Saturday, May 21, 2016

You would have to be crazy to. . .

I opened Facebook after a longtime of ignoring it and up popped a video of a young man on one of the wheeled so-called hover boards on the top of a skyscraper without railing or boundary to protect him from falling.  You would have to be crazy... I thought.  (Someone joking told me he was probably in as much danger of going up in flames as falling -- it seems those hover boards have a problem.)

In a discussion about vocations to the Office of the Ministry, one considering such vocation was told by friends, "You would have to be crazy to become a pastor!"  Well, no, not quite.  In fact, I am pretty certain that if you were crazy that would disqualify you from seminary and ordination.  Maybe I should walk that back a bit.  A little crazy and we might be able to work with you but mostly crazy and it is a sure thing we could not look the other way.

Hmmmmm.  Has it come down to this?  Are those who hear the call of the Spirit and who seek both the training from and confirmation of that call from the Church crazy?  But perhaps we are unwittingly suggesting that someone seeking seminary and ordination is a bit crazy.  We warn those so considering so solemnly about the many dangers, disappointments, struggles, sacrifices, challenges, and costs of being a pastor that it might seem crazy to ignore the dire warnings and go ahead.  We have painted such a dismal picture of the future of the Church and the particular future of a congregation and a career with an impossible work load and very modest compensation that it might appeal only to those crazy enough to go to seminary and seek ordination anyway.

I am told that this year some 30 parishes had requested candidates and did not get them.  I expect this to increase and more to be disappointed on call night.  I also know that both seminaries are struggling to find new students and expect this to be a continuing issue.  I also know that fully 40% of our actively serving parish pastors will retire in the next 10-15 years -- a fact much more hidden than the doom and gloom folks who say that more and more parishes are being priced out of the full-time pastoral market.  But seminary enrollment and vocations to the pastoral ministry are not the stuff of entrepreneurial opportunity or market driven need.  They are the domain of God and the Spirit.  I wonder if we have not forgotten this.

It is the Spirit who calls men into the pastoral office and it is the role and function of the Church to confirm this call and confer upon them the authority of the office in ordination and set them into a call to a specific place to exercise this ministry.  The Lord does not call men to be pastors because there are enough, too many, or too few calls.  Thankfully, the Spirit is somewhat oblivious of this marketing arena and its Confidence in statistics rather than the Word and will of God.  It is surely true that many are called but few are chosen and the harvest is plentiful even when calls are few.  Yet I think the smart move for us is to stop warning young men about the downsides of seminary and ordination and to emphasize the role and work of the Spirit in this whole enterprise.  I think it is the path of faith which takes those whom the Lord presents to us and finds place and location for them to exercise their calling, confirmed by the Church.

Someone has suggested that we are doing a disservice to the candidate by telling him (and his family) on call night that he is God's man for God's place -- and then leaving it up to the congregation to mold and shape him into the man they want him to be  -- or else!  If we are saying this to the man who receives his diploma of vocation and and call papers, then we better start telling the folks in the pews the same thing!  Pastors are judged by many criteria and some of them even Biblical.  But the whole thing of calling a pastor has devolved into a job interview.  Strangely enough, the issues generally highest on these interview priorities have little to do with doctrine and faith and everything to do with administrative and personal style.  Are we saying better a sane heretic than a crazy orthodox Lutheran?  Is this what fit is about -- not the job description of the ordination rite or call documents but our own estimation of who will work out best for our own situation?

There is no sport more fun than criticizing someone and pastors find no shortage of critics.  What pastors need, especially if we are to recruit young men for seminary and confer upon them the authority of the pastoral office, are people who believe that the Spirit is at work here and not on the periphery.  These men are not crazy to seek this vocation, the church is not crazy to train them (and we ought to be paying the freight on their training as well), and the people in the pew are not crazy to believe that the man who wears the stole, absolves their sins, baptizes their children, catechizes young and old, buries the dead, and communes them upon the flesh and blood of Christ IS God's man for this place and this time.  By faith this is not craziness at all but the sanity of God whose good will and sufficient grace will do far more than our enterprising minds and adoption of business models for something that is sacred and holy.


