Great Stuff Found on the Web — Romancing the “Call”

Found over on Pastor Ken Kelly’s blog, Priestly Rant:


Twice now, in the five or so years I’ve been out of the seminary, two people that I know have moved from the actual pastorate in the parish, to positions within Synod itself. There was an application process in both cases, a selection was made, and a “call” was issued specific to their new task and duties. In both cases, once the announcement was made, there were those who questioned the idea of “calling” a man into bureaucracy of the Synod. Now in fairness, I have never seen, at least in print, anyone question the “calling” of seminary faculty, and I might also add, again in fairness, that a very good friend of most of us was recently “called” to the faculty of the Fort Wayne seminary, and the congratulations would have filled even the FaceBook wall of God. If anything that it is not directly and weekly parish ministry is by default bureaucracy, why is it (so it seems) that some positions within this bureaucracy can be considered “calls” and wear laurel leaves, while others are (at best) questioned and have burning coals heaped upon them?

The logic escapes me, for it seems (if one believes in a “divine call” and experience has taught me that generally congregations do not) that God is fully capable of “calling” a man to the seminary or to a parish, but he doesn’t have the same power to “call” a man to work within Synod. In other words, to call a spade a spade, a man who accepts a “call” to work within Synod itself is generally seen as (1) a failed pastor, (2) opportunistic, (3) well connected politically, (4) a sell-out, or (5) all of the above.

Much of the angst revolves around the use of the term “pastor,” the argument being that those who have made the move are no longer engaged in “Word and Sacrament” ministry. Don’t get me wrong: I can appreciate that sentiment, but I have no earthly desire whatsoever to work within Synod itself. There are men who are actually good at that kind of work, and let’s be honest: we created the bureaucracy of Synod, we continue to support it at District Conventions (remember ULC?), so it would seem, logically, that we need men within the machinery of Synod who are sympathetic to what happens in the parish.

Are they any less a “pastor”? How many times a year does a pastor need to celebrate the Eucharist to be considered a “real” pastor? How many sermons must he preach to have a “valid” call? What of the men—and we all knew some—who were ordained right out of seminary, in a local parish, never spent a day in the parish , and were called immediately to the seminary, Admissions for example? To say nothing of those men who were “called” right out of seminary to work for a District. If a “call” carries the weight of divinity, how is it then that seminary professors for example can be fired; or a pastor in a parish “voted” out of a congregation?

Again, while I can understand the sentiment, I think it’s ridiculous to blame the man for accepting a “call,” particularly when we’ve all had a hand in creating the monster Synod has become.

For me, the problem is not that the man is still called “pastor”—and yes I know the IRS argument—and it isn’t even that he has gone to work within Synod itself, for me the problem is the danger inherent in such a move. It is also the same danger inherent in remaining in the parish.

From my perspective, going to work for Synod has a tendency to make a pastor forget where he came from so to speak. I honestly think that men go to work for Synod with the very best of intentions, but without a great deal of care, over time decisions become almost automatic; a signature on a piece of paper, an e-mail, a brief phone call, or a meeting. What gets lost in this labyrinth is that there is a real pastor and a real parish who may in fact be in real trouble; the danger is dehumanizing. I think the same applies to the seminary faculty: it isn’t that anyone (at least that I know of) disrespects them, their education, or their “call,” but often times it seems that they believe the entire world of Lutheranism is one large seminary class and it isn’t. There’s a real pastor, real people in a parish, and often real problems that people face that can’t be solved around the cafeteria table.

The reverse is also true: there is a danger inherent in being a parish pastor, and that I think is experiential egotism. “EE” is the belief that no one understands what you go through; that no one knows the particular trouble that you’ve seen; that only your experience is valid; that you are a ‘real’ pastor; and that those who aren’t actually serving in a parish—like you are—should simply shut up. I know a great deal about this disease for I often have bouts of it myself.

I do think Synod helps to foster this type of fraternal animosity, for Synod taken as a whole, has completely lost sight of what it was designed to do to begin with. It looks down its Missourian nose at the parish pastor and gives the impression that the only thing that matters is its own self-perpetuation. The logic is that anyone and everyone who goes to work for the Beast are consumed by the Beast, and I’m not sure that’s true categorically.

Of course economics also play a role; I doubt very much that Synodical salaries are in line with what the average parish pastor is paid, but that’s to be expected within a free-market type of salary system within the LCMS that is unregulated.  The only way for a parish pastor to take better care of his family or to save for his children’s college education-to say nothing of his own retirement-is to move up the ladder to a progressively larger congregation, or to go to work for Synod. The victim in all of this is the small parish.

I’ve given up on “romancing the call”; I think any divinity involved in the process is (at best) dented and tarnished; and I think that by and large it is an entirely political process, but we’ve allowed it, and the fortunate have embraced it. I suspect we all would given the chance.

I’m OK with a man being “called” to work for Synod-just don’t forget where you came from…that’s all.

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