Thursday, March 2, 2023

Indispensable. . .

The time is coming ever closer when I will surrender my stewardship as senior pastor of this congregation to another.  The full retirement will be postponed for a time as I support my successor until another associate may be called but it is the day is nearer rather than farther away.  Some have probably wished for this moment and some dreaded the day.  I was never sure which side I was on but I am learning to make my peace with it.  As someone once said, the cemeteries are full of people who thought they were indispensable.  I do not believe that I am essential nor do I believe I am indispensable.  But before the day comes when all is passed onto my successor, I do have one duty.  I must prepare God's people for my retirement and prepare them to receive the pastor who follows me.  This is an essential duty and one indispensable but one to seldom taken seriously.

It is strange how we expect God's people to adjust and accept another pastor as if this were something automatic and perfunctory.  I have never understood the idea of a pastor simply packing up and leaving and the people left holding the bag, trying to figure out what comes next.  Pastors are not simply employees or nameless, faceless people to their congregations.  We expect our congregations to highly esteem the office and to give to the one who bears that office not simply the respect but the affection for his divinely appointed role and identity.  We encourage longevity because we believe that it is good for both the pastor and his family and the congregation not to have a revolving door to the parsonage and study.  So when that day comes and the Lord moves the pastor to another part of His kingdom or his tenure leads to retirement, the people who have come to honor and esteem their pastor lose a dear and trusted counselor, leader, and, most importantly, shepherd.

Not a few congregations have suffered from a bad transition, when all was left to chance and the presumption of what cannot be presumed.  If a pastor has invested himself in the people given into his care, he should at least allow that affection and fealty to help them in the transition to another shepherd.  Perhaps the most important aspect of this aspect of his stewardship of the office is to guide them to know who they are as a congregation, what is their confession, and what things should not change and what need and desire improvement.  For the liturgical congregation, this is an especially important task.  We live in a time when it is not presumed that pastors share the same understanding of worship.  Indeed, I have witnessed the many times when a liturgical congregation, which has been taught to admire and esteem the liturgy and the means of grace as do our Confessions, calls a pastor who views worship as a program to fill the pews or reflect the preferences of the moment.   This is not simply about pastoral style, an undefinable term we use all the time, but about confessional and liturgical integrity.

So if I have any integrity, it will be shown by my willingness to help them know themselves and thus be prepared to call and accept the one who will begin his stewardship of the office when mine ends.  To that end, we spent the first six months of the call process doing just that -- trying to figure out who we are as a congregation and what we confess and how we live out this confession.  Although I supported this effort, the call committee did a fine job of working this through and came up with a document that is clear, honest, and informative.  It not only tells them what they need to know in order to call a pastor but what that pastor needs to know as he considers that call.  And that illustrates the value of this process.  For as much as this helps and aids the parish to reflect upon my long tenure here, it helps the one who will follow me to know what he needs to know in order to give this call the faithful consideration he should and it will give him the information he needs to consider where he turns his attention when he begins.

Honestly, most of the stuff provided by the district is not helpful.  It asks for statistics and descriptions of things that inform but do not aid in understanding.  Furthermore, the information on the SET and PIF provided by the District is equally unhelpful.  It gives answers to questions no one is asking and does not help us to know the man, only a few of his answers to questions others decided were important or relevant.  Apparently our church body believes that this is what parishes need to guide them in the call process.  But how does a congregation review questions and answers on papers it is not even given to own when even those questions and answers have little to do with the situation at hand or the concerns of the congregation?  A good Circuit Visitor will help but even then it is much to ask from someone who has his own parish to consider and doubtless other vacancies and congregations.  No, what is needed is not more questions or answers but prayerful conversation by those who know the men and know the congregations.  Absent that, it is left to the pastor as his final duty to help the congregation through this -- not to pick and choose his successor but to help the process with the pastoral wisdom and prayerful consideration that ensures a fruitful transition.  And that is my goal now.

1 comment:

Janis Williams said...

Well said. Well thought. Well, I hope. I hope our congregation is paying attention to what we have (or should have) learned. I pray all will truly make this a matter of prayer, and not try to ‘pick’ someone we think fits our desires or preferences (and complain when the ‘guy’ we thought best is out). Though I have only been Lutheran a little over a dozen years, I am Christian many, many years. I have seen many changes of ‘guard’ in my lifetime, and witnessed the disaster that can happen when the people make it about their preferences. It has been my experience that many times the pastor no one wanted (but somehow ended up in the office) was the one needed. In spite of people’s desire otherwise, the man of God’s choosing became the pastor, and all was well. Whether a congregation can choose someone against God’s will is the question. Whether God can chasten a wayward congregation by giving them what they think they want seems to remind me of some Biblical examples…

We are nearing the day when we will know. Let us pray fervently as we receive God’s man, and then stand behind and with the one God chooses.