Wednesday, May 30, 2012

What is a Pastor to do?

Over the years the issue of what a Pastor is to do has caused no small amount of discussion, debate, and disagreement.  There are those who talk about the role of Pastor as vision caster, the one who defines the future, who rallies the people to the cause, and sets in place the means to obtain that future.  There are those who speak of the Pastor as evangelistic model for the people in the pew -- one who spends a good deal of his time at Starbucks or the Mall or wherever unchurched people are.  There are those who see the Pastor as a CEO running the congregation as an efficient business to achieve the goals that congregation has set for itself.  There are those who see the Pastor primarily as preacher (and, by extension, teacher) whose job is to mediate the Word of God to the people in the pew.  There are those who see the Pastor more as priest who proffers the sacramental grace of the Church to the people as appropriate and needful.  There are those who see the Pastor as agent of change for moribund congregations spiraling to doom.  There are those who see the Pastor as anchor of eternity for a people and parish facing the constant changes and challenges of a world never the same.  There are those who see the Pastor as moral guardian both of the values of the Kingdom and ethics police to make sure that the people in the pew operate according to the right rules.  There are those who see the Pastor as counselor and guide to help the people achieve their own goals and dreams and desires (the life coach kind of Pastor who helps you focus on what you want and aids you in obtaining it). There are those who see the Pastor primarily as chaplain who comes in moments of need, crisis, or uncertainty to hold up the folks who face these events or issues in their lives.

I could go on.  There seems to be no shortage of ideas about what a Pastor should or should not be doing with his time on duty. Of course, there are those who would insist that the good Pastor will do all of these things (and be faithful husband, father, neighbor, civic minded citizen, hobbyist, and maintain good boundaries and personal time to balance all these competing and conflicting roles).  I wonder if we are not killing the Ministry and maiming the ministers by our confusion over what the Pastor is called to do and to be.  It certainly seems like we have fewer young men seeking ordination as their first career and more men of all ages either dropping out or drifting away into obscurity in the black hold of the CRM status.

Into this is the press to write up job descriptions (apart from the call documents), to set annual goals for the Pastor to concentrate upon to be more successful, and to do performance evaluations on Pastors as a report card on how well they have done what was asked of them.  I have found most lay folk uncertain about this side of things (rightly so) and uncertain about how to do what Districts and others are pressing upon them.  I have also found that the people who want to do this stuff are about the last people on earth I would want writing out my job description, setting my agenda, and grading my performance afterwards.

Pr. Heath Curtis has a few words on this subject (his latest can be read here).  I repeat what he has formulated from the call documents and vows of promise made by Pastors (ordination and installation). 

 These are the essential things that the Pastor is called to do and to be:
Lead a godly life
Diligently study the Scriptures and the Confessions
Be constant in prayer for those under your care
Preach and teach in accordance with the Confessions
Administer the Sacraments in accord with the Scriptures and the Confessions
Instruct young and old in the faith
Forgive the sins of the penitent and not divulge their sins
Minister to the sick and dying
Admonish and encourage the people to confidence in Christ and holy living...

I cannot improve upon his list.  What I can say is that our confusion of the role and calling of the Pastor is shaped in no small part by the fact that we do not value these things as highly as we once did or as we ought. More than this, we have lost confidence in these (the Word, our Confessions, the means of grace, etc.).  This, with our insistence upon treating the Church like a person on a diet and weighing in every day to see what we have gained or lost,  have left us at minimum confused and, worst, at odds with our very history, identity, and official definition.  Certainly this is what has contributed toward the plethora of local deacons doing all sorts of things not diaconal and of SMP programs designed to make you a Pastor with as little interference from the seminaries and the Church as possible.  But the bottom line for the folks in the pew and the Pastor in his study is that we are no longer sure what a Pastor is, much less united in what we think he should do.  We have spent too much time on the functions and not enough on the office (not the room in the church building).  We are to blame for this mess but part of the reason for it is that we have looked everywhere except at things Lutheran to figure out an answer to the question of what a Pastor is to do.  (And if we don't know who Pastors are or what they are to do, it is certainly expected that we are just as uncertain about how they are to dress... but that is for another post.)

“This is another fine mess that you've gotten us into Ollie”


Anonymous said...

Pr Curtis could have been writing about our pastor. We are truly blessed.

Mary Kruta

Anonymous said...

There's nothing like some good Laurel and Hardy to bring out a point. So, do Stan and Ollie stand for the district presidents? Great piece and great picture.

Anonymous said...

One way to discover your pastor's
real priorities: Does he have an
office or a study in the church
building? An office indicates that
he is the CEO directing a business
operation. A study indicates that he
is the shepherd of the parish who
diligently studies God's Word as he
prepares sermons and Bible studies.
An office is filled with office
machines and gadgets. A study has
shelves filled with good books.

Anonymous said...

a pastor's study is his office. His office is his study.

A pastor fills out a lot of office stuff. Rosters, bulletins...etc. It is an office.

He studies there too.

There are a lot of mighty fine pastors who have an office. Some have never heard that they had warped priorities because the word "office" was on the door the day they arrived.

Anonymous said...

This well-meaning but flawed piety concerning the difference between "office" and "Study" is presented by Pr. Curtis: