Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Trained for a world that does not exist anymore. . .

Most pastors come to realize sooner or later that they were trained for a world that almost no longer exists. Great wisdom, right?  Well, duh.  What else is new?  The world is ever changing and if we are bent upon preparing pastors for a snapshot of the world in this moment, it is guaranteed that that they will be sent forth 8 or 4 years later into a different world.  Think of the difference between pre 9-11 and post 9-11.  Think of how polarized our communities and our politics are post-Obama and mid-Trump.  How do you prepare for such life changing events?  I only wish I knew. And if we expect our seminary faculties to prepare us for the world that might be or even the world as we know it in this moment, we have laid upon them an impossible burden.  We might as well quit and send the men home to fend for themselves.

But. . . if we are training pastors for the Gospel, raising up men who know the Word and how to preach and teach it, equipping seelsorgers who can care for the people of God in every circumstance with the means of grace, making father confessors who can address sinners with both the call to repentance and the voice of absolution, and making modern day prophets speak the Word of the Lord that endures forever, well, then, it does not matter how the world changes, they will be ready and able to do God's bidding on behalf of God's people. 

I am old and cranky.  I have a globe in which the bulk of the world across the Pacific was marked with red and the name USSR.  I remember before I opened my email in the morning to find hundreds of things from parishioners, District and Synod, sales people, and junk.  I recall the day when an answering machine was new technology and nobody had a cell phone glued to their ear.  I long for the days when we looked into the faces and eyes of people instead of into screens.  I can still see the weekday morning Bible classes filled with young women who did not work outside the home.  I can even recall the day when a pastor fresh out of seminary lived in a parsonage and had a salary and benefits under $12K a year. 

Those days are gone.  Our lives are defined more and more by technology.  Nations have come and gone.  Rogue terrorists rise and fall right under our noses and not just in the Middle East.  Nearly everything we own is now made in a country once our mortal enemy.  Great orators speak 30 second speeches.  News tweets and comments and facts are indistinguishable.  Children get the choose their gender.  Modern day education disdains nearly everything I was taught.  But guess what?  Sin remains as the great stain upon our humanity and death still casts is long, dark shadow over us and all creation.  The smokescreen of change often seems to mask the things that do not change, the things for which Christ became incarnate, lived obediently, died sacrificially, and rose victoriously.

If we are intent upon training pastors to fit the moment, the snapshot in time that we know now or think we can predict 4 or 8 years hence, we delude ourselves.  The men who go to the seminary are not immune from the problems around them or naive about the nature of and pace of social, cultural, and political change.  We do not need to teach them what is happening in the world.  We must equip them with the tools of God's Word, with a knowledge of Christian history, with skills to preach and teach, and with confidence in the means of grace to address God's people in the midst of such problems and changes AND to address the people in the world who do not yet know the changeless Christ.

I have no hope and confidence in our ability to produce men who are intuitive about and equipped to navigate the manifold changes of this world and, indeed, this mortal life.  I have great confidence in our ability to produce men who know the Word of God, who believe it, who can preach and teach it, and who can care for the people of God through the means of grace.  I have great confidence that if we do this, we HAVE equipped our pastors with all they need to be faithful and effective for the sake of the Kingdom no matter how much the world changes over the 40-50 years of their life from college through retirement.  If we are faithful, God will do what He has promised.  If we abandon the things over which God has placed us to pursue another venue of leadership in our world, we will present to Him more an impediment for rather than an instrument of His purpose and gracious will.


Anonymous said...

Our LCMS Seminaries need to produce pastors who are able to teach
and preach the Word of God. Their job description would be that of
a "Resident Theologian" in the parish. Applying God's Word to people
who are hurting and need help will never change in any century.
Sharing a changeless Christ in a changing world is the challenge
of the pastor whether it is the 21st century or the 1st century.

William Weedon said...

The key, I believe, is to train our pastors to live toward the future that will be: the certain hope of love’s triumph in the Parousia. In the area of liturgy, we get engaged in wars between a past-focus and a present-focus and neither one is where we need to be focused. The liturgy is first and foremost the gift of the future into the here and now, the future made accessible and able to live from. Our pastors will be able to handle whatever is thrown at them when their sufficiency isn’t in themselves, but in Him who meets them and their people in the means of grace as the Coming One.