Wednesday, September 2, 2015
A few thoughts on Pastoral formation. . .
The cost is great. There is no denying this. But is it too great? That is the $10M question. The Church is not merely judging who is called but equipping that person for the long haul (up to 40 years of active service). I fear that we may make short-term decisions that have long-term consequences. We are making an investment and if we expect to have an educated clergy in an age when pastors routinely must defend the faith and sort the path through an increasingly unfriendly society, now is not the time to skimp. I will say that the current model of financing seminary education (on the backs of the fundraisers at the sems and the students and their loans) is untenable. This has to change. I long for the day when the Church will be the primary investor in this education. I know it costs money but in my mind it is money well spent. Perhaps it is true that it costs us $250K to bring someone from first interest to ordination and installation. That is a great deal of money but I believe it is money well spent. Do we have the will to follow through on this?
Pastoral formation involves more than ascertaining the inward call of the person. It involves an ongoing judgment on the pastoral character and preparation of that individual. Such judgments are not made once when the man is accepted into the seminary but every year as both the knowledge and pastoral character grow and are discerned by those charged with making such determination. It appears to me that one of the key areas here is modeling for the seminarian as well as providing for him the richest and most faithful liturgical expression of the faith being taught in the classroom. Some see the role of the seminary as exposing the seminarian to all that he might find in the parishes to which he might be called. As great as this might sound on the surface, there is a higher goal here. That is to make sure that the pastoral candidates sent forth from the seminaries of our church have equipped the man to faithfully and effectively lead and model a liturgical piety that is authentic to and proceeds from our Confessions. This part happens less in the classroom than in the chapel. Pastoral formation includes learning to pray, how our spiritual lives flow from and back to the Eucharist as source and summit of our faith, and being immersed in the Word of the Lord personally as well as professionally.
Clearly, we have lost much of our confidence in pastors and in the seminaries ability to provide faithful pastors. Some districts presidents talk as if the seminary is an enemy of the pastoral vocation and even go so far as to insist that they must unlearn what the candidates learned in seminary. What this usually means is that they have bought into evangelical models of leadership in which the pastoral role and character is secondary to other aspects of leadership usually borrowed from non-Lutheran sources. I will say something shocking here. Pastors are not leaders and should not be in the sense that this term is being bantered about in evangelicalism, among the mega stars and gurus of church growth, and by those who think the primary job of the church is to keep up with the culture. Pastors are pastors -- shepherds -- who feed, defend, care for, and guide the flow of God through the means of grace. God places them among us not to vision cast, not to develop new paradigms of leadership or evangelism, and not to reinvent the church for each new generation. The world does not need a speedboat but an anchor and Christ is that anchor and the pastor testifies to Christ through his use of the means of grace through which Christ makes Himself know and does His work in us, among us, and through us. We evaluate pastors on the basis of their faithfulness in providing the means of grace to God's people and in preaching and teaching faithfully with respect to the Kingdom -- not by statistics or earthly measures of success.
Finally, we must admit that we no longer value the pastoral vocation as highly as we once did. Do we steer the best and brightest toward the pastoral calling? Do we encourage our young men to consider God's call and the pastoral vocation? Do we model how highly we value the office by the manner in which we treat the occupants of that office? Do we believe that the pastoral office is given by God or merely the functions? Do we see the ministry of the means of grace as key to the congregation and synod's life and health or do we value other things more highly? Do we try to please the customer or faithfully shepherd the flock of God through the faithful use of His means of grace? I will say again what I have said before. Where pastors will love and care for their people energetically and confidently through the Word and Sacraments and where people will listen to the voice of the Word and be drawn into a life of daily repentance and trust in Christ, God is happy, the Church will grow as God designs, the Spirit is at work, and good fruits will come. There is no perfect man for the perfect place but there are pastors who are sinners forgiven and restored sent to communities of sinners forgiven and restored by the same life-giving Word of the Gospel. When both meet at the foot of the cross, God will be glorified, the kingdom will come, and the Church will endure. When we regain our confidence in this, both pastors and parishes will find it easier to meet the challenges and changes presenting themselves to us.
I remain ever thankful to God for Pastor Daniel Ulrich who shares with me the responsibility for the flock in this place. I am grateful for the folks at Concordia Theological Seminary where he was trained and his pastoral character formed. I am confident that he will face with me great challenges and that the key for us to meet them will be faithfulness to creed and confession, to Word and Sacrament, to the love of God for us and our love in return.