Advice From A Young Pastor

1093164__silhouette_of_catholic_preacherIt seems to me that the Steadfast Lutheran website has had a lot of conversation lately on the age and experience of pastors.  Pastor Wilken recently wrote an article titled, “These Young Confessors.”  This was followed up by a wonderful article from Pastor Mize titled, “Thoughts From A Young Pastor.”  Therefore, it is in the spirit of these articles that I also throw my hat in the ring.

Like Pastor Mize, I too am a young pastor.  With my youth and limited experience I frankly must confess that I have failed more than I have succeeded.  I have been tossed to and fro by the waves of anthropocentric philosophy, the empty promises of modernism, and the glitter of post-modernity.  The harsh reality is that I have not learned by the good examples of others, but I have unfortunately learned by my own stupidity and still do.  In the midst of my failures and the rubble of my sin I have been driven to the Word and Confessions where several themes have been continually developed.  Therefore, it is out of the fruit of my failures, youth and limited experience that I humbly submit the following advice to you, advice from a young pastor.

 

Don’t Believe The Myth Of Progress:

1212912_growing_graphOur culture is saturated with the idea of progress.  However, progress is a myth because it simply doesn’t work.  As pastors it is so tempting to buy into the myth of man-centered progress, especially because this idea of progress is so embedded in the teachings of the church growth movement.  Pastor Fisk in his new book Broken calls this the “If we just…” problem.  If we just do this or do that, the church and world would progress to the place where our wildest dreams would come true.  The problem though with progress is that it never solves or addresses the fundamental problem of evil itself.  My friends, it is only the message of Christianity’s blood stained cross of Christ that we find God’s solution/answer to the problem of evil and sin.  Our hope is not in the upward progress of mankind, but it is in God who has moved into the dark to rescue you and me.

 

Avoid The Temptation To Sell Out:

If you want to have an easy ministry and Christian walk, do just this: weaken the Law by mingling Gospel with it and condition the Gospel by 1110309_per_cent_5mingling the Law and man’s efforts with it. The old Adam loves this. Weakened Law and conditioned Gospel means that the old man has room to play! There is relief for the old Adam when he is not confronted by the Law. The old Adam is giddy when he is allowed to participate with the Gospel. Yes, the old Adam lives. However, when the exact opposite happens, when the Law exposes sin and the Gospel unconditionally grants life, all theologies of glory are brought to rubble and in the midst of the debris appears a Cross. Brothers and sisters we are left with Jesus, Jesus alone, and He is all that we ever need.

 

Turn A Deaf Ear To The Cry Of Exchanging Creeds For Deeds:

1195551_what_not_to_do_3There is a temptation in the church these days to excuse the spoken Word in exchange for deeds. The cry is, “We don’t want creeds, but deeds.”  While it is important for us to serve our neighbor, we can never forsake the Word of God. The reason being, as human creatures we are prone to wander and  to leave the God that we love.  Therefore, we need to hear daily the extra nos Word (external Word), especially in the midst of the church. We need the Word to stand from the outside—in, speaking to us about our human condition of sin and also God’s solution, the forgiveness of sins found and purchased in Christ for us. We need pastors to give us a report from the Word; we need the authoritative Word to stand outside of us and above us to tell us how things actually are.  Paraphrasing the words of a fellow pastor,

“If your message centers on telling parishioners to: yield more, pray more, care about unbelievers more, read the Bible more, get involved in the church more, love their spouse and kids more… Your parishioners will develop the following Christian narrative, ‘I wonder how I am doing in my life, my yielding, my memorization work, my prayers, my zeal, my sermon application and my witnessing?’ Even though these are good virtues, the narrative is turned inward to self and the Gospel is assumed.  Therefore, we point people outward to Christ, for when the Gospel is assumed it is eventually forgotten. Preach the Cross!”

 

Know Your Calling:

The expectations of a pastor are some of the most misunderstood things in the church today. Just what does a pastor do and what is he called to? I came across a very funny job description for the ideal pastor on Facebook. Here is what it says,

“The ideal pastor preaches exactly twenty minutes with an hour’s content. He condemns sin, but never offends anyone. He works from 8 am to midnight, and also serves as the church janitor. He makes $40 a week, wears good clothes, and donates $30 a week to the church. He is 29 years old and has 40 years of experience. He is a strong leader, yet also follows everyone’s advice. He can effectively relate to all teenagers and spends all of his time with the elderly. He is tall and short, thin and heavyset, and has one brown eye and one blue eye. He makes 15 house calls a day, regularly visits the hospital, and is always in his office.”

