Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Ready, SET? Go.

EDIT: My SET is now updated here.

Pastors of the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod are required to fill out a SET form. The SET, or Self-Evaluation Tool, is intended to give an indication of where you stand on issues that are important in our church body. I first filled mine out while I was in North Dakota. Guys who attend seminary in the United States fill one out during their course of study, supposedly to give an indication to District Presidents where it might be best to place these students when they complete their studies. Since I went to school in Canada, I didn't have to fill one out until after I was already in my first Call.

When I first filled it out, my answers were as orthodox-ly Lutheran as I could make them. The world was black and white, and I was going to ensure that, when someone read my SET, they would know where I stood--no room for misunderstanding, and certainly no room for compromise.

I review my SET pretty much every year. I take my Ordination vows very seriously, and though the SET is never mentioned in those vows, it is the first indication a Calling congregation has of the kind of pastor you are. For my first eight years in the Office if the Ministry, my SET would tell people that I'm a conservative and Confessional Lutheran. It might also have given the indication that I'm a hardass.

My SET received a fairly thorough overhaul this year. I don't want to give the impression that I'm any less orthodox-ly Lutheran than I was last year or eight years ago. However, I also don't want to give the indication that I'm "rigid"--a catchword that those in power have used to give Confessional pastors a black eye. Through the struggles I've endured the past two-and-a-half years since my departure from my previous congregation, I've learned the hard way that while the world may be black and white, perceptions of it are shades of grey.

As a pastor, I'm used to living in a glass house. As a pastor on CRM, I can't afford to live my life as if I lived elsewhere. My life is an open book these days. With that in mind, this is where I stand.

1. Describe your understanding of the church and its mission, especially regarding outreach to the lost.
The mission of the Church is two-fold. First, its pastors, who have been regularly called to Christ's office, are to proclaim the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, teach the Gospel in its purity, and faithfully administer the Sacraments according to Christ's institution. The royal priesthood of believers hears this Word, receives the Sacraments, and glorifies God in its confession of faith and in holy living. Second, its pastors and laity together should work to reach those who are lost and who are delinquent, sharing the Gospel in words and in living the life of one redeemed by the crucified Christ.

2. Describe your understanding of the Office of the Public Ministry.
The Office of the Holy Ministry has been established by Christ for the sake of administering His gifts to His Bride, the Church. The pastor, acting in the stead of Christ on behalf of the congregation, preaches the Word, speaks the Word of forgiveness, and rightly administers the Sacraments. The congregation is free to establish auxiliary positions as necessary so that the work of the Church may go forward, but the Office of the Holy Ministry consists of men who are set apart specifically for the purpose of preaching and administering the Sacraments.

3. What is your understanding of the role of pastor as it relates to the role of the laity as members of the universal priesthood of believers.
Scripture teaches that the Office of the Holy Ministry is distinct from and yet part of the royal priesthood of believers and is given only to men--and even then, only to certain men--whom God calls. The royal priesthood of believers may freely take part in administrative offices of the congregation and may through words and actions bear witness to the grace of God in their lives. The pastor--through preaching, teaching, and feeding the congregation with Christ’s body and blood—equips the royal priesthood for service both in the congregation and in their worldly vocations. Pastors and laypeople work together to do the work for which God calls them.

4. Describe your commitment to the doctrine and practice of the Synod.
In accordance with my Ordination vows, I believe the canonical books of the Old and New Testaments are the inspired Word of God and the only infallible rule of faith and practice. I accept the three ecumenical creeds as faithful testimonies to the truth of Scripture, and I reject the errors they condemn. I believe the Book of Concord is a true and faithful exposition of the Word of God. As long as the doctrine and practice of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod remain faithful to Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions, I remain faithful to Synod’s doctrine and practice.

5. Describe your pastoral approach and practice.
I am not extroverted, so I tend to lead quietly if possible. I try to get to know the members of my congregation mostly through one-on-one conversations rather than community events, though I have no problem participating in those events. Pastors do not belong on pedestals, being sinners like the rest of humanity. I do what I can to set people at ease, preferring the congregation to feel more like a family than a business. I try to honor the Ministry and the congregation I serve with an upright life, asking God’s forgiveness when I fail.

