Great Stuff — The Unwritten Rules of the Missouri Synod

Found over on Gottesdienstonline:


gottesdienst header 3It’s ordination season again. So, here’s something for the pastor-elects out there. Of course there are exceptions to all the following rules. Unwritten rules are always rules of thumb like that…but for what it may be worth, this is my perception of how the Synod really works. Your mileage may vary.


1. Three years out of sem before you can get a call.


Your first call out of seminary might be wonderful; you might spend your whole active pastoral career there. Or it may be a real struggle—financially, pastorally, in regard to conflict, etc. Or it might be something in between—a fine place to serve but . . . you’d like to be closer to your inlaws . . . or you just don’t quite fit in there . . . or you discover you don’t want to be an associate pastor anymore . . . or you discover you’d like to be an associate pastor from now on . . . or whatever. Well, no matter the situation you are expected to gut it out for at least three years before you call the DP up and ask to get on a call list. If you are in a tough spot, find good brothers to commiserate with, go to confession, pray the Psalms, keep your nose to the grind stone, and mark that calendar at your installation plus 1095.75 days. When you reach that day, call your DP and make an appointment to talk it over. Which brings me to….


2. Your DP’s opinion of you matters.


The District President is charged with the oversight of your conduct of office: that’s why he really is, in the Biblical sense, an “overseer.” Now, complaining about the boss is a long-standing American tradition, and complaining about the bishop is an ancient Ecclesiastical tradition as well. And complaining about the polity of the MO Synod dates to 1847. So I recommend you don’t hold out for perfection here. His job really is harder than it looks. Your DP will be at least as flawed as you are. You’ll have as hard a time getting along with your overseer as your people will have getting along with you, their overseer. What do you wish they would do for you even when they disagree with you? Do that for your DP: show up at Winkel meetings and general pastors’ conferences; work hard at your vocation; keep in touch; explain everything in the kindest way; encourage your congregation to give to the district mission; pray for him. If you build a healthy relationship with your DP in this way, that will pay big dividends all the way around.


3. If a member from a neighboring parish starts visiting regularly . . .


. . . the etiquette is this: inform that pastor of this fact. Whether you particularly get along with this pastor does not matter. Depending on the strength of your relationship with this pastor, you’ll need to either give him a call, send an email, or just mail a form letter saying “Your member, so and so, attended worship and received communion on such and such a date.” Getting into the habit of sending such a letter to the home congregations of all visitors is a great pastoral practice. This will pay big dividends for you the first time one of your sheep goes looking for greener pastures…


4. If your parish has a school, your kids will go there.


If that does not appeal to you, then you will need to look for another field of service after you tough it out for those three years (see #1 above). The only exceptions to this rule that I have ever heard about working in any way occur where the pastor’s kid has special education needs that can only be met in the public system.


5. Your wife has a full time job.


I wish I could give more specific advice here: but all politics is local. The job description of “pastor’s wife” varies even more than the local job description for “pastor’s unwritten duties.” If it’s possible for your wife to get in touch with the former pastor’s wife, that might help. But just keep your ears and eyes open for the clues folks will drop about what the pastor’s wife’s job is . . . and what it isn’t!


6. Get your face time.


You are expected to be visible. You have to get your face time in the public, with your people, with people who aren’t your people. If you’re an extrovert, this is easy. But if you’re an introvert, like me, it takes effort. You have to do it, and you have to learn to make it look easy and somewhat enjoyable. It will be work. And you won’t always feel like it, but it pays big dividends in the end. The best way for me to do this was to learn how to ask questions. Questions show that you take an interest in something besides theology. The people already know that you’re a theology geek. They want to know you that you have more depth. They want to know that you care. Questions help to demonstrate that depth and care.


An offshoot of this is that you will be expected to love children. I love my kids. I enjoy being around them. I mostly look forward to coming home and spending time with them. But I don’t have a natural affinity towards all children. As a pastor, you are expected to like every child. And you need to find something lovable about them and engage that.


7. Your children are a reflection of you.


Speaking of children . . . like it or not, the behavior of your children are a reflection on you. Most congregations, and I say most, can overlook the usual foibles of children. They can even do this for the child with DSM IV diagnoses. But if all of your children are crazy, if none of them listen to you or their mother, they will see you in light of them. In other words, they expect you to be a parent. They don’t expect perfection, but they do expect discipline. Be a parent, which comes with the every minute decisions you make. Teach them to look people in the eye when they’re spoken to. Teach your boys how to shake hands. Don’t make them perfect, but be their parent and discipline them. And spend enough time with them so that they don’t hate the church because it’s always stealing their dad from them.


8. You’re not unique.


This isn’t an unwritten rule of the Missouri Synod, but it’s a rule that we all need to be reminded of. You will be tempted to think that you’re the exception to the rule, that what you have to deal with, that the problems you face, that the hours you work are unique. There is a grain of truth to this, but it is only a grain. You will have to work long hours. You will have to face situations you never expected, situations that you don’t think you were trained for. You will have to do things you don’t like doing but are nevertheless necessary. But you’re not unique. Everyone who has ever lived has had to do this. Everyone who has ever had a job in their life has had to do this. You will be tempted by the Siren’s song of the nine-to-five, punch-in-punch-out job. But unless you’re Odysseus, you will crash on the rocks. The grass isn’t greener on the other side. You give up one set of problems for another. Don’t forget your first love (Rev 2:4). If you do, you will end up like Narcissus, staring at yourself and consumed by it.



May God bless your ministry!


Go over on Gottesdienstonline to read more.

