Saturday, May 7, 2011
Hitting A Nerve...
On one hand, calls are drying up and Pastors are not moving. This is not such a bad thing, I believe, if we are committed to longer term pastorates and both Pastor and parish are on board with this. The problem, however, is that this is being forced upon us by a myriad of circumstances and there are both congregations and Pastors looking for calls to ease some difficult situations and they are not coming. In one District, the Pastoral changes once made up a full side of a half sheet of paper in their newsletter and now it barely merits a couple of lines of print. This is not good. There needs to be some fluidity and this is a healthy thing for the Church.
On the other hand, congregations have very high expectations and believe that they can know a candidate well enough through interviews, SETs, etc., to predict how that Pastor will do in their parish. The attempt to nail down all unknowns is not healthy. The work of the Holy Spirit and the essential trust that once was a given, now seems almost on the fringes of the call process. In many places where I watched congregations interview and quiz and question and do background work on a potential Pastor, that Pastor inevitably ended up with difficulties simply because they worked like a corporation shopping for an executive instead of a church calling a Pastor. Interviews and questionnaires are not a replacement for our trust and confidence in the Lord of the Church and our charity and willingness to work on this relationship when calling a Pastor.
On the other hand, some Pastors have tended to see congregations as finished products and look for an end result instead of a long term place in which both can work and build together what God has called them to do and to be. I have spoken with Pastors who said that if things did not go "their way" in a few years, they were out of there. Whether on one side of the theological spectrum or the other, such is a very unhealthy way to begin a pastoral relationship with people. Even when great doctrinal issues are uncovered, the wise and faithful Pastor will teach people back to faithfulness with a patient and loving attitude. Sure it does not always work but it will leave both in a better place when conflicts do arise.
On the other hand, District Presidents don't seem to know their Pastors as well as they once did. I recall when the suggestion of a DP was well considered because the people knew that this man knew them as a congregation and the Pastors on that list. I have heard many DPs say they were surprised by the way this Pastor or that carried out their ministry -- there should be little surprise here. Pastors and congregations are the primary domain of the DPs and tons of problems can be avoided by knowing both well and speaking to both with honesty and love.
On the other hand, we have had rosy scenarios about the numbers of Pastors needed and brutal judgments about the health of so many of our smaller or weaker parishes and the two seemed to live in isolation from each other until we got a few years where not all candidates got calls. We once had a great number of first call parishes whose size and resources meant that they were doomed or blessed to be first call situations for candidates who would then accept calls to larger or more well fixed parishes a few years later. Many of these are no longer viable for the cost of salary and benefits for a full-time Pastor. In this respect, we have neglected them and their need and now find ourselves desperate to know how to revitalize these congregations (rural, urban, and suburban). Several in my own circuit have gone from being very strong congregations to congregations who have weathered serious decline. We also need to be honest with those entering the Seminary and we need to explore some more worker priest callings (but that will also mean we can no longer ignore or pass on to the Pastor the high cost of college and seminary education).
Finally, it seems that we are trying to do a lot of things at the same time and we are about as effective as a shot gun aiming at a bulls eye. We need to reign in the panic and work more carefully and more consistently in some of these areas. We went through delayed vicar, DELTO, SMP, and a host of other programs and ideas; we continue to reinvent the solution without perfecting a program when it comes to seminary education. We have TCN and a host of TCN style programs trying to revitalize smaller and declining congregations and yet the solution will not be simply a praise band and more parking. We need to look at the turnaround in longer perspective and make sure that these congregations are still Lutheran when we are done. I wish I had the answers but it does not take much to see that for a while now the LCMS has been in sort of panic mode and it is not serving us well. Many of our Pastors are demoralized, our seminaries spend too much time fund raising, our congregations are beaten up and weary, and we do not have an idea of which one or two solutions we will stick with long enough to make a difference.
Let me be up front here -- I am not pessimistic. In fact, I am rather hopeful. We have a great number of things going for us right now and acting like we are soon to be dead or panicking when trying to find solutions will not help. We need to be careful or we will end up being successful without being faithful and that will not serve the cause of the Gospel. It is not a sleeping giant we need to awaken but thousands of congregations and their Pastors in particular situations but with the same sufficient grace provided by the Word and Sacraments of our Lord so that we can and will be fruitful in the work that He has called us to do.