Pastors are Examples to the Flock

One of the recurring themes in the recent discussions about the LC–MS “Specific Ministry Pastor” (hereafter SMP) program is the matter of a pastor being an example to his flock.  Discussions held on the BJS website about SMP can be found in the following:

Is a pastor supposed to have a lifestyle that is an example of Christian conduct to his flock?  Or may his lifestyle be one that more or less reflects the standards of the community in which he lives and works?  So, for example, may pastors living in Manhattan or Hollywood live a more “worldly” life than those who live in rural Iowa?  Should “youth pastors” be allowed to “let loose”—or should they be examples of Christian conduct no matter whom they serve?  Does “specific ministry” permit exceptions to the rules for Christian conduct of pastors?

In surfing the Internet (via Google search) for recent talk about the SMP program this weekend, I came up with a mixed bag on these questions.  And I was surprised.  Some bloggers who appear to be Lutheran believe that a pastor doesn’t need to have an exemplary lifestyle.  Some even think that the idea of “pastor as example to the flock” is a “Pietist” idea.

I don’t think that the SMP program was designed to produce pastors who are less exemplary in their Christian conduct.  I don’t think that the persons administering the program are intentionally “letting loose” two millennia of Christian standards.  I don’t think that the vast majority of SMP students are any less Christian in their lifestyle than traditional M.Div. students. But people need to realize that, in the SMP program, some of the safeguards and filters that traditionally kept out unsavory characters from the LCMS ministry have been removed.

Not so long ago, the majority of seminary students (and almost all the younger ones) were graduates of one of the Concordia Colleges, where their growth in the faith and lifestyle was monitored by the Dean of Students and Resident Directors. In the traditional seminary program, even today, men are not recognized as “vicars” or allowed to preach publicly, until they have passed two years of observation as students, as advisees to faculty advisors, and as field workers in local congregations.  Today, in the SMP program, as soon as the student is accepted into the program, he is called “vicar,” allowed to preach, and in some occasions allowed to administer the sacraments (Convention Proceedings 2007, 63rd Regular Convention, LCMS, Houston, TX, July 14-19, 2007 [St Louis:  2007], p. 135).  In the SMP program, lifestyle observation happens after the student is already functioning as a pastor.  That is a significant difference and change from all previous methods of pastoral training in the LCMS.

Is the concern for an exemplary lifestyle by the pastor a Pietist idea?  Hardly!  It is an apostolic command for all ministers of the Christian church, being commanded in detail by Saint Paul in his Pastoral Epistles.  The two lists of specific qualifications for a pastor are stated in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:6-9.   These lists are collated in the Concordia Self-Study Bible under the heading “Qualifications for Elders/Overseers and Deacons” (1983 edition, p. 1854).

On the matter of “example” in general, Saint Paul commands Timothy “Set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith, and in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12).  If you think Paul is too strict, since Paul gets so much abuse today, Peter commands the same thing to the elders, that they be “examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3).

Luther doesn’t budge an inch from these commands.  In his “Instructions for the Visitors of Parish Pastors of Electoral Saxony” [1528] (Luther’s Work 40:313), he commands: “The preachers are to exemplify a godly life, so that the people take no offense but better their own lives. . . . If one or more of the pastors or preachers is guilty of error in this or that respect [either in doctrine or life], the superintendent shall call to himself those concerned and have them abstain from it.”  In the LCMS parish system, the “superintendent” is equal to the Circuit Counselor.

Martin Chemnitz continues the pattern set by Peter, Paul, and Luther.  In his Enchiridion [1593] (St Louis: CPH edition, p. 158), he writes that in “the last chief part of the examination [for the ministry] . . . pastors should by solemn exhortation be spurred . . . to lead a pious, honorable, and blameless life and to be earnestly reminded on the basis of Scripture how important this is.”

