Great Stuff Found on the Web — Skills and Abilities For The Ministry

Thanks to the posting of this article on google+ by Rev. Anthony R. Voltattorni on his blog We are All Beggers. We previously posted articles by him on An Introduction to Advent & Christmastime and How to Appreciate your Pastor.

 

Yesterday I had the privilege of preaching at Lutheran High North, Macomb MI.  It was a great school to visit and they did a wonderful job making me feel welcome.  LHN is a blessing to our synod and I encourage all Pastors to preach chapel when asked in order to support our Lutheran Schools and the youth of our Lutheran Church.

I also had the opportunity while I was there to speak to youth who were thinking of going into the ministry.  What a joy that was!  I was able to give them some of the same advice given to me.  But more than that, I was able to give them something I wasn’t.  Something of which I use to be very confused.  Something I wish someone would have written across a two-by-four and hit me up the side of the head with.

That being a Pastor is not about your skills or abilities.  

When I was young, despite many Pastors prodding me into the ministry, I was beset with self doubt, continually telling myself “You’re not good enough to be a Pastor.”

However, the beauty of the ministry is that I was right.  I’m not good enough, but Christ is!

So many young Pastors are conned into thinking that they should be able to bring something extraordinary to the Church.  Creativity, Enthusiasm, Dynamics, High-Energy, Engaging Speech.  Skills and abilities.

But when it matters most, what can any one man bring?  What does he add to the ministry of Christ?  Which of his skills does he bring out for the rape victim or the terminally ill?  What does he have to give to the sobbing wife and children gathered around their dying husband and father?  It is then that the young Pastor will see that his skills and abilities are hevel, vanity, futility, vapor.

Yet, as one who stands in the place of Jesus for the people, as one who bears the office of Christ, acting as the mouthpiece of our Lord, that pastor is able to give something greater than the wealth of this world no matter how young or inexperienced he may be.  He brings the Word of God.  He offers the hope of the resurrection.  He delivers the fullness of the forgiveness of sins, salvation, life everlasting.  The comforting absolution of the Gospel is placed into his hands in Word and in Sacrament so that he might deliver them to the people.

It’s not about his skill or abilities, it’s not about what the Pastor can bring to the table, or what he can do, it’s about what Christ has done and continues to do through him in Word and Sacrament.

It’s no secret that we need more Pastors in our synod (only 16 percent are under the age of 40), so we continue to seek and beg youth to go into the ministry.  But maybe if we preached the office of Christ more often, we wouldn’t have to.

About Norm Fisher

Norm was raised in the UCC in Connecticut, and like many fell away from the church after high school. With this background he saw it primarily as a service organization. On the miracle of his first child he came back to the church. On moving to Texas a few years later he found a home in Lutheranism when he was invited to a confessional church a half-hour away by our new neighbors.

He is one of those people who found a like mind in computers while in Middle School and has been programming ever since. He's responsible for many websites, including the Book of Concord, LCMSsermons.com, and several other sites.

He has served the church in various positions, including financial secretary, sunday school teacher, elder, PTF board member, and choir member.

More of his work can be found at KNFA.net.

Comments

Great Stuff Found on the Web — Skills and Abilities For The Ministry — 12 Comments

  1. Perhaps I’ve misinterpreted you (and if so, I hope you will clarify), but your words here appear to be at odds with Scripture (though I certainly do not suggest that you meant it that way).

    Paul lists many qualifications for a pastor, and explicitly includes skills and abilities among them (e.g. “able to teach”, “He must manage his own household well”, etc). Surely, we have a tendency to inappropriately add our own suspect qualifications like “creativity” to Scripture’s list, but just as surely it goes too far to tell a man not to consider his skills and abilities when considering his vocation.

    What can he add to Christ’s ministry by his own skill? Nothing! But that’s not the only reason to consider his skills. Christ works through means, not coincidentally with them. We do not dress up a robot in vestments and program it to pronounce absolution & quote Scripture so that the Holy Spirit hears it and jumps immediately into its congregants’ hearts. That is not the means of grace–that is magic. Instead, Christ has charged us to put men in the office. Men who act. Men with abilities. And it is often through their application of these very skills and abilities that the Holy Spirit works, which is why a man without them should not be a pastor–as Scripture instructs us. It doesn’t make his absolution any less efficacious or the Supper any less the body and blood of Christ, but it is nevertheless entirely possible to be a bad pastor because of skill deficiencies. Accordingly, it is entirely possible for him to severely harm his neighbors–those sheep given into his charge. No one should blithely blunder into this because of an alleged pastor shortage.

