a clue what is being taught and/or practiced at the congregational level. They never get out of their office. As for circuit counselors and VP’s, I have seen even less of them than I have of the DP’s. They all want the titles and the honor of these postions but none of them actually want to do the WORK required by these positions.

  6. This smacks of PLI to me … do things on the sly and then use that information to tear down a confessional body just because they don’t do “church” the way leaders at PLI think they should be done …

  7. Mr Rixe,
    Your DP must be the exception to the rule. Having lived in the So Cal (old name when I lived there), Texas, Nebraska, Missouri, Indiana and Kansas Districts it was so very rare to ever see the DP and I never saw the CC or VP.

  8. @GaiusKurios #105
    I have served now in two districts (MN North and Wyoming) and both actually have been good at visitation. Here in WY we actually still have circuit visitors who do actually visit for doctrinal and practical inquiry. I have always liked the language of circuit visitor over circuit counselor. Whatever the name, they have the same task.

  9. Regarding visitation–Thanks for your responses. Now we’re getting someplace, and thread-relevant.

    And repeating the second question: How’s this unity thing going, anyways?


  10. I would like to submit that not all questionnaires are distributed in order to identify problems and come to the assist. Sometimes these surveys are simply used to allow for an opportunity to let off steam; and in fact, they are designed to create a sense of satisfaction after getting matters off of one’s chest. This might be more about deceit.

  11. I also wonder if this type of busybody work doesn’t smack of job retention or creation for those paid by the district.

  12. Pastor Scheer,
    I wish that all districts had as active of circuit visitors/counsellors as WY. If all districts had that there would be less problems in the LCMS and there would not be a need for this latest and greatest survey.

    Mary….I think you are correct that this falls under the “busybody work” to justify some district offical keeping his job.

  13. Mary :I also wonder if this type of busybody work doesn’t smack of job retention or creation for those paid by the district.

    I suspect that it’s simply a deriliction of duty. The DP should know what his responsibility is, and personally see to it. If he can’t cover all the bases, then he’s got VP’s and Circuit Counselors to assist. Forget the questionnaires: Get out and see the folks, fer cryin’ out loud!


  14. It seems to me the DP is so busy travelling the world on our dime that he has no time to be a St. Paul type in his district. It is like being royalty, and never getting any dirt under his nails.

    If and when problems arise in the form of backstabbing and intensified dissension, as it appears eminent from the published list of psycho-babble, it will mean a counselor will be assigned for perhaps a fee of $6,000.00, and the congregation will be reprimanded by demanding they give an equal amount to a missionary couple. Of course, in the process of all this there will be additional meetings to attend and surveys to fill out by which the $6,000.00 for the counselor is justified.

  15. @GaiusKurios #105
    @Mary #117

    I am a Circuit Counselor, and I am not sure what you are talking about. My time in counseling is free (as with all CCs in our District), and when working with smaller congregations I even cover my own travel expense. My “title” and a dollar might get me a soft drink for the ride home. I truly do not understand how christians can be so cynical toward the people they have elected to serve them. Is there a possibility you have the problem?

  16. @Rev. Kory Boster #118

    I’m not quite sure where Mary is going either. My concern is that the visitation is being done–it appears that you are doing just that. In previous posts, I did not mean to sound cynical, esp. towards the DP’s. I only tried to point out what DP’s are supposed to be doing. Their duties are spelled out in the Handbook. As my DP said to me recently, “You could look it up.”

    The job of circuit counselor can be rather thankless, and time consuming. Here’s a word of thanks to you, and to the other circuit counselors, who so faithfully represent their district presidents. Thank you!


  17. I attended an LCMS church in central OH, which seemed to have gotten themselves in a bind with a call that was extended to a minister from Michigan. It appears the attraction with him was that his wife was wanted to serve in their new pre-school. He did not go through much of an interview process, if any. The school ended up going bust in the first year, thus the entire call was a bust. A counselor was brought in from Texas. This guy was from WAY outside the district and came with a hefty charge. They were told that unless the congregation went through this process, it would be difficult for them to extend a future call. They (we were not yet members) went along with the expenseive counselor, as well as supporting a missionary couple, which seemed a lot like penance.

    This congregation has since ended up with the retired assistant accepting their call for full time pastor.

    I hope I was able to clear up some details that I had previously left out, as I did not know how unique the handling of this was.

  18. Here you can read this it is complete on the subject:

    [PDF] 45930 Divine Call CTCR final

    C.F.W.Walther and The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod….. 17

    Obtaining a Pastor ……………………………………………………………… 17

    Length of a Call ………………………………………………………………….. 19

    Termination of a Call ………………………………………………………….. 21

    Is a Divine Call Open-Ended? ……………………………………………. 37

    May Calls Be Conditional? ……………………………………………… 41

    May a Call Be Terminated? ……………………………………………… 42

    Removal From Office ………………………………………………………. 42


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