John Joseph Flanagan said...

In my own view, and others may disagree, I feel a young man who is ordained to the ministry in the LCMS should remember that if he is not called to a church, it is not a reason to be discouraged. Why? The reason is that God's plans are often not our plans. An ordained LCMS minister should then enter the workforce and seek full time employment, while working in ministry on weekends, evenings, in various local missions, soup kitchens, food banks, wherever the Lord leads. Oh, my! One might be educated and ordained and to have to humbly acknowledge that there is no church available, no congregation knows about you, cares about you, wants to hire you? Oh..such rejection. You do not deserve it...young pastor to be! Well...God's plan may be to humble you before He uses you. Maybe he wants you to spend some time learning important lessons about people, about lost souls, about the practical and realistic side of life. Perhaps, getting a big and cuddly congregation in the beginning of your ministry would not be the best thing for some ministers...because after all God knows an individual and He deals with you and me differently than with others. I should add there are many nursing homes, hospitals, missions, prisons, and rehabilitation centers where the unemployed LCMS minister can find satisfying work....while still being employed in the public workforce using the talents and skills God has blessed him with. And remember there are many places in the country where there are no LCMS churches. So move there....get a job in that city or town. Then meet people where you live, and dig the foundation for an LCMS church plant. Find willing helpers. Walk humbly before God, as His servant. That is the calling of every Christian, and especially every minister of the word.

John Joseph Flanagan said...

I suppose in my above comments I did not readily address the shortage of LCMS pastors in some areas, but in one LCMS a few years back, the church I attended let one young pastor go....reason...they couldn't afford it any longer. He returned to his parent's home in the MidWest and was hoping for a call, but after a year, I recall he was still not called. Also, some LCMS pastors, as well as in other denominations, have burned out early. Dealing with financial problems in their own families, unable to pay their own bills, serving congregations already having budgetary issues, add in church politics and gossip....these are very real issues. Your article pointed out the difficulties. That is why I have sometimes felt an LCMS pastor can still work to support His family while working in the church. Every situation is different.

Janis Williams said...

Isn't the dollar at the root of this problem? I confess I love it way too much to let it go except on myself! What huge sacrifices a man makes to become a pastor. Aside from the debt incurred, the children borne ( if married), the burden on the wife who usually works to get the family by, none but the little-crazy would do it. I could list several more pressures, but even the mental ones are partly fueled by monetary stress. Of course this doesn't include second career, older men, but they need to eat as well.

On the congregation's end, how many send (or refuse) young men because they, like me are unwilling to make a sacrifice minuscule in comparison to that of these trained men? Lutheran pastors are the best trained on earth; don't get me started on the person who walks into the pulpit in other denominations and starts spewing error or even heresy saying they're "called." Many (men and women) haven't even attended undergraduate school, much less seminary!. We as congregants are so subject to being petty. "I don't like the way he preaches." "His wife isn't involved in the LWML (enough)." "His kids (I hate that moniker for children) are wild." "We should never have called him - I told you we couldn't afford it!"

I could rant on, but won't.

I can only thank our Lord for our new pastor. He has been an answer to prayer to ease Fr.Peters' burden. It's real joy to see him take his place as a pastor of GraceLutheran Church. It is wonderful to see our pastors laugh and joke together, and see them make serious plans for the future of our congregation. The greatest joy is to hear Pr. Ulrich preach Law and Gospe to me/us, and see him preside over the Table of our Lord.

May our Lord Jesus Christ make us all such generous givers we have to search for right ways to direct the dollars!

Praise God for filling the needs of sheep and under-shepherd!

John Joseph Flanagan said...

