Thursday, September 14, 2023

The power of personality. . .

I will admit that growing up I did not even think that my pastor had a personality and, if he did, that he ever displayed any personal characteristics outside of the privacy of his home life.  He was always dressed for the part (I assumed he mowed the lawn and plunged the toilet in a suit!).  My brother and I presumed that there were invisible marks on the chancel floor because every pastor stood, turned, and motioned the same as every other.  Though there might be a glimpse of his personality in the sermon, most pastors of that era did not preach very differently in style or manner even if their words were distinct to them.  Perhaps the Concordia Pulpit helped in this direction as well as the desire to emulate the popular preachers of the day (Walter A Maier or Oswald Hoffmann in the case of Missouri).  We called pastors on the basis of a few sentences on a piece of paper and none of them had much to do with his personality and everything had to do with his faithful doctrine and practice.

We now live in a radically different world.  Personality has become everything.  Today, we experience the personality of the pastor as the predominant characteristic of him and his ministry.  For better or worse, it is precisely his personality that dominates worship, preaching, teaching, and his ministry in general.  Even if that is not the pastor's expectation, it is the presumption of the people.  All you need to do is go through a call process to figure out that folks tend to be more concerned with the candidate's personality than his orthodoxy.  In particular, this treatment of the Divine Service with all sorts of casual remarks inserted where the book has appointed words is the temple of personality.  We think of greetings like "Good Morning" as liturgical even more than the invocation or salutation.  In any case, by our casual treatment of things solemn or holy, we leave no other expectation than that personality fills in, directs, and softens what the words on the page direct.  We have decided we have a folksy God who is to be worshiped in a folksy way led by a pastor whose chief characteristic is his folksiness.

I am not sure we have even a passing idea of the office of the pastor anymore and presume that everything is inherent in and reflected in personality.  We have decided that the best way to know who we are is to constantly take our temperature of of how we feel about things and that we should do the same thing of the pastor.  Doctrine and faithful practice is good enough but it cannot make you feel the warm and fuzzies an entertaining pastor will. So in the past we called a pastor expecting that his primary gift to us was not in his personality but in the gifts of God and now we seem to have switched that around.  We want a pastor to be a person with a personality more than we want him to be a man of God bringing us the gifts of God.  Tell me I am wrong.  Please.

1 comment:

gamarquart said...

OK. As long as you asked, you are wrong. You are obviously right with regard to personality versus the preaching of the Word of God. However, in my experience, which includes membership in 7 churches, with 12 pastors, and not counting churches I have visited, I have found that those pastors who are most devoted to the pure Gospel, have personalities that are more joyful, more positive, more patient, more sacrificing, and more outgoing.
I cannot tell whether they were always this way, but this is my experience during the time I was a member of their churches. Alas, out of 12, only two were devoted to the Gospel, without limitations. One was Missouri Synod, the other ELCA. The power of the Gospel transcends denominational lines.
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart