Saturday, May 21, 2016
You would have to be crazy to. . .
I opened Facebook after a longtime of ignoring it and up popped a video of a young man on one of the wheeled so-called hover boards on the top of a skyscraper without railing or boundary to protect him from falling. You would have to be crazy... I thought. (Someone joking told me he was probably in as much danger of going up in flames as falling -- it seems those hover boards have a problem.)
In a discussion about vocations to the Office of the Ministry, one considering such vocation was told by friends, "You would have to be crazy to become a pastor!" Well, no, not quite. In fact, I am pretty certain that if you were crazy that would disqualify you from seminary and ordination. Maybe I should walk that back a bit. A little crazy and we might be able to work with you but mostly crazy and it is a sure thing we could not look the other way.
Hmmmmm. Has it come down to this? Are those who hear the call of the Spirit and who seek both the training from and confirmation of that call from the Church crazy? But perhaps we are unwittingly suggesting that someone seeking seminary and ordination is a bit crazy. We warn those so considering so solemnly about the many dangers, disappointments, struggles, sacrifices, challenges, and costs of being a pastor that it might seem crazy to ignore the dire warnings and go ahead. We have painted such a dismal picture of the future of the Church and the particular future of a congregation and a career with an impossible work load and very modest compensation that it might appeal only to those crazy enough to go to seminary and seek ordination anyway.
I am told that this year some 30 parishes had requested candidates and did not get them. I expect this to increase and more to be disappointed on call night. I also know that both seminaries are struggling to find new students and expect this to be a continuing issue. I also know that fully 40% of our actively serving parish pastors will retire in the next 10-15 years -- a fact much more hidden than the doom and gloom folks who say that more and more parishes are being priced out of the full-time pastoral market. But seminary enrollment and vocations to the pastoral ministry are not the stuff of entrepreneurial opportunity or market driven need. They are the domain of God and the Spirit. I wonder if we have not forgotten this.
It is the Spirit who calls men into the pastoral office and it is the role and function of the Church to confirm this call and confer upon them the authority of the office in ordination and set them into a call to a specific place to exercise this ministry. The Lord does not call men to be pastors because there are enough, too many, or too few calls. Thankfully, the Spirit is somewhat oblivious of this marketing arena and its Confidence in statistics rather than the Word and will of God. It is surely true that many are called but few are chosen and the harvest is plentiful even when calls are few. Yet I think the smart move for us is to stop warning young men about the downsides of seminary and ordination and to emphasize the role and work of the Spirit in this whole enterprise. I think it is the path of faith which takes those whom the Lord presents to us and finds place and location for them to exercise their calling, confirmed by the Church.
Someone has suggested that we are doing a disservice to the candidate by telling him (and his family) on call night that he is God's man for God's place -- and then leaving it up to the congregation to mold and shape him into the man they want him to be -- or else! If we are saying this to the man who receives his diploma of vocation and and call papers, then we better start telling the folks in the pews the same thing! Pastors are judged by many criteria and some of them even Biblical. But the whole thing of calling a pastor has devolved into a job interview. Strangely enough, the issues generally highest on these interview priorities have little to do with doctrine and faith and everything to do with administrative and personal style. Are we saying better a sane heretic than a crazy orthodox Lutheran? Is this what fit is about -- not the job description of the ordination rite or call documents but our own estimation of who will work out best for our own situation?
There is no sport more fun than criticizing someone and pastors find no shortage of critics. What pastors need, especially if we are to recruit young men for seminary and confer upon them the authority of the pastoral office, are people who believe that the Spirit is at work here and not on the periphery. These men are not crazy to seek this vocation, the church is not crazy to train them (and we ought to be paying the freight on their training as well), and the people in the pew are not crazy to believe that the man who wears the stole, absolves their sins, baptizes their children, catechizes young and old, buries the dead, and communes them upon the flesh and blood of Christ IS God's man for this place and this time. By faith this is not craziness at all but the sanity of God whose good will and sufficient grace will do far more than our enterprising minds and adoption of business models for something that is sacred and holy.