Thursday, April 11, 2013

What's up with Dale Meyer?

I grew up to the resonant voice and unmistakable preaching style of Dr. Oswald Hoffmann, the Lutheran Hour Speaker for 33 years.  My wife and I enjoyed many conversations at social events -- including sitting next to him at one of his birthdays.  But I did warm up to Dr. Dale Meyer when he took over as Lutheran Hour Speaker.  I learned to appreciate Dale's own preaching voice and conversational tone.  I use still one of his ancient videos on baptism (Easter Showers) in pre-baptismal counseling.  Dale was preacher here at the parish where I serve when we kicked off our 50th anniversary year.  Yet, of late, I am not sure what to think of a few things...

One of the first things that made me scratch my head was his stinging response to a November 2012 The Lutheran Witness cover featuring a clerical collar.  Apparently he found the photo highly offensive.  I cannot for the life of me understand his objection to the cover or to the very fine article inside.  In the Concordia Journal (official journal of the St. Louis seminary), the editor reported:  "This fall, when Lutheran Witness magazine produced an issue on "The Lord's Office" it provoked a bit of conversation on campus..."  Meyer adds:  "how tempting to imagine that wearing a collar, donning a stole, or leading the Divine Service equates with being with Jesus. “Often a ritual becomes only an evasion of real prayer. The wealth of church forms and thought may easily lead us away from our own prayer; the prayers then become beautiful and profound, but not genuine.”2 When a Lutheran Witness cover featured a very young man with a clerical collar and offered articles on “The Lord’s Office,” many on our faculty took exception to what appeared to be an incomplete portrayal of the pastoral ministry. One of my concerns about that issue is that a reader could easily infer that the collar and office provide some immunity from the temptations of the devil, the world and our sinful flesh.3 Such an inference by a lay person or pastor is wrong, dead wrong..."

2 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together (San Francisco: HarperOne, 1978), 64.  3 Bonhoeffer says that a pastor’s authority comes from service rather than the trappings of the pastoral office: “The desire we so often hear expressed today for ‘episcopal figures,’ ‘priestly men,’ ‘authoritative personalities,’ springs frequently enough from a spiritually sick need for the admiration of men, for the establishment of visible human authority, because the genuine authority of service appears to be so unimpressive” (Life Together, 108).

Although I think it is shocking that someone would move from an article on the "Lord's Office" and the photo of a man in a clerical collar to confusion about prayer and worship and immunity from the flesh, the devil, and the world's temptations, what is even more shocking is that Dr. Meyer is President of Concordia Seminary, the larger of the LCMS two seminaries and a place of pastoral formation for our Synod.  You might think that Dr. Meyer would be sensitive to the opposite -- to portrayals of the Lutheran Pastor as hireling, as functionary, as a utilitarian office, and of other things that diminish the divine nature of the Office of Pastor so prevalent even among Lutherans.  Instead Dr. Meyer seems to think that Pastors are confusing vestments, clerical attire, formal worship settings with "time with Jesus."  I have trouble imagining where this is a real problem in our Synod.

That might be all there is except that Dr. Meyer's daily email devotion stirred up a bit of dust when he sent out a Meyer Minute that lamented Pastors who think that mainly preaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments is their job.

"Yesterday I spent a few hours at the office and read a letter from a donor.  The letter complained about one of our recent Seminary graduates but, I hasten to add, the complaint was gently put, not angry but grieved.  It seems that this young pastor’s interpersonal skills are sadly lacking and that his work ethic leaves something to be desired.  He claims his only job is to preach the Gospel and administer the sacraments.  If that were true, it’s like the Depression-era song, “Nice work if you can get it.”

We clergy can be real problems in the spiritual lives of people.  The denomination to which I belong, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, has for years been sorely divided by various factions.  Of course, each faction assumes the mantle of theological correctness.  Several years ago a special study concluded that a major reason for our denomination’s disharmony is the clergy.  There was a time when people stuck with their church, even if it was politicized or if the pastor was lazy.  That time is gone in America.  Lay people aren’t lily white but the passage from Malachi haunts me, “and He will purify the sons of Levi.” (Malachi 3:3)"

Apparently the response to those two paragraphs caused a later retraction:  "Well, my Minute for March 18th generated a ton of comments, some pro, others con.  Rather than move on to another topic, let me offer a few follow-up comments.