I prefer to be addressed simply as “Pastor” rather than by my first name. This is not to elevate myself, as it is a privilege and stern duty to serve as an undershepherd to the flock. Rather, this is intended to show proper respect for the office to which the Lord has Called me.

Finally, I believe that doctrine and teaching must be at the heart of pastoral practice. It does little good and may do great harm to feed somebody with Christ’s body and blood if they do not understand what that means.

6. Describe your personal spiritual disciplines, prayer and devotional life.
My aim is to have personal devotions both morning and evening, and these are usually patterned after Matins and Vespers (or Compline). My habit upon arriving at the study is to spend some time in prayer over the day’s agenda and over a portion of the membership directory, remembering specific families in my prayers. I usually also engage in some devotional reading in the Scriptures and/or our Lutheran Confessions.

7. What do you consider to be your strengths in ministry.
Though I am able to perform all the duties of the Ministry with a general aptitude, I consider my greatest strengths to be preaching, conducting the liturgy, and working with the youth and college-aged members of the congregation. I have also worked as an administrator in public sector, which has strengthened my ability to handle the administrative duties of the Ministry with greater aptitude and good will.

8. Describe the areas of your ministry needing improvement and what you are doing to improve them.
I believe all areas of my ministry can always stand to be improved. Perhaps the area with which I struggle most is finding adequate time to make routine congregational visits. To improve, I bring these concerns to the Lord in prayer, read books about these subjects, speak to my parishioners and colleagues in the ministry for input, and participate in continuing education.

9. Describe your preferred practice regarding the use of The Lutheran Hymnal, Lutheran Worship, other hymnals and songbooks.
My strong preference is for traditional, liturgical worship using traditional hymns. I have been trained in the use of The Lutheran Hymnal, Lutheran Worship, and Lutheran Service Book. I have no preference concerning these resources. The Lord continually brings forth new music and resources for liturgy, and as long as these are faithful to the Word of God and do not cause distraction, I am willing to use these new resources.

10. Describe your preferred practice regarding alternate forms of worship (Creative Worship, writing own liturgies, etc.).
I do not use Creative Worship, and I do not write my own liturgies for Sunday worship. We have a great liturgical heritage, and I do not cast that aside. What happens on Sunday morning should be different than what happens in the world during the rest of the week. I have, on occasion, assembled a worship service from various resources for special occasions (for example, a Christmas program), but such services draw heavily from our great liturgical heritage.

11. Describe your preferred practice regarding children's sermons in the worship service.
Generally I do not include children’s sermons in the worship service. I have no strong objection to them, but it’s not something with which I feel I am adequately gifted. I would not, however, abandon the practice in a congregation that already includes them in their worship life.

12. Describe your preferred practice regarding pastoral services (weddings, funerals, visitations, etc.) to non-members, non-Lutherans, or the unchurched.
In most cases, the nature of such occasional services should be geared toward serving the members of the congregation. These are all services of the congregation to which all members are invited even if few do outside of being invited, and thus are subject to all the requirements of any public worship service of the congregation.

I do not generally perform weddings for non-members, unless the couple intends to become members. I do not generally perform funerals for non-members, though I’m willing to make an exception when the deceased is a believer. I am more than willing to visit with and give comfort I can in good conscience offer to non-members in any circumstances. Weddings and funerals are not an evangelism tool, and we give a bad impression when we try to use them that way.

If a congregation has a set policy regarding occasional services, then I follow it.

13. How do you view the charismatic renewal movement?
While many sincere Christians are involved in the charismatic movement, their sincerity does not necessarily translate into good theology. I in no way subscribe to the charismatic movement. I believe and teach that God has not chosen to deal with us apart from His external Word and Sacraments. The Holy Spirit testifies to Christ alone and does not speak from Himself but from Christ. The Holy Spirit is given in Baptism and through the external Word of God. Certainly there is room for patient and gentle teaching to lead toward a greater appreciation for the blessings God has already given all the faithful though Baptism.