About Norm Fisher

Norm was raised in the UCC in Connecticut, and like many fell away from the church after high school. With this background he saw it primarily as a service organization. On the miracle of his first child he came back to the church. On moving to Texas a few years later he found a home in Lutheranism when he was invited to a confessional church a half-hour away by our new neighbors.

He is one of those people who found a like mind in computers while in Middle School and has been programming ever since. He's responsible for many websites, including the Book of Concord,, and several other sites.

He has served the church in various positions, including financial secretary, sunday school teacher, elder, PTF board member, and choir member.

More of his work can be found at


Great Stuff — The Unwritten Rules of the Missouri Synod — 48 Comments

  1. I, as an old layman, wonder where all of this fits within the subject of vocation.

    I can’t touch the first four points.

    I grew up in a time when all a pastor had to do to get away was to take his family to a movie, or Dairy Queen, or just go out to the back yard and grab a beer and a cigar.

    Luther states that the Small Catechism is as the head of the household should teach, yet so many have abdicated their role as head of household to the congregation and pastor. The pastor, as head of household, himself is expected to teach his own children AND all the other children of the congregation as head of household, with few exceptions.

    If I were a pastor, my cell phone number would not be used a a leash for any member of the congregation to contact me at will. My child’s musical recital, or whatever would, much of the time come before board or committee meetings. Many lay members miss such meetings for this reason. Why shouldn’t the pastor?

    Pastors are not the indentured servants of their congregations, serving at the will and whim of its members. They are God’s called shepherds, there to feed and tend His sheep and lambs.

    Is a man a good and faithful shepherd if he isn’t first serving his vocations as husband and father?

  2. @Jack K #1
    Some of the best advice I received from a professor was that I was a husband and father before I entered seminary and that is always my most important vocation. Don’t ever hesitate to cut back or even step away from the ministry entirely if it begins making you a poor father and husband.

  3. I find it a bad thing that so many problem congregations are used as a stepping-stone before getting a new call within that first three years. The Synod needs to start working on keeping pastors in the same parish for their entire career.

  4. @Tim Schenks #4
    Item #1 – The three year rule. From a layperson’s POV, it is very disheartening to have a pastor leave after 2-3 years. I’ve only had one experience with a just out of the seminary pastor. He stayed with the congregation for 2.5 years. We had been without a pastor for several years and we were thrilled to get a fine, young man to be our pastor. He was an excellent preacher and teacher and had a lovely wife and family. However, after 2.5 years he accepted a call to a large congregation closer to his wife’s family. Our smaller congregation couldn’t compete with that and I don’t believe we were considered a ‘problem congregation’. His new congregation also had a school and they wanted a Lutheran education for their children. I understand all of that but it still was very hard. Our members spent a lot of time, money and sweat equity helping him with a mortgage and building a new home. I know this must sound like sour grapes but after 30 years it still stings. I’ve come to terms with it by chalking it up to his youth and immaturity. Thank God we have a merciful and loving Savior who has born all our sins.

    In Christ,

  5. Dear BJS BLoggers,

    I agree with the author of this article/post. He speaks the truth, though not all will hear it.

    I’d like to make a few additional comments on #6 about “Face Time.” Some of the best practical advice I ever got, pre-ordination, was from my dad. He told me to follow the example of one of my mother’s dear old friends from Saint John Lutheran Church in San Francisco. He said that this lady exemplified the art of conversation, in a way that made everyone enjoy talking with her.

    Why? She didn’t talk about herself endlessly, as many people do, but by the properly framed question asked people to talk about themselves (no one is reluctant to do that)–and then listened—and she remembered, and followed up with another properly framed question the next time she saw that person. My dad said this technique would help me to learn about my people quickly, and also demonstrate that I cared about them. And he was right.

    This is not just a technique for pastoral care at the bedside, hospital, etc. It also applies to all interactions in the parish and community.

    Maybe I should clarify who this person was: Miss Betty Brohm–daughter of Rev. Arthur Brohm, D.D. (long-time C-N-H district president), grand-daughter of Theodore Brohm (president at Concordia Teachers College-Addison), great-grand-daughter of Theodore Julius Brohm (secretary to Martin Stephan, one of the founders of Concordia College, pastor at Trinity-New York). In later life, she married O.P. Kretzmann (celebrated president of Valparaiso University) after his first wife deceased.

    We moved to San Jose in 1960, so I never saw Betty much. But I remember her voice and smile. She must have been asking me questions when I was a child. . . . 🙂

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  6. @Tim Schenks #4

    And they need to start working on correcting or expelling congregations that are habitual abusers of pastors. If the Districts did more of this, then pastors would need to play far fewer political games, including those games with rules never written, instead of being stewards of the mysteries of God.

    This whole concept of a pastor’s vocation as a job-hopping corollary to modern secular employment, has got to stop.

  7. Dear BJS Bloggers,

    “Problem congregation” is a problem term and concept in my book. Pastors should not talk that way about congregations, and neither should knowledgeable laymen.

    Congregations have problems–this is true, almost all of them do, some more severe than others. Since congregations are, by definition, groups of sinners, this is to be expected!!!! 🙂

    A pastor should look at all the people in his congregation as sinners who have been baptized, i.e., whose old Adam was drowned and whose new man is coming forth daily through repentance and faith. And he is one of those sinful-baptized people too–and he should see his own sinfulness more clearly since he has been trained to do that. These doctrines help shape, or form, pastoral attitudes toward the flock in his care.

    Having said that, there are cases where the lay leaders in the congregation (not always elected officials) who are not “running the church” for the purposes that it was intended. Any other “problem” is easy compared to that one. There are lay leaders who don’t want new members, because it would undermine their ability to control the congregation. There are lay leaders who don’t want people from the neighborhood joining the church, because they are of a different ethnic background, or a different social class. There are lay leaders who want to undermine or destroy their sister congregations in the area, so they can harvest their members. There are lay leaders who don’t want to follow their obligations under the Constitution of the LCMS, and they try to convince their pastor to do the same. And there are many other cases–and these “problems” can be found in all Christian denominations.

    When the pastor realizes that these “problems” exist, he should put on his “problem-solving cap.” He should look at the “problem” or “issue,” not the people involved. If he sees the lay leaders as his opponents or enemies, that is his first mistake, and many other mistakes will follow from that. If he sees the entire congregation as a “problem,” then he gets an “F” in “problem-solving” in my book. Every problem is unique, requires analysis, sometimes counsel from brother pastors or circuit counselors, and most of all, patience and love for our fellow Christians.

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  8. Dear BJS Bloggers,

    Regarding the “short-tenure” pastor . . .

    This is addressed in the Lutheran dogmatics works, under the general heading of the Ministry, under the specific topic of “The Transfer of Ministers.” Johann Gerhard has a topic with that title in: Johann Gerhard, On the Ecclesiastical Ministry: Part One, tr. Richard Dinda, ed. Ben Mayes, Theological Commonplaces XXVI/1 (St Louis: CPH, 2011): 247-251 (section XV, ss171).

    Gerhard says that it is an error both to say that “it is completely unlawful for a minister of the church to be transferred from one place to another” (ibid., p. 247) and also an error when pastors “repeatedly change their functions and residence with a superficial levity, with no urgent need and no obvious usefulness to the church, to the extent that they regard their parishes likes horses and coins the way dealers and money-changers do” (ibid.).

    Gerhard explains the rationale further, so that the church-at-large has the power to transfer pastors from one church to another “provided that all things be done in legitimate order with no rashness of one’s own, no private judgment, not for the sake of ambition, domination, presumption, pleasure, greater wages, etc.; but that all things be evaluated according to the usefulness, need, and edification of the church” (ibid.)

    Walther in his Pastoral Theology, and John Fritz in his work with the same title, both give the same explanation of this topic as Gerhard.

    Congregations always need to see themselves as part of the church-at-large. Sometimes the best use of a pastors abilities is in one congregation for his entire career; sometimes the best use is in multiple places and multiple types of service.

    No rule can be laid down for this, except what Gerhard has already done–and note that it is a doctrine in the Lutheran church for its ministers.

    When a seminary graduate or candidate (CRM) receives a call, he should accept it; no matter what the circumstance. A man contemplating the ministry should not enter it if he is not willing to do this. When a presently-serving pastor receives a call, he should evaluate it on the basis of the rule set forth by Gerhard.

    But then there is the reality that I observed at my 30th seminary alumni reunion. A few of us pastors are driving brand new sports cars, wearing new suits, and talking about their golf score and expensive vacations; a few others drive ten-year old worn-out compacts or minivans (pastors with kids in tow), wear suits found at Goodwill, and wonder how they will afford to send their kids to public university in state; most of us are in-between. . . .

    So this inequality in earthly rewards for LCMS pastors gives the “megachurch” pastors a great opportunity to lure other pastors into their company, with the implicit promise that if you follow them, you will be amply rewarded with a call that caters to “ambition, domination, presumption, pleasure, greater wages, etc.”

    So, I admit that there are pastors that do not follow the rule set forth by Gerhard; and laymen have a right to complain about that; but there are many of us pastors that do follow that rule. Not every transfer of a pastor is for ulterior motives.

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  9. @Martin R. Noland #8
    I believe it should go without saying that the attitude you describe should always be the one initally taken by a Pastor who encounters resistance in the congregation.

    Based on my own experience, however, and the experiences of Pastors and laypeople I trust, I am not sure that this can really be the final word.

    I believe it would be wrong to assume (and I am not saying that you are doing that), that a Pastor has not spent years and years with patient suffering and putting the best construction on things and wearing the “problem-solving-cap” and trying to deal with the “problem” or “issue” (as much as one can do that, when nobody is willing to talk to you about what the “problem” or “issue”is) rather than seeing those people as the problem who are working calculatedly and deliberately to destroy him and his wife with gossip and lies (encouraged by the District President, in some cases) and with financial harassment, and perhaps even with physical violence and threats against his life, before he cannot help but reach the conclusion that at least some of his enemies in the congregation are not fellow Christians – not only in light of their behaviour, but also in light of what they say they believe and do not believe.

    Nor should one assume that this cannot possibly be an accurate observation. After all, although, properly speaking, the Church is the congregation of saints and true believers, in this life many hypocrites and evil persons are mingled within them …, as our Confession says it, and as Holy Scripture teaches it.

    To draw conclusions based upon such assumptions would not only be naive, nor would it only be setting Christian love aside, nor would it only be a violation of the Eight Commandment (the forbidden Commandment strikes again!) – it would also be to join the enemies of God in their persecution of the faith.

    And it is of the unconverted Paul that Holy Scripture says that he approved of the murder of Stephen …

  10. @Jais H. Tinglund #10
    And it is of the unconverted Paul that Holy Scripture says that he approved of the murder of Stephen …

    And Paul was the member of a congregation of those called to believe in the Messiah (although they didn’t) at the time.

    Thanks, Pastor; I’ve seen it all, some close, some further away. I won’t repeat myself this time.

