The Pastor Challenge


The Pastor Challenge

The Assist Pregnancy Center's Walk-Run-Ride for Life is coming up in May and this year I am challenging myself in order to challenge all of you! I am challenging myself to ride a "Metric Century" (100 kilometers) in four hours, and if I can ride farther than I ever have at one time before, I challenge all of you to support me more than ever before. I set my goal this year at $5,000, and our team (Lutherans for Life) at $7,500! If I can do it, you can do it. Assist helps so many mothers and babies, and they are expanding their facility to help even more - and so need our help more than ever, especially coming out of this pandemic. So please help! CLICK HERE to go to my sponsor page to sponsor me, or you can sponsor anyone else who joins the team, or the team as a whole.

Will you step up to the challenge??

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Vocation of Delegate

One of the things that has made me sad over the last few years is the number of my brother pastors who have decided not to participate in Circuit, District, or Synod gatherings anymore. They are frustrated, saddened at theological developments, have been beat up, and see no good coming out of their participation. So they stay home. They are good, committed shepherds of their flocks that have decided to simply stay with their flocks.

However, I think part of our vocation in this church body is to serve our brother pastors with our presence. To serve as delegates, even when it may be hard. To encourage those who do participate and feel as if they are standing alone. To be a voice of truth, even if that voice is not welcome. For me, the business sessions of the convention are not where the most good happens - that comes around the lunch and dinner tables, at night over a beer, or in a hotel room, discussing issues of casuistry, theology, and pastoral care.

Last week, I sought out some trusted brother pastors for advice. I listened. We wrestled with some issues. I was also privileged to sit down and help others. I renewed friendships with others. My brothers who were not there I missed. I hope they will reconsider next time. I know it is not easy, but if you are one of those who do not participate, know this: you are gifts of God to His church. We need you.

Out With The Old, In With The . . . Old

Elections. Part of every District Convention. Many people do not want to serve and so do not run for election. I understand that. But part of what frustrates me a little is the continual re-election of the same people. I'm not against these people, per se, and while I think that continuity is needed to a degree, I also believe that we need new people to serve in positions as well. Yet unless someone chose not to run again, I cannot name a single incumbent that was not re-elected. (I chose not to run again for Circuit Counselor, given my commitment to grad school in the fall. And I think a new Circuit Counselor will serve us well.)

I don't know how to fix this, if it needs fixing at all. Perhaps the problem is mine. I understand also how it happens. When it is time for elections, people don't know everyone who is running and so vote for the names they know - which is usually the incumbents. I think also the fact that incumbents are almost always re-elected discourages some from allowing their name to stand for election. Perhaps we need some incumbents to step aside and allow some new blood to rise up. That would be good, I think, and give a rest to those who have served faithfully for a number of years. I know that I am looking forward to a break from Circuit Counselor!

Well, we'll see what the next three years will bring. I'm sure the people elected will serve faithfully. I will keep them and the District in my prayers. It is not easy to serve. I am grateful they are willing.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Task Force Proposal

One of the agenda items at my District Convention was the Task Force proposal for restructuring our synod. We spent some amount of time on this. I will probably blog about several items in that presentation. First, though, is the proposal to give larger congregations more voting delegates at conventions. One of the rationales for this is that since they bear a larger share of the convention costs through assessments, they deserve a greater voice.

Hmmm.

Besides the fact that this proposal violates our understanding of the church, that every congregation is not just part of the church but fully the church in that place (not because of size, but because Christ is present there with His gifts), I started wondering about this rationale . . . does size matter? And if so, which size?

I know that larger congregations bear a greater cost in paying for conventions. Assessments are usually made on the basis of communicant membership. But if we want to use “bearing the cost” as our criteria, is this the only size that matters? What about in between conventions? What about the day-to-day costs of operating the Synod? What would an analysis of that reveal?