14. How do you feel about working in a multi-staff ministry (pastor-pastor, pastor-DCE. pastor-school staff)?
I have served as a Sole Pastor in a smaller rural parish and as an Associate Pastor in a large (1,200 member) parish. In my work as an administrator in the public sector, I have gained experience which would aid me in working on the administrative side of the Ministry. I would be willing to serve as a Sole Pastor or as the member of a team as either the Senior or Associate Pastor. So long as one does not mean numerous pastors at one congregation who specialize in different areas TO THE EXCLUSION of the other duties of the divine Call, or others besides pastors performing the functions of the Office of the Holy Ministry, then I see many advantages to a multi-staff parish. However, the congregation must give detailed definition to the role of each member of the staff to minimize conflict.

15. How do you view the ministry of the Lutheran school?
The need for our children’s education to be grounded in Christ is vital! The Lutheran school is an excellent means for allowing children to be raised and taught in an environment that does not disparage the faith and prayer, but rather builds these up while helping children to grow in useful knowledge. From Kindergarten through 8th Grade and again for my undergraduate work I attended Lutheran schools, and I thank God for that firm foundation in the faith.

16. Describe any strong preference you have toward a certain type of ministry.
I prefer being a parish pastor, either in a congregational or a campus setting. As I said before, I am willing to be a Sole Pastor or part of a team, and the size of the congregation doesn’t matter. God can do great things with the smallest of congregations, and sometimes larger congregations have a longer reach than a smaller congregation can achieve.

17. Describe your preferred Communion practice in view of Resolution 3-08 (Indianapolis, 1986): "Resolved, that the pastors and congregations of the LCMS continue to abide by the practice of close communion, which includes the necessity of exercising responsible pastoral care in extraordinary situations and circumstances."
Closed Communion is what the Church has practiced since its earliest days. We continue the practice of the ancient Church, which exercised their care and compassion toward the people who would commune so that they did not mistakenly receive the Lord’s Supper to their judgment rather than to their blessing. So called "extraordinary situations and circumstances" remain just that and should not be the norm.

18. Describe your preferred practice regarding the priority of the Lord's Supper in public worship, including its frequency.
It is best for the Lord's Supper to be provided often--preferably every Sunday--and received as often as possible. However, when this is not the practice of a congregation, this must be handled with the utmost care and caution. God forbid that we make a law out of this source of tremendous Gospel!

19. Describe your preferred practice regarding the use of common or individual cups for communion.
The use of individual cups is the result of concern regarding infectious disease. While the use of individual cups in no way invalidates the Lord’s Supper, the symbolism of the common cup illustrates the unity of the Church at this sacred moment in the Divine Service. I prefer the use of the common cup, though I am willing to use either or both.

20. Describe your preferred practice regarding first communion: before or after confirmation.
There is no reason why first communion must be tied to Confirmation, so long as the recipient believes the words "given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins" and has been taught the basics of the Christian faith. However, for the sake of the Church at large and for good order, the congregations I have served in the past have waited.

21. Describe your preferred practice regarding the use of lay people (men, women, youth) to assist in worship, including as acolytes and lectors.
The people of God are always participating in worship through their receiving, listening, singing, responding, and praying. I see no issue with the leaders of the congregation taking part in the leading of the liturgy, especially if the congregation has adopted this practice.

I would not be comfortable with women reading the lessons, since the proclamation of the Word is an extension of the Office of the Ministry.

22. Describe your preferred practice regarding women's suffrage in view of Resolution 2-17 (Denver, 1969) and as reaffirmed in Resolution 3-05 (St. Louis, 1995).
Scripture neither prohibits nor commands the vote of women in the church. I am willing to abide by the will of the congregation with respect to the matter of women’s suffrage.

23. Describe your preferred practice regarding the service of women in the church.
Generally, though diverse congregations have diverse definitions for these roles, elders act as extensions of the pastor’s office when they assist with communion distribution, read sermons in the pastor’s unexpected absence and in other matters act as the pastor acts within the congregation on the pastor’s behalf. Presidents sit on every administrative board of the congregation including the Board of Elders, and the Vice President serves in that fashion when the President is unable to do so. Therefore, I submit that to have women serve in such offices places them into a position in which they engage in the distinctive functions of the pastoral office and this would not be proper, biblical, or Confessional.