Johann Gerhard, in his grand Theological Commonplaces, now being published in English (St Louis:  CPH edition), has much to say about this topic (to purchase books in this series, go to:  In Volume XXVI/1, On the Ministry, Part One (published 2011), sections 166-169 (pp. 241-245), 181 (pp. 265-266), and 182 (pp. 264-265) address the matter of the pastor’s lifestyle.  Gerhard quotes from the Pastoral Epistles, I Peter 5:3, Ambrose, Hincmar of Reims, 4th Council of Carthage, Council of Laodicea, Ivo of Chartres, Gregory of Nazianzen, Gratian’s canon law, Chrysostom, Cyprian, Augustine, Jerome, the Constitution of the Electoral Saxon church, Gregory the Great, and other Scripture passages.

In summary, Gerhard writes, “Integrity of life and honorable behavior are required chiefly and especially of a bishop, not just because of those general reasons that demand these from all other Christians but also particularly for this reason: that they may be “examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3), that in all things and in every respect they may offer themselves as a “pattern of good works” (2 Thessalonians 3:9; 1 Timothy 4:2; Titus 2:7), that they not, because of their wickedness of life, expose their ministry to the reproaches of enemies and set up an impediment or hindrance to the Word’s fruit-bearing, and thus cause the name and doctrine of the Lord to be blasphemed” (ibid., section 182, pp. 265-266).

You can debate all you want about how much academic study is required to become a Christian pastor in today’s world.  But the matter of the Christian pastor’s lifestyle, and the observation and examination of that in advance of ordination (1 Timothy 5:22), is not a matter of debate.  That was settled originally in the foundation of the Christian church by Jesus and the Apostles, and was reaffirmed by Luther and his epigones.  We change this requirement only at great peril to our congregations.   What do you think?


Pastors are Examples to the Flock — 30 Comments

  1. I don’t dispute a thing you say, but I also observe that God’s redemptive love has a way of both turning men away from sin and toward service to him. He took a murderer in Moses and made him the man who led the exodus. He took an murderer in Saul and used him as an evangelist, through whom you, me and our ancestors received the gospel. Your axe may be grinding against how the smp program has it’s faults. We dare not, as pastors of the church, make the entry way of the Pastoral Office so narrow that we would exclude, through our process, those whom God has chosen.

  2. The qualifications of a pastor in 1 Timothy 3,
    “above reproach, self-controlled, respectable,
    not quarrelsome, not a lover of money”.
    This is not the complete list but it highlights
    the moral character of a pastor.

    Whether a pastor likes it or not he is an example
    for the laity in his parish. He needs to exhibit
    Christ-like qualities and not bring offense to
    to the pastoral ministry.

  3. On the flip side, the murderers were called by God immediately, whereas those called now are called mediately. The traditional path through our seminaries has had a very wide front door. Many men have come through that door that you’d have to wonder how they could have possibly gotten there except through divine providence. There are plenty of people that weren’t even Lutheran when they began their seminary training, people from all occupations and all age groups. It’s my understanding that the way we determine “those whom God has chosen” is by who comes out the back door and receives a call. We will never be able to stop God from calling whom He has chosen. If we allow the Scripturally commanded attributes of our pastoral candidates to be ignored (and I’m not saying you in any way are advocating that Pastor Klinkenberg), God may very well call His pastors by using some other Synod. I don’t think we need to further widen the width of the front door.

  4. If pastors are to be examples to the flock – and I agree that they should – perhaps the place to start would be for those pastors who disagree with SMP set a better example for what it looks like to obey the eighth commandment and a better example of how to embrace persons with whom you disagree as sisters and brothers in Christ.

  5. I have to agree. Some of the these unsavory SMPs are rumored to have actually sat down and eaten with tax collectors and sinners!

  6. Oh, for heaven’s sake, Dr. Noland.

    I don’t know how many times I witnessed CSL residential students wearing Cubs jerseys–on campus!

    Next we’ll hear about motorcycles, pierced ears, and Elvis.

    Good gravy.

