And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God (1 Corinthians 2:1-5 ESV).
Saint Paul came to Corinth to speak the Word of Truth to those who claimed they had “wisdom.” But what if the “wise” Corinthians told Paul to go elsewhere because his “style” of ministry clashed with their notion of what is a Christian congregation? What if the Corinthians preferred a Hymenaeus of Ephesus who would tell them what they wanted to hear in an erudite fashion rather than Paul’s plainspoken speech?
Granted this comparison is a stretch, but we see something like this in The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod today. There seems to be a notion of various “styles” of ministry among different congregations.
For example: a predominantly white, affluent, suburban congregation would rather call a pastor who can fit his preaching and teaching with the lifestyle of the calling congregation. The pastor is expected to be keen on how white, affluent, suburban Lutherans want to worship. He should write sermons with illustrations easily understood by his target demographic.
On the other hand: a less affluent, older-skewing, rural congregation would rather call a pastor who is a “Word and Sacrament” guy. He is liturgical, sacramental, and prefers hymns on the organ or piano over a praise band. He’s a Word and Sacrament guy that won’t fit anywhere else but away from the city and the suburbs.
Then there’s the pastor who is willing to fit any mold forced upon him by any congregation. He is truly “all things to all men” in order that he might save some. “What do you need me to be,” he asks. He can be anything to anyone, while at the same time being nothing. All that matters is that he is liked.
Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 2 should not be read as a particular “style” of ministry. Paul does not fit any mold. He preaches Christ crucified. He finds his identity in the cross. Paul lets the Word do the talking. He gets out of the way in order that Christ is proclaimed the Way.
There’s lessons to be learned here for both pastors and laymen. Pastors: Be who you are trained to be. Do not give way to “styles” of ministry. You are trained to be a Lutheran pastor. Please be one for the sake of the Church. Preach the Gospel. Administer the Sacraments. In turn, be fed as you feed others. Laymen: Don’t try to “shoehorn” your pastor into someone you wish he was. The Church is not about success. The Church is about crucifixion and resurrection. We die to sin and rise in Christ. Bury success in the tomb, in order that a new creation may rise in its place.
It is in the way of Corinthian “wisdom” to perpetuate the myth of “styles” of ministry. There is one Office of Preaching that gives the Gospel and the Sacraments. Let’s not make the Preaching Office into a changeable mode of operation. Let’s remember why Christ instituted the Ministry: for the forgiveness of sins. Let’s remember our Lutheran identity, that is, our catholic identity in the conservation reformation. That’s the “style” that never goes out of vogue.