Wednesday, December 31, 2008
One of my pastor colleagues said, "BTW, the Lord says, 'take it.'" I know what he means. I just wish it was that simple. I know I've said repeatedly that I want a Call, and here one is, handed to me. I have no problem with the idea of being a worker-priest. Part of me figured that would be the only way I'd get back into parish ministry. I have no reason not to give this Call the serious consideration it deserves, and I will certainly do so. This will probably take a little longer than the usual three to four weeks for me to decide, however. A lot of my decision will be based on whether or not I can find work that will allow me to support my family while being flexible enough to allow me to do what I need to do as a parish pastor. After all, the congregation wants their pastor to help them to grow to the point where they can support the pastor, and that's going to take a lot of work and a lot of time. The church doesn't have a parsonage, so I'd have to buy a house. But they can't afford any kind of housing allowance. The congregation also can't afford any kind of health insurance. There are a lot of questions about how this would work, and I'll be asking those questions over the next few weeks. It's not a cut-and-dried yes-or-no situation.
I ask that you keep me in your prayers as I deliberate--me, my family, and Grace Lutheran Church in El Paso. God help me.
By the way, Faith and I have been married for four years today! Can you believe she's put up with me for that long? Thanks be to God for bringing this wonderful woman into my life.
Thursday, December 25, 2008
A blessed and Happy Christmas! May Immanuel--God become flesh to dwell among us--bless you now and throughout the coming new year.
Friday, December 19, 2008
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Basic instructions - bold what you've done
1. Started your own blog
2. Slept under the stars
3. Played in a band
4. Visited Hawaii
5. Watched a meteor shower
6. Given more than you can afford to charity
7. Been to Disneyland
8. Climbed a mountain
9. Held a praying mantis
10. Sang a solo
11. Bungee jumped
12. Visited Paris
13. Watched a lightning storm at sea
14. Taught yourself an art from scratch
15. Adopted a child
16. Had food poisoning (in Germany, no less!)
17. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty
18. Grown your own vegetables (Does this include mushrooms?)
19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France
20. Slept on an overnight train (No, but I've slept on a regular train)
21. Had a pillow fight
22. Hitch hiked
23. Taken a sick day when you’re not ill
24. Built a snow fort
25. Held a lamb
26. Gone skinny dipping
27. Run a Marathon
28. Ridden in a gondola in Venice
29. Seen a total eclipse
30. Watched a sunrise or sunset
31. Hit a home run
32. Been on a cruise (not unless you count day cruises)
33. Seen Niagara Falls in person
34. Visited the birthplace of your ancestors
35. Seen an Amish community
36. Taught yourself a new language (I can't even learn them when someone else is teaching them!)
37. Had enough money to be truly satisfied
38. Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person
39. Gone rock climbing (not on a grand scale)
40. Seen Michelangelo’s David
41. Sung karaoke
42. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt
43. Bought a stranger a meal at a restaurant
44. Visited Africa
45. Walked on a beach by moonlight
46. Been transported in an ambulance
47. Had your portrait painted
48. Gone deep sea fishing
49. Seen the Sistine Chapel in person
50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris
51. Gone scuba diving or snorkeling
52. Kissed in the rain
53. Played in the mud
54. Gone to a drive-in theater
55. Been in a movie
56. Visited the Great Wall of China
57. Started a business
58. Taken a martial arts class
59. Visited Russia
60. Served at a soup kitchen
61. Sold Girl Scout Cookies
62. Gone whale watching
63. Got flowers for no reason
64. Donated blood, platelets or plasma
65. Gone sky diving
66. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp
67. Bounced a check
68. Flown in a helicopter
69. Saved a favorite childhood toy
70. Visited the Lincoln Memorial
71. Eaten Caviar
72. Pieced a quilt
73. Stood in Times Square
74. Toured the Everglades
75. Been fired from a job
76. Seen the Changing of the Guards in London
77. Broken a bone (Not unless this includes breaking someone else's finger)
78. Been on a speeding motorcycle
79. Seen the Grand Canyon in person
80. Published a book
81. Visited the Vatican
82. Bought a brand new car
83. Walked in Jerusalem
84. Had your picture in the newspaper
85. Read the entire Bible
86. Visited the White House
87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating
88. Had chickenpox
89. Saved someone’s life
90. Sat on a jury
91. Met someone famous
92. Joined a book club
93. Lost a loved one
94. Had a baby (I assume this includes being the father of one.)
95. Seen the Alamo in person
96. Swam in the Great Salt Lake
97. Been involved in a law suit
98. Owned a cell phone
99. Been stung by a bee
100. Read an entire book in one day (or two or three)
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
As I read this, I can't help but find myself a little envious of the Baptizer. If ever there was a man who knew his place in the Kingdom of God, it was John. Scripture had told him what he was to be; and even before he was born, he was doing what he was supposed to be doing: pointing to Christ and saying, "There He is! He's the one!" His entire life was spent in preparation for the culmination of his role as the final prophet of the Old Testament Church. When people came to find out what this John guy was all about, all he said was, "I am not the Christ." When he was forced to expand on that answer, even that answer pointed away from himself to the Word of God and to the Christ whose way John had come to prepare. His final word on the matter was, "He must increase, but I must decrease." I can't imagine any this was easy, even with his role clearly laid out for him; but I do envy him that foreknowledge, especially as I struggle with my current vocational black hole.
Christ said, "Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist." Truly, only a great man could look at himself and say with no deceit and no vanity, "I must decrease." In this Christmas season, when so many things would have us puff up our own importance, may we all be able to say with John, "[Christ] must increase; I must decrease."
Wednesday, December 03, 2008
Sean Avery is a goon who plays for the Dallas Stars of the National Hockey League. He has moderate talent for hockey, but he has great talent as an agitator. This time, however, he took agitation too far, speaking of Calgary Flames player Dion Phaneuf and Dion's relationship with actress and former Avery girlfriend Elisha Cuthbert, calling her his sloppy seconds. The NHL has suspended him indefinitely, pending a meeting between Avery and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.
Now, I'm not a huge fan of Bettman. I blame him for the near-death of hockey through the lockout of 2004-2005. I blame him for hockey's plunging popularity. But I cannot blame him for suspending Avery. In fact, I think this is one of the few good decisions he has made in his tenure as Commissioner.
The Dallas Stars said that if the NHL hadn't suspended him, they would have. I'm also no fan of the Dallas Stars, and I haven't been for nearly a decade when Brett Hull "scored" with his foot in the crease and the NHL did not overturn the call, giving the Stars the Stanley Cup and denying the Sabres their rightful chance to win it. But I applaud the organization, players and management, for their stand.
An ESPN.com reader responding to this article said, "Guys like Avery could save the NHL. The league has no personality. I love hockey and am a diehard Blues fan, but the league needs a little controversy to draw some attention. Avery is a punk, but he's an interesting punk..." If garbage like that is what it takes to make hockey popular again, I say, let it die. I'd rather have no hockey than that kind of hockey.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Though the results weren't surprising, they were disappointing. I preach at a number of congregations in the greater New Orleans area, and about half of them use the One-Year Lectionary. I've used both the three-year cycle and the one-year cycle for a complete cycle and more, and I prefer the one-year cycle. While you don't cover quite as much of the Bible, I've found that it's easier to go deeper into the text with each successive year.
I've asked this elsewhere, and I'll ask it here: What can be done to resource the one-year cycle? At the bare minimum, I'd like to see a Bible study done for the readings in each Sunday of the one-year cycle. I already do something like this for when I fill in for congregations