A couple of stints with the proverbial dysfunctional family systems you find all over the place and in the church as well and I found myself doing a fair bit of counseling. Though to be fair, I was never sure of my role or skill or whether this is what I ought to be doing. Then a wise older member came to me in private to talk. He said in the gentlest of terms that I was not called to be chaplain to families but as pastor and he reminded me that my primary roles were preaching and teaching the Word, catechizing young and old, baptizing, presiding at the Lord's Table, absolving the penitent and admonishing the impenitent. . . you know the stuff printed on most Lutheran call documents. I listened in awe both at his ability to describe, from the perspective of the pew, who the pastor is and what he is to do and how it cut against what I had been gradually easing into. I remain forever grateful to him for his kind, wise, and sage words. I have not forgotten them.
As modernity has pushed the church to the margins and fringes and Christians both lament their diminishing place and are frustrated by what is happening, the Church and her ministers have searched for ways to make a difference. In the press of it all, both pastors and the Christians themselves have forgotten what the church is for, what the teachings of Jesus Christ require, and, indeed who the Church is. So, on the one hand, both clergy and lay have been attracted to the appearance of meaningful and relevant place, purpose, and position -- from the gurus of self-help to people seeking everything from happiness to ease to the entertainment which distracts us from the things we cannot change. But the Church cannot be the Church nor can she recover her rightful place and purpose until her people abandon their complacency and their timidity and confront the world and the direction of culture. It is the requirement that the Church not become mere apologist (meaning "I am sorry") for God or for the appearance of irrelevance nor succumb to the temptation to find relevance in a therapeutic chaplaincy to the prevailing liberal order (justifying the progressive viewpoint on everything from sex to marriage to the environment to technology).
Listen to the prescient words of an Episcopalian sage speaking to a the role of Church in the world some 75 years ago:
When the Church at last comes out from the valley of a deserved humiliation, it will find that it is held in small esteem, that it is poor and despised; but such an approach to a worldly world is the only one by which to persuade that world that there are better things to live for than the current wisdom has revealed. Such humiliation, embraced and not resented, is required if one is to draw mankind to God. That is the meaning of the crucifix, whereon hangs One whom Christians are at least supposed to worship. He died for truth, for God, to rise again in power. In the end men listen to Him, understand, worship Him; but to bring that about in the world of tomorrow Christians, like Christ, must again be willing to lay down their lives in defiance of the mores of the world. The future of the Church, under God, lies in no other hands than its own.
In every generation the saints, believing the demand to be from God, have devoted their lives to renouncing and denouncing, as basic poisons, those things upon which mankind today would feed. The Church, these later years, has forgotten how to renounce and denounce them. Instead it has sought to soothe a sick mankind with ointment of sentimental piety plus injections of a superficially optimistic geniality.The prophetic role has not gone away but it has chosen to speak the word that mirrors its surroundings and offers, at best, feelings, instead of the Word of God that speaks forgiveness to the sinner, new hearts to evil, and life to the dead. There is little prophetic value in listening to the complaints of a people whose biggest gripe is that they are not happy -- unless it is to convict them with the Word of God and offer an answer to the guilty conscience and the constant pursuit of feelings over truth. I am not despairing of real therapy but only of those who presume that this is the real domain of the Church and the pursuit of her ministers. We are preachers and teachers, priests and intercessors, confessors and catechetical instructors and, when the Church realizes this, the Church no longer can be cowered into the fringes or edges of the world but can speak with confidence the only Word that does what it promises.