Now, we can all get a good chuckle out of the previous job description. I am sure many of you can relate to similar expectations in your own field of work. However, in all seriousness though, what is the pastor called to? What would it look like if we could summarize the calling and office of pastor into a simple idea, theme, and job description?  To answer this question I would like to share an email that I often read.  It was forwarded to me from a friend.  In the email Pastor David Petersen is sharing advice to young seminarians.  He rightly says,

“You are a servant of the Word. Follow Jesus. The Way of the Cross is a lonely, narrow path but it leads to heaven. Be more afraid of God than you are of the people. It is not the one who signs the check who provides daily bread…

It is the Preaching Office. Don’t forget that. Your relationship to the congregation is the same as the prophets to Israel. Work on teaching and converting your own people– which includes scores of folks not on the books. Preach the Gospel to them — from the pulpit, the podium, the bedside, and behind the desk. They come looking for marital advice? Tell them about Jesus dying for them. They come looking for sympathy and a listening ear? Tell them about Jesus dying for them. They have a new baby, lost their jobs, are afraid of retirement? Tell them about Jesus dying for them. No matter what the circumstances, what the situation, you preach Christ crucified. Never compromise the simple Truth that has saved you.

Believe your own preaching. Jesus died also for you. He called you to this Ministry. He knows what he is doing. As good or as bad as it gets, it will not last forever. He is coming back to claim His own.”

 

God’s grace and peace to you my friends as you rest not in the narrative of progress, but the Christian narrative.  May God protect all of us from the temptation to sell out and may we remain steadfast in the Word and Confessions.  Finally, for my fellow pastors, may we be cemented in our calling to preach, teach and confess Christ and Him crucified for the forgiveness of sins.

PAX

 

About Pastor Matt Richard

Rev. Dr. Matthew Richard is the pastor at Zion Lutheran Church of Gwinner, ND. He was previously a Senior Pastor in Sidney, Montana, an Associate Pastor of Spiritual Care and Youth Ministries in Williston, North Dakota, and an Associate Pastor of Children and Youth in Rancho Cucamonga, California. He received his undergraduate degree from Minot State University, ND and his M.Div. from Lutheran Brethren Seminary, MN. His doctor of ministry thesis, from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, MO, was on exploring the journey of American Evangelicals into Confessional Lutheran thought. Pastor Richard is married to Serenity and they have two children. He enjoys fishing, pheasant hunting, watching movies, blogging, golfing, spending time with his family and a good book with a warm latte! To check out more articles by Pastor Matt you can visit his personal blog at: www.pastormattrichard.com.

Comments

Advice From A Young Pastor — 20 Comments

  1. One of the gravest errors of Evangelicalism is that many American Christians believe their pastor has failed them if he is not a gifted entertainer. I know that others on this site have made this point before and better, but the average Evangelical’s complete misunderstanding of a pastors actual job allows the many errors of doctrine to continue and multiply. Many of these megachurches are little more than cults of personality that serve the egos of glib charlatans.

  2. “If your message centers on telling parishioners to: yield more, pray more, care about unbelievers more, read the Bible more, get involved in the church more, love their spouse and kids more…

    That is to say, if your messages sound like Paul.

    Or Luther.

    I get the point of what you are saying — the problem is I think you run a bit roughshod over much of Scripture that points to behavior. I mean, Proverbs is in the Bible. What does one do about the book? And Paul cares about doctrine, but he certainly cares about deeds as well. So, we ought to stay in the center of this tension and not shift to one side or the other. So preach the cross, but don’t shy away from calling people to imitate Christ — from a serious calling to their vocation.

    (to mimic Andrew Bartlelt in his excellent CJ article on Ministry.)

  3. @Mark Louderback #2

    If the book is Proverbs, you preach Christ crucified as central.

    The concern being addressed is specifically that trend exemplified in the slogan “Deeds, NOT creeds.” Behavior modification at the expense of sound Law/Gospel preaching.

