Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Blessing of Longevity. . .

No, I do not mean merely living a long life.  I am talking here about pastoral tenure.  A long pastoral tenure is a good thing.  It is a good thing to stay in one place a long time.  Shepherding the people of God is a task whose purpose benefits from long tenured shepherds and whose sheep benefit from that long tenure.

Living in an age when we Lutherans have been slowly accumulating practices and adopting values from Evangelicalism, the process of becoming Lutheran again does not happen quickly and it benefits from the long tenure of a patient, loving, and unabashedly Lutheran pastor/shepherd.  It does not help that our people too often identify Lutheran doctrine and practices as merely the quirks of individual pastoral personality.  Short pastorates not only reinforce this mistaken idea but they also make it harder and harder to re-establish the strong, positive, and vibrant Lutheran reality of confessional teaching (doctrine) and practice (liturgy).  No one benefits when the use of the hymnal or not, the practice of careful distribution of the Sacrament (close(d) communion) and the faithful teaching of Scripture and catechism is seen simply as "this is how Pastor So and So did it..." 

It is also true that sustained witness and teaching happen over the space of a generation or so.  In other words, we may influence the adults but we will have the greater impact upon the children as we rediscover what it means to be Lutheran in theology and practice.  The blessing of longevity is to establish not only solid teaching but to sustain that teaching from one generation to another. 

No one would deny that our congregations and clergy seem to be facing more conflicts and bitter disputes today than in previous eras.  Ask any District President and he will define his episcopal ministry largely in terms of firefighting -- of going into conflicted parishes and trying to dampen the flames and end the destruction.  Longer pastorates tend to reduce the kind of conflict that sometimes sends parishes through a string of several pastors on their way to a period of somewhat peaceful harmony and concord.

Why even the Pope is recognizing this.  So far in his 31 months as pope, Francis appointed 456 bishops -- sounds like a lot until you realize that is but 9 percent of the total number of bishops, and about 13 percent of the active (non-retired) bishops in the Roman Catholic Church. In other words, it would take him 8 more years to have named half the active bishops and make for more than a slight change in the culture and character of the Roman See.  In contrast, Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict by their combined long tenure have made a mark on the Roman Catholic Church that will not be quickly or easily changed.  Perhaps the recent Synod and its largely unproductive outcome is testament to this fact.

So I would encourage pastors to think in long term perspective.  When I entered my first parish, the average tenure of first pastors in their first calls was 22 months.  At first glance, I hoped that I would reduce that average.  But the Lord had other plans and I stayed almost 13 years, the second longest tenure of my class (as far as I know).  And it was good -- good for the parish and good for me.  The period of conflict that preceded my arrival there was transformed into harmony and concord that continues.  The same is true of my present parish.  I have been here almost 23 years and had no idea I would be here this long.  But it has been good for them and good for me and the result has been a fruitful time of growth and accomplishment and, most of all, unity!

1 comment:

Pastor J. Sollberger said...

Thank you, Pastor Peters. The points you make here are not asserted often or widely enough (in some circles, perhaps not at all). Confessional Lutheran doctrine and practice - Catechesis and Liturgy - are indeed not personality quirks, but a blessed legacy of faithfulness in Christ, which long pastoral tenure guards and keeps.