    Robert C. Baker

  7. The question is not whether or not a pastor can talk to a drug dealer, as Jesus talked and ate with people who lived openly sinful lives and were in openly sinful occupations. Of course those folks enter into the kingdom of heaven while the sons of the kingdom are weeping and gnashing their teeth in outer darkness. I don’t think Dr. Noland is trying to limit the gospel’s proclamation or the proclamation of the gospel by sinful men.
    But we ourselves might limit the gospel’s proclamation by not to the best of our ability figuring out whether or not a man’s life is “above reproach,” the governing adjective Paul uses and then fleshes out with all the largely moral qualifications familiar from the Table of Duties. These apostolic requirements are not Paul being nannyish and overbearing or pietistic (a word used when one wants to end discussion); they are what is needed so that the gospel is heard rather than drowned out by the loud contradiction of it in the preacher’s own life.

  8. @ #6 There actually was an article and a motion put forward by a student when I was at CSL to require students to dress better. But in all fairness, they are students, not pastors while at seminary.

    I would also look at this from the reverse. If a student was at the seminary or on vicarage and went to the Dean of Ministerial Formation and said he wanted to start a heavy metal band and call it “Megadeth” and sing some rather dark and violent songs about heavy topics, I would hope the seminary would discourage him and or “weed him out”. So why a double standard for the SMP? Would anyone think it appropriate if their current pastor decided to do the same thing? So why make an exception for different programs?

  9. Thank you, by the way, Pr. Noland for your resolution outline for a return to a biblical understanding of the pastoral office. We changed some wording slightly, but as a congregation we voted to submit it to the TX District convention for this summer!

  10. @Tim Klinkenberg #1 Just two current incidents I have been involved with. One a Pastor who is verbally and politically abusive and who uses his position to force people out of the congregation who disagree with his CG sentiments. That Pastor is still on our rosters. The other who has confessed to being a 3 time adulterer who is now the circuit councellor.

    If we can’t clean house after things have gone haywire and unbiblical when will we? We are already beyond dysfunctional why encourage other half measure means to encourage more?

  11. @Rev. McCall #9

    Dear Pastor McCall,

    Thanks for following up this discussion with some action via resolution. I hope that anyone who is concerned about the matter does the same.


    Due to many requests, and several very helpful suggestions, I have revised the Overture “To Restore a Biblical Pastoral Office” again on Monday, Jan. 30th. Please use the most current one, which revised only the Third Whereas, so that there is no mention of any particular case, just general procedure:

    Thanks to everyone for a very fruitful discussion!

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  12. I am certainly no Paul, Peter or Martin, but as you are discussing pastors being examples, I thought I’d share something I wrote earlier this month for our Pastor’s Conference on Vocation:

    Pastors – and especially pastor’s wives – often talk about not enjoying life in a “glass house.” However, perhaps living in the glass house is not so adverse if we see it as an opportunity to model our lives and vocations. After describing the noble tasks of overseers, deacons and their wives (1 Timothy 3:1-12), Paul encourages us by mentioning what we gain by being faithful – and also displaying faithfulness – in our called vocations: “Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 3:13).

    While you are living in your glass house, also let your people see you at rest. Let them see you without your clerical collar, tie or alb, sitting on the sideline of your daughter’s soccer match, taking your wife out to eat at HuHot for a date night, out on the golf course with your friends, coaching your son’s basketball team, fixing the roof on your home, etc. Let them see you enjoy your family, taking family or couple vacations, puttering around in your garage, etc. Not only can your people see your work ethic, but they can also see your relaxation ethic. For resting, relaxing and enjoying family time is all part of God’s vocations, too. In this way, too, the pastor glorifies God by rejecting work as his god. The rhythm of work and Sabbath is good for the under-shepherd, as much as it is beneficial for his sheep. This is part of your vocation, also. And it, too, is God-pleasing.

  13. @Tim Klinkenberg #1
    He took a murderer in Moses and *after 40 years* made Moses His prophet. He took Saul the murderer and persecutor of the Church, and, though Saul immediately upon being made a Christian through Baptism began to confess and contend for the Faith in Damascus, departed from there rather soon, and went away into Arabia, and it was several years–7, 8, or so–before his first missionary journey. Your examples fail to support the point you seem to be trying to make.