My words yesterday were ill-advised.  Electronic media lets us put something up as soon as it comes into our minds…but hindsight can lead us to say, “Whoops, should have slept on that, should have made my point in a better way.”  So I apologize for going public without sufficient care for how I said what I said.
Second, I have no idea who the congregation is or who the pastor I mentioned is.  The person who wrote to me didn’t give any names, so I thought of it as a generic case.  Of course, people who read my Minute didn’t know that I didn’t know.  If I had known the church or pastor, I should have kept it private.  Since I thought I was being generic, I should have made that clear.

Third, I do believe we have a serious problem with rushing our ideas out into public without giving time to reflection and revision.  I did that.  This rush to go public is all over our culture and in our churches, made possible by today’s amazing technology, but it doesn’t contribute to unity and putting the best construction on everything.  It’s a technology Satan can use to the harm of souls and the church.

Fourth, I firmly believe that the hard work of ministry grows out of God’s gifts of Word and Sacrament.  His gifts impel pastors into all kinds of expressions of God’s care and love during the week.  It’s not just leading worship, which is central, but it includes visitation, meetings, administration, spiritual counseling, works of mercy, and responding to all the other opportunities that God puts before us.  Ministry is hard work.  It demands all that we have and, here’s a strange blessing, at the end of a tired day or when our energy is sapped by controversy, we are reminded that our sufficiency is not of ourselves.

So there’s today’s Minute, honest, a bit humbled, but still wanting the best in our service to our Savior."

It makes me wonder... Are there LUTHERANS who believe that a clerical collar is a ministerial problem?  Are there LUTHERANS who believe that Pastor's hide behind the job description in the call documents instead of doing other things more, shall we say, missional?  Are there LUTHERANS who still actually believe that Pastors are on pedestals, Herr Pastors who are unapproachable and distant because they "hide" behind some aura of holiness?  I find it just the opposite.  I find that Pastors today are often seen as liabilities, problems in the making, and hindrances to the growth and life of the parish and the members. I find the ministry cheapened by those who believe that all it takes are a few online classes and any layman/deacon can do what a Pastor does -- cheaper, more effectively, and and more efficiently.  I find that many congregations and districts are suspicious of Pastors who believe the liturgy is salutary, that our hymnal is a treasure, that the Catechism is the basis for catechesis, and that being Lutheran is not something we should shrink from or apologize for...  I find that Lutherans have become more familiar with the latest and greatest from the pens of non-denominational writers and mega-church leaders than they are with their own Confessions and that Lutherans tend to believe more in the mythology of what it means to be a Lutheran than in the confessional documents that we say define us...

It troubles me that Dr. Meyer seems more sensitive to the other things than to these thorns in the flesh of Lutheran clergy today...  I hope and pray that we can avoid both Pastors who find it more comfortable to be alone than with their people AND Pastors who believe that vestments, the liturgy, and the Word and the Sacraments are not really "time with Jesus."  I am pretty confident that most Pastors of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod fit the bill of faithful, hard-working, under-shepherds of the Good Shepherd, working within the framework of our Lutheran confessional and liturgical identity to give credible witness to the efficacious Word that delivers Christ and His gifts to His people as well as calls those not yet to become His children by baptism and faith...


19 comments:

Anonymous said...

Brother in Christ - A friend of mine shared this article with me on facebook, and while it is sad, I think you are right. God's blessings and keep writing.

In Christ,
Rev. Robert Mayes
Beemer, NE

Todd Wilken said...

The president of one of our seminaries repeatedly expresses disdain for pastors. Sounds like he's in the wrong line of work. TW

Anonymous said...

Perhaps part of the problem is that Dr. Meyer has been too isolated from what the ministry is really like in the trenches. Too many years behind a microphone and then more years behind a desk, rather than a pulpit and open grave can warp one's idea of what the ministry is all about.

For too long has his job has been one of fund raising and keeping the donors happy so that pastors are now a hinderance to that work? Only he can answer that.

JR

Anonymous said...

"many on our faculty took exception to what appeared to be an incomplete portrayal of the pastoral ministry"

Is Dr Meyer putting words in the mouth of the faculty? He does not name the professors that "took exception". This is frequently a device used to bolster your opinion-some people say...experts say...when in reality you don't have experts to back up your premise, but you think it will strengthen your argument.
Mary

Anonymous said...

Have you brought these matters up with Dr. Meyer privately? I hope this public airing of your concern doesn't represent the first he could have heard of it.

Rev. Jim Roemke said...

