Guest Post — Out of Place Pastors and Hearers

Guest Post by Rev. Jonathan Boehne, pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in El Paso, IL.

iStock-Unfinished-Business-5Everyone has their place to serve God. Luther showed us that church isn’t the only place people have callings. It wasn’t only by running to the monastery that one could serve God. He restored the joy and sanctity of other places, such as serving your family at home or your neighbor in the workplace. From the Apology:

In the histories of the hermits there are examples of Anthony and of others which make the various spheres of life equal. It is written that when Anthony asked God to show him what progress he was making in this kind of life, a certain shoemaker in the city of Alexandria was indicated to him in a dream to whom he should be compared. The next day Anthony came into the city, and went to the shoemaker in order to ascertain his exercises and gifts, and, having conversed with the man, heard nothing except that early in the morning he prayed in a few words for the entire state, and then attended to his trade. [Apology XXVII, 38]

So you don’t have to be a pastor to serve God. You don’t have to be a church worker. The teaching of “the priesthood of all believers” doesn’t tell everyone they need a seminary degree. It reminds all Christians that their God-given places are sacred and good. It tells them that their work is important even if it’s not “pastor work”. The work of a mother, a father, a banker, a teacher, and a student are all equally meaningful. Every God-given place in life is a sacred place, where a priest serves and offers up sacrifices of prayer and praise.

However, this is exactly the thing we’re seeing ripped away from those in the pews. I have personally seen many examples of Christians in my area who desperately want to serve God and yet can’t find anywhere that seems holy enough to do it. I have seen them literally try to invent their own “congregations” by starting some new type of ministry. In their minds, if it’s not pastor-type work or missionary-type work then it must not be important or meaningful work. If they’re not leading praise and worship or a small group study or building relationships or going on mission trips or sharing the Gospel, then they think they don’t have a real place to serve God.

It’s the old debate over Ephesians 4. The place of pastors is to equip God’s saints to serve in their own places (in home, church, and society). Instead, now the passage gets convoluted to say that pastors are to equip God’s saints to serve in the pastor’s place. Hearers are being told that their place isn’t good enough and that they need to get into the real work of ministry. Of course, pastors don’t always say that directly. But they don’t have to. They infer it with everything coming from the pulpit. Matthew 28 is applied as the ultimate work for everyone. So we’re all supposed to be baptizing? The only encouragement and exhortation from the pulpit is to get busy at Church or get busy spreading the Gospel. If you’re not intentionally doing evangelism, are you really serving the Lord?

Here’s a shorthand: out-of-place pastors lead to out-of-place hearers. Many pastors today don’t want to stay in their own place. Instead of seeing their place as delivering forgiveness in Word and Sacrament, pastors see their primary work as getting other people involved. We’re told everyone needs to feel ownership. In order to accomplish that, they have to get out of their place and come alongside the hearers. So pastors get out of their vestments and out of a clerical collar. They get out of the pulpit and out with the hearers. They get out of preaching, teaching, studying, and visiting in order to attend a thousand meetings on administration and finance. Much of it is done in the name of servant leadership, even though they’ve left the very place where God has given them to serve.

This leads to hearers who aren’t sure where their place is anymore. Their place used to be hearing and receiving God’s Word. Now pastors seem to be saying that’s not enough. Instead of hearing the Word, they need to be lay readers. Instead of receiving the Sacrament, they’re told to help with distribution. Instead of attending Bible Study, they’re told to lead a small group. Instead of finding meaning, purpose, and joy in the places God has already given them at home, at Church, and in society, they are pressed to do the supposed real work that pastors should be doing.

This is also where the Missouri Synod finds the SMP going. Pastors spot a good layman and wonder why he shouldn’t become legit with a few online classes. After all, isn’t that what we’re after? All people doing pastor’s work? Look at the massively growing staffs of some congregations. Why not just hire everybody to work for the Church? Why not just get it over with and ordain every man, woman, and child in the Synod?

