This week in the LCMS a number of men will receive their calls to serve as pastors in the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Here are some points that have been shared with me over the years since I received my first call. No particular order to them other than the three estates as the framework.
In the Home:
Love your wives. Too many parish ministries end in failure because the pastor neglects his wife. You are a husband first before pastor. Your wife has followed you to where you are. It’s not (usually) her home and lacks so many of the normal supports that people take for granted. She will have to listen to you, her husband preach and pastoral care for her will take on a whole different shape than what she has known before.
Teach your family. Lead family devotions. Teach your kids. When troubles or complaints about the church arise from your wife or kids, help keep them in the home. Though your family are church members, what they say or do can negatively affect your ministry (and you do not want them to fall under criticism for their complaints). Likewise keep the congregation’s problems at the church. Don’t bring the negatives of work home with you.
Love your children. Children are a blessing from God. Your kids will know a different kind of life with you as a pastor. Yes, there is great flexibility in the pastor’s schedule. Use that. You are a father before you are a pastor. Don’t neglect the children God has given you. They come first before the parish, because first the pastor must manage his household well if he is to be a steward in the house of the Lord.
Save money. I am the Stewardship Chairman of the district I serve. I can only suggest with the changes in our congregations and so forth to try to save money in your household and in the parish. Live within your means.
In the Church:
Keep up with the languages. This will take some serious discipline, especially if you end up in a busy congregation. Find the time. Forgot them? Learn them again. See if the neighboring pastors do a text study.
Keep up with the Confessions. Never run ahead without considering them. Too many stupid moves are made in our Synod without first considering the Confessions. Too many pastors take the Confessions for granted. They are treasure. Start a Confessions reading group.
Read sermons. Old sermons. Get Luther’s sermons. Get Gerhardt’s. Get Walther’s. Get some other good sermons from of old. You will find them to be a weekly teacher of your preaching and practice as a pastor. I have had the practice of using one preacher each church year. If you want modern sermons, I can think of no better preachers to read than Rev. Rolf Preus and Rev. David Peterson.
Use the One Year lectionary. This ties in with the previous piece of advice and the most basic tool of teaching, repetition. Repeating the texts each year not only helps your parish learn, but it helps you as you are shaped and formed in the parish. There are no shortage of supportive materials nowadays for the One Year lectionary.
Mark the landmines. Landmines are issues that you should avoid in your parish. They are things which are easily covered in love and patience. There are many of these. The parish has been there with these things for years or decades, respect it.
Identify teaching that needs to be done. Teaching that needs to be done is having to do with bad practices that should be changed after much patient teaching. This is not teaching you want to do, but need to be done. This means the practice is one that either comes from non-Lutheran theology or confesses something that Lutherans don’t confess.
Figure out which hills you will have to die on. The hills to die on have to do with Christ’s Words and Institutions. Closed communion is a hill to die on.
Be cautious about changes. This goes for dumb changes in order to make the church more trendy and hip, but it also can be changes that you think will make the church more ancient. Realize what our confessions say about changes and read it several times before implementing things. Talk to your circuit brothers as well about changes before you do them.
Go to your circuit and district meetings. These can be horrible or they can be great. Your non-attendance will only make them worse. Get to know the pastors in your circuit. There is no shortage to the support they can be. Yes, you will see the problems of the LCMS on full display usually, but putting your head in the sand is an extremely unloving thing to do. Also unloving would be to not speak to each other about false teaching and bad practices in your parishes.
Hallow God’s Name by teaching and life. Remember our Lord’s name is hallowed by the pure teaching of the word and living according to it. Watch the doctrine you teach and the way you speak and act among the saints.
Hear preaching. We firmly believe in the value of hearing preaching. It is a promise of Christ that preaching is good for us. Pastors should seek to hear preaching. If you are blessed with having more than one pastor in your parish, rejoice in the opportunity to hear preaching. If you are not, find a service you can regularly attend.
Pray. Develop a regular prayer discipline that works in your parish. Schedule it if necessary. Offer prayer offices if it helps and the congregation is open to it. Pray at meetings. Pray at Bible Studies. Pray at visits. Prayer has command and promise, but it also teaches. Your members will listen and learn how to pray and what to pray for from your prayers.
Endure Suffering. Frankly, the pastor who doesn’t suffer is not much of a pastor. There are no shortage of things in parish life in the LCMS that bring suffering. Some come from deep within yourself. Some will come from in the parish. Some will come from your household. Some will come from visitors. Some will come from your circuit, district, and Synod. Then of course there is the world and the devil who never miss a chance. Endure the suffering. It is a blessing for you.
Remember your congregation is made of Christians. It seems silly to say, but it needs to be said. Walther reminded seminarians of this. Your people are God’s people. This means that certain things can be expected of them as they are the regenerate. This should inform how you preach both Law and Gospel to them.
Remember you are their pastor. Friendships are great, but remember why you are in a given place. You will be caring for the souls of these people. That means that you will have to speak Law and Gospel to them in many different settings.
Remember you need a pastor. Just like hearing preaching will be important, so will having a man to hear your confession, pronounce absolution, and offer counsel to you as you serve God’s people. Special note: Your District President is not your pastor.
Keep the ordination rite close at hand for comfort and direction. The verses and descriptions used in the Ordination Rite of Lutheran Service Book are treasures to help keep your focus and be encouraged in your work.
Seminary began to form you. Whether you go to continuing education, conferences, or just use your library to advance your knowledge and skillset, make sure you do. Seminary does a great job of preparing you, but it by no means complete. In fact, as the years go by you will likely find some deficiencies in your seminary instruction (or in what you were not paying attention to). It’s up to you to change that in your studies.
Work hard. Your calling will mean there is always work to do. Do not let distractions hurt your work ethic. Social media is the first thing to come to mind here. Find a way to be disciplined with it or don’t do it at all.
In the State:
Be a good citizen. There are three estates, and so far the advice given has focused on the church and the home. You as a citizen of the United States also have the vocation of citizen. I would encourage you to not neglect this either, nor let the fact that you are a pastor overwhelm your citizenship. They are both vocations you hold, but just as how you conduct yourself as a husband and father can bear witness to your pastoral ministry – so also citizenship has a role to play. For instance, take stances, sure, but make sure that you are not undermining your preaching and teaching or isolating your members by this. There are many areas of national life that involve wisdom and reason and honest debates can be had. Christians can disagree on how to do things in government while still wanting to uphold the Commandments.