  4. Pastor Richard, I think your point was clearly stated and well said. You said “If your message CENTERS” on those works of ours instead of Christ’s work on the cross then there is a problem. Of course Christian behavior is to be discussed, but even Paul and Luther discussed these works in such a way so that the primary message was that there is no way us sinners can fully accomplish a perfect life, which points us repentantly right back to the cross.

    Any calling to imitate Christ should be done not as a command, but as a celebration that through the cross we can do so. The distinction between Law and Gospel is clear and needs to be kept clear, which can only be done, just as you mentioned Pastor Richard, with the Theology of the Cross.

  5. I was about to respond to Rev. Louderback’s errors but then I saw that the layman and laywoman beat me to it. I think I will join in the fun anyway.

    Anyone who thinks that Luther and Paul center the message of Christianity on works is very confused.

    The book of Proverbs? That’s all you’ve got? One book out of 66? And that one book begins with several chapters on wisdom personified, that is to say Christ. To repeat the layman above, the wisdom of Proverbs is clearly “a celebration that through the cross we can do so,” i.e. live wisely – trusting solely in the wisdom of Christ crucified for us.

  6. Pastor Tim Rossow :
    I was about to respond to Rev. Louderback’s errors but then I saw that the layman and laywoman beat me to it. I think I will join in the fun anyway.
    Anyone who thinks that Luther and Paul center the message of Christianity on works is very confused.
    The book of Proverbs? That’s all you’ve got? One book out of 66? And that one book begins with several chapters on wisdom personified, that is to say Christ. To repeat the layman above, the wisdom of Proverbs is clearly “a celebration that through the cross we can do so,” i.e. live wisely – trusting solely in the wisdom of Christ crucified for us.

    Yeah… what they said… 😀

    Seriously though, the quote mentioned by Pastor Richard in the “Deeds, not Creeds” section is quite apt. A good number of evangelicals are notorious for this, even if they pay lip service to the importance of Christ crucified. Of course, there’s a place for talking about good works, but Paul ALWAYS talked about good works in light of the gospel. I’ve noticed this in Romans, particularly in chapter 6; he tells the Roman Christians to not let sin reign in their bodies, but prior to this he makes the gospel-not the law-the basis for that empowerment. Too many people as said above “assume the gospel,” and forget that the gospel is the source for our salvation. Yes, there’s a place for talking about works, but if Christianity starts centering on works rather than the gospel, it becomes a works-righteousness religion.

    And as for the “Pastor Lenos” and “Pastor Lettermans,” I have to admit that I saw this in my previous Nazarene church. Now, don’t get me wrong: making a congregation chuckle on occasion can be a good thing. But the pastor in my old Nazarene church at times spent significant portions of his sermon time trying to “entertain,” and based the effectiveness of the sermon on how the congregation (audience?) would respond through laughs or Amens. If he said something and nobody gave an audible response, he’d say “Okay, so you’re still sleeping…” or another comment like that. I started becoming angry about it, because it turned into a distraction from his sermon more than once (and looking back, considering that his sermons could be works heavy at times, I suppose that wasn’t always a bad thing).

  7. Tim Schenks :

    Pastor Tim Rossow :The book of Proverbs? That’s all you’ve got? One book out of 66?

    Pr. Rossow, I can’t believe you posted that.

    Relax, Tim! Pastor Rossow was using a rhetorical device. He is well aware that from Genesis to Revelation – every page! – the Word is about Christ and Him crucified for you. Paul (the champion of justification by grace through faith, not works) wrote plenty about deeds, but always in the context of either grieving that we have not loved as we ought or “a celebration that through the cross we can do so!” Even James, who famously called creeds without deeds ”dead,” was encouraging only genuine good works that flow from faith – deeds that flow from creeds. There is a beautiful agreement between faith and works, between creeds and deeds! Typical of the few times Scripture pits deeds against creeds is when God asks, “Who has bewitched you?” (Galatians 3:1-3)

  8. “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” James 1:5

  9. @Kelly #3

    Well, I guess I read it as more shifting to one side of the equation than the other.

    @Thomas Cowell #4

    I question as to whether anyone believes that one could live a perfect life — serious about this, I know that people throw around Wesley, but he didn’t feel this way — so, you know, that isn’t really the issue.