    I do wonder if anyone would take a call to a gathering of two dozen or so, who thought all their needs could be met in 12 hours a week, [less time than a conscientious Pastor spends on his weekly sermon] and were willing to pay accordingly. The candidate was offered the privilege of finding himself a job to survive and housing, in an area where secular employment was limited.
    (Oh, yes, the DP really wanted the place shut down so he could install some kind of ethnic mission!)

    Anybody here up for that?

  11. Perhaps, the majority of LCMS pastors never ask a
    District President to put their name on a call list.
    If you are being blessed in your first parish, then
    the Lord will guide your ministry. If the Lord wants
    you to have a call to a new parish, then he will make
    it happen. I respect all the pastors who have never
    asked for their name to be put on a call list.

  12. >> you’d like to be closer to your in-laws

    I was told by someone who should know that a study was done a decade or so ago that showed, as I recall, something like within five years of ordination 75% of pastors had taken calls to within 45 minutes of their in-laws. Considering many have young children at that point in their lives it could be very helpful for the pastor’s wife to be close to her family.

    My wife’s family is scattered but we did live for a decade in her home state and just moved back to the area I’m from and where most of my family still lives. (In fact my great-grandmother was from the congregation I now serve.) It was really nice to be near my Mom for a few months before she unexpectedly passed away, having her to our house for both Thanksgiving and Christmas, which is something we hadn’t been able to do for 20 years. We also enjoy getting together regularly now with my side of the family. It feels a bit more “normal” going to family birthdays, etc. like we did when I was a kid. I do wish my children had been able to grow up closer to and daily interacting with their cousins, aunts, and uncles, like my nieces and nephews did, and I did as a child.

  13. Dear BJS Bloggers,

    The question has been asked about situations where persons are definitely hostile to the pastor.

    First, I do not consider such people in my congregation (or the synod) who oppose me, or even threaten me, to be “my enemies.” They are not friends, to be sure. But I don’t ever consider them to be my enemies. When you do that in your mind and heart, it cuts off all future opportunity for dialogue and reconciliation. When you do that, it makes it impossible to forgive them.

    I am not naive. These people may certainly consider me to be their enemy, and treat me accordingly. I think that is what happened to me when I was terminated in my former position, so it is not like I have had no experience in this area.

    This question is again answered by Gerhard, in a succinct and wise way. This is from: Johann Gerhard, On the Ecclesiastical Ministry: Part Two, tr. Richard Dinda, ed. Ben Mayes, Theological Commonplaces XXVI/2 (St Louis: CPH, 2012): 143-144 (Chapter VI, section ii, ss292). The question is framed by Gerhard in this way: “Can a minister of the church leave his office with a safe and uninjured conscience because of the stubborn wickedness of his hearers?”

    Gerhard runs through all the casuistic factors that play into this question, so I can hardly repeat them all here. Basically he states “it is allowed [for him] to leave office in certain cases because of the stubborn wickedness of the hearers, which must be considered equal to persecution” (ibid., p. 144). Gerhard said that such cases should be brought “to the bishops of a neighboring church,” i.e., in our case, the circuit visitor, before the pastor says or does anything that might indicate his departure.

    The basic rule of thumb is: “Sometimes only a few are opposed to the minister; but at other times all the hearers are. In the prior case, departure is not permitted; in the latter, it is not to be disapproved” (ibid.). Also this: “When good [congregation members] are living right along with evil, the good must not be deserted because of the evil, lest by avoiding the evil we wrongly bind for hell those whom we are fleeing. Instead, let the evil be tolerated for the sake of the good” (ibid.). Here Gerhard is quoting from canon law approvingly.

    DISCLAIMER: This blog comment is not sufficient to judge or determine cases. Gerhard’s entire passage needs to be consulted, as also Walther and Fritz in their previous cited pastoral theologies, along with necessary consultation with the Circuit Visitor who is responsible for examining the case.

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  14. Martin R. Noland :
    First, I do not consider such people in my congregation (or the synod) who oppose me, or even threaten me, to be “my enemies.” They are not friends, to be sure. But I don’t ever consider them to be my enemies. When you do that in your mind and heart, it cuts off all future opportunity for dialogue and reconciliation. When you do that, it makes it impossible to forgive them.

    Now, I cannot say that I know that to be true.

    I can see how falling victim to the temptation to harbour and entertain a hostile attitude towards those who hate you, attack you or try to harm you (the Webster definition of an “enemy”) would be an obstacle to overcome in attempts at dialogue and reconciliation (which is not the same as that it in absolute terms “cuts off all future opportunity for dialogue and reconciliation”) – but as I see it, harbouring and entertaining a such hostile attitude is not what is being discussed here, but rather acknowledging, or refusing as a matter of principle to acknowledge, that one is being exposed to hatred, attacks and attempts to harm one – in other words, that one has enemies.

    I can also see, and know from experience, how being aware of the malice with with others attack one or try to harm one (again, the Webster definition of an “enemy”) would make it difficult to love them. But I do not know that this difficulty would necessarily render it “impossible” – as I believe it to have been said that “all things are possible with God”.

    I am not sure that when our Lord Jesus commands His Christians to “love your enemies”, He means that one should convince oneself that one has no enemies to love. Of course it would make His command a whole lot easier to deal with.

    I am rather more inclined to think that His command, and His call in general to follow Him, involves taking upon oneself such heavy burdens as

    1) honestly and sincerely, as objectively as one is able, and preferably with the assistance of a neutral observer if a such is available, scrutinising the conflicts in which one finds oneself, and in this process considering also how one’s own shortcomings and sins have contributed to the conflict, and how one’s own reaction to animosity and evildoings reveals sins and shortcomings for which one must seek deliverance in the remission of sins.