    We should not pretend that Paul is talking about anything other than earthly righteousness when he lists qualifications. If he were not, we would either have no pastors at all because all fall short or we would be forced to ignore what Paul tells us altogether (which seems to be what you are inadvertently suggesting here). Neither option is faithful. As a result, we must accept that some men measure up to this list and others do not. It is up to those men to exercise Scripturally-informed discernment with much prayer and meditation when considering their fitness for the office to which they aspire. And yes, some men will consider themselves unfit. Some of these will have discerned well and others poorly, but the possibility of foolishness on our part does not excuse us from trying to discern well.

    An incompetent pastor should find no comfort in what you are saying here, nor should an incompetent man contemplating the ministry find encouragement (though I very much fear that they can and they will). If a pastor wants to be comforted over carrying out his office badly, I suggest he look to the Cross where every one of his shortcomings and mistakes is forgiven and redeemed. If the Cross isn’t good enough for such a pastor, how can he teach his flock that it’s good enough for them as they go through life botching their own vocations?

  2. I have to agree with Matt Cochran and would amend what is written above to: “It’s not about his skill or abilities, it’s not about what the Pastor can bring to the table, or what he can do, (as long as he is competent) it’s about what Christ has done and continues to do through him in Word and Sacrament.

  3. What a thoughtful and well written response by Matt Cochran!

    For those of us who discern that our proper vocation is not in the ministry, there is plenty for us to do by praying for, supporting, working alongside and defending the pastors that God sent us. A proper understanding of the Lutheran doctrine of vocation reveals that there is dignity and the potential to do God-pleasing work across the whole range of vocations.

    As a practical matter, young men should listen seriously to the advice of their pastors, parents, teachers and brothers and sisters in the church when considering studying for the ministry. God calls men to this office through the voices of Christian men and women. If no one is urging you to seek the ministry, they may see something that you don’t.

  4. Thanks for the comments and the opportunity to discuss this further. First let me say that my post is not a systematic description of the Pastoral office. However, my post says nothing about “qualifications.” It doesn’t suggest that there aren’t any qualifications for Pastoral Ministry. The post speaks of skills and abilities, which are not the same thing as qualifications. Being male is a qualification but not a skill.

    From that stand point I think it’s a stretch to consider Paul’s list in 1 Timothy 3 an inventory of all the skills and abilities required for one to be considered worthy of the office. Not even Martin Luther considered himself worthy of the office.

    So consider 1 Timothy 3 with me; being above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, not a drunkard, not violent, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money, managing his household well, not a recent convert, thought of well by outsiders. These are not skills and abilities, but attributes required by all Christians. No one is free to say, “I don’t have to be self-controlled because I’m not a Pastor,” or “I don’t have to worry about managing my household well because I’m not planning on going to seminary.” Rather, these are, by and large, issues of open unrepentant sin. If one is living in open unrepentant sin, such as refusing to manage his household well, then he should not enter the ministry. The only thing which Paul points out to be a skill is the ability to teach. And yes, you’re right, I didn’t mention that. My polemic was against those who think they’re not “good enough” for the ministry because, personally, I don’t see this as a problem. Meaning, I haven’t yet heard of a Pastor being incompetent because he’s unable to teach (which is a skill many learn at the Seminary), rather Pastors are incompetent because they depend too much on their skills and abilities instead of the Word of God. They’re not being faithful pastors.

    Certainly there are some men who should not go to the Seminary, for various reasons. I’m not suggesting that incompetent men enter the Office. Nor am I suggesting that Pastors should have no abilities. But the Pastoral office is not one of skill and abilities. The Pastor is not necessarily the most compassionate, most creative, most administrative, most eloquent, poetic, apologetic, knowledgable person in the congregation. Rather the Pastor is the one who is set apart to stand in the place of Christ for the people. And therefore, the pastoral acts of being the official purveyor of the faith, the instituter of the sacrament, the absolution man, etc. is not dependent upon his “skills,” in the way we usually think of skills, but the Word of God.

