Tuesday, September 6, 2022

The corporate ladder. . .

Back in the log cabin seminary days when I went out, the presumption was that you began in a small parish somewhere off the beaten path and, if you were good and had the numbers to prove it, you would advance into a larger parish, making the move until you reached the pinnacle of success.  There were pastors who move every couple of years or so and it was the odd man out who remained a long time in his first call.  In fact, there were those voices in the church who suggested that it was not good for the parish or the pastor to have him remain a very long time in the same parish.  I spent almost 13 years in my first call and am now in my 30th in my second call.  In one sense, I have broken the rules.

Longevity was the presumption of the early church.  It was unthinkable that a bishop would move from place to place and some might even have called such moves a kind of adultery and ambition that was alien to the ethos of the ministry.  It could and should be said that the same thing was thought of the priest.  At least that is how it once was.  Of course, the culture was different and mobility was an unknown thing then.  People stayed where they were -- except for the missionary who moved around not as preference but as part of his calling.  Now it seems more likely that pastors and bishops mirror the worldly view of success, advancement, and achievement.

Rome moves bishops around like figures on a chess board -- for strategic purpose more than pastoral.  Bishops move priests around in the same way and also to discipline and keep them in line.  We all know this.  It is foolish to deny.  But in Lutheran circles the bishop has no inherent power to move pastors where they could be or maybe even should be.  Instead we have an often misunderstood system of calls, facilitated by the information and advice provided by the DP (bishop in any other vocabulary).  Yet this has not and does not seem able to prevent us from looking at the whole thing like a business hiring talent and an ambitious executive seeking advancement.  That, in my view, is a real problem all the way around.

What too often pastors are evaluated upon and parishes and jurisdictions seek is administrative skill -- even more than pastoral.  Good pastoral care is key to longevity in the parish but good administrative skills will turn the pastor into a prize commodity and often a bidding war erupts for somebody who is good at running things.  Given the way the lay often willingly surrender with relief the duties that should be rightfully theirs, a pastor who can manage the affairs of a congregation is certain to find himself in a big church or in a district or synod office.  I suppose there is no way around it all but I fear the growing shortage of pastors and the growing numbers of parishes in search of a quick miracle for success will make it even easier for administration to trump the pastoral care department and turn the seelsorger into a CEO.

In Rome bishops are able to close, merge, and define parishes seemingly at will.  Sure, there are ways to protest but who in Rome wants to intervene in the often difficult task of spreading fewer clergy around declining parishes?  In Lutherville, DPs (bishops in any other vocabulary) often want the power to shut down, merge, and define the boundaries of parishes in their care just like Rome.  They cannot according to our polity.  But they can work to place pastors on call lists where they are needed most.  All of this might seem prudent and even efficient use of the resources God has supplied but in the end I fear it is merely symptomatic of our penchant to run the churches like businesses instead of as the House of God in that place.  The more the struggles are before us, the less likely we are to trust the efficacious means of grace and emphasize pastoral care (especially catechesis).  That does not bode well for our long-term future even though it might seem wise for the moment.

1 comment:

Carl Vehse said...

"DP (bishop in any other vocabulary)"

But not in the Missouri Synod vocabulary... unless, in addition to his temporary election to a corporate office as the DP executive, he has a Divine Call as a pastor of a congregation, even if it is as an uncompensated, occasional-preaching, limited-duty, no-administrative-responsibilities assistant pastor.

And this is true no matter how fancy a crozier the DP carries or how colorful a miter or other regalia he wears or how large a pectoral cross he has.