    2) forgiving and loving those who did one wrong, and perhaps still are in the process of doing it – while being fully aware what it is that has been done, and is perhaps still being done.

    I think it is of this we find examples, to mention a few, in the last verses of Psalm 139, and in 2 Timothy 4:16, where Paul clearly is hurt by having being failed, and does not gloss over the failure of those failed him, yet wishes them no ill – apparently this is not impossible.

    And I do believe that taking upon oneself the yoke that is living in and living out the love of Christ, while being facing reality as it really is, is a much heavier burden and involves mortification of the flesh so much more than blinding oneself to the reality of sin as it is apparent, not only in the world around, but also in one’s own heart and mind …

    The Gerhard quote makes a lot of sense – although I am not sure exactly how it comes into this …

  15. In a previous congregation I faced a situation similar to what Gerhard cites, where there were three members who were antagonistic. I admit it was difficult to focus on the hundreds of other members who were wonderful, instead of those three members. One openly told me they were trying to make my life so miserable that I would leave. For years I had trouble concentrating on my ministry and even felt uncomfortable being in the church building, which they made clear was “their” church, and which I was at one point told I would have to get permission to enter. Among other actions, the church mail was diverted to a mailbox one of them established, and I was locked out of the church email accounts, including my own. My study at the church was rifled, and the church computers, including mine, were hacked. I turned down a half-dozen calls over the years which infuriated them more. But as Gerhard says, I turned them down mainly because I felt I couldn’t leave the congregation in good conscience until the situation was resolved. That eventually happened when the rest of the congregation saw through their facade and realized the true situation—they were extremely apt at stirring things up while maintaining “plausible deniability” and making me look like the bad guy—and in a momentous voters assembly the majority politely but firmly regained leadership of the congregation. That was a huge relief and made my final years there much more productive and enjoyable.

  16. There are congregations that are regularly served by pastors directly from the seminary. They expect and have experienced that these pastors will not stay more than three or four years. Believing that, they are not open to each pastor that comes in making his own changes and then leaving and having the next pastor make different changes. A new pastor coming from the seminary should realize this. If he doesn’t, he may run into trouble. Hopefully the new pastor graduate will stay a long time
    and gradually build up the trust of the people.

  17. Related to point #2 in the original article, there’s another unwritten sub-rule: Many DPs often do whatever they wish with little to no “human” accountability or ecclesiastical supervision.

    Does anyone have experience with a DP planting an Intentional Interim Minister (IIM) in their congregation?

  18. If the seminary paid more attention to the needs of new graduates when placing pastors, perhaps more of them would be willing/able to stay with their first congregation. I know of multiple situations where new pastors were purposely placed in congregations, completely opposite to what they were hoping for, to help them “out of their comfort zone”. Maybe some people really do have the discernment to analyze their own strengths and weaknesses and know that they are more suited to a certain type of congregation. I also question the wisdom of sending inexperienced pastors to handle situations that are so difficult that multiple experienced pastors have refused the call and a seminarian who has no choice is ther last hope.

  19. @Joya #19
    situations that are so difficult that multiple experienced pastors have refused the call and a seminarian who has no choice is the[i]r last hope.

    It has in recent times been a great place to park the confessional pastor who is really not wanted in the district, (and contributes to the number of ordained men in secular employment at the end of the first five years).

    The men will know more about it, but I believe the sem is somewhat at the mercy of the COP about first calls….

  20. Seminary graduates are usually assigned to the
    parishes which are at the bottom of the District
    salary guidelines. This means that most first calls
    are to small rural congregations in a survival mode.
    This is a good place to get your “feet wet” and
    learn to preach on a weekly basis. It also offers
    an opportunity to have pastoral ministry where
    you can know everyone in the congregation.

    Bottom Line: The Lord will bless your work where-
    ever He places you.

  21. Pastor Dave Likeness :Seminary graduates are usually assigned to theparishes which are at the bottom of the Districtsalary guidelines.

    Seminary graduates are assigned by the District President/Council of Presidents to the congregations who ask for one.

    But some congregations are now using the convertible vicarages, where, if they like you as vicar, they will call you as their next pastor. Something sounds very wrong there.

  22. Randy :Related to point #2 in the original article, there’s another unwritten sub-rule: Many DPs often do whatever they wish with little to no “human” accountability or ecclesiastical supervision.
    Does anyone have experience with a DP planting an Intentional Interim Minister (IIM) in their congregation?

    I think the number of Intentional Interim Ministers has tripled in the MO District since 2007, when I first became aware of them. I may be mistaken, but I had thought the Intentional Interim Ministers are not to be considered an actual Called Pastor assignment, but are requested from the District by “problem congregations” (that term Dr. Noland doesn’t like) on the verge of being suspended, particularly those who have kicked out their pastors. I really don’t see any other use for them.

  23. helen :
    I do wonder if anyone would take a call to a gathering of two dozen or so, who thought all their needs could be met in 12 hours a week, [less time than a conscientious Pastor spends on his weekly sermon] and were willing to pay accordingly. The candidate was offered the privilege of finding himself a job to survive and housing, in an area where secular employment was limited.(Oh, yes, the DP really wanted the place shut down so he could install some kind of ethnic mission!)
    Anybody here up for that?

    I have wondered why some large, wealthy family hasn’t started their own congregation and called a pastor.