Janis, you make good points. The congregations need to better support pastors and their families. And it is certainly true that a pastor beset by financial burdens upon himself and his wife and children cannot function effectively. Worrying about bills and expenses can drain one of enthusiasm very easily. That is why the pastor faced with financial woes because the congregation cannot or will not support him will have to find a day job and work in ministry part time. God also requires a man take care of his family, less they be neglected. If the Pastor has a wife and children, he must provide for them, even if this gives him less daytime hours in the church. Evenings and weekends are the most important times, and a church can operate fine. Many do.

Anonymous said...

A shortage of pastors? There are enough LCMS pastors on CRM to fill every vacant pulpit for the next 10 years. Besides, who would want to take the risk in being placed on CRM status as a consequence of the petty politics of a toxic congregation?

As an aside, if 40% of actively serving parish pastors in the LCMS will retire in the next 10-15 years, perhaps this is also a reason why seasoned pastors in most ELCA congregations are biding their time.......

The LCMS wants more people to enroll in the seminaries and yet it promotes SMP programs to encourage future pastors to bypass said seminaries.

Bi-vocational pastors are the future. I hope that the LCMS encourages this.

How can the LCMS expect future pastors to go more than 80k in student loan debt (combined undergrad and grad school debt), who then struggle to make student loan payments while trying to survive on a 30k annual salary?

Martin R. Noland said...

Dear Pastor Peters,

This is an excellent discussion of a very important issue. Without a called and ordained man at the helm of our congregations, they will drift, members will quietly leave, etc. It is not a happy prospect.

A number of years ago, in his first triennium, President Harrison noted that we will soon be running short of candidates. Nobody believed him because there were not enough calls for candidates at the time. But he was right. He has the statistics at hand to prove it. Although we thank God for their commitment and service, too many of our seminary graduates since the late 1970s have been older men whom the church will only get half, or even less of the number of years in service of a full-40-year-career man. That is a demographic statistic that is soon going to haunt us.

We used to have a "system" that raised up young men from their teenage years for churchly vocations. We still have high schools and colleges, but that system is long gone. In some issue of LOGIA in the early 1990s, I begged the church and CUS leaders to keep the training of church-workers as the top priority. Not only was I ignored, but when I was in an interview for a faculty position at a CUS school, I was told I was not welcome to serve there as long as I thought church-worker training should be a top priority. So I obviously didn't get that position (grin)!

When I think of the challenges of the ministry, I often think of Ambrose of Milan, who did not want to become a pastor because of the labors involved, the risks, and having to give up much of his patrimony. Or I think of Wilhelm Loehe, who spent almost his entire in one small parish out in the sticks. Church history, including our LC-MS history, is filled with such stories of "men of faith" who accomplished great things without planning to or intending to--that's a bit of an advertisement for CHI's Quarterly, and their other periodicals, lectures, and exhibits.

I conclude with a quote from you in this blog-post: "[We need] to emphasize the role and work of the Spirit in this whole enterprise. I think it is the path of faith which takes those whom the Lord presents to us and finds place and location for them to exercise their calling, confirmed by the Church."

Our district presidents and circuit counselors who deal with the call need to hear this and put this into their regular practice and ways of talking about the call. Then the congregations may once again realize what they are dealing with when they have a faithful pastor.

Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

Kirk Skeptic said...

@Janis & John: maybe having worker-priests will make those who treated full-time ministers like lackeys wish they had done otherwise; many need to learn this the hard way.

@Anonymous: great points. the entire church needs to face up to the CRM debacle and own its share in ruining the men they believed to have been called. I know some fine men who were broken by the petty and revanchist politics of modern-day Diotrophes and Alexander the Coppersmith types, and whise plights were all the worse for the others in the congregations who wouldn't take their pastors' backs.

Anonymous said...

Regarding those LCMS congregations in the inner cities......why not invite pastors from Africa to head those congregations. How about training Mexicans to head congregations in Hispanic areas of the country?

Lutheran Lurker said...

Quote: There are enough LCMS pastors on CRM to fill every vacant pulpit for the next 10 years.

That is not true. There are enough CRM pastors available at this moment to fill the number of current vacancies and no more. There would have to be more than 250-300 added to CRM roster each year to keep up with vacancies that cannot be filled with new candidates.