Monday, July 2, 2007

What about the Middle-of-the-Road Pastor?

The point of this blog is to, as Erich put it below, is to "search out how we should honor the office of Holy Ministry and the individuals who hold it." The assumption seems to be that one's pastor is strongly confessional so that the angle is how a layman should support his pastor in his difficulties and pressures coming from his own congregation, maybe his circuit, as well as the ways of the world.

But what if one has a pastor who is ‘middle of the road’? He doesn’t do anything crazy, like dress up in a wookie costume; he doesn’t have a praise band; he does the liturgy and preaches from the lectionary.

But maybe he does little things that would make a confessional Lutheran wince:
He doesn't do the liturgy straight from the hymnal, but tinkers with it a little and prints the entire service out in the bulletin. He does a 'lambs message' during the service. He doesn't offer a set time for private confession and absolution although he would give it to you if asked. Maybe you've heard him say, "I'm not a theologian," by which he probably means "I'm not an academic." Maybe his sermons don't measure up to the good examples reviewed on Issues, Etc., but you do hear the gospel. Maybe there are countless other things that might give a confessional blogger cause for concern, but again, as Erich says below, "There are very few biblical reasons to remove a pastor from office... Unless a pastor is guilty of one of these offenses, it is not Christian to oppose him. And not only are we not to oppose him, we are to honor him!"

Well, shouldn't this guy be honored too then? I suppose a response would be, 'Just leave. Find another church," but would that be right, if we are to take seriously the Fourth Commandment as it is expounded by the Large Catechism? I'm not going to leave my temporal father just because he didn't do as good a job as my best friend's father down the road. Nobody's perfect.

Perhaps the best way to honor this pastor is to gently admonish him. How does a layman do that? I'm not sure I'm as interested in hearing an answer from a pastor because he is not in the same situation. His view will always be as one pastor to another. I'd rather hear an answer from a layman. How should a layman confront his pastor on such matters?


Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...


You read my post correctly. Such a pastor as you describe should be honored. There's nothing wrong with talking to him personally about things you think are not consistent with Lutheran doctrine and practice if you approach him respectfully and with the desire to be taught or even rebuked if you are wrong.

I also don't think you are bound for life to that congregation if there is another within practical driving distance where the preaching and teaching is better and more consistent with the true doctrine.


Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...


Even a pastor who might be less than "middle of the road" should be honored, for you must honor the OFFICE even if the man has faults and is in error.

Norman Teigen said...

The first thing to do with any pastor is to gain his trust. Building a rapport with any one, takes time. One must listen to the other person and then one can reasonably expect that the other person will listen in turn.

No one likes confrontation. No one likes blame. No one likes scapegoating.

A very good idea is to use "I" messages. Instead of saying, for example, that 'I don't like the use of praise music in our church', say something like, "you know pastor, I'm an old Lutheran, and I was raised on the Bible, the catechism, and the hymn book. I feel very uncomfortable with some of the hymns which you select. Can you give me some advice about this?"

Of course we need to honor our pastors and spiritual leaders. Luther writes about this in the 4th Commandment in the Large Catechism.

The Unknown Lutheran said...

Honor him through honesty.

A lot of times pastors think the laity do not desire more theology, more doctrine, more liturgy etc.

Once he finds out that you do, it could open the flood gates.

Tim the Enchanter said...

"But maybe he does little things that would make a confessional Lutheran wince.."

This passage just struck me. Those would be concerns that I have, but I try a variety of ways. My own kids vote with their feet by staying put during 'children's sermons.' My pastor also doesn't post regular times for confession, but I haven't hesitated to bleat when I need it. But I agree that we can and should talk to our pastors. Maybe they think that there just aren't any oddballs like us. We just need to do it in humility and love.

Once a pastor here in Michigan told me that he wanted his church to be balanced: "not liberal church growth, but also not Ft. Wayne bells and smells wackoes!"

The concept of 'balance' is aristotelian, not Christian. Changes and reforms should be instituted with wisdom, love, and prudence, but lukewarm country club balance that lacks any conviction ought not be the goal.

If a pastor is trying to be 'balanced' in his ministry, I would certainly ask him what he means by that. It could be good or bad, and maybe his diction is just failing him here.


Preachrboy said...

One must also refrain from judging the pastor too hastily. For while he may do some things less-than-ideal, he may also be patiently working to bring a congregation along the road of orthodoxy.

Teaching takes time. Do not mistake patient teaching for intentional "middle-of-the-roadness".

William Weedon said...

