Pastoral Death Match — Social Media and the Ministerium.

fighting-it-out-1-672880-mIt doesn’t take long being Facebook “friends” with a bunch of pastors to see it unfold – fighting, feuding, snark, mockery, and downright cruelty.  This is conduct unbecoming the called and ordained (1 Timothy 3:2-3) but it happens.  In the short term it means a lot of passive-aggressive behavior, taking the battle to the blogs and comment threads, and who knows where else.  In the long term I fear it will have a much more destructive effect.

Doctrine is important, we get it.  Pastors strive to make sure we have the proper teachings and preserve them for the good of our hearers.  We strive to be the best preachers and teachers we can be.  Pastors also strive to live a godly life, not as perfectionists, but as examples to the flock to which the Holy Spirit made us overseers.  This means “good” behavior, but more importantly Christian behavior – confessing our sins and having faith in Christ’s work for our forgiveness.

In studying church history and even in knowing older pastors today, this rivalry and even bitterness towards brother pastors is nothing new.  The anger at each other, talking past one another, insulting one another, breaking the 8th against one another, and holding onto lifelong grudges has been and continues to be found among the clergy (of course laity also).  What is changing is the rate of which the offenses can come in an environment ruled by 255 characters or less, statuses and comments that take seconds to type but have lasting repercussions, and blog posts indirectly directed at your perceived foes.

It is a death match that is happening.  We are grudging ourselves to death, and bitterness is taking root.  It can be seen in communications between known opponents of the theological debate du jour.  Each one rallies others to the cause, and pretty soon it is more about who can out-snark the other and come up with more “likes” or simply mock the other ones with sarcasm and plain cruelty.

pyhrric-victoryFellow pastors, what is this doing to our Life Together?  If we can sense grudges among men of God who could only communicate through letters and printed words, how much worse is it getting for we who can in a moment’s notice burn down the reputation of one another through a comment firestorm?  Is “winning” the status comment war worth it?  What will the ministerium of the LCMS look like in ten years?  If the opportunity for offense and the temptation to trample underfoot is so easy to fall into because of the disconnected nature of this social media, should we caution ourselves and pause before entering the flame wars?

There is time for debate and arguments over our beliefs and practices.  This can happen on social media.  It is difficult to have happen, but it can be beneficial.  It can help us be better pastors, teachers, and preachers.  I am not advocating having no debates.  I am pleading that such debates do not have to leave wounds which form into scars on the surface with roots of bitterness running down to hearts hardened by grudges.  Even if you “win” in such a situation, the Church loses, and even if your cause is truth, the truth is lost to those you had to kill to prove yourself the victor.

Writing this has caused me to reflect on my own actions online.  They have not been what they should.  There is a time for repentance and it is always right now.  Pastors need Jesus, and it does not take long lurking and reading the Facebook feed to understand that.  Pastors, you have Jesus.  The same one you preach for your members is for you.  He is for you and for your conduct on social media.   As you type the keys in front of you, remember that your unclean hands have been washed clean by your baptism and that means something.

Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.   Romans 6:12-14


Pastoral Death Match — Social Media and the Ministerium. — 66 Comments

  1. Dear BJS Bloggers,

    This business about what constitutes “a good leader” is interesting, but it is off-topic. With that said, I would like to throw in my own two-cents worth into an off-topic conversation . . .

    It is just common sense that “a good leader” in a business, group, or organization is one who knows that specific business thoroughly, inside and out, and who has years of experience to match whatever formal training he had before he stepped into that business as a practitioner of it.

    In the church, it doesn’t make sense to elevate someone to a position of leadership whose expertise is in “leadership” in general, or in “business leadership,” which simply means “making money.” In the church we are about the “business” of congregations and pastors–pure and simple. So a “good leader” in the church is one that has been a pastor for a decent number of years, maybe has also worked at training pastors after being one himself, and who really understands Lutheran congregations.

    For Lutherans, the description of functions and duties and character-attributes of Lutheran pastors is found in Johann Gerhard, On the Ministry, Part Two, vol. xxvi/2 (St Louis: CPH, 2012), pp. 100-180. The men who are most competent in these functions and duties, and who best exemplify the biblical-character-attributes Gerhard describes (ibid., pp. 119-131), are by common sense the “best leaders” for this “business.”

    Although a brilliant academician who has spent his entire career in the university or grad school is often a great gift to our church, he is not thereby automatically the best person to serve as a leader in the church-at-large. Unless he has served a congregation, what does he know about that? There are a few entire-career-academicians who might, but they would be the exceptions.

    On the other hand, we have had a phase in the LCMS where we thought that a man who has a degree in general business, who knows all the latest fads in business, and who can cajole a rich widow to give her life-savings to the church at her decease is the “best leader.” He is often very useful in the fund-raising aspect of the church, but what does he know about being a pastor or about congregations?

    We have needs for different types of leaders in our church. For the LCMS Foundation and LCEF, we need guys who really know finance, real estate, investments, etc. For the CPS, we need someone who knows the labryinthine realm of pensions, health insurance, etc. For our seminaries, we need leaders who know both the business of pastors and congregations, and the business of academia. For our universities, we need leaders who know the business of academia, but are also committed servants of the church. etc., etc. . . .

    But for circuit counselors, district presidents, and other supervisory offices over pastors and congregations, we need men who understand the business of pastors and congregations– pure and simple. This is one reason, I think, that President Harrison has kept “one foot in the parish” with his Assistant Pastor role at Village Lutheran in Ladue, MO. He understands, and wants to be reminded, that his office is chiefly about pastors and congregations.

    For example in another area of endeavor, just look at Apple Computer. It did well under Steve Jobs, who understood computer geeks because he was one too. When Sculley, the Pepsico CEO took over, the company took a dive, in many different ways. It was only propped up for many years by the Macintosh, which was a Steve Jobs product. About the only thing Sculley was good at was getting rid of the smart men in the company who were more essential to its success than he was. And I am not an Apple product fan . . .

    And look at one of the richest man in the world–Microsoft’s Bill Gates–another real case of “specific-to-the-business leadership.” Yeah, he’s a computer geek, but now we all are “geeks.” Who doesn’t use a smart phone, GPS, iPod, laptop, tablet, Internet, or PC today?

    Generic “leadership” is practically useless. “Specific-to-the-business leadership” is what true leadership is made of. A real leader knows the stuff of his organization–whatever that is–and he knows how to talk with the people in his organization that are essential to its work.

    That’s my two cents, anyway!

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  2. @Martin R. Noland #1

    Rev. Noland,

    Very, very well put. Thank you for your insight. Perhaps I was the instigator of this discussion turning towards the topic of leadership, but I do believe it all relates to Rev. Scheer’s discussion. The manner in which we communicate with each other is indicative of leadership success or woes. In the military it’s called morale, and morale is always a leadership issue.

    So, I’ll pose this question because I truly don’t know the answer. Does the LCMS utilize any deliberate educational resources or mechanism to help those in supervisory offices to hone their leadership skills?

  3. @Martin R. Noland #1
    We have needs for different types of leaders in our church. For the LCMS Foundation and LCEF, we need guys who really know finance, real estate, investments, etc.

    And ethics.

    Bill Gates–another real case of “specific-to-the-business leadership.” Yeah, he’s a computer geek, but now we all are “geeks.” Who doesn’t use a smart phone, GPS, iPod, laptop, tablet, Internet, or PC today?

    We all use computers (well, almost all), but there is a little more than playing on the surface to qualify as a “geek”.

    I’m on a PC 10-12 hours a day, but when it has a problem, I call in the “geeks”. A friend of mine creates programming. He is a “geek”.
    [It’s the same principle as driving a car without being a mechanic… or a Formula 1 competitor!] 🙂

  4. @Randy #2

    Dear Randy,

    I don’t know if there is anything “all across the board” as you ask; I am not aware of a policy in the bylaws. It is up to each board of directors to decide, as far as I know, whether their executive/director/president needs some additional training in areas where he is lacking.

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  5. Thank you Rev. Noland. I appreciate the response. Also, just in case, my point was never that the LCMS should be in the business of creating a synod of “Patton Pastors.” However, I think it might be the perfect time for someone to, let’s say, pen a book regarding Confessional Lutheran Leadership in the LCMS…………..just saying.

  6. @Martin R. Noland #1
    Hmmm…good points, but I see it this way (my two cents):

    You need good leaders and also good doers, and I believe they are different. Good leaders can get things done, good doers get it done. There truly is a difference. That is where your generic leadership comes into play. Yes, both need knowledge of the business, but to varying degrees.

