It 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:
Our 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 mingling 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:
There 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.