    The issue is one of the balance of “Is it legit to try and change behavior? And how does one do that?” It is here that I wonder exactly how our young pastor — or any pastor — would address the book of Proverbs. Preach Christ crucified, sure — but how does that actually look? And is it legit to have your message tell people to pray more, share their faith more, live out their faith more — be true to their vocation more?

    @Pastor Tim Rossow #5

    Anyone who thinks that Luther and Paul center the message of Christianity on works is very confused.

    Yes, doubtless that is true.

    @J. Dean #7

    Yes, there’s a place for talking about works, but if Christianity starts centering on works rather than the gospel, it becomes a works-righteousness religion.

    And my point being that when Christianity ceases to talk about works — when we do not teach and model what it is to be a Christians — when we lower the standards of vocation too far — then we fall of the other side.

    As I said: who says pray more, read Scripture more, etc? Paul.

  10. I shall note folks that you seem to have missed my words: “I get the point of what you are saying — the problem is I think you run a bit roughshod over much of Scripture that points to behavior.”

    I’m not saying “Deeds not creeds!” (Nor am I saying “Creeds not deeds”) I am saying that with this issue, we ought to be pulled a bit more to the center of the issue.

    Once again, I urge reading of the latest CJ and Prof Bartelt’s excellent article.

  11. Thank you for the article Pastor Richard. All excellent points. Even layman can get sucked into “If we can just” or the myth of progress. I was wondering your thoughts on balancing progress with the fact that some congregations (including my own) has a large percentage of older members. I understand its the word that brings us to faith and not anything I do but it’s increasingly apparent that in the coming years a lot of my fellow church members will go to be with jesus. thanks again for the article.

  12. @Nathan Redman #12
    Nathan, the following article might be a good place to start. It is interesting to note all the failed responses to progress that the church has attempted over the years. The last paragraph of the article and the thoughts from President Forke offer up a nice solution and/or calling for the church. PAX

  13. @Mark Louderback #10

    “I question as to whether anyone believes that one could live a perfect life — serious about this, I know that people throw around Wesley, but he didn’t feel this way — so, you know, that isn’t really the issue.”

    So no Christian believes that they can live a perfect life? I have a couple hundred years of world history to challenge that notion. I encourage you to read up on the Holiness Movement: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holiness_movement. Even if Wesley himself didn’t believe it, there are thousands of Christians today that do think they can live a perfect life. I would also point you to the theology of the Immaculate Conception, in which millions of Christians today believe that a human besides Christ Himself did live a sinless life.

    “The issue is one of the balance of “Is it legit to try and change behavior? And how does one do that?” It is here that I wonder exactly how our young pastor — or any pastor — would address the book of Proverbs. Preach Christ crucified, sure — but how does that actually look?”

    I see no issue of balance when one properly preaches Law as Law and Gospel as Gospel, making the necessary distinction between the two. That being said, I would assume any pastor preaching on Proverbs would begin by proclaiming: Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths (Proverbs 3:5-6). This will make the congregation say to themselves “hey that is good behavior-changing advice” and surely they will heed the advice and strive to trust in the Lord with all their hearts. But the most important part is that seconds after that thought, they will be saying “shoot, but there is no way I can actually do that all the time.” That is why commands in Scripture to change our behavior are such good messages of the Law.

    This is when you preach Christ crucified, which out of Proverbs looks like this: The LORD by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding he established the heavens; by his knowledge the deeps broke open, and the clouds drop down the dew (Proverbs 3:19-20). This wisdom that is being referred to is Christ. He did it, He saved us. He is our Wisdom, even when we don’t trust Him all the time. That is Christ-crucified, Law/Gospel preaching. There is no need for any other kind of “balance” and no need to supplement the sermon by masking Law as Gospel by telling people how to please God apart from Christ. Christ is all they need.

    “And is it legit to have your message tell people to pray more, share their faith more, live out their faith more — be true to their vocation more?”

    When said in that manner, no I do not think it is legit to tell people to do more, do more, do more. I think a more appropriate sermon would tell people to be absolved more, to remember their Baptism more, to receive Holy Communion more.