The truth is that year after year, many larger districts give much less money to the synod than smaller districts. For example, take my own SELC District. In many categories, we are among the smallest districts in the synod. However, we are ninth in giving to the synod per communicant member. This means that year after year (not just in convention years and in assessments) the people of the SELC - on average - give more than 3/4 of the other districts.

Why not use that criteria for deciding representation? In fact, that criteria seems more biblical. When Jesus commended folks who were giving, who did He commend? The rich who contributed much out of their abundance, or the widow who contributed much less in dollars, but much more because it was all that she had? (Mark 12:41-44) You know the answer.

Now, I’m not really advocating for this, I simply want to point out that this suggestion by the Task Force regarding representation is quite an arbitrary standard which on the surface may seem fair to many, but which in the end serves very few and undermines the doctrine of the church and ultimately, the Gospel. Instead of marginalizing and silencing the many “widows” in our synod which give all they can, we should be honoring and cherishing these old faithful ladies of the church. Perhaps there is even something we could learn from them?

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Private Absolution

Kudos to my District President for making Private Absolution available at the Convention before the opening Divine Service on Monday night. I took advantage of this opportunity (and really needed it!), and then was privileged to serve as a Father Confessor for my fellow pastors and laity in attendance. What a blessing this is! To hear the absolution applied to me individually. I encourage everyone to take advantage of this opportunity when they can, and if your pastor does not offer it - demand it! (Don't worry - he will be delighted at your demand.)

The only drawback at the Convention was the logistics. The chapel where we met the first day and for the opening Divine Service did not have a very good place for this. We found two rooms, but access to them was in the front of the chapel. While this didn't bother me, it may have inhibited others. In the future, I hope we will continue this practice at all District functions and I hope we will have better locations, that we may better encourage others to take advantage of this.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

A Plea to Preachers

This is my plea to preachers, especially those who preach at District Conventions and other gatherings of pastors.

Plea #1: Please preach Law and Gospel.

I am sure you do this with your people at home, and so why when preaching before a gathering of pastors do you depart from this practice? We do not need more exhortation to missions (that can also be, and is, done during the convention itself). We do not need to hear about your hobby horses. You do not need to impress us. We need the Law to show us our sin, and then the sweet, sweet Gospel to comfort us. The times to meet for worship at a gathering are precious to us - please feed us with Christ, not yourself.

Plea #2: Please preach on the Word of God that was read.

Again, I am sure you do this with your people at home, and so why when preaching before a gathering of pastors do you depart from this practice? We need the Word of God opened to us and its riches drawn out and presented to us. We are not listening to be critical of you, but to be fed. Please feed us with the Word. Exegete it, apply it to us and our lives, show us Christ. If conventions are not more edifying, perhaps this is the reason why. Besides, the worship folks picked those readings for a reason - for the liturgical day or the theme of the convention. Honor them, please.

Plea #3: Please be normal.

Long sermons with lots of stories do not necessarily make for a good sermon - that can actually hinder your message. Say what the Word of God says, give us the comfort of our Saviour’s love and forgiveness, and sit down. If that takes a short time or a little bit longer time, that’s fine. But don’t feel you have to “go long” and use a lot of fillers - we know they’re fillers. Give us Christ.

With these words, please do not think all the sermons I heard at my District Convention were bad - they ran the gamut. That being said, some did fall quite short. Just please, give us Christ. Please.

Back from Convention

Yes, I am back from the District Convention. I did not post while away because time was short and internet connections not the best. I will post some reflections over the next few days.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

District Convention

After church tomorrow my family and I will be leaving for our District Convention in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I should have internet access and will do some posting to keep you up to date with what is happening. Conventions are where the church does business - electing leaders, considering resolutions, those kinds of things. So they aren't the most pleasant things in the world! But it will be good to see many of my brothers and spend time with them. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Answer

OK. Here's the answer to the multiple choice question from yesterday:

What is the greatest thing a pastor can hear?

a. “You’re the best pastor ever!” (Wrong. Not true anyway.)

b. “Great sermon, pastor” (Wrong. Often when this is said, I know I've preached too much Law! Often, not always.)

c. “What would we do without you?” (Wrong. The cemetery is full of pastors the church couldn't live without.)

d. “Pastor, I forgive you.” (Bingo! Pastors need Father Confessors and need to hear these words from their parishioners.)