  14. @Michael D. Zarling #12
    Let them see you without your clerical collar, tie or alb, sitting on the sideline of your daughter’s soccer match, taking your wife out to eat at HuHot for a date night, out on the golf course with your friends, coaching your son’s basketball team, fixing the roof on your home, etc.

    Sounds sensible to me. But know your congregation!
    A reputable confessional Pastor (in Missouri) was asked to resign. One of the complaints against him was that he appeared in the small town in shorts. [If I remember correctly, he and the youth group had cleaned up two miles of roadside and they stopped somewhere for cokes afterward! (If not, something equally unremarkable!)]

  15. Look again, my comment had nothing to do with time, but character. We dare not out so many man made roadblocks in front of people. Seems to me much of the issue is control. I think even we can agree that control in almost any form is an illusion.

    @Rev. David Mueller #13

  16. @Tim Klinkenberg #1
    We dare not, as pastors of the church, make the entry way of the Pastoral Office so narrow that we would exclude, through our process, those whom God has chosen.

    Dare we make it so wide that the devil appears to be coming in with them?

    I didn’t take Pr. Mueller’s examples as referring to time but to total separation of those two individuals from the “scene of the crime” and their old companions.
    When they were called to do God’s work neither of them tried to keep their former job/relationships going “on the side.”

  17. @ Tim Klinkenberg. You seem to misunderstand the Office of Ministry. A mans desire to be a pastor does not mean he is a pastor. If I desire to be a dentist, should I then simply be a dentist, based only on my desire or the fact that I feel chosen? No. I would go through school, be trained, show competency, pass all my courses, and finally when completed I would be able to start a practice and be called a dentist. This feeling of being chosen is the slippery slope that leads to so much bad theology. These young men feel chosen to be a pastor, that’s fine. Test the spirits or “Feelings”. Study the material, show mastery of the subject you wish to teach and preach, be examined by the church, and then, when you pass all that AND receive a call from a congregation, you are a pastor. The gate should be narrow, because simply basing entrance upon ones feelings and desires does not make you fit to hold the Office.

  18. If you’ve ever suffered through having a shepherd who was not leading an exemplary life, you know the hell of it. Everyone in town just can’t wait to tell you what bar they saw your pastor in, with what woman, and at what late hour. “Hey, you’ve got a womanizing, drunk for a pastor, Fred. Don’t you Lutherans do anything about that?” It might not be so bad if he weren’t married with 3 kids, but a couple years later he falls in love with the church secretary and the wife and 3 kids just disappear and now the church gets used to a knew wife for the pastor. “Don’t you Lutherans do anything about that?” Answer: sometimes yes and sometimes no. If the congregation is large and doesn’t make a fuss, we let sleeping dogs lie. But, without fussing, splinter groups are abandoning that ship in all directions. It’s a negative impetus that leads to planting new churches, so it’s a positive result, sort of. Tell me again, what’s the job of the Overseer in the LC-MS? Waiting for the parishioners to handle the problem is asking the sheep to do what is very frightning for most of them, and, of course, the women can only talk with their husbands at home about such problems. We muddle through by the grace of God.

  19. @Joanne #18

    Miss Joanne, unless I badly miss the boat, immoral living is one of the reasons for which a congregation can and should remove a pastor. I hesitate to pass judgment, but this would be a time for the congregation to be proactive, in my opinion.

    Dr. Noland, as always I thank you for your thoughtful remarks. I would suggest however, that the easiest place in the world to live as Paul has called pastors to live, is at the seminary? There the student lives a rather cloistered life, surrounded by other people who are all trying to live the same sort of life. It is life in the “real” world that is the challenge, and I would suggest that this makes the pastor of the prospective student the best equipped to judge his fitness for office in this vital area.

  20. @David Hartung #19

    Dear Vicar Hartung,

    Since you have not lived at the seminary as a residential student, I don’t think you understand residential seminary life. Just because the seminaries look like “cloisters,” doesn’t mean either seminary functions as one.