Of course, there’s a better way. We could remember that everyone already has their place to serve and every God-given place is sacred and meaningful. Pastors could stop thinking that church work is the only work and remember that hearers are needed at home and in society. Finally, pastors could stay in the place where God has put them to serve and equip hearers of the Gospel for all the other places.


Guest Post — Out of Place Pastors and Hearers — 37 Comments

  1. “So the church elected seven qualified laymen to handle the practical, even secular, matters the church was dealing with, so that the Twelve could spend their time in “prayer and the ministry of the Word.” These laymen took care of things in the church. They no doubt had their own vocations, whether as fishermen, farmers or craftsmen. Though they were laymen, they still witnessed to the Gospel. One of their number, Philip, evangelized the Ethiopian eunuch, and another, Stephen, became the first martyr for the faith…So all Christians have a church calling. The church calls pastors. The church can call others to assist that office, such as teachers for its schools and other church-work professions. Similarly the boards and committees, the Sunday-school teachers, the trustees, the elders, the ushers and the altar guild, the choir members and the organist, the officers and the voters assembly, are all doing their part to serve one another and their fellow members, building up with the pastor the complex, living organism that is the church.” (Gene Veith, “Called by the Gospel”, The Lutheran Witness, Dec. 2001 – can be found on the LCM Life Library)

    Pastors cannot be everywhere. For there to be other teachers and evangelists in a congregation to conduct classes (under pastoral supervision) and to reach out and call people to the baptismal fount and in to worship is a good thing. For there to be other volunteers having structured prayer, running the food pantry, visiting the sick or following up with visitors if the pastor gets tied down, is also proper, and equipping these people for this aspect of their calling, apart from husbands, wives, children, etc. We are all in the church and all building up the church and we are all called to spread the Gospel in our daily lives, in deed, if not in word, as the circumstances dictate. Sometimes, the only time we have is for our jobs and families. So, we should not expect that everyone can do more. But when we can, we ought to, without fearing that we are stepping out of vocation. Rather, it is all part of our calling as Christians to give every minute of every day to God. He has given us all that we have for His glory.

    We are laborers in the kingdom, all of us.

  2. Laypersons can even share their faith with family, friends, coworkers, and strangers. They could do it more effectively if the pastor equipped and encouraged them.

  3. I have been told by an LCMS DP that pastors don’t encourage and equip members to be comfortable sharing their faith because most pastors aren’t comfortable sharing their faith because they don’t learn to at seminary.
    No wonder the LCMS is shrinking!

  4. I recently saw a LCMS sign that read: “Preach the gospel. If necessary use words.”

  5. The assumption of those who want to blame pastors and people in the pew is that they aren’t “sharing” Jesus with those outside the church. What seems to be forgotten or ignored is that the Lord works where and when it pleases Him. I think that in these last days a hardening of hearts is happening. For we tend to forget that the preaching of the gospel will also do that.

  6. Do the Seminaries teach their students how and why it is important to equip their flock to share their faith?
    A very simple, but critical question.

  7. @Alan Turley #8

    That is a fair question. Although, in my experience, some pastors have a greater ability and passion for outreach than others. Some aspects of sharing cannot be taught. Our district is applying an “Equipping the Saints” theme, so to speak. There is an emphasis on sharing and living faith outside the confines of the church building.

    What I am seeing is a reluctance to be equipped and sent on the part of the parishioner. In other words, they are predetermined to share only with people they are familiar with and only within the safe confines of some mutual agreement. They’ll talk about Jesus with Christian family members and Christian friends – it’s more like fellowship and affirmation, maybe even a personal deepening, but not outreach. Again, not all aspects of sharing can be taught.

    By the same token, some of the most aggressive outreach is often done by new believers with only the very basics. For all intents and purposes, they were not “equipped” by the pastor or anyone else, they’re just charged up about new life and want to share this great new thing. Big difference from being raised in the faith from infancy and receiving it later in life.