And there it is! I'm surprised it took as many comments as it did for someone to wag the finger to address public offense privately.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Meyer did not address his comments to an individual. He addressed them publicly to the church in a journal and in a public devotional email. Pr Peters is not saying that Dr. Meyer sinned against him nor does he seem to be piling criticism upon him. He has asked a question -- What is up with Dr. Meyer - and from the perspective of a friend and not an enemy. Matthew 18 does not apply.

Matt Wood said...

Lets not blow this out of proportion. Meyer's article was not about downplaying the office of the ministry. It was about the need for pastors to be intentional about having devotional time. It seems to me Meyer's point is this: Just because you stand in for Christ does not mean you don't need to be in the Word and doing devotions and the like. While I do take issue with the one paragraph that complains about collars and vestments I think I can get behind the main thrust of his editorial.


I hope that after Meyer and the rest of the Concordia Faculty read the articles about Pastors in the Lord's Office—as they surely did if they were so quick to comment about it in their official journal—they realized that that issue of the Lutheran Witness agrees whole heatedly with Meyer's main point. Pastors, do your devotions, ask for and expect the forgiveness of your people when you sin. Laity love, support, and forgive your pastor.

Rev. Hall said...

If you are concerned about something Dr. Meyer said then why not just ask him for yourself? Didn't Christ teach us that in scripture?

Anonymous said...

It's good that "some people" are sure they're not sinning against the 8th commandment when publicly suggesting Dr. Meyer is lying. Oops ... there I went and did it myself! Mea culpa.

Anonymous said...

...Lutherans have become more familiar with the latest and greatest from the pens of non-denominational writers and mega-church leaders than they are with their own Confessions...


Is this what one of the confessional Lutheran seminaries is promoting? No wonder so many Lutherans eventually defect to non-denominational churches. You "missional" pastors are conditioning them to do so. Sad.

Lutheran Lurker said...

Anonymous above... that statement was not directed at the seminary but, if you read the blog post, was a general statement about the choice of devotional and reading materials Lutherans in general (including Pastors but not primarily so). Some of those commenting need to read what was written. Dr Meyer's writings were a trigger for this but Pr Peters has directed this toward a wider audience.

Anonymous said...

Imagine listening to a scathing critique of a mega-church author on Pirate Christian Radio and then watching your LCMS pastor promote that same author in an all-church study. Most of those "missional" devotional and reading materials contradict Lutheran doctrine. The seminary president ignores the elephant in the room - The emergent church congregations within the LCMS. Please invite Dr. Meyer to comment. Thanks.

Todd Wilken said...

Last Anonymous,

I think Dr. Meyer has already commented. His opinion of the pastors graduating from his seminary are clear. TW

Anonymous said...

Todd - sure seems like you have an issue with the seminary president. Glad your eye is clear.

Todd Wilken said...

As clear as yours, anonymous. TW

Anonymous said...

God's word is sufficient with or without the collar. However, I prefer my pastor to wear the uniform when he is working in the stead of Christ.

While I disagree with some of our church leader's opinions I find it refreshing when they are willing to speak up and have their ideas reviewed by the church. That is something that seems to have been missing for a while. Perhaps a new day is dawning in Missouri where church leaders will feel less threatened and more able to dialogue with their brothers and sisters in Christ.

Dusty

Halman Freud said...

It's a nice dissertation, I have learned whatsapp up with Dale Meyer. And thakns to this post, great info.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like many of you are 'missing the point', as are many of the LCMS leaders. There is the 'joke' that 'Pastors only work one day a week'. Sadly, I have seen too many pastors that have 'fallen into that life'. Sure, they attend some congregation meetings, make some hospital calls-but are not 'really out there doing the 'mission'. [Although all of us (pastors & lay people] need to be 'ministering'. There are now pastors who state 'wish to 'limit the church services to one on Sunday and one other day. They state-'if you expect me to preach another service- 'find yourself a new pastor'. Sadly these are not isolated incidents. Dr. Meyer does preach and is out and about around the country more than the majority of pastors who 'stay within their own congregation'. Dr. Meyer realizes that if the LCMS doesn't wake up-we will continue this 'death spiral' we are on and before we know it-there won't be an LCMS. You may 'think this thought is crazy-but take a look at the church membership, the LCMS congregations & schools that are closing. Sorry but alot of pastors need a 'reality check' on what is really needed of Pastors in the 21st century. Thankful that we have pastors including Pastor Meyer who realize the massive changes Pastors need to make. PAB