Thursday, October 13, 2011

Secretary of Synod, the Rev. Ray Hartwig recounted the most important lesson he learned during his vicarage year, learned from an elderly pastor in the circuit -- a single German proverb: Mann musz nicht nach jeder Fliege schlagen. “One should not swat at every fly.”  Though his was a lesson in German, it might just as well have been any language expressing the idea that you need to choose your battles carefully.  You cannot fight them all at the same time.  If you learn this wisdom early on in the ministry or in parenthood, you have learned much.

Not everything you inherit as a Pastor is bad or must be changed simply because you did not say it, start it, like it, or would have done it that way.  You must choose carefully what needs attention now and what can wait, what is important enough to warrant your full attention and what is not that important.  I expect that this is part of the learning curve of every profession.  The best Presidents are those who learn this lesson early on in Washington.  The best Pastors are those who learn this early on in their ministry.

Often it may seem as if those of us in the blogosphere have not learned this lesson.  We seem to shoot more like pellets scattered from a shotgun than the carefully aimed barb that is directed to a single issue or need.  Often it seems that conservatives in all arenas get blamed because they complain about everything, their answer to everything is "no," and they are just plain grumpy.  Maybe they are.  Maybe I am (sometimes, at least).

In the end I am not asking for every Pastor to do what I do, just like I do it.  In fact, that is one of the big issues about a long term pastorate.  Folks get so used to the way I do things that they forget that other Pastors can be just as good as me (what am I saying?) or even better (oops, did I say that?) and do things differently.  As I get very near the 20 year mark in this place, that becomes a legitimate concern for me.  It has made me think that perhaps one of the great values of an Assistant Pastor is to introduce some of this difference, give the folks an opportunity to become accustomed to it, and to see, then, what are the essential things in which there needs to be uniformity and what are the things where there can be difference.

Perhaps this is exactly what our troubles in Synod are all about.  We have forgotten how to be different and still be the same in the areas where we must stand together.  Truth to be told, some of the complainers have not learned this lesson and want everything to be the way they think or do things (or, perhaps the way it was done in some golden age of Lutheranism or Synodical history).  They have not learned Mann musz nicht nach jeder Fliege schlagen

Others have not learned that some flies must be swatted.  They think there can be complete flexibility except in the most narrow of things doctrinal or practical.  For them Lutheranism is not so much an identity as it is a principle or an attitude.  To be Lutheran is to be Gospel oriented, and, well, that is about it.  They are too willing to embrace things from other traditions and too willing to abandon things from their own tradition.

So there we have it.... it is a matter of deciding whether to swat or let live...  The real problem here is that all of this cannot simply be up to individual discretion.  The downside to my little analogy is that we as a Synod of cranky, independent minded, and rebellious Pastors and congregations need to decide collectively on this -- what must be swatted down and what should be allowed to fly.  And that is why life together is so messy.  


Terry Maher said...

We have the technology. Fly spray.

Anonymous said...

To use a wrestling metaphor..."You
can not go to the MAT on every issue"

The personality and maturity of the
pastor makes a big difference as to
how he picks his battles. He should
not get involved in matters where the
laity have more expertise, such as
the design of the parking lot or taking bids for new windows in the
fellowship hall.

However, it is the theological
issues, where the pastors needs to
show leadership, such as the
caliber of youth confirmation
instruction and adult Bible classes
and the need for the Eucharist every Sunday,guidelines for those
who would be elders.

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