  8. “I think that in these last days a hardening of hearts is happening.” — wineonthevines #7

    Both outside of and inside the church. Both in the pews and in the pulpits. We have a pastor who tells us every Sunday after the service that we need to go and “share the Gospel” to the rest of the “world.” However, he neither “equips” us from either the pulpit nor through “Bible-study”, and won’t even go and visit his own parishioners when directly asked to, but is hot-on-the-trigger zealous whenever issues of finance and numbers are addressed. Yet he continues to harangue US to go out and fulfill the “Great Commission.”

    Rev. Boehne’s “shorthand” description of the problem in the 4th- and 3rd-to-the-last paragraphs is a perfect description of the official position of the NorthLeft District, as taught to us at our recent District Convention. (I am not being mean–just honest.)

    Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy.

    soli Deo gloria,

  9. @Grendelssohn #10
    Your Pastor is giving you all you need, the Word preached, the Sacraments rightly administered. You then go and do Torah (the Law, walking with God), you love your neighbor as God commands, and as Jesus rightly reminded. That is sharing the love of the Gospel, and when able, you share a knowledge of Jesus, the Gospel as you have been taught.

    Now if you think your pastor is a bit over zealous on “use of the Law”, tell him “ease up.” Begin the dialog. Now if he shuts you down, he then has a problem.

  10. @Grendelssohn #10

    In what is your pastor failing? If his preaching and teaching is sound and you are also diligent in use and study of the Word, you’re ready to go out, live, and share in service and, where opportunity arises, in word. It seems you are playing a bit of “follow the leader”, you want to see your pastor in action. I can understand that but it doesn’t mean you are not equipped. as I’ve said, many newer members are not “equipped” beyond the basics but they share from their excitement.

    I really think it’s those in the pews resisting being equipped or acknowledging they are equipped. It may be a little unwelcome citing Ghandi on this site but “When the people lead, the leaders will follow.” There is only one pastor with many duties and many parishioners covering more ground and more neighbors. Get a group together to talk about sharing over coffee and share experiences and fears. You’ve got the Word. Encourage each other (1 Thess 5:11-14). You’re building faith in Word and Sacrament. Now build fellowship with each other and reach out, together, in friendship.

  11. @Alan Turley #4
    Dear Alan,
    We pastors, in various ways ARE VERY comfortable with sharing the love of God, the Gospel with those outside the Church proper when able.

    The problem, the hearers and the world is hardening their hearts more and more, and we do get rightly frustrated.

    But then we go back to the Church proper, study a bit, preach, administer the Sacraments to those that beg for it at the Church, then we go try and “be in the world”.

    And I do say “beg for it” because the good and faithful rightly want it, need it, the Body and Blood, and the Word, to cling to the Word in this “tough times.” Yes, that is our utmost “job”, to care for you all, till the Good Lord says “done”.

  12. In my experience most (not all pastors) don’t equip or set an example or lead their members in sharing the faith. They do preach that we are to bring others to church, but not the how. As a result it leaves the layperson feeling guilty.
    I guess that is what they do best. @Pastor Prentice #13

  13. My understanding is that leaders are to lead. If the pastor is the “leader” of the parish should he not lead. Both by example and by equipping. Churches that have Pastors who are enthusiastic and support outreach in their congregations motivate the people to want to share the gospel message. Understanding that it is only through the Holy Spirit that uses men to accomplish His will. Chu @HL #12

  14. My question is still not answered.
    Do the seminaries teach the students how to equip their members how to share their faith?@HL #9

  15. @Pastor Prentice #11

    Your Pastor is giving you all you need, the Word preached, the Sacraments rightly administered. You then go and do Torah (the Law, walking with God), you love your neighbor as God commands, and as Jesus rightly reminded. That is sharing the love of the Gospel, and when able, you share a knowledge of Jesus, the Gospel as you have been taught.

    How do you know that the pastor is doing that?