    Food for thought. I cannot elaborate more at this time, but do you see what I mean?

  7. @Pastor David L. Prentice Jr. #7

    Rev. Prentice,

    I really appreciate your post and believe I understand what you’re saying. Please allow me to make one observation. “Generic” leadership really doesn’t exist. That concept falls more into the category of “Natural Born Leader,” which also doesn’t exist. A good leader is one who thoroughly knows the endeavor they’re leading. He doesn’t need to be the best mind in the business, but must be very competent in the subject. Here’s an example: One who becomes obsessed (target fixated) on the minute nuances of the mechanical engineering breakdown of a bilge pump and neglects to address the fact that his ship is sinking really isn’t a good leader. It also serves no purpose if he doesn’t have sufficient knowledge of the mechanical layout of the ship to properly secure it. This concept applies to the CAPTAIN of the ship as well as the Seaman Recruit who’s staring at the malfunctioning pumps.

    A leader who moves from one facet of life to another and is successful could incorrectly be classified as a “generic leader.” However, what most don’t see is that an individual who’s able to successfully lead various, and very different, endeavors actually immerses themselves in the new activity – not to be the ultimate expert, but to ensure he has the knowledge and credibility to address the issues he’ll face.

    Finally, the “Generic Leadership” concept is something I see in some of our churches at the laity level. We put folks (laity) in teaching positions with no supervision or guidance from the pastor. We then say that they’re in charge of a specific “ministry.” They immediately think they’re a leader – well, they are. But they may be really poor leaders and teach very bad things.

    Thanks for letting me relay my thoughts Rev. Prentice. I appreciate your comments.

  8. @Tim Klinkenberg #46

    After all this talk about leadership, there are some key points that require clarification, so the following summary is necessary. In his first comment on page two of this thread (, Dr. Noland provided a fine explanation; he expanded a little bit on some selected attributes that are found in good leaders, while some other attributes he mentioned have been expanded upon in more detail by many different authors, most importantly, by our Lord God in His Word. But just so we are all clear on some things, where Dr. Noland stated, “He (i.e. President Harrison) understands….” it is apparent from Dr. Noland’s explanation, that he referred to President Harrison as an example of a good leader. To my knowledge, President Harrison has not been smeared as a bad theologian. Since you, Tim Klinkenberg, have not provided any evidence of any good leaders that have been smeared as bad theologians, it is evident that according to Dr. Noland’s descriptions of good leaders, “good” leaders have not been smeared as bad theologians, and your assertion is a falsehood. Now no doubt in the history of the LCMS, there have been bad leaders correctly exposed as the bad theologians that they are, but that is not good leaders being smeared as bad theologians, that is bad leaders correctly being exposed as the bad theologians that they are and that is most often for the good of all God’s children.

    So, getting back to your misleading assertions, your assertion that good leaders have been smeared as bad theologians is baseless and unmerited. Likewise, your assertion that the Church should be more open to bad theologians, is not only misleading but quite frankly, severely twisted. Perhaps you don’t even recognize it anymore, but a suggestion like that comes straight from the devil. No, we should not, and will not be more open to bad theologians. A bad theologian in certain accountant positions, for example, might be acceptable, but a bad theologian in a Pastoral Office, like in a parish, or a District, or national Synodical office is disastrous and from what I’ve seen, there are a lot of people who are suffering (some more than others) as a result of those disastrous situations at present. The Church already has gone way beyond being too open to that for so long now that we may never recover from the harm that has been done, but electing President Harrison is one step in the right direction. (No one is saying that President Harrison, or any other person is perfect, and no one expects perfection, we’re just talking about reasonable standards according to what God says in His Word). We have tons of work left to do, however, to get moving in the right direction. Some of the important work to do includes, as people have mentioned before, things such as putting a stop to harmful practices (like open communion, unionism and syncretism, contemporary garbage that some try to pass off as a Lutheran worship service, etc.), and clean-up work which will take years if not decades to accomplish. Also as some have mentioned before, disciplinary action may be necessary in some cases. Ignoring any of that work only exasperates the problem, ultimately resulting in a bigger, deeper problem. In the meantime, we also have to fend off the persistent attempts like yours to keep moving us in the wrong direction. No, we will certainly not be more open to bad theologians, thank you very much; your misleading assertion is what is called “bad leadership.” It is a seduction to sin that does harm to the body of Christ. There are some individuals who seem to be under a mistaken impression that it is okay to do all kinds of bad things. Perhaps the Lord has something else in mind. Our goal should be according to God’s good will and provision, to put in the Office, men who are competent for the job by biblical standards, and to support good theology and good practice, not bad theology and bad practice. A good ecclesiastical supervisor will also have the fortitude to hold accountable, those who abuse the power of the Pastoral Office.