  24. @Tim Schenks #24


    Here’s the LCMS link for the IIM program:

    It appears that NALIP (see link embedded in LCMS webpage) does the training. It bothers me that NALIP also does the training for the ELCA. Finally, it appears that IIMs are being used in many ways, including to fill vacancies for 2-3 years as a result of a pastor’s retirement.

    I will stop discussing IIM here for fear of getting off topic. Perhaps BJS could do an article on the IIM program. I just think that point #2 in the original article needs to be expanded to include the fact that DPs can pretty much do whatever they want with little risk of being corrected when in error.

  25. IMHO, if the call placement folks did a better job of matching up candidates with churches where they would like to live, this wouldn’t happen as often or as much. I remember one call service. A guy from Texas got placed in Wis. and a guy from Wis. got placed in Texas? I understand its done differently now than 20 years ago. Hopefully more candidates are happy with their calls. The ministry is hard enough as it is. Being a thousand miles or more from family doesn’t make it easier.

  26. The Council of Presidents, who place the new pastors, can only place them in congregations who ask for them. Why don’t the big congregations call new pastors right out of the Seminary? Make the experienced pastors go to the small, bankrupt, or messed up congregations for a while and maybe they can fix the problems.

  27. @Tim Schenks #30

    Also makes me wonder if a more diocesan / district model of placement would be better than a national system. If candidates were tied to their districts from when they came before they went to the seminary, then there would be an expectation that this candidate would be called back to that district. Only the more experienced pastors, after having served in their diocese / district for a while, would be eligible to move into the wider church, carrying with them the maturity of several years in the trenches.

    If one district has an abundance and others a poverty of servants, it could be worked out between the district presidents.

    Just a thought.

  28. My reading of the comments above suggest an underlying skepticism regarding the Holy Spirit’s involvement in the Call process. Every sem student (and wife) is asked if they would faithfully serve where ever they are called. I assume they answer yes like I and my wife did, but apparently the Holy Spirit is expected to act regionally to get everyone close to home and friends and family. I say pray for the placement committees and DPs. they have a difficult task discerning, evaluating, and connecting pastoral skills with congregational needs. I for one reject any suggestion that DPs and placement committees are out to ruin lives.

  29. @Rev Kory Boster #32

    Rev. Boster,

    No skepticism on my part regarding the Holy Spirit’s work or effectiveness. I have plenty of skepticism regarding man’s ability to resist, distort, and otherwise impede His work. Since there is no particular promise of Holy Scripture about the particulars of humanly constructed ecclesiastical structures, I think it wise from time to time, to question them… and challenge whether or not they are best restraining the sinful natures of the people who function within them. The only way I can think of to do that objectively, is to measure the effects of system.

    We are all sinners in need of the Law’s curb, regardless of our office or calling in the Church. I do not think our servants in the administration of the Synod are any more sinful than I am… but being fairly certain they are just as corrupt as I am, I think they need proper administrative curbs to do their job well. Our call process could be evaluated from time to time, for just this kind of end, motivated by our desire to best serve our neighbors– not least of whom are the newly minted seminary graduates, and the congregations they shall be called to serve.

    Saints are motivated by the Holy Spirit through the Gospel, to live our their faith in love of God and neighbor. Sinners are compelled, informed, and curbed by the Law to resist and repent of their evil. Since we are simul justice et peccator, we– and our church structures– need both.

    Blessings to you.

  30. Rev Kory Boster :
    My reading of the comments above suggest an underlying skepticism regarding the Holy Spirit’s involvement in the Call process.

    @Rev Kory Boster #32

    I remember at a Circuit Meeting; after the District President had given his presentation about the problems of ministry in rural areas and the need for congregations to be open to new ways of working together, the first person to speak stated that he did not understand why “they” kept sending “us” Pastors who were born and raised somewhere other than around there; for, as he explained, Pastors who are not from around there are all without exception unwilling to serve there. “They don’t want to be here. They don’t want to do the work. They don’t want to do the visiting.”

    Quite a few of us Pastors present, including some of us who were not from around there (“there” is not where I am currently serving), and some of the laypeople present as well, expected (I learned later) that the District President would somehow point to the divine nature of the call (so as to identify the “they” referenced by the gentleman – I would assume it would be the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit), and somehow point to faithfulness and willingness to serve in obedience to the calling of the Lord as much more foundational for the legitimacy of a Pastor’s calling and the attitude one should have toward him than where he happened to have been born and raised, and perhaps even point out that an attitude of prejudice toward people not from around there is not the most convincing testimony to an attitude of Christian love.

    Instead the District President simply declared that he agreed, and then went on to talk about how attempts were made in placement to honour the wishes of candidates (apparently, though, with the exception that if someone not from around there would express a desire to serve the Lord there, if called to, it would be wrong to honour a such desired …)

    When I asked the District President some time later about the appropriateness of encouraging the attitude presented towards Pastors not from around there (including foreign born Pastors such as myself), he informed me that to support such prejudice is Synodical policy. I kid you not.

    Since, at the same time, he informed me that he did not wish to engage in further conversation with me, I did not pursue the issue with him, although I do not for a second believe that it is it is Synodical policy that Pastors not from around there are without exception unwilling to serve where the Lord has called them and should not be Pastors there …

    Christ is the Lord of His Church. He calls the Pastors He knows to be right from wherever they are to wherever they should be. And the faithful must follow His calling, even if it takes them far away from home, and must take it upon themselves to bear the cross laid upon them by Him who alone is good, and alone knows what else is good – including the cross of having to serve Him in another location than that which one would have preferred.

    This is Biblical teaching. I am sure that this is also what the leadership of Synod is generally trying to let Synodical policy reflect.

