Scary Words: I’m from the District and I’m here to help

I’m stealing this idea from someone else but remember President Reagan’s joke about the nine most terrifying words in the English language: ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’

Well, word has exploded over the internet today about an unbelievably bizarre effort from the Board for Pastoral Education and the Council of Presidents where confidential questionnaires about pastors are distributed to laypeople and the substance of the questionnaires is such that respondents are encouraged to think ill of their pastors. Those questionnaires are then given back to District or Synod officials who then compile the reports. You can read about it over at Gottesdienst Online. A sample of the types of questions being asked:

How often have you seen that [your pastor]
Expresses his confidence in the Lord.
Recognizes his own intellectual, emotional and physical limitations.
Focuses on important issues in a conflict situation.
Worries about what others think of him.
Belittles a person in front of others.
Appears to believe his own opinions as a pastor should be accepted without question.
Tends to be pessimistic and negative in his attitudes.
Talks and acts as though he is unable to forgive himself.

Now, it’s not that anyone will argue that pastors are without fault or couldn’t use assistance in various areas. But who in the world thought this was a good way to assist? Many if not most of the questions have no Scriptural basis in regard to the pastoral office and even if they did, the asking behind someone’s back and false claim that the pastor is asking people to do so is a blatant breaking of the Eighth Commandment.

As the essay notes:

There are 117 questions in all. Each question is framed in a way that asks the participant to make a moral or value judgment about the pastor.

Frankly, it’s all rather creepy. It’s really creepy. Here we have the bureaucracy of the Missouri Synod butting its nose into the life of the parish, and for what purpose? What good could possibly come of this kind of thing? In the first place, the parishioners are subtly being asked here to craft their thinking in a way that is manifestly contrary to the meaning of the Eighth Commandment, which tells us to “explain everything in the kindest way.” But no matter: the survey needs to be filled out, which apparently grants permission to set the divine directive aside for a moment and become judge and jury! And to judge the pastor, of all people to forget to treat with the benefit of the doubt!

The funniest part of the essay is where the pastor in question calls the Executive Director of the Board for Pastoral Education to ask him what in the world is going on and the pastor notes the Synodical official did “‘appear to believe his own opinions should be accepted without question,’ and while he was polite, he also came off as rather ‘argumentative’ to me.” Not that there’s much a parish pastor can do about that, obviously.

What’s particularly weird about the whole operation is that the pastor also gets a survey. But his survey really does have innocuous and mostly demographic questions.

Pastors are reporting that these surveys are being sent out right now.

Again, I’m all for helping pastors. But as the recent events with the taking of the ULC chapel show, many times the folks least capable of providing assistance to pastors are the folks shuttered in District offices.

This was either a great idea poorly executed or just a bad idea.

If it were me, I’d just politely decline the surveys and perhaps lovingly explain to Synod why the effort is misguided. Others are suggesting more drastic measures. What’s your take?

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