We all know pastors can be a bit mystifying sometimes. Growing up in a small congregation with fairly high pastor turnover, that’s what I thought anyway, no matter which pastor it was who was serving us at the time. They always seemed kind of mysterious and outside the mainstream. Our pastors always dressed strangely, I thought. That white tab thing? No other man in the community dressed that way. Vestments, well they kind of looked like a man wearing a dress. Preaching struck me as a very unique task. That was an impressively long speech, and sometimes the pastor would be pretty intense about it. How could he pull that off? Maybe strangest of all, the pastor sang out more than almost every man in the congregation. What drove him to do such a thing?
I soon learned how the mystery spread beyond the walls of the church. I learned that the pastor actually had a pretty extensive and specialized education at this place called a seminary. He had to learn and know the original languages of the Bible, Greek and Hebrew. That was definitely outside the mainstream. And it seemed like our pastors were always a bit out of step with the broader community. I mean, did they really believe that confirmation class was more important than going to school and our sports practices? Did they really believe our little church was a better place to go than the other Lutheran church in town or the other churches of the community? They were a bit mysterious, and yet I found much of it intriguing. That mystery and intrigue were a big part in driving me towards the ministry myself.
As I grew older, though, I learned that not everyone was as intrigued as I was. I learned that sometimes there is a gap between the pastor and the congregation. Good pastors could even get fired for being faithful to their calling. I even learned that this happens routinely. People can complain about the pastor’s personality or supposed dryness of his sermons, or they can complain about the hymns he chooses. They may get upset if a pastor challenges the status quo of certain practices in the church. Sometimes people are shocked at the hard lines a pastor may draw. He won’t marry a couple because they are already living together? Who really cares about that anymore anyway? And some people just don’t like him, no matter what he does. The pastor can beg and plead, he can be gentle and he can be sharp, but it makes no difference to hearts hardened against him. The mystery around the pastor is too often a source of conflict and bitterness.
What if I told you there were a foolproof way to “demystify” your pastor? Yes, it can be done! And it’s not that complicated actually. All it takes is a Small Catechism. And no, not the big blue book you possibly used in confirmation class. That has all kinds of extra information and Bible verses which maybe make it seem a little overwhelming. We’re just taking about what Luther wrote. His Small Catechism is just a pamphlet. The ones you can order from Concordia Publishing House have just 23 pages. With your Small Catechism, you can “demystify” your pastor for good. You can learn what makes him tick and drives him to act as he does.
However, if you’re serious about this, just one quick read through won’t do the job. You need to learn Luther’s little masterpiece very well. I suggest a reading schedule which allows you to make the Small Catechism a part of your daily life. It looks like this:
Monday – 10 Commandments
Tuesday – Creed
Wednesday – Lord’s Prayer
Thursday – Holy Baptism
Friday – Confession and Absolution / Office of the Keys
Saturday – Sacrament of the Altar
I know I have written about this before, but I offer you this little schedule again because it is worth repeating. A little bit of time spent in the Small Catechism every day is enormously beneficial. Luther himself thought so. To read one chief part may take you no more than a minute or two, easily done at the breakfast table. Or perhaps you could leave your Small Catechism on your nightstand and do your little devotion as you are settling in to sleep. Done with consistency, you can learn the Small Catechism very well in really not that long a time.
There are enormous benefits to doing this. For one, knowing the Small Catechism better will benefit you personally. There is a lot of daily application for what the Small Catechism teaches in personal and family life, but what we really want to zero in on here is how we can use the Small Catechism to better understand our pastor.
When you know the Small Catechism well, you will find that your pastor’s ideas maybe aren’t so far-fetched. Like when he rebukes a man and a woman for living together outside of marriage – everyone else in the community may be up in arms wondering what on earth he’s thinking, but you’ll know exactly where he’s coming from. It’s his duty, after all. Solid theological reasons based on the 6th Commandment, First Article of the Creed, and the Office of the Keys compel him to do so. It’s all in the catechism.
Another benefit in learning the Small Catechism well is that you will be an asset to your pastor. You can be part of the problem, or you can be part of the solution. The Small Catechism always guides us towards solutions, solutions rooted in the righteousness of Jesus Christ. This is an especially beautiful thing when our Missouri Synod today is experiencing way too much conflict between pastors and congregations.
The truth is that the lion’s share of a pastor’s work finds its foundation in the Small Catechism. It makes sense when you think about it. Preaching Law and Gospel, Prayer, Baptism, Absolution, Lord’s Supper – the contents of the Small Catechism are practically the pastor’s job description. When you know the compass which is directing your pastor’s day-to-day duties and life, you can be an asset to him in times of stress or persecution. Or perhaps he is indeed making a mistake or going off in the wrong direction on some issue. He is a sinful man, after all. If this happens, don’t make anonymous complaints or talk about the pastor behind his back. That’s weak. Use your knowledge of the Small Catechism to talk matters through with him in order to come up with solutions that are faithful to the Word of God.
Knowing the Small Catechism well, you will also find out that you are fulfilling your duty as a Christian and member of a Lutheran congregation. We all promised in our confirmation vows that we would be faithful to what we were taught in the Small Catechism, even unto death. You can’t do that if you’ve forgotten what it says. In a sense this is all the pastor is trying to do – live out his own confirmation and ordination vows while serving you and your congregation. You have a duty to reciprocate towards him in the station of life where God has called you. This is no reason to pout and sulk. When you make a conscious effort to fulfill your duty as a Christian, the rewards are quite tangible. God will see to it even if you can’t feel the joy right now.
After you have experienced all these wonderful benefits, you will find that you have demystified your pastor. No, you maybe haven’t learned the fine points of sermon delivery. You maybe haven’t earned an M.Div. degree yet, and maybe you never will quite understand the different hobby or two your pastor has. But you will speak the same language as him when it comes to matters of the faith, and that is no small thing. In fact, after you’ve stripped away all the prejudices which others and maybe even you yourself have projected on him, you may find out that he was pretty normal all along. My campus pastor during my college days used to say he was intense about theology and laid back about almost everything else. Maybe your pastor is the same. After you’ve demystified him with the Small Catechism, you may find a pretty easy-going guy, but one with a clear and biblical vision for his home and congregation. That’s a good thing.
We live in a society which is splintering, where human relationships are failing at an alarming rate. There are many reasons for this, too many to go into right now. The relationship between a pastor and his people is no exception to this trend. Sometimes it can be hard to co-exist with one another. But here we must have faith. We know that Jesus instituted the pastoral office that we may hear his cross and resurrection preached. We know we need the pastoral office so that Baptism, Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper are regularly administered among us. They are the only unique contribution our churches have to offer this world, after all. It is true that the men Jesus calls are very flawed also. The good news is that there is much you can do to find solutions around those flaws, or even right through them. We find the Small Catechism is the common ground which bridges the gap between pastors and parishioners. So pick up your Small Catechism. Give it a shot. Give it an honest shot. Take a serious look at the schedule provided above, and demystify your pastor. You’ll both be glad you did.