Creativity

creativity

Today’s quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn.”

While those few words could take a thoughtful person in many directions, I’m content with one simple illustration. In recent years the creativity of pastors and people in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod has resulted in the origination of numerous parachurch ministries, including:

  • Best Practices for Ministry – “A FREE conference for those who love the local church, the unchurched and the LCMS” – https://www.facebook.com/BestPracticesForMinistry/
  • Pastor 360 – Making life and ministry better for pastors, congregations and families –pastor360.com
  • Mission of Christ Network – Making known the light, love, and peace of Jesus Christ to people around the world – https://missionofchrist.org
  • J2e3 – Jesus to…Everyone. Everywhere. Everyday. – j2e3.com
  • Five Two – Christian entrepreneurs passionate about reaching those who don’t know Jesus – fivetwo.com
  • MinistryFocus – Making student loan debt repayment grants to professional LCMS church workers – ministryfocus.org
  • Dwelling 1:14 – Joining Jesus on His mission – https://dwelling114.org/

There may be other newly created ministries. These are ones with which I am familiar, all begun within the past several years by someone in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.

Although the one acorn reference in the quote above might not fit exactly with these examples, I thank God for the thousands of people (thousand forests?) whose lives are touched by the creation of these ministries and of additional ministries that will surely follow.

St. Paul wrote: “I have become all things to all people, so that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.” (1 Cor. 9:22-23)

Vernon and Betty Gundermann

GundermannsLast Saturday afternoon, June 4, Concordia Lutheran Church in Kirkwood, Missouri, held a special worship service of thanksgiving to God for his servants Vernon and Betty Gundermann. It was my challenging privilege to be the preacher. Sermon title: God’s Gifts. Your Legacy.

It was a privilege because Terry and I were blessed to have Vern for our pastor during our nine years in St. Louis when I served as president of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Vern was an excellent pastor in every respect. I also considered him the best preacher in the LCMS.

Sadly, not all of our nine years were filled with joyful activities and experiences. Particularly during some of my most difficult days in office, I had the “privilege” of receiving communications from or attending meetings with people who my dear Terry aptly describes as “joy suckers.” They sucked the joy right out of life and ministry.

At such times, Pastor Gundermann had an uncanny, almost surreal, perhaps even supernatural way of knowing and feeling the struggles we were experiencing. Incredibly, upon returning from such joy sucking experiences, Terry and I were greeted, virtually every time, with a phone message from our pastor, assuring us of his prayers, his love, his support, his encouragement.

In addition to Vern’s wonderful pastoral ministry of encouragement and support, his dear wife Betty became a very important person in the life of my dear wife Terry. Not many folks who live outside a pastor’s home know or understand the unique concerns, stresses, frustrations and worries of a pastor’s wife. Betty possessed a keen sensitivity to what pastors’ wives were likely to experience, including a pastor’s wife whose husband had become a national church president.

In our toughest times, Betty was there for Terry, to encourage her, to cry with her and to laugh with her. Betty was and to this very day still is an indescribably close friend of my dear Terry.

Preaching at last Saturday’s service was a challenge because Vern’s normal activities and abilities have been altered by the effects of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), more commonly called Lou Gehrig’s disease. Knowing what to say and how to say it was tough. Yet through it all Vern maintains a realistic attitude of joy and thanksgiving. I pray the Spirit blessed my words.

In one of his weekly updates, Vern acknowledged that no longer will he be able to say or sing a single word. He also wrote: “Life is good. Life is changing. Life is good. Do keep Betty in your prayers. Every change for me adds a task to her life! She now shaves me, puts on my socks and so much more. And she does it all with a good spirit. Little did we understand [on June 25, 1961] the words of our marriage vows ‘in sickness and in health.’ It is not easy living with one who cannot speak and whose eyesight is quite dim.”

Last week hundreds gathered to thank God for Vern and Betty Gundermann! It was a day to remember! God has given them many gifts! They will leave a legacy!

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)

Alcohol!

Beer 1Country and western singer Brad Paisley sings a song titled Alcohol. Here are some of the lyrics:

I can make anybody pretty, I can make you believe any lie; I can make you pick a fight with somebody twice your size. I’ve been known to cause a few breakups and I’ve been known to cause a few births. I can make you new friends or get you fired from your work.