    I think you might be reading too much into the post to conclude that I’m suggesting that people “blithely blunder” into the office because of a pastor shortage. Again, this post is not a systematic description on entering the Pastoral Office. Rather, for those considering the ministry, whom their congregation supports and suggests they go into the ministry, those ones should know that the call is not to be skilled but faithful.

  5. Having spent time with Pr. Voltattorni at the seminary I applaud this article. I think some folks are reading way to into what he wrote. No one is discounting or ignoring what Paul says. What Pr. Voltattorni is cautioning against is essentially making the Office of Ministry about “us” rather than Christ. Dr. Biermann at the seminary used to say that once you stepped in front of the congregation on Sunday morning you were essentially nothing more than a set of shoulders to keep the alb from hitting the floor. In other words it’s not about you, it’s not about how well you speak, it’s not about how experienced you are, it’s about the message you proclaim, that of Christ crucified and risen.

  6. I think there are two points to be made here:

    First, our “sufficiency” does not come from ourselves, but from God. I think the article is focused on this first point (2 Cor. 3:5). Indeed, God chooses to deliver the treasures of salvation using earthen vessels (2 Cor. 4:7).

    Second, there are requisite skills, competencies and characteristics required of those who aspire to the “noble task” of being an overseer. For instance, being “apt to teach” … if a man can not teach/preach he can not be a pastor. And so, yes, a man who is a pastor must have these requisite skills.

    The article, as I understand its intention, is concerned with the first point, though it would have been wise to offer clarification and reference 1 Tim. 3, it would have made for greater clarity.

  7. Pr. McCall @ #5,

    “What Pr. Voltattorni is cautioning against is essentially making the Office of Ministry about “us” rather than Christ.”

    That really gets to the heart of the matter. Congregations considering issuing a call and call committees need to consider this as well, especially in the face of overemphasis on determining “who we are” and “what we need/want” in advice and assistance they are likely to receive from Synod these days.

  8. Pr. Voltattorni, thank you for taking the time to thoroughly respond and to clarify what was missing from your original piece.

    The only issue I take with your analysis of 1 Timothy is this: While qualifications are not the same thing as skills and abilities, certain skills and abilities can be and (according to Paul) are qualifications (even if it’s just one, which I don’t believe it is). So when you speak of skills and abilities in a generic way, you are also secondarily speaking of qualifications. Most of Paul’s list consists of traits, but some of them are abilities, and some of them (like being hospitable) are really both. “Able to teach” is one, as you say. “He must manage his own household well” is another one–a fact which is made quite clear in Paul’s own explanation: “For if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” “Does not know how” is not necessarily the same thing as “refuses.” And yes, we’re all on the hook for this list morally speaking, but being inhospitable causes less harm to our neighbors through the vocation of software engineer than it does through the vocation of pastor. It doesn’t make it right, but neither is it a temporal qualification for every vocation.

    I recognize and appreciate that your experience may not involve pastors who are unable to teach as being an actual problem in our churches, but your experience is not the same as that of others. Quite unfortunately, there are pastors who cannot or are otherwise disinclined to teach those things which Christ has given them to teach.

    Of course we shouldn’t let current and prospective pastors think everything hinges on their skills and abilities. It is a burden that no one can bear and I applaud you for wanting to relieve that burden. At the same time, we shouldn’t be telling anyone that being a pastor has nothing at all to do with their skills and abilities when, in fact, it does–not even for a good cause. This is precisely why we should be wary in addressing such subjects from from our own experience. Even for the best of us, our experience is stilted. When we follow it, we will be perpetually falling into one error by trying very hard to avoid an opposite error that’s nearer to our hearts.

  9. Thanks for the responses. Rev. McCall is spot onto what I was considering. I believe that much of what Matt Cochran says, we are on the same page but using different emphases.

    But here’s the thing: if you are really worried that a ton of inhospitable guys (for e.g.) are trying to become Pastors, then instead of telling them “No you need to be a software engineer (for e.g.) because that job doesn’t require you to be hospitable as much,” tell them to repent of their inhospitality. Managing one’s household well is also not something only Pastors must do. Furthermore, the word “how,” which you emphasize, is not even in the Greek. It says, roughly “for if one does not know to manage his own house, how will he take care of the congregation of God?” It’s the responsibility of every man to do this. “As the head of the family should teach them in a simple way to his household” (Small Catechism). If a guy is considering the ministry and he doesn’t know to manage his household well, then he must repent.