  9. Helen Roenfelt :
    Thank you, Thank you. Thank you! If only these pastors would realize how this behavior is running the flock off, and keeping away those who so desperately need the Gospel of reconciliation. How can the laity trust that our pastor won’t treat us and speak to us the way he speaks to and about his brother!?

    I have to echo this post as it speaks to me. I am but a layman but have followed BJS and multiple other forum for years and years and along the way I have been able to form opinions and feelings towards many of the vocal pastors represented, and the truth is, many of you guys scare me when you get to snarking at each other. I would be very fearful of approaching some of you here. A recent situation involving discussion of CRM and leading up to the recent convention – chased me away from reading any LCMS forums at all – until this week. This topic caught my eye from the digest I get in my email. I realize that is is the pastors’ passion to speak the truth and point out error, but I guess I am one of the thin skinned – who read and then run away, which is frustrating because I have also learned so much in my reading here and elsewhere.

  10. Debbie,

    Glad you are back. As you think through this issue please consider this.

    There is a reason God limits the office of the ministry to men. In many ways it is a rough and tumble deal. For the same reason it is wise to limit combat to men it is God’s wisdom that men be the pastors.

    It takes incredible strength and fortitude to turn away from the Lord’s table a Lutheran grandma from across the country and from an erring denomination particularly when the grandchild looks you in the eyes and says that this is probably the last chance she will ever have to commune with grandma. I know how hard it is. I had to do it.

    It is excrutiating to pastors like us who know the rich mercy God has toward us and all mankind to refuse to marry a couple nine months hence on the day they have chosen for their great big celebration because they are living together. I know how hard it is. I have to do it on more than one occasion.

    It is painful to see members get up and leave in the middle of the sermon when you preach the law against homosexuality never to have them return again and worse, never to return your phone calls. I have experienced this twice in my 30 years in the parish.

    It is very painful to face 700 people in a voters assembly (yes 700) when 200 of them want to defrock you for not having contemporary worship, small groups, and what not. I know, I had to face them.

    Hardest of all is to simply preach the law against sin each week when you know you are the chief of sinners in the room.

    Every day I wear this collar is a war against Satan and against the world. Each day I have to put on the armor of God and go to battle and take a few more hits.

    This is the most wonderful vocation and I would not trade it for anything. Besides, I can’t. I have been called by God and my congregation. I wish everyone could have the vocational fulfillment I have but I do not wish the battle on anyone.

    This does not excuse anyone for being mean. We are to speak the truth in love. But also understand that the word “mean” gets defined in as many different ways as there are people defining it. In the end, the truth needs to be spoken and Satan, the world and our sinful flesh does not want to hear it.

    I welcome women into theological discussion in Bible class, in personal ministering day to day and here on the blog. I hope we get more and more women involved. They are just as capable as men to have these discussions but I am also convinced that there is a masculine ability to compartmentalize that is needed for the rough and tumble wars over doctrine and practice.

    It is troubling that so many pastors in the LCMS are giving in to pressures of society to cave on matters of doctrine and practice and to offer the more feminine style of emotive praise and worship. As I said in a comment above, it is a result of the wussification of men in our culture.

    Maybe I am missing your point. If so, I apologize. I still think it is important to clarify that it is a jungle and a war out there and it takes a lot of courage and gumsion to uphold the truth. I compormised the truth several times early on and learned how that just opens doors and cans of worms that can never be put back in the hole.

    (Wow, that was heavy. I need something a little less intense now. I think I will go get Happy Bob the cat and see if he wants to sit on my lap as I spend the rest of the night watching men beat each up other up in the Bears/Eagles game.)

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.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.