    And although negligence can occur in the Districts, even gross negligence, when it comes to how Pastors and other human beings are treated, I am sure that in the placement of candidates, the deliberate intent to ruin lives is not a factor.

  31. @Jais H. Tinglund #34
    Dear Pastor,
    What’s a layman to do w/ your “Christ is the Lord of His Church. He calls the Pastors He knows to be right from wherever they are to wherever they should be.” when the LC-MS call process sends out heterodox pastors?

    I’m not denying the agency of the Holy Spirit in the LC-MS call process yet, but this is a question that makes me wonder. Can it be the will of the Holy Spirit that [fill in the blank] Lutheran Church gets a Schwärmer shepherd who opens the altar, guts the liturgy, and generally executes “his vision” for what is not “his church”?

    Puzzled, but teachable,
    -Matt Mills

  32. @Matt Mills #35
    A fair question indeed. I am not sure I have much of an answer, though, and certainly not a comprehensive one – if not for any other reasons then because your question have answers on so many levels – as does any question as to the will of God.

    Obviously Synod should not send out heterodox Pastors. That is just plain old wrong. It is not God’s will that His servants should sin and promote falsehood. At one level it is as simple as that.

    At another level the Christians in a given congregation must be allowed the assurance that when proper procedure has been followed, under guidance of the Holy Spirit, through the study of Holy Scripture, they can trust in God to have kept His promise and led His children to make the right decision. And accordingly they should receive their Pastor as the one God has called, through them, and accept the Word of God as it is given to them through them.

    Of course the problem arises when he withholds the Word of God from them, or alllows it to be drowned in preaching or practices that run contrary to it.

    One could argue that the false teachings and unfaithful practices of a Pastor should be blamed on himself rather than on God who has called him – so that in a situation as the one you describe, one should assume that God’s will is that the unfaithful Pastor become a faithful one, rather than that he should not be a Pastor at all. Most certainly, it is to become a faithful Pastor the unfaithful one should be admonished, rather than to cease to be a Pastor at all – at first, at any rate, until it becomes clear that he is not going to.

    It might very well be in order for him to become a faithful Pastor that the Lord of the Church has called him to a place where he would be confronted with the testimony of the faithful.

    Nor should one be blind to the possibility of direct deceit and abuse. A Pastor who remains obstinate in his unfaithfulness should be regarded as an obvious abuser of the sacred office entrusted to him. He is merely pretending to be a Pastor called by God. Either he is abusing the ordinance of God by remaining in a position from which the Lord of the Church has removed him because of his unfaithfulness, or he has abused the divine ordinances from the beginning by having made his way by deceit into a position to which he was never called by God, pretending that he had intentions he did not have, and believed things he did not believe. And somebody else involved in the process may have abused the divine ordinance also by knowingly misleading the congregation to believe that the unfaithful one was faithful to Scripture and the Confession, and thus qualified and eligible for a call to a position to which God obviously was not calling him, since he obviously did not possess that all overshadowing qualification: faithfulness.

    Still, even when abuses have taken place, Holy Scripture gives us the assurance, and at yet another level, that God will see His will through.

    It might be through the presence of a less than faithful Pastor God brings His good will to completion for some of His children and preserves them for His Kingdom – through, for example:

    the mortification of the flesh taking place through their struggles under the cross and conflicts of conscience,

    the renewed awareness of their shortcomings and sinfulness that is given to them in the process,

    the renewed clarity as to what is Biblical truth and how precious it is that grows out of Biblical truth being challenged,

    the renewed joy of authentic Christian worship when it finally becomes clear that falsehood has found a permanent home in their previous congregation, so that a Christian can no longer worship there, and they rediscover true worship in the congregation that becomes their future church home.

    Or whatever. God knows. That is what we believe.

    As painful as it is, we should expect the mysteries of God to remain hidden to us, including exactly how God brings His good will about, and how this or that seemingly obvious wrong plays into the scheme, and how it corresponds with His hidden will.

    At the most basic level, for our own part, we know what is His truth and His will and our obligation: that we acknowledge and obey His truth and do not embrace falsehood in our worship and confession.

    I apologise for these thoughts being a little scattered. I am a little short for time at the moment. I apologise, also, for perhaps previously having made things seem a little more simple than they really are. But for now, these are the thoughts I have to share.

  33. @Jais H. Tinglund #36
    Thanks Pastor,
    I have seen this before, and much of it is obviously true. A congregation can be 100% sure that a properly ordained pastor carrying out a Word and Sacrament ministry in their midst is their pastor, and that he speaks and acts efficaciously, “in persona Christi.” I have absolutely no temptation to slide into Donatism. The part that makes me uneasy is your statement that: “Christians in a given congregation must be allowed the assurance that when proper procedure has been followed, under guidance of the Holy Spirit, through the study of Holy Scripture, they can trust in God to have kept His promise and led His children to make the RIGHT decision.” That I do not see, either practically (I’ve been in call situations where congregations have called Bozo the clown) or Biblically. I’d be glad to ignore the practical were there a solid Biblical promise to that effect, but I don’t really see anything in scripture that leads me there. I see plenty of ordination and sending in the New Testament, but not a lot of call committees.

    Similarly, I can also be 100% sure that the woman I married is my wife, and that we have been joined together by God, but I hesitate to have a Disneyesque view that she was my true, only, soul mate chosen for me from all eternity. The fact of our mutual choice made us man and wife, and that has been confirmed by God, but had I (foolishly) chosen to marry another, than that other would be my God given wife.

    Am I too close to the edge?

