Ordinary Men

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Here’s a quote about jury selection from G.K. Chesterton: “Our civilization has decided, and very justly decided, that determining the guilt or innocence of men is a thing too important to be entrusted to trained men. When it wishes for light upon that awful matter, it asks men who know no more law than I know, but who can feel the things I felt in the jury box. When it wants a library catalogued, or the solar system discovered, or any trifle of that kind, it uses up its specialists. But when it wishes anything done which is really serious, it collects twelve of the ordinary men standing around. The same thing was done, if I remember right, by the founder of Christianity.”

Interesting thought, especially the final sentence. How ironic it is, therefore, that a national church body I know and love recently voted to withdraw its previous blessing that gave permission for partially trained but carefully supervised “Licensed Lay Deacons” to conduct a ministry of word and sacrament in congregations unable to find or afford a regularly trained and ordained clergyman.

Perhaps more than ironic, I should describe this decision as regrettable. People who know the dates of birth of active clergy in our denomination have announced for more than a decade that in the next ten years at least 50% of these active clergy will reach retirement age. Some will continue to serve, whether for purely altruistic or simply financial reasons. But if that were not to happen, we would need 300 new pastors each year for the next ten years just to stay even.

Put those stats together with this year’s entering seminary student enrollment numbers of fewer than 100 at our two seminaries, combined, and the problem becomes transparently eminent and undeniably urgent. For each of the past several years only approximately 100 new pastors have entered the ministry. That leaves a shortfall of 200 pastors per year, with no sign of improvement, at least in the near future.

The 12 men selected by “the founder of Christianity” were indeed ordinary men. Yet while their affiliation with Jesus did not render them exempt from the faults and frailties of other humans, their faith became strong enough to ignite a movement that exists to this very day. Furthermore, their faith was strong enough to transform them into martyrs.

With all my heart I believe, and through my experience I know, that the same qualities of conviction and commitment that motivated those 12 men two millennia ago still exist in the hearts and lives of ordinary men called by God and set apart by the church today. No doubt some of those men are not in a position to “sell their cow and burn their plow” in order to move to our seminaries in St. Louis or Fort Wayne to become regular pastors.

Yet they have gifts and calling to do what our church recognized in 1989 would be a blessing to many. Sounds like the same thing done by the founder of Christianity many years ago.

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Important Questions

QuestionThis past week I spent a few days with 19 other fellow pastors. Some are retired; others are still active in parish ministry. All are wonderfully gifted and talented men.

During one of our sessions, the leader asked those of us who are no longer active in congregational ministry a number of important questions:

  1. What’s a Bible passage that means a lot you?
  2. What attribute of God is most important to you?
  3. What’s going on in your life that is significant?
  4. What’s a question you would like to ask the rest of us or anyone else, perhaps even God?
  5. What’s an insight you would like to share with the group or with someone else?

The ensuing conversation was awesome! The seven of us in that group had a combined total of 317 years in ministerial leadership of one kind or another. That’s an average of over 45 years each! We all shared heartfelt matters, not the least of which is the desire “to finish well.”

In a subsequent conversation it was clear that finishing well referred not simply to vocational retirement per se. It was mostly about doing whatever it takes to influence for Christ as many people as possible, especially family members and non-believers, as long as we’re alive.

Regardless of your current age, vocation, experience, personal or family circumstances, I encourage you to contemplate those same important questions. They very well might have the same impact on you that they had on seven chronologically mature clergymen last week!

Relationships among Pastors

Credit: potomacag.org

Credit: potomacag.org

Recently a seminary student asked me to address the question: “As a pastor, what is your relationship with other pastors?”

As written, the question is a bit non-specific and unclear. I responded to the student’s request: “Do I understand your question to be what is or what should be your relationship with other pastors, or both?” His response was also non-specific, so here’s how I answered:

Ideally, my relationship with other pastors should be characterized as (in alphabetical order):

  • Collegial and cooperative: As colleagues in the ministry, we work together, not at odds with one another. We might actually be helpful to each other in addressing issues/questions that we have forgotten from seminary or perhaps didn’t even hear or learn about there.
  • Respectful and tolerant: While individual personalities, ideologies and philosophies often lead to differing perspectives on ministry issues, I need to realize that my way is certainly not the only way and, whether I believe it or not, my way may not always be the best way.
  • Selfless and cooperative: For any of many reasons, parishioners may be inclined to leave the church I serve and go to one served by another pastor, who may or may not be a close colleague and friend of mine. When such inclinations are properly motivated, it may be in everyone’s interest for me to swallow my pride and assist in such a move. Special care, concern and cooperation are necessary when authentic reasons for church discipline exist.
  • Sensitive and supportive: All pastors experience times of trial and tribulation, both personally and professionally. Pastoral ministry is not easy these days! Sensitivity and support from fellow pastors, which may not be available from parishioners in an equally meaningful way, often help immensely!
  • Transparent and truthful: Fellow LCMS pastors and I have the same commitment regarding Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions. Yet varying interpretations will arise from time to time regarding specific questions, both in matters that are adiaphorous and also in issues on which different pastors with the same level of commitment simply disagree. Pretending those differences don’t exist is not helpful. Only when pastors speak the truth, in love, will such issues ever be able to be addressed and maybe even, by the grace of God, resolved.

Much more could be said about relationships among pastors. Perhaps these thoughts will prime the pump for future conversation in pastoral circles. Although not addressed only to pastors, St. Paul says it well: “Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.” (2 Cor. 13:11)

A Clergy Dominated Church?

Clergy 1Monday’s Austin American Statesman provided coverage of Pope Francis’ speech to some three million attendees at World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro. He is reported to have addressed a gathering of the region’s bishops, telling them to “look out for their flocks and put an end to the ‘clerical’ culture that places priests on pedestals – often with what Francis called the ‘sinful complicity’ of lay Catholics who hold the clergy in such high esteem.”

That’s very interesting and, frankly, not surprising. It sounds a lot like the direction the LCMS seems to be heading these days with respect to clergy/lay relationships. Clergy dominance was particularly evident at last week’s Synod convention, even more so than in the past. In worship services, on the podium and at microphones, black shirts and white collars were abundant.

That in itself is not at all problematic. I often wore clerical attire for official church business, and still do, especially when robed for preaching and leadership in other worship roles.

But the trend toward a clergy dominated culture in the church is also currently manifested in the exclusion of laity from consideration for positions of significant leadership in our church body. That includes, for example, university presidents, significant missionary supervisors, and other leadership positions at the national level.

Furthermore, there’s a discernible aloofness and even pharisaical demeanor exhibited by some pastors, obvious during worship services and in pastoral ministry functions as well. Intentionally or unintentionally, this telegraphs a “holier than thou” attitude in both work and worship.

While this could simply be an unintended byproduct of deep and sincere piety, I don’t believe it enhances the pastoral office or represents its true nature. Pastors are called to serve, not to be served. Pastors are called to lead evangelically and collaboratively, not to dominate or domineer.

So the clergy culture referenced by Pope Francis is not the sole possession of our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters in Christ. We have some of that stuff in our own Lutheran midst.

What’s the bottom line? Some seem intent on moving us toward a clergy dominated church. I believe that’s not helpful and tends to dishonor the priesthood of all believers.

All of us, lay and clergy alike, do well to remember that not all who build up the body of Christ are ordained clergy: “He (Christ) gave apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” (Eph. 4:11-12)

May the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you always!