    We are however on the same page in terms of ability to teach. I do not intend to argue that if a man is unable to teach that he shouldn’t worry about it because it’s not about his abilities. Again, it’s not a systematic argument, I’m not trying to delineate qualifications, yes a Pastor must be able to teach, yes this is a skill. The post is a polemic against those who think worthiness for the Office comes from themselves. I don’t get the sense that you disagree with that and thus appreciate your comments for clarification.

  10. Rev. McCall, you wrote: “Dr. Biermann at the seminary used to say that once you stepped in front of the congregation on Sunday morning you were essentially nothing more than a set of shoulders to keep the alb from hitting the floor.”

    I understand that both you and Dr. Biermann are engaging in hyperbole–an exaggeration to highlight a point. Like your own flock, I am very grateful that my pastor is more than that. Please understand that in what follows, I am using that hyperbole in exactly the same way.

    The attitude you highlight is a rationalization used by some church-growth pastors. When they stand before their congregation, they are fulfilling their duty to keep their (figurative) alb from hitting the floor. That is why, during that hour, their skills and abilities are all directed to what they personally find important–running a marketing campaign that gets people in the door–rather than what they’ve been given to do. As long as they’ve taken a few seconds to mention that Jesus died for our sins and have the sacrament every other week, their real job is already done, so they can do what they want with the rest. You see what happened there? Paradoxically, they used the fact that their ministry is about Christ rather than them as a way to make their ministry about them rather than Christ. It sounds bizarre, but it’s quite possible (and it really happens) when that fact is carelessly expressed.

    The attitude you highlight is also a rationalization used by some confessional pastors. When they stand before their congregation, they are fulfilling their duty to keep their (literal) alb from hitting the floor. During that hour, their skills and abilities are also directed towards what they personally find important. This is usually less obvious because what they personally find important looks a lot more like what they’ve been given to do than in the previous example. Nevertheless, otherwise faithful pastors will dismiss legitimate requests, complaints, or cries for help from their flock as “itching ears” caused by the influence of American Evangelicalism rather than really trying to understand them. After all, they’ve kept their alb off the floor, so anything else must be superfluous. This is less damaging, but still a problem. Not all requests are legitimate, but some really are.

    Please understand that I’m not denying what you’re saying. I’m highlighting another side of it that must not be neglected for the sake of what you’re saying.

  11. I’m amazed you got all that from what I said! Most church growth type churches don’t wear albs so I’m not sure they would agree with what I quoted, plus the alb really is not the issue here. (that was an attempt at humor) I’m not seeing your point as anything I did or didn’t already say. When you step in front of a congregation as a pastor it isn’t about you. Even if you paradoxically make it about you, you’re still making it about YOU. If you make it about what you find “personally important” you’ve made it about YOU. This was all pretty much what I’m sure I said. It’s about proclaiming Christ crucified and risen. You are just the mouthpiece, the person called into that office to do so, the set of shoulders to keep the alb from hitting the floor, and so you should do whatever you can to make sure the focus and message is on Christ and not YOU or YOUR desires. No one ever said the office of ministry was or should be an excuse to preach church-growth or a marketing campaign. It would seem that a pastor who would do those things has FORGOTTEN that he is just a set of shoulders to keep the alb from hitting the floor (as I said) and made the office about what he wants and what he desires. Anything, even the pastoral office can be misused. You’re making the same point I am, so I’m not seeing why all the long discussion If a pastor uses his office to promote anything other than the Gospel then he has forgotten what his role is and is promoting himself, not Christ. I would say the other side of what I am saying is that a pastor needs to make sure he is preaching Christ and him crucified alone. And when he does not, of course he must be open to hear his error and repent and receive forgiveness.

  12. @Matt Cochran #8
    Quite unfortunately, there are pastors who cannot or are otherwise disinclined to teach those things which Christ has given them to teach.

    There have been, for decades on all sides of the “political” spectrum!
    Unfortunately, there are also members… the great majority… who will not come and listen to the best of teachers, even when bribed by the ladies with coffee and sweets! (Some will be in the room for the coffee, but serious study? Not so many!) 🙁

    Between one reluctance and the other, Missouri has gotten to the level of ignorance it displays today.

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