    We Lutherans do not “run a bit roughshod over much of Scripture that points to behavior,” we simply make the proper distinction by labeling those Scriptural references as Law while always focusing, however, our message on the Gospel. I hear a call to better behavior every single sermon as my pastor is establishing my damned condition before He tells me that Christ has it covered.

  14. I don’t expect anyone to lead a perfect life, but pastors I do expect you to do your best in your vocation as you are able (your seminary has certified you as able to do the job) and try not to screw up (incipient inefficiency per Walther) and actually want to do better (not impenitence). Why should we expect people in authority or in leadership positions to do their worst?

  15. Mark Louderback
    And my point being that when Christianity ceases to talk about works — when we do not teach and model what it is to be a Christians — when we lower the standards of vocation too far — then we fall of the other side.
    As I said: who says pray more, read Scripture more, etc? Paul.

    Question, Mark: who here has proposed the plunge into hedonism or antinomianism? Who here has said it’s perfectly acceptable for Christians to wallow in sin of either the commission or omission type? Show me who has and I’ll be more than happy to cry foul along with you.

    See, in my younger years I heard this charge leveled at both the Lutheran and Reformed camps by evangelicals, but my recent time in both camps (and gradually more into the Lutheran camp now) shows otherwise. I heard by several in the Baptist church that Lutherans were “too Roman Catholic, too liberal, too ritualistic, too devoid of real spirituality” and the like. My time in exposure to this wonderful group of believers has shown me otherwise. I’ve seen that Lutherans

    -are “catholic” but not Roman
    -are hardly liberal (ELCA notwithstanding)
    -are ritualistic, but those advocating CoWo and revivalism are simply ritualistic in a different way
    -are definitely spiritual, and more so because they don’t confuse the spiritual with the emotional

    In other words, I’ve discovered authentic Christianity, rather than the Americanized evangelicalism tainted by Finney’s pragmatism, Wesley’s overemphasis on sanctification, and the modern church’s confusing worship with entertainment.

    Give me the gospel as preached by a Lutheran any day.

  16. “The problem though with progress is that it never solves or addresses the fundamental problem of evil itself. My friends, it is only the message of Christianity’s blood stained cross of Christ that we find God’s solution/answer to the problem of evil and sin.”

    Do not forget the problem of suffering. The Cross deals with both. The problem of suffering is often overlooked because of the evil and false teaching that likes to tear our eyes away from the Cross to gaze on our own circumstances. We also like to avoid suffering even though it is the mark of the life of a Christian. And not just suffering in the sense of bad things happening because of evil and persecution (Christ says that we will suffer precisely because of Him), but the every day mundane suffering found in illness, loss of job or loved one, temptation, etc. And the suffering under the loving hand of a Father chastising and disciplining those whom He loves. See how it goes from bad to good? I think the way the Cross of Christ deals with evil, sin, and suffering, when properly, consistently, and faithfully applied to us individually and corporately, does, in the end, deal with the issue of re-orienting our behavior as we are drawn into Christ and His story precisely because His suffering becomes our suffering, His death our death, His life our life. Christ frees us to take up the Cross He has for us to follow Him from death into life. For the sake of our neighbor.

  17. Each Age presents a new threat to our Apostle’s teaching as found in the written Word of God.

    “When the Gnostics threatened to spoil genuine Christian faith after the time of the apostles, their defense was the plea for free inspiration. But the church remained steadfast in the apostles’ teaching, and so was saved.”

    “At the time of the Reformation, the situation was similar. The Anabaptists and the fanatics had urged the Spirit’s support for their stand, yet committed all their follies by virtue of their own self-inspired ideas. In his arguments against them, did not Luther insist with great power on the written Word?”

    [Bo Giertz. Hammer of God (Kindle Location 3195)]

    Today’s Progressives, Emergents, Post Moderns, and Mega-Churches claim we are the rigid, old wine skins who lack their modern “Spirit of Relevancy.” Lets us repond as Luther, “I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen!”

    In the Lamb

  18. @J Dean. As a similar monergist I concur with the analysis of Lutheran Christianity, especially here at BJS! Wesley was more responsible for the Perfectionism and Finney for the Revivalism and a very corrupt view of the atonement (worse than the sanitized Systematic floating around today! Both were versions of Pietism and what Luther called Enthusiasts! He was always Solus Christos!

    In the Lamb

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.