    Most residential students that I know of have off-campus jobs in order to make ends meet. I normally worked 12-16 hours per week when I was a student. Most residential students also have full-time off-campus jobs during the summer, at least they used to. I don’t know about other students, but I learned more about US society from my blue-collar co-workers in those jobs, than I would have ever learned by going straight from a B.A. degree to some white-collar middle class job and comfortable middle-class suburb.

    All residential students work with congregations, from their first week until their last week of classes. All residential students have some period of experience with nursing homes, hospitals, psychiatric wards, shut-in visits, teaching children (Sunday school, catechism, VBS, etc.), working with youth, evangelism calls, etc. All residential students have an eleven month period of vicarage, usually in another city or state, supervised by a certified vicarage supervisor. All residential students have assigned faculty advisors, who meet with them regularly. All residential single students have Resident Directors.

    All these connections in the “real world,” outside of the academic life of the seminary, involve supervisors, supervision and accountability. All of the supervisors involved–except, of course, for the off-campus-non-church-related-jobs–are expected to make periodic and final reports on the students under their supervision. This is in addition to the occasional “character reports” filed by faculty members about students in their classes.

    I also believe that each faculty member has the right of vetoing the certification of individual residential students, based on their experience and observation of a student in the classroom. At least they used to have that right.

    In contrast, the faculty aren’t able to do that–effectively–for non-residential students, since they can’t observe their behavior and speech in a classroom setting, except for the occasional residential seminars (these were listed as possibilities in Resolution 5-01B–but I don’t know how much on-campus time SMP students are required to fulfill in the present program; see Convention Proceedings 2007, 133-138).

    By the time a residential student graduates, there is a large dossier of reports from various professionals on his character, abilities, weaknesses, and fitness for ministry. Plus there is the report from the pastor where the student originally came from.

    One of the weaknesses of the SMP program is that the number and range of supervising professionals is reduced, in many or most cases, to just one person, the supervising pastor, as you rightly observe. This means that if the SMP student is able to “fool” his supervising pastor about his real intent and attitudes and behavior, he passes. The residential M.Div. (and B.Div. before that) follows the principle attributed to a great Midwestern orator, who grew up in Indiana and worked in Illinois: “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.”

    The “fitness for ministry” aspect of the SMP program is not a problem for candidates like yourself, whom anyone would want to have as a pastor. The problem is, as I have said above, that “some of the safeguards and filters that traditionally kept out unsavory characters from the LCMS ministry have been removed.” This is one of the concerns about SMP for which work needs to be done at the 2013 convention and thereafter.

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  21. @TK #15
    But your criticism of Dr. Noland’s article missed *its* mark then. *Time* is an essential factor in the particular cases you mentioned. That was my point. No one is saying that someone who once was clearly *not* fit for the Ministry cannot at some point, perhaps, be.

    The term “recent convert” comes to mind. I have been a bit troubled by some of the “recent converts” I’ve seen nevertheless accepted into seminaries, where they’ll have 3 or 4 years of on-campus formation. I *still* am leary of such a practice. But now, with SMPPPPP (or whatever the initials are “supposed” to be) it could be essentially an instantaneous process. A guy could “pray to accept Jesus into his heart” on one night (and don’t laugh! There are plenty of LCMS churches and pastors that are willing to use such a construct of Conversion) and be recommended for SMP the next day, and start preaching the next Sunday. I *do* believe that the “gatekeepers” wouldn’t go *that* far–*at this point*. But the *time* factor as well as the geographical one are *themselves* gatekeepers in the “traditional* routes to ordination.

  22. @Martin R. Noland #20
    Re: off-campus jobs. I worked one quarter doing laundry in a nursing home 20 hrs/wk., 2nd shift. After that, I worked at a funeral home until vicarage year. And considering the folks I worked with at the funeral home… the word “cloister” *hardly* applies! 🙂 It was a great job for a sem student, actually.