    The paragraphs G. referenced, if true of his congregation/pastor, wouldn’t lead me to believe the man was concerned for his members, let alone “the lost” (who may be in his congregation).

  16. Dear Alan and Helen,

    Wow, you both sound like my Evangelical Friends who abound on mission talk, or what you all here dislike, all the intentional mission stuff that you all say the DPs are throwing down your neck.

    Come on, be consistent man!

    So Alan,

    Yes, the Seminaries do teach and share some methods of what you desire, at least at CSL via my DELTO education (cannot say what the classic full residential MDIV does)…we did share “equipping you the saints for mission.”


    You know what, I have no clue what other pastors are doing, except a few in my circles (which is little); but what pastors I know equip and share some “how to” with membership. Yes, we are not as intentional as other evangelical denominations.

    A good pastor, many of them are out there (me included)share the love of Christ through the Gospel. We “go out” but I must say, after I “stay in” and take care of the flock first. Because that is truly my higher job.

    Come on, what axe are you here to grind. “Ease up”.

    I have to go and “share some love of Christ” with all those sinners around me, after I get done here in the office.

  17. What I find interesting when people talk about “training” people to “share” the gospel is that there is no “training” to talk about your favorite sports team, no special class to talk about “the weather”, no informational meeting to talk about political matters. Why is it necessary to “train” people who confess in every Divine Service: “I believe in God the Father almighty and in Jesus Christ… Hmm?

  18. @Pastor Prentice #20

    Come on, what axe are you here to grind. “Ease up”.

    No axe; I only observed that, if G.’s comments are true of his congregation (his reference back to the article we’re discussing), he may not be getting what his pastor should be providing.

    Having known a person who had an extended hospital stay and was treated to one phone call from her pastor in two months, no visit, no sacrament, I can say, “It happens.” I wish it didn’t!
    [Yes, she was an active member and yes, he knew where she was.]

    In mitigation, I know another Pastor who visits his home bound members every week. (He doesn’t have a lot of them, by the grace of God.)

  19. Dear, dear Helen,
    Apologies for my tone, your passion is great for His Church, His people, His men serving His people. May the Lord bless and love you greatly. Oh yes, He has, and still does.

  20. And here I get myself in trouble,,,

    Pr. Prentice #11: “Your Pastor is giving you all you need,”—No, he isn’t—“the Word preached,”—Sermons purchased on-line and polished-up during the Scripture readings—“the Sacraments rightly administered”—The Body and Blood of Christ handed over to everyone who wanders in the door and babies Baptized who’s families no one has ever seen before and whom we never see again, even though he has just had us vow as a congregation to make sure they are raised in faith in Christ.

    His zealousness is in making sure his compensation is rightly divided between salary and housing for tax purposes, and is not for the souls in his care. (This scares me for his sake.) Many of us have tried to “dialog” with him—some of us are still here. I must admit that I haven’t tried for a few years. My wife forbad me speaking privately with him after my last attempt was shut-down by unprovoked public humiliation. And being a congregation who wants to be Confessional, we can hope for no assistance from our District (The NorthLeft). Thus we are left on our own to try to keep our congregation alive (literally) until we can call a shepherd to care for us… Hopefully we will still be able to.

    Pr. Prentice, reading your posts over time, you display an unrealistic view of the sinners who occupy the Office of the Ministry. You have been very good at listing the qualifications of what a pastor should be, but assume that the imperative requires the indicative (I am sure there is someone out there who can tell us how that works out for sinners), and that it is a universal quality of pastors as a class. Your very next post (#13) demonstrates this. What you apply to ALL pastors (“We pastors,” etc.) as a class should be true for all men in the Office, but simply isn’t.

    Before you label and dismiss me an anti-cleric, let me tell you that I am a product of the parsonage. I know from the inside what the Office looks like; A faithful man struggling to tend his Master’s flock in humility, and to be a husband and a father in his spare time. It was a hard wake-up when I realized that all pastors were not like my father, and since I left my father’s flock to come out here to the NorthLeft more than a quarter century ago, I can say I have had precisely one pastor who fit that bill, and that for a brief time only.