Other than these restrictions, I believe that women are God’s wonderful gift to the Church and they ought to have the widest possible latitude in serving their Lord in any way that does not compromise Scriptural and Confessional integrity.

24. Describe your preferred practice regarding the church's involvement in human care ministries in the community.
Any activity of the congregation must flow from and serve the purpose of the Church's mission to bring the unbeliever to Christ. As long as our theological integrity is not brought into question, I see no problem with such community involvement, as it may serve to further that mission.

25. Describe your preferred practice regarding inter-Lutheran relationships and inter-Christian relationships.
As members of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, we are to “…renounce unionism and syncretism of every description.” If I am to remain faithful to my calling and ordination vows, I cannot and will not participate in joint worship leadership with those church bodies with which we are not in formally declared altar and pulpit fellowship, nor will I, under any circumstances, participate in any forum which is inter-faith in nature in which acts of worship are being offered jointly to both false gods and the one, true God. Such acts dishonor God and disrespect our mutual agreements as members of the synod.

With respect to our dealings on a day-to-day basis, we need to recognize those of other Christian denominations as our brothers and sisters in Christ and to be respectful at all times while refusing to sacrifice our theological integrity.

26. Describe the community or extra-congregational activities in which you have participated.
I have participated in various food pantries. I have volunteered at and been an employee of a community youth center, and I have been the manager of a different community center. I have been a judge and official for various school sports. I write for various theological magazines, particularly for youth. During my CRM period I preached in a number of congregations throughout the Southern District, serving two vacancies and offering pulpit supply as needed for pastors who were vacationing, ill, and in the midst of family emergencies.

27. Enumerate skills you have acquired (Clinical Pastoral Education, sign language, substance abuse, counseling, etc.) and other continuing education courses you have taken.
-- Preaching the Catechism for Lent conducted by Rev. John Pless; Minot, ND; 1/8-9/01; 3 hours
-- The Book of Revelation conducted by Rev. Louis Brighton; Fargo, ND; 8/13-15/01; 3 hours
-- PALS; The North Dakota District; 2000-2003; 3 hours
-- Christ on Campus 3 conducted by Higher Things magazine; Bloomington, IN; 6/28-30/05; 8 hours

28. What plans do you have for future continuing education and/or special skill building?
I intend to participate in further continuing education events as opportunities present themselves. I'd like to attend more campus and youth conferences, as well as the Symposium at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne and/or the Lutheran Life Lectures at Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary in St. Catharines, Ontario.

29. What hobbies or activities do you pursue outside your regular work of ministry.
I spend time with my wife and children, read, write, participate in various sports, cook, listen to various types of music, and spend time online.

30. How do you safeguard quality time to be with your family?
I am committed to taking a regular day off every week (excepting emergency situations, of course) and taking my allotment of vacation days.

31. Do you presently own your own home? How do you feel about home ownership for you and your family?
I do not currently own my own home. I have no preference between home ownership and living in a parsonage.

32. Do you have any strong feelings or needs relative to the size of community in which you live?
I prefer to live in a suburban community. I have experienced living in communities defined as "rural", and I like the rural "small-town" environment. I also appreciate the campus setting, which is often a small community setting. I’m willing to go wherever the Lord sends me.

33. Do you have any strong feelings about the size of parish where you serve?
I prefer a small- to medium-sized single-congregation parish, up to about 350 members, or an Associate Pastor position in a slightly larger parish. I have no ambition to serve in a mega-church parish.

34. Describe any special health or personal needs which you or your family have which would enter into your consideration of a Call.
My wife and I have three children: an pre-teen girl and toddler twins, boy and girl. My son is on the autism spectrum and requires various therapists. However, these are usually available through the local school system.

35. Describe your preferred practice toward an interview by a calling congregation before a Call is issued.
I am open to an interview before a call is issued, and frankly, I recommend it given the current diversity of doctrine and practice now existent in our synod.

36. Is there anything else in your present ministry that you would like to share that might be pertinent to a calling congregation.
I am ready and willing to serve.

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