  34. @Matt Mills #37
    I would not say you are close to any edge at all.

    But again, this whole thing involves the mysteries of God, and the paradoxal correlation between on the one hand the hidden counsel of God, and on the other Man’s (relative and limited) freedom of choice. And that is part of what makes this whole thing so complicated.

    We should expect it to often be very difficult, and, in fact, usually impossible, to see the purposes of God in what actually happens in the life of His Christians – and particularly in our own lives. Part of what I was trying to say was that even that which is obviously wrong might very well, in ways we cannot see through, be right, in that it is in accordance with the hidden will of God – although the rightness is and remains hidden in God. O, and although those doing wrong are not thereby exonerated. Think Joseph and his brothers, for example.

    But I do see this assurance affirmed by the manner in which Holy Scripture speaks of those called as being made overseers by God, gifts of God, etc.

    This assurance, however, is not absolute, and certainly not in any metaphysical sense. It assumes both faith and faithfulness on the part of the calling congregation – and to some extent also on the part of others responsible for the process. This was what I tried to point to with my reference to “proper procedure” (by which I was thinking “proper” in a spiritual sense rather than a Synodically bureaucratic “call committee” one) that is: making a decision under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, through the study of Holy Scripture. This assurance should be seen as an assurance of faith for the faithful, rather than as a shield for the less than faithful behind which to legitimise and perpetuate their frivolity. Obviously, by abuse and frivolity a sinner can exclude himself from the blessings of God and, to some extent (exactly to which extent has not been made known to us, except that ultimately God is the One who determines what He will allow) even stand in the way of the will of God being done. No promises are given to frivolity, let alone blasphemy. And one can hardly go and get drunk, and then blame God for one’s hangover …

    But again, ultimately, much is hidden in the mysteries of God, and not to be seen practically.

    I think your parallel to marriage is very appropriate.

    God brought the woman to the man. And therefore a man shall leave his father and mother, etc. What therefore God has joined together, etc. In other words, when a man leaves his father and mother and binds himself to his wife, etc., then God is the One who has brought these two together, though through their own choice and decision. And then a Christian knows that he or she (the other one, that is) is the one, by divine decree.

    And what God has joined together, only He has the right to tear asunder – somewhat like the congregation only has the right to remove a Pastor from office whom God has already removed.

    But again: ultimately the will of God is hidden – and often in such plain sight that one has to be blind in order to see it …

  35. The whole Sem call process seems to me to be a bit phony. Why is not a list of sem graduates who are eligible for a call put out and congregations who are calling can select a candidate to call. After a man get out of the sem in his first call and another call comes along, it is not from the district president, as it is for sem students but it is from individual congregations. The DP’s have grabbed way too much power in this whole sem student placement process.

  36. @GaiusKurios #40
    The DP’s have grabbed way too much power in this whole sem student placement process.

    If the DP’s believed the Holy Spirit could do the job you would think they would stand out of the way? 😉
    Some DP’s have the congregations thinking that they can’t call a man unless he’s on the DP’s list. Maybe they should rather think that the congregation’s call is the Holy Spirit’s choice and work with the man, whether they “listed” him or not.

    Unless of course there are good Lutheran reasons for an individual not being in the ministry at all… (but then a number of conspicuous people would have been gone long ago and the DP’s haven’t touched them. And some, as in Northern Minnesota, who were out and got back in with the connivance of synodical bureaucrats….) 🙁

  37. @Rev. Loren Zell #29
    Unfortunately I’d imagine it has a lot to do with all the varied worship going on in synod. I was outright told at my placement that if I was “traditional” (which I think was a code word), here were my choices. I was even told to avoid certain Districts as a whole! And let’s face it, a lot of Districts as a whole do lean heavily one way or another. Some DP’s even call exclusively (or almost exclusively) from only one seminary based on, I would imagine, perceived worship practices. So if you’re a confessional guy from a CoWo District, good luck getting back close to home. Or if you’re a pastor who happened to not go to the seminary of your DP’s choice, well good luck there as well.

  38. For instance in the WY District, according to the LCMS website, 29 pastors serving are from Ft. Wayne and 8 are from St. Louis. Of those 8 from St. Louis most all seem to have been called or placed during the 1990’s, almost 20 years ago (I think I noted only one exception).
    I’m sure if I looked at the Texas or Atlantic District I would find things skewed the other way. The point is, politics has everything to do with calls and call placements and very little to do with the Holy Spirit. Let’s just be honest about it.

  39. One should be very careful about dismissing the possibility that God might bring His good will about, throughnHis HolySpirit, not only in spite of human machinations and politics of sinful men, but even by means of them, and thus to conclude that where politics and machinations are at work, the Spirit cannot conquer and reign.
    That it may very well happen is demonstrated, in among other contexts, in the lives of Jacob and Joseph – and in the passion of the Christ …

  40. @Jais Tinglund #44
    That’s a good possibility to keep in mind and I don’t think I implied otherwise. Human sinful nature and politics has everything to do with the call though because sinful human beings are always involved.
    But that’s why I say let’s be honest about it. Our personal views, opinions, likes and dislikes, influence how and where and when men receive calls. Whether God is working in spite of or by means of or maybe just leaving us to our sinful politics and desires altogether is not something we should hazard to guess.

  41. Fair enough.
    As long as we do not draw conclusions that deny His providence – or the teaching of the divine call …

  42. Just because God’s providence remains over all does not excuse our actions nor should it be used to justify them.

  43. …. as I also pointed it out above.
    But it does not necessarily mean, either, that the Holy Spirit has but little to do with it.

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