Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Concerns Do Not Change

There is much made of the different needs and requirements by Christians and from congregations in different regions of the country.  For a long time it has been the sacred truth of the churches that urban and rural ministry is distinct and different, for example. I am not suggesting that this is entirely false and that there are not some distinctives to various places.  I serve in an area in which Lutherans are a profound minority, often viewed with suspicion.  I grew up in Lutherland and I do understand that these things do impact the Pastor and the Church.  However, I would suggest that the things in common far outweigh the things that divide.

The fact is that the expectations of the people in the pews are not materially different wherever you go.  They look for faithful, Biblical, Law/Gospel, passionate and personal preaching.  They might like to listen to the latest and greatest orator every now and then but most want a Pastor who knows them and who speaks Jesus Christ to them -- in their need, in their sorrow, in their struggle, in their joy, and in their successes.  They want someone who can look them in the eye and apply God's Word to them and to their situation.

They want faithful, pastoral care from the font and the table.  They are not looking for the next American idol of the chancel but for wise, pious, reverential, and strong leadership within the liturgy -- a Pastor who is at home in the chancel as in the pulpit.  They want an anchor in the consistency of the liturgy amid the constant and driving changes of their lives.  They want someone who knows the hymnal and who can pull together the hymns with the propers so that Sunday morning is woven together into one fabric.  They are not looking for a party but for the presence of Christ where He has pledged Himself -- the Word and the Sacraments.

The people of God come with consciences burdened down with faults, failings, and failures and they want to know the gracious voice of absolution.  When their hearts are blind to the wrongs of their thoughts, words, and deeds, they want a Pastor who can speak to them as Nathan spoke to David -- not delighting in their fall but extending to them the arm of God to restore them through repentance and forgiveness.  The people of God come with constant death on the news and in their lives and they want to know that death is not the last word.  They are not asking for a pie in the sky hope when you die but the hope that we carry with us now -- in these mortal bodies -- even as we await the life which is to come.

The Church does not need a soul winner or a great administrator or even a great PR person in the Pastor.  The Church needs the Pastor who will teach the catechism to their children and to new people waiting at the door, who will stand with them in the hospital room and funeral home, who will counsel the bride and the groom in the promises they make, and who will listen to them pour out the burdens of their hearts even when there is no fix for their problems (the ministry presence).  It does not hurt if the Pastor can do other things but his primary role is not as therapist or CEO -- it is as Pastor, Priest, and Teacher.

The Pastor who loves his people will lead them even where they do not want to go but will earn their trust before asking them to follow to far afield of what or where they were before he came.  He will teach and gently lead, without threat or compulsion and without a hint that this is his personal preference, choice, or desire that is the goal.  This Pastor will be strong and loving with the people, knowing that the two words are not mutually exclusive but flow from the same pastoral heart and calling.

This is what my dad is looking for from his Pastor on the Nebraska prairie.  This is what the folks on Long Island sought from their suburban Pastor.  This is what the people of a Catskill Mountain community wanted from me in my first parish.  It is what the people of Tennessee expect from me now.  I am convinced that this is what the people expect from their Pastor no matter where they live or what the circumstances of their lives.


Rev. Allen Bergstrazer said...

One of the old German words we need to reclaim (as with Gottesdeinst) is Seelsorger.

Anonymous said...


John said...

It would be wonderful if, in fact Lutheran congregations were calling pastors as you portray in your post.

There would be no need for SET's, personal interviews and potential pastors preaching the best sermon they have ever preached at a potential congregation.

If things were as you post, all a congregation would have to do is to close their eyes, open the clergy roster to a page, run a finger down the page, stop and call the pastor on whose name the finger is pointed.

The congregation to which I belong is truly blessed with such a pastor as you describe. This congregation's leadership would never allow any other type of pastor to be eligible to be called to serve the flock as its shepherd.

What of the congregations that are not blessed with such leadership?