Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Office of Pastor in a Congregation

We had a quote from Luther during the "Sunday School" time at church this last Sunday.  We were discussing the "office of the public ministry" and "the office of the keys".  If you'd like to know more about those terms please go to www.lcms.org and I'm sure you'll be able to find what the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod's teaching position is on these two terms.

Martin Luther

Here is the quote from Luther, however the quote wasn't cited in our "class" so I'm not sure what work it can be found:

If we hold the Word of God in high regard, then we would be glad to go to church, to listen to the sermon and to pay attention.  But if you look more at the pastor than at God; if you do not see God's person but merely gape to see whether the pastor is learned and skilled, whether the pastor has good diction, then you do not have eyes to see the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb...
I believe that this quote from Luther certainly shows the common day tendency for churches to center themselves around the pastor and not on Christ!  I know that when a pastor dies or leaves his "office" some churches struggle greatly.  I think that error arises from the problem that Luther mentions and also from the pastor taking on too many roles in the Body of Christ!

Pastors today seem called upon to do everything in the Body of the Christ within a congregation.  Why is it  the pastor always (in most congregations) delivers the Word of God from the "pulpit" on Sundays?  Why is it that the pastor often times always leads the public prayers?  Why is it that the pastor often times leads "Sunday School"?  Why is it that the pastor has to be at all the board meetings and financial meetings?  Why is it that the pastor in a lot of churches is supposed to sit in the office from 9-5?  Who does that help?  Don't most people work during those hours? Why is the pastor the one to always visit the shut-ins and and those in the hospital?  Why is the pastor the one to always baptize and distribute communion if the efficacy of these sacraments lies in the Word of God and not the pastor?  In some churches, the pastor is also the musician who leads worship too!  Why do so many hats fall on the pastor when everyone in a local congregation has spiritual gifts to offer the body?  I think this is one reason that so many pastors burn-out in the ministry.  They're taking roles that other body parts should be doing! 

When you read 1 Cor. 14 you find that everyone has a song to share, a prayer to offer, a word to share, and that all of this must be done for the mutual benefit of the body.  In this same chapter it talks about multiple people prophesying (proclaiming God's Word) in the congregational gatherings.  Also read Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12.

The problem I see is much bigger than what Luther says it is.  It's not that we make the mistake of gathering to glean from the pastor and  not from God; we also make the mistake of going to glean just from the pastor alone!  Our services set us up to be judgmental of the pastor!   Our gatherings are like going to see movies or lectures.  Everyone faces forward in one direction and for large parts of the service listen and are not allowed to have free interaction with what is being said; in fact "no talking during church!"  How many times have you heard that, or been told that?

We should not only look to the pastor as God's representative, seeing that the river of the water of life is flowing from God to us through him, but that we should also look to our left and right, and see that everyone in the congregation is also God's representative and has a vital role in the wellspring of the church.

If we do this, we will decentralize from the pastor and center on Christ. 

If we do this, we will defend against pastor burn-out.

If we do this, we won't have to worry about the absence of a pastor or the leaving of a pastor.  Although, if we do this and begin to utilize the gifts of more people during our gatherings and during our church activities then the replacing pastor might have a problem because he might not be the one opening up the pot-luck with prayer and if he does he might not be the only one to verbally offer up a prayer to the Lord. 

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