Concrete suggestion: Ask the Pastor if he'd lead the Adult Bible Class in a discussion of the Augsburg Confession. I promise, it will shake things up in a good way.

If you are an elder, ask the pastor if you can study the AC together as board.

But by hook or by crook, get the pastor to TEACH the Symbols he's pledged to uphold. They're a blast and the people will walk away astonished and delighted. They'll discover that the Symbols teach the exact same thing as the Scriptures from their own experience, and then they'll never want to be anything less than Lutheran.

E. Rapp said...

Thanks for the comments. I found them all very encouraging.

P. Rapp said...

Okay, I'm new to this blog, so maybe I've missed something, but I'm curious... What exactly is wrong with a "lamb's message"? Doesn't it make sense to speak the gospel to children in a way that's easier for them to understand? Paul said "I have become all things to all men, that by all means I might save some"....

Tim the Enchanter said...


I think your comment related to this post, but I'll try to answer it here, and I'll answer it as if we were talking about a 'children's sermon', since I am still unclear as to what a Lamb's message is.

Of course, there is nothing prohibiting such a practice. I think that this is yet another situation where shepherds must show prudence and the flock must honor the shepherd, although it doesn't obligate participation.

Yet, personally, I do not like them for reasons that may or may not be valid:

1. As a new Lutheran <10 years, I am excited about learning the liturgy, and a children's sermon seems like a recent innovation. So I ask when and why it was introduced?

2. Children's sermons seem like big, unnatural interruptions to the liturgy. Things just stop. But I guess that is just my impression.

3. Pastors can show creativity in keeping the liturgy intact, without such additions. For example, I saw one pastor begin giving the children's sermon before the beginning of the Divine Service, and if catechesis is the goal, then everyone should be happy, right?

4. But everyone was not happy. Adults wanted to see the cute kids march and amble up to the front during the service, so they could ooo and aaww and giggle at their cuteness. The focus shifted in the Divine Service, and this makes me think that it is not a good practice. The purpose of this thoroughly indifferent practice seemed to become clearer to me because for some, it had become 'a break' from the liturgy.

But here is my present take on such matters: Confessional Lutherans should not incessantly accost their pastors with lists of things that are wrong. Your husband's words, "But maybe he does little things that would make a confessional Lutheran wince" made me wonder if we fans of Issues, Etc. are not simply pains in the butt for good pastors. Surely, God calls us to be pains at times, like Pastor McCain told us to question pastors who flippantly say that they are 'not theologians'. But we should also be on guard that we might just be unnecessary pains sometimes. I know that I probably am at times!

I would say that honoring pastors might mean asking polite questions about such things in conversations or Bible class, and then letting them shepherd the flock, trusting him to lead and bring about prudent change at the right time.


Christina said...

Greetings in the Lord,

As one of the laity pledged to support and defend you, please let me comment that I have been here no less than three times with ordained ministers. Involved in each instance was the allegation or appearance of a disqualifying sin in an otherwise middle-of-the-road public ministry. Before you wonder if I walk under a dark cloud, by vocation I am an attorney. So perhaps I do…..

Matthew 18 is a tough road not to be taken lightly, and walking away simply leaves the problem for the next generation. But regardless of what response a layperson may think appropriate, my sense is that there is no response that honors the Lord except one undertaken in love for God, and in the resulting outpouring of His love for the OHM and the individual man called to fill it. We all must speak the truth in love.

Quick (unprivileged) anecdote. A pastor requested assistance in as ministry project. By means of whatever family dysfunction existed, this pastor was persuaded by a family member to commit acts that were not legal, much less Biblical. The pastor became increasing lost. After tormenting in prayer over the proper way to love and support this pastor, I determined to stand between the pastor and his conduct. When private pleading failed, I got in touch with an older brother in Christ who was a ministry colleague close to both of us. The colleague came alongside the pastor, spoke with him privately as only a man and older brother in Christ could do, and coached the pastor back from the brink of forfeiting his ministry. Thanks be to a gracious and merciful God that this pastor came through his difficult experience and remains a devoted servant of the Word to this day. He was so close to throwing it all away.

The Enemy can assault you who wear the cross of Christ in so many ways. The attack may be disqualifying sin, or it may be the sneak attack of ennui or doctrinal slippage. I believe strongly that it is the responsibility of laypeople to watch out for you, to love you, to encourage you, to pray for you and with you, and to be willing to step in, come alongside and help you. But the key is to act in love.

Thank you for this new blog. God bless you and keep you!

caritas numquam excidit,