I got blamed at your wedding reception for your best man’s embarrassing speech, and also for those naked pictures of you at the beach. I’ve influenced kings and world leaders; I helped Hemingway write like he did. And I`ll bet you a drink or two that I can make you put that lampshade on your head.

I got you in trouble in high school, and college, now that was a ball. You had some of the best times you’ll never remember with me! Alcohol! Alcohol!

Although I often listen to C&W music, that song is far from one of my favorites. Perhaps that’s because during my ministerial career I’ve seen havoc wreaked by and horrible results come from misuse and abuse of alcoholic beverages.

A headline from this past Sunday’s Austin American Statesman puts an exclamation mark on this topic. The article is titled Does Austin have a drinking problem? It was no doubt at least partially prompted by a drunken driving episode late last Thursday night in downtown Austin. Attempting to evade a police officer’s flashing lights, the driver plowed into a crowd of people, killing three innocent bystanders and inflicting serious injury upon a score of others.

This tragedy occurred during South by Southwest, a huge event bringing tens of thousands of people to Austin every year. Much good is received by those who attend the helpful parts of SXSW. While a significant percentage of attendees are not from Austin, lots of booze is consumed that week, adding to our community’s growing reputation as a city with a drinking problem.

To that point, the Statesman article states, in part: “In the five-county Austin metro area, almost $5 billion worth of alcohol was sold at bars and restaurants in the past 10 years … which doesn’t include sales at liquor or grocery stores. Statistics clearly show that no city in Texas spends more per capita for drinks than Austin.”

While the Psalmist praises God for bringing forth “wine to gladden the heart of man” (Ps. 104:15), the author of Proverbs adds: “Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise.” (Prov. 20:1)

What’s the bottom line? “Do not get drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit … making music to the Lord in your heart.” (Eph. 5:18-19)

As some alcoholic beverage advertisements advise: “Drink responsibly!” Had the driver late last Thursday night in Austin heeded that counsel, the lives of innocent people would not have been ended. And his life would not have taken the irreversibly wrong turn it has taken as a result.

A Tribute to Pastors’ Wives

Rings 1In my humble opinion, not nearly enough has been written or said about a woman whose role is almost always voluntary and almost never really understood or adequately appreciated. The role of which I speak is that of pastor’s wife.

Since I’ve been married to a pastor’s wife for more than 47 years, one might expect me to have a fuller understanding of the joys and sorrows, difficulties and blessings, highs and lows my dear bride has experienced during all those years. Yet I’m often either partially or totally oblivious to the roller coaster of emotions Terry has ridden as the wife of a mission developer/pastor/ ecclesiastical supervisor/church leader for 43 of those years. She is not alone in that ride.

The wife of a parish pastor is often scrutinized by people in the congregation her husband serves. She lives with, but doesn’t always talk about, concerns regarding what to wear, what to say, what to do and what people think or say about all that. Most pastors’ wives are sensitive to how what they do reflects positively or negatively upon their dear husband and his ministry. To varying degrees, the same is true also of spouses of other professional people and political leaders.

In the case of a pastor’s wife, those concerns and sensitivities are frequently exacerbated by the fiscal realities catalyzed by her husband’s all-too-often inadequate compensation. Those realities are regularly on her mind. Especially in recent years, pastors’ wives in greater numbers have followed their God-given vocational calling into professions of their own. In many cases the wife’s compensation is greater than her husband’s, which presents a different set of challenges, especially when her husband considers a call to a different congregation.

Accepting a new call requires the pastor’s wife and children to leave behind familiar surroundings and faithful friends, both in and beyond the congregation. It also means that the pastor’s wife may very well be faced with terminating, postponing or reestablishing in a new community what in many cases is a very fulfilling and successful career.

Without ever divulging specifics or identities, Terry has shared with me that she has spent many sleepless nights at pastors’ wives retreats listening, crying and praying with women she had never previously met. Quite often pastors’ wives feel there is no one with whom the burdens they are bearing can be shared freely and confidentially. They appreciate a trusted, supportive listener.

As you have opportunity, say a word of thanks, encouragement and support to a pastor’s wife you know. Pray for her. It will probably mean a whole lot more to her than you could ever imagine.

Much more could be said about these faithful women, who should in many cases legitimately be viewed as heroes of the church. Consider this brief article an inadequate and incomplete but nonetheless sincere expression of appreciation for and heartfelt tribute to pastors’ wives.

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