Monday, June 15, 2009

Thoughts on Pastoral Ministry

I’ve not posted in a while . . . part busy-ness and part lethargy! So perhaps some tidbits about pastoral care to get things going:

+ I am a proponent of smaller churches. While there are programmatic advantages in larger churches, I think there are better opportunities for pastoral care in smaller churches, where the pastor is better able to know his entire flock. But also over the past few years I have become keenly aware of this also: in a smaller church, while the opportunities for pastoral care may be magnified, the pastor’s flaws and mistakes are also. Thank God there is forgiveness for pastors!

+ As wonderful as the joys of pastoral care are, so heavy also are the pains. When the “light bulb goes on” and folks rejoice in the truth of our Saviour and His forgiveness, my heart leaps for joy with them. When sorrow and pain fill them, they fill my heart also. That’s not bad, but often difficult. It is for me to be there with them, bear their burden with them, and bring the Word of God to that time and place. I cannot “fix” their problem, but I bring the Word and forgiveness of the One who can. And so I try not to show too much of the joy or pain, but try to bring the quiet confidence of our Lord.

+ I love the lectionary! Why? Because the Word of God addresses and penetrates my people’s deepest needs every week. I often get the comment: “Those readings were specifically for me!” If I had to pick the readings every week, I would not do nearly as good and comprehensive a job. While I might select readings that address certain problems or issues that I know about, the lectionary cuts to the heart of the matter, addressing sin and unbelief - the issues we all have! - and presenting our Saviour. So the readings are specifically for them, because they are for us all.

+ One of my favorite sayings about preaching is this: “A preacher who is not simple in his preaching preaches not Christ, but himself.” (CFW Walther said that.) It is a good reminder for me. If my folks leave church not understanding the sermon, but thinking I must be pretty smart for preaching it, then I have failed. A sermon is best when the truth is heard and rejoiced in, and I am not even noticed. When the voice of the Saviour has spoken to and lifted up a broken sinner.

+ Finally, a multiple choice question for you: What is the greatest thing a pastor can hear?
a. “You’re the best pastor ever!”
b. “Great sermon, pastor”
c. “What would we do without you?”
d. “Pastor, I forgive you.”

Answer tomorrow . . . though I bet you can figure it out!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Being a Pastor

One of the things I love about my church is that they just want me to be a pastor. They want me to preach and teach the Word, administer the sacraments, study, pray, and take care of people. They don't want an administrator, a business man, or a CEO - they want a shepherd. They want me to bring the Word of God to them, the community, and the world in all the ways that I am able. What a wonderful thing.

I was thinking about this because I was talking to a friend recently to whom the notion of "pastoral care" was a strange new reality. This friend of mine has had many good preachers, theologians, and inspiring leaders in the churches he has attended, but never received the kind of pastoral care that I have been taught and which seems to be what I am here to do. How sad that there are so many people who need care, but are not being cared for in this way. And while yes, I know that all the people of God give care (and I am always trying to get my folks to be more active in this way), the pastor is unique. He stands in the Office as Christ's called and ordained representative in that place, the undershepherd of the Good Shepherd. Others may supplement his care, but cannot be a substitute for it.

And that's what my folks want me to be, and to do. As a result, I have missed a lot of my church's "Executive Board" (aka Church Council) meetings lately. This is the group of men and women that have been elected by the congregation to take care of the business aspects of the church. They meet after church once a month, but I am usually talking with visitors and members when they meet. And while I feel bad for not being with them, they understand, and want me to be doing this important pastoral work. And I know they can run the business parts of the church without me - and do it better than me! We trust each other.

How blessed I am to have such a church!