Saturday, November 6, 2010

Personality and Office

While teaching catechism on the Pastoral Office, a discussion ensued over personality and office (though the catechumens did not frame it in those terms).  In the end we got a handle on it by identifying the way vestments diminish the personality of the Pastor in order to draw attention to the Office.  It was a pretty interesting class.  It set my mind a thinking...

Now I do have a personality.  My family would agree with this statement although they would not necessarily view it as positively as I might.  But the truth is that during most of Sunday morning I purposefully try to hide that personality so that the Office is center stage.  Sometimes I am more successful than others.

We had a neighbor with whom we were close --a large family, the husband in the Army.  We became good friends.  They knew I was a Pastor but they were not Lutheran and had never seen me function in the pastoral role.  Finally one Sunday they showed up for worship -- completely surprising me and my family.  After the service, she said she had never seen me so, ah, reserved.  "What happened to you?" she wanted to know.  Some conversations later, there was some understanding but the mom still was not sure why I could not be the joking guy I was at home in the pulpit or at the altar.  Fast forward.  Surprise, surprise, surprise.  After they had moved away, they returned for a visit and informed us that they had become Lutheran.  Now it was not just the difference between personality and Office -- I am sure the Gospel and the Spirit had something to do with it ;-).  But it was a factor in distinguishing the Ministry from the man -- something in their church history which had always been intertwined so that it was difficult to know where one began and the other ended.

It occurs to me that we Lutherans are moving more and more into the direction of confusing the personality of the person of the Pastor with the Office of Pastor.  In the push toward non-liturgical services in which the Pastor is not vested, we tend to emphasize the personality of the individual both for the form and content of what takes place on Sunday morning.  The shift may be subtle but it is profound as the Pastor moves from the presider to the MC, the parts of the liturgy to monologue, and the sermon from explication and application of the Gospel (drawn from the pericopes) to story teller, motivator, and entertainer.

Recently we saw the Crystal Cathedral enter bankruptcy in part over the problem of shifting from the person of its aging founder to a new generation.  It is not alone in this trouble.  Billy Graham's work has found its own struggle in passing the baton.  D. James Kennedy's Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church is still in some turmoil over such a transition (even though it is not a non-denominational setting more prone to these troubles).  The point is that when the personality of the Pastor becomes center stage in the life of the congregation and on Sunday morning, problems will inevitably ensue.

Do not mistake what I am saying.  I do not believe it is possible for a Pastor to mask all his personality nor should he.  What I am pointing to are the ways in which that personality becomes the central focus and therefore the people are left with an understanding of the Office that is intertwined with that personality so that there is no distinction.  This often happens with mission congregations.  This can happen when Pastors serve their whole ministries in one place.  But it does not have to be and it should not be.

It seems to me that on Sunday morning the personality of the Pastor needs to be less front and center and the focus more upon the Office of Pastor as bringing of the Word and Sacraments to the people of God through the vehicle of the Divine Service.  Even in the pulpit, personality is evidence but not predominant.  The Word of the Lord is center stage.  It is for this reason that we often say, "Do the red, say the Black" or "Stick to the Script."  Sunday morning is not an improv theater and the pulpit is not the place where Larry Peters is to shine.  We have a script in the Divine Service and we have the Gospel as the Word to be proclaimed -- when we get this right, our personality fades and the work of Jesus Christ and Him crucified has its proper and central focus in the lives of the people and in the life of the parish as a whole.

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