Friday, October 18, 2013
Good wisdom. . .
October is “Clergy Appreciation Month.” This is the month for congregations and their members to show appreciation to their pastors. And they do so, in various ways: special prayers, card showers, pot lucks, etc. Not many give the pastor the parsonage.
In one of the rural parishes I served, my predecessor retired from the ministry and remained in the parish to serve as organist. Although withdrawn and not very personable, he was also not always a quiet man, known to make outrageous comments. And he was not a very good preacher or teacher by most standards. Unique to say the least, what he sometimes did and said would today prompt a call to the district president. And yet the congregation loved and respected him during his 28 years as their pastor and then gave him the parsonage when he retired.
That was another day, another time–a time when calls to obtain pastors were more prayerful than careful, when pastors were more likely to be accepted with their flaws than expected to be well above average, when congregations saw their pastors as men of God holding a very high office. Our congregations and our Synod would do well to be a little less careful and expecting and a little more prayerful and accepting of the men God provides. They are giving their lives to teach His Word, administer His Sacraments, and shepherd the souls He calls, gathers, and enlightens by the very Gospel they preach.
Do we respect those we like or with whom we agree? Or, do we respect the office and those who bear the office within the boundaries of their own human frailty? Our Synod Secretary points out that many of the problems and conflicts which plague congregations and their Pastors are created by unrealistic expectations.
My wife is fond of reminding me that half of all doctors graduated in the bottom half of their class. Or another saying: what do you call a someone who passed the bar with the minimum score? Lawyer, of course. Not every Pastor graduates at the top of his class, is a world class preacher, is a savvy administrator, can carry on great conversation, possesses the special skill and insight of a counselor, or is a gifted teacher. Most of us are just average. I know that at best I am average and on a bad day, well, not even that. Yet God has deigned to work through us flawed and frail examples of piety, faith, and righteousness. It is the scandal and miracle of grace. Thanks be to God when people realize that in their Pastors and honor them anyway.
Once I spoke to the son of a Pastor who was then a Pastor of a very large congregation. In contrast, his father (who baptized me) had served very small and marginal congregations -- even into his 90s. The son was big on high expectations of clergy and suggested to me that too many Pastors were serving because it was easy money and not a very demanding lifestyle and how it would be better for the Church if all Pastors were paid based on their results. I brought up his dad and the guy said he was not sure his father should have been a Pastor!?! By the world's standards the dad never measured up to the son. But a disproportionate share of the babies baptized and the youth confirmed by his dad ended up like me -- a Pastor or perhaps a teacher or another full-time church worker. Fruit indeed!
I pray that we can get back to being more prayerful than careful when it comes to calls and pastoral relationships. The Lord has not promised to work through the gifted, talented, skilled, and accomplished. He has promised to work through His Word, even when the voice that speaks it is flawed, the hands that administered His sacraments feeble, and the personality of the man difficult.
My home parish had a Pastor who was a rather hard fellow. He was a solid Pastor but too blunt spoken to be considered nice and too unbending to be beloved. Folks outside the parish sometimes wondered why the people put up with this guy, why they did not put his name on a call list, or complain to the District President. In the end, he served there until he died and is now buried in the cemetery down from the church building. The people knew the Pastor was not the Church. They were patient, filling in the gaps of his own ability. They loved him for who he was instead of complaining for who he was not. Bless those folks. I wish there were more of them today. It would sure make it easier for us less than average Pastors and a whole lot more satisfying for the people of God in the pews, too.