    You-all pastors at BJS are very good at defending the Office from unwarranted assault, and speaking as my father’s son, I thank you and wish I could join in with you. But the fact of the matter is that I haven’t had the opportunity to defend a pastor for the last half of my life. There are a lot of bad shepherds out there, and whole congregations are suffering. I wish you-all would recognize and seriously address this issue, because the knee-jerk admonition to just “find another church” SIMPLY IS NOT ACCEPTABLE! It’s a cop out! (Helen gets it.)

    There is more I would like to address in this string, but I should have left for home an hour-and-a-half ago. Pray for us as we struggle to remain in Christ, and simply to remain in existence.

    HL #12: “It seems you are playing a bit of ‘follow the leader,’ you want to see your pastor in action.”—I want him to visit his home-bound when they or their family ask him to, not only after he finds out they have decided to bypass him and give their money directly to Synod and have some pastrix who has been visiting them bury them, and I want him to visit our sons who have stopped coming to church the first time we ask, not wait until we give up after the third request. Is that asking too much?

    soli Deo gloria,

  21. What you are talking about is not failed outreach (the purpose of equipping the saints), it’s failed inreach, failure to serve a congregation by not fulfilling the office, failing to provide pastoral care. If the congregation has a major issue with him, you can dismiss him for good cause. If not, you are at odds with your congregation and their opinion of him differs. You can either stay and battle the pastor and congregation or you can leave to another congregation. One thing you may want to examine is you’re not finding others measuring up to your father.

    Your contention that there are a lot of bad shepherds out there is not something I’ve experienced and I have lived my entire life in one area of one district. I have hear stories but, in each case, the pastor, though his performance was not what I would call exemplary, was in synch with a congregation and board of elders that was none too exemplary.

    Consider, too, that you are closer to your sons than any pastor and, if they have stopped coming to church, have a reason which you can address. A collar and cross are not going to make the difference and you have a firm foundation in faith. This is not excusing your pastor but parents retain the responsibility for bringing up their children in the faith and pastors are there to support it, not be a substitute, unless the parents are absent. Regardless, elders and deacons are part of this process and part of pastoral care, as well. How is that part of your congregation faring? I assume not well, if the pastor can be not pastoral with immunity. Have you addressed these shortcomings with these, your brethren?

    The congregational model offers a parishioner many opportunities to correct issues. Can you let me know what you have done so that I can have a deeper understanding of your frustration?


  22. @HL #26

    Your contention that there are a lot of bad shepherds out there is not something I’ve experienced and I have lived my entire life in one area of one district.

    Perhaps your “one area of one district” is confessional and has managed to stay that way?

    When you have lived in several states, in several cities of those states and in several congregations of those cities, you do see differences in pastoral care.

    You may/may not believe it, as you choose but there are districts which endeavor to get confessional Pastors out of the ministry; they are not even satisfied to get them “out of their district.”
    Someone suggested that serving the elderly was “poor stewardship”.
    Poor stewardship is enticing a good man to spend $100,000 for a seminary education and letting a poor congregation boot him out of the ministry in five years! (Or less, with no DP to help him, even when the CV is on his side.)

    I somewhat envy your sheltered life, but I might have missed some of the really good Pastors I’ve known if I had not landed in some of the places I have.

  23. Please check out Pastor Rossow’s post of 12-14-2011 titled, ‘5 Simple Scriptural Truths That Rebuke and Correct the Church Growth Movement’, especially item #1 – The tiresome and over-emphasis on personal evangelism. We’ve had this discussion before. Reread the first paragraph of this post. The work of a baker, mother, candlestick maker is just as meaningful as that of a lay minister, full-time missionary, worker/priest. Those last three vocations I mentioned are NOT better good works/vocations than that of the first three in God’s eyes.

