Thursday, April 28, 2022

I would not have thought it. . .

When you get to a certain age and maybe a little past that age, you start looking around you and wondering what will endure of those things which have occupied your time, energy, and concern.  For a pastor comes the glorious realization that the wrong guy to follow you could undo everything you have done.  For the life of me I cannot understand why a congregation would call a pastor who is against everything their previous pastor was for and is for everything their previous pastor was against.  I cannot tell you how many times a solid and thriving congregation was thrown into chaos, confusion, and decline by a pastor whom they called working against everything that had been built up prior to his coming.  You have a nice organ and a good organist and the new pastor comes along to suggest that pipe organs are not missional and you need a praise bad down front.  You have a good church choir that leads the singing of the glorious hymns of old and the new pastor comes along to suggest that these hymns do not speak to people anymore.  You have a reverence before the presence of the almighty God and the new pastor comes along in torn jeans and a tee and says God's wants you to be comfortable, happy, and casual.  I could go on but you get the drift.

The call process is one of the weakest links in our whole system.  On the one hand, it can leave the future of a congregation into the hands of a few cranks who have been a thorn in the previous pastor's side for years -- especially if they are loud and organized.  On the other hand, if a pastor works for a good transition, some (including Circuit Visitors and District Presidents) say he cannot let go and is interfering in the process.  In between you have an interim in which the devil is too often at work stirring up discontent that was not there and creating issues that no one had raised until there is an opening in the pastoral office.  I have witnessed several congregations go through deep periods of decline because they did not recognize and their advisors did not tell them that the guy they were calling was so far from the guy he is replacing that there would probably be trouble in River City.  No congregation should have to suffer the pain of having a new pastor tear down what the old pastor built or being told that they are in maintenance mode and the new pastor will help them into a mission mode.  But that is what often happens.

District Presidents owe it to the congregations under their care to advise them by providing good counsel and good candidates who will not agitate against their identity as a confessionally Lutheran church.  Circuit Visitors owe it to the parishes of their circuit not to be neutral or objective but to work for the good of the congregation by helping them vet the list.  Pastors owe it to their parishes to put into place good structures and processes for a transition that will not tear the people apart or create undue fear or angst over the adjustment to a new pastor.  Parish lay leaders need to work harder than ever during a vacancy and call process to make sure the whole congregation is appraised of things, participates in the decisions along the way, and knows what is happening and when. 

I would not have thought that a congregation would have to make sure that the prospective pastor is committed to the hymnal as a bare minimum of confessional Lutheran worship.  I would not have thought that a congregation would have to check out the motives of a pastor who comes in as one guy and soon casts off the mask and is somebody else.  I would not have thought that voices in the district would say that a parish needs a change when they have been solidly Lutheran in doctrine and practice for many years.  But that is the state we are in -- though, clearly, some areas are in worse shape than others.

Allow me caveat to the above.  There are occasions in which a congregation has had their fill of bad praise bands and generic evangelical church music and a mission which dwarfs the Divine Service.  They are to be commended for risking something to be faithful.  God bless them when they take the heat and make sure that the direction of the parish's future is toward our confession and not away from it.  And God bless those pastors who come into situations like this knowing that the road to faithfulness will not be easy and still they stick it out and lovingly and deliberately preach and teach a parish back into Lutheranism.  But for every parish that has been reclaimed from the swamp of evangelical seeker style worship and contemporary (what does that word even mean) Christian music, there are a dozen who turn off the organ, ditch the vestments, pack up the hymnals and catechism, and join the ranks of the big box evangelicals on Sunday morning (got your khakis and a polo Pastor Buddy?).

I cannot tell you how many folks come back to Grace for a visit and lament that there is nothing like us where they now live.  Why not?  Okay, we have a pipe organ, organist, and solidly Lutheran preaching and catechesis and practice.  But why is that so odd?  It should not be.  It should be the norm.  And maybe if it were, we would not be looking at the greener grass (sprayed a fake color) on the other side of the fence and start using the wonderful resources of our confession, hymnal, and piety to simply be the Church of Christ in this place.

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