  23. Part of what Pastor Larry Beane had to say about on-campus pastoral formation:

    “Can a SMP student sing in the chapel choir, join the Kantorei, participate in student government, drink beer every Friday with faculty and fellow students, get grilled by Dr. Scaer for three years, struggle with the formidable Early Church course, browse around a world-class theological library every day, attend Good Shepherd Institute and Symposia every year, participate and in some cases lead daily Matins, Vespers, and Compline in addition to a daily preaching office and a weekly Mass with the community, load and unload trucks as fellow students move in and move out, learn Latin, German, or even Swedish from faculty and fellow students, experience Q-parties, or go through the crucible of summer Greek with one’s class? Pastors are formed not only by the classroom, but by the experience of being part of a worshiping community of men in the same boat, by access to profs outside the classroom, by a semi-monastic setting of prayer and study, and by allowing the Spirit time to work. Even our Lord trained His disciples for three years.”

  24. With all due fraternal respect to Father Hollywood, and with the exception of chapel and weekly Eucharist, I experienced none of those things while a residential student at Concordia, St. Louis.

    Was the “formation” (a term borrowed from the Romanists, by the way), of my entire class (CSL ’98) somehow insufficient?

    We need better arguments than, “SMP isn’t Fort Wayne, therefore it is bad.”

    Robert C. Baker

  25. Why does it seem that there is always condescension in these posts? Of course I understand the office of the Holy Ministry. Your argument is spurious regarding a dentist. His job is certified by an independent testing group and his competences are tested. In our residential seminaries, the same professors sho dri k beer with the guys and sing in chapel with them certify them as fit. That smacks of subjectivity. I was a residential student and it was fabulous. It was not the most edifying experience in my life. But I did learn how to think critically and especially understood exegesis. There was a lot of cooperate and graduate for me and my cronies. Thank Godmformbaseball, intramurals and a fantastic Dean of Students. @Rev. McCall #17

  26. @Robert #25
    You are purposely misinterpreting his point. You had your own on-campus, residential, intangibly beneficial experiences that also cannot be replicated by the SMP (or other non-residential) program/s. And your summation of his point is not “fraternal” or “respectful”.

  27. @Robert #25
    with the exception of chapel and weekly Eucharist, I experienced none of those things while a residential student at Concordia, St. Louis.

    I’m sure the library was available to you. 🙁 (If it’s incomplete, you might visit the Episcopal Seminary in Austin, TX, and volunteer to return the volumes that Seminex students left there.)

    [What prevented the kind of brotherliness that leads to helping one another move?]

    IF CSL has no equivalents to the other “advantages” mentioned, perhaps something should be done about it. 😉

  28. Dear BJS Bloggers,

    Even as you blog, the latest issue of Lutheran Witness (Feb. 2012) is being delivered to all parts of the US, Canada, and around the world where there are LCMS Lutherans and Lutheran libraries.

    The front cover article is about the benefits of RESIDENTIAL seminary education. Both Presidents, Dale Meyer and Lawrence Rast, Jr., are quoted.

    The front cover photo shows many members of the LCMS seminary faculties, on the campus of Concordia Saint Louis. It looks like they are headed to chapel for someone’s installation, along with a host of other clergy in the background. The front cover is duplicated on page 10. Page 11 has the rest of the photo, which includes in the farthest distance, on the left side of page 11, the host of Issues, etc.

    In spite of what some have said here, and on the other related posts, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod loves its pastors and loves its seminaries. That is mainly due to the fact that we have wonderful seminary faculties and dedicated staff who support their work.

    Whatever we might say about the details of pastoral training, the LCMS seminary faculties are a great and imponderable blessing to our church and to world Lutheranism. There is no greater argument for residential seminary education than that!

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  29. @ TK
    Then please explain your words:
    “We dare not, as pastors of the church, make the entry way of the Pastoral Office so narrow that we would exclude, through our process, those whom God has chosen.”

    That clearly seemed to me to state that God had chosen men for the Pastoral Office in a way completely different from what has always been taught by the Lutheran Church and that other pastors are preventing them from entering that Office based on education and seminary requirements. In other words, the call comes from some inner urge or feeling and training and seminary merely becomes a formality or hoop one must jump through.

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