    In Christ,

  24. Diane,

    Without getting into the whole church growth, thing, the church is, indeed growing and God calls the lost through evangelism, through His Word. We are all called and sent. In our various vocations, we do evangelize. that said, there is far too much on BJS downplaying the role of personal evangelism and it’s place as a conspicuous vocation.Matthew 28:19-20/ Mark 16:15 is addressed to the Church, to the whole Body of Christ – that includes you. You are and apostle, one sent, we all are. The issue is whether you believe you are only sent to be in a narrow range of vocations, never to step out, or whether you are called to also speak.

    I think most people run from the second possibility, preferring not to step out of the kitchen, away from the children, away from the TV. We all wear many hats as we go through life. Our vocations take us from parenthood, to employee, to boss, to volunteer, to spouse, to child, to sibling, to prayer, to student, and also to proclaimer – not only through vocation, but as vocation.

  25. Helen,

    Because I have not relocated, choosing to remain where my family is situated and has been for a long time, does not mean I have not traveled and I have not led a sheltered life, in any way. I make the choice consciously because I have traveled and find other areas lacking what we have. When you have family, good food, good schools, and easy access to culture, moving, for any reason, is not not a simple consideration. Usually, it’s an economic decision, that the family, food, schools and culture are not as important as stuff and low taxes.

    Still, in my travels, I have not encountered the lack of confessionalism. If anything, I find the bible-thumping heartland full of the reactionaries supporting the current regime in Synod thinking we in the Northeast are far too liberal. It amazes me to hear that there is so much out there with such deep issues. Hard for me to imagine that all of a Dakota district, for example, is, somehow, corrupted or that it is more difficult to find and retain confessional pastors in far less cosmopolitan areas than where I live.

    Again, I’ve heard stories. But the pastors and the congregation are often identically non-confessional or lax in the same ways, so it turns out to be a sort of match made in heaven, so to speak. At the end of the day, what are you doing to right the wrongs? How are you standing up in the congregation to fix things? Are you confident that all the things you are trying to fix are actually broken and not just disagreeable to you?

  26. @HL #34

    You’re welcome.  It’s the best material I’ve ever run across on lay evangelism.  We always keep copies of this in our tract rack.

  27. I’ll have to think about doing that, myself. Thanks, again!

    Hey, you run into a lot of Lutheran cultural barriers on sharing? I know I’ve been on a long road as a Lutheran from the cradle and have found the joy of sharing over the past few years to be something I wish I’d always been wrapped up in. Confessionally, we have not merely the truth but the most beautiful Gospel. There is a world just starving for it.

    God bless!

  28. @HL #31

    Your contention that there are a lot of bad shepherds out there is not something I’ve experienced and I have lived my entire life in one area of one district. I have hear stories…

    You defined yourself… and as one whose uncles were reputed to “check their life insurance before they traveled so far as the next county”… I took you at your word.
    Now, you describe yourself as a “world traveler” (or at least, U.S.). Well and good! If you have “found the joy of sharing over the past few years” I congratulate you and will happily toss you the baton, if you are sharing Luther’s faith. [I’ve been carrying it for more than 50 years (that’s just in LCMS) and I’m getting a little tired.] 😉

    If anything, I find the bible-thumping heartland full of the reactionaries supporting the current regime in Synod thinking we in the Northeast are far too liberal.

    Your description of the supporters of the “current regime” doesn’t leave me too hopeful about your witness. I did know a few faithful Pastors in the East, but that was a long time ago and even the youngest one is retired now.
    [That the “What about” pamphlets are ‘news to you’ says more than you perhaps realize.]

    Thanks for enlightening him, John!

  29. @Grendelssohn #25

    I too am in the NorthLeft, your sentiments are shared by a few folks scattered throughout the NOW district. I wouldn’t mind connecting offline some time, I’m happy to share my contact info with you, and permit the moderators to pass it along if requested.

    + pax +

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