Friday, October 6, 2017

Why lay pastors. . .

I wrote before of our lack of attention to the great responsibility given to those who plan and lead the Divine Service and today I turn our attention to preaching.  Just as our lack of attention to worship in our youth and adult catechesis and to the training of pastors has consequences, so has our approach to the sermon affected the life of the church deeply.

At some point along the way, we forgot what a sermon was.  We began to treat the sermon as an extended Bible study on one hand or an inspirational or motivational speech on the other hand.  In other words, the sermon became either an educational endeavor or it became an entertaining but informative way of using your faith to get what you want.  We somehow forgot that the Word is efficacious -- even in the pulpit.  It is a living and powerful Word through which God addresses us, calls us to faith, equips us with the Spirit, and directs us to Christ in whom we alone can begin to fulfill our baptismal vocation as a child of God and our vocations in life as husbands, wives, children, workers, employers, neighbors, and citizens.  The sermon was detached from the Word and was at best the Word once removed.  Our attention, therefore, was not automatic but had to be earned by the preacher and our judgement of the sermon was not based on its truth and faithfulness to the Word of God but its usefulness in our daily life as we struggle to get what we want and its entertainment value.  A good preacher was no longer one who faithfully proclaimed the Word of God but one who engaged our minds and could bring a smile to our lips.

As this understanding of the preached Word and the sermon changed, so did our ideas about who could or should preach.  Preaching was not the task assigned to the one upon whom the office was conferred (the predigamt) but could be done by anyone who had the gift of informing us or making us laugh.  The value once attached to a well-prepared sermon was deferred to the spontaneous, unscripted, and light-hearted religious monologue that made us feel better about ourselves, our lives, and our own predetermined ideas about God.  The natural outgrowth of this was to open the pulpit to those who had not been so trained or certified by the Church for this purpose.  Deacons, lay people, and others (not of our Confession) could preach and probably better than our own preachers who had been formally trained for the kind of preaching we no longer valued highly.  They could preach because it wasn't rocket science, it was a knack more than something for which you were trained, and it was not so important that the pulpit had to be restricted to any individual or group.

We forgot that the sermon is part of the Ministry of the Word.  We forgot that the sermon is one of the domains through which the sacramental Word encounters us.  We forgot that the sermon was more about God addressing us than any individual talking to us.  We forgot that this is one of the most important responsibilities of the pastor.  We forgot that God's judgment of what constitutes a good sermon is more important than ours.  We devalued the pulpit and what went on there to the point where we no longer found a disconnect between our theology and its practice when someone other than a pastor "preached" to us.  We forgot that it was incumbent upon us to know the faith well enough to recognize the voice of the Good Shepherd or to judge it the deceptive voice of the one who seeks our destruction and not our salvation.  At the same time we forgot that this life was not more important or valuable than the life for which Christ died and rose so that we might live it without fear of death.  We forgot that our goal is the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come and became near so sighted as to see only the moment.

If we wonder why preaching suffers in our age and time, it is not merely do to the fault or failing of the preachers but to our understanding of the sermon and to our expectations of that sermon.  If we wonder how it could be that a church body that once proclaimed without doubt that no one should publicly preach or administer the sacraments without being rightly called could suddenly give resolution and by-law authority to lay preachers, we need look no further than our confusion over what the sermon is and what the sermon is to be about.  It is not because we think too highly of the sermon but because we have judged it common, ordinary, and something anyone and everyone can and should do that we are in the mess we are find ourselves.  There is plenty of blame.  There is only one path worthy of us.  That is repentance for our past and the restoration of our once vibrant and noble task of preaching and the preacher upon whom the authority of the pulpit is conferred.


David Gray said...

Every time preaching gets confused with teaching then preaching suffers.

Joseph Bragg said...

Lay preachers...the result of the loss of the office of the priesthood, apostolic ordination and a distortion of the priesthood of all believers.

Anonymous said...

Too many pastors try to wing it in the pulpit and have not prepared
a sermon which allows God's Word to have its affect on the hearer.
A Christ-centered sermon with law and gospel will comfort the afflicted
and afflict the comfortable.

I am always suspicious of the preacher who has no manuscript in the
pulpit. For some pastors the work of preparing a meaningful sermon
each week is a low priority. A preacher should be ashamed to stand
in the pulpit and simply ramble on and on.

Anonymous said...

Lutheran Pastors still use pulpits?
Not the last 10 LCMS churches I've been to. If you look back, you'll see his notes (only) projected on the back wall.

Padre Dave Poedel said...

I will dissent only in that I have been preparing Deacons for many years and teach them well. Their sermons and the effort of collaboration with their Pastor and are only done for specific giving the Pastor a vacation. My Deacons were not the ones who served as pastors of parishes, though I have heard some very Lutheran sermons from some of fact I was one for 10 years before the Bylaw that allowed my Colloquy....They are a separate category of prepared Servants of Word and Service.

Jason said...

Pr. Poedel

No, Deacons are not separate category for Word and Service. That is your ELCA speak coming through. Especially after the Task Force and last convention. Deacons are to be removed from pastoral duties. Those who may qualify under our bastardized situation will be allowed to convert to SMP, and therefore become pastors to fulfill pastoral duties, function and roles. The only way deacons will become Servants of the Word is if the LCMS adopts a threefold office. However, that kinda won't happen due to the Treatise (one fold office: you at in it or you are not) and the we have DP's-bishops, pastor-priests and SMP-deacons.

Hopefully soon our Wichita mess will be cleaned up, and IF we need deacons, we will approach it from a Biblical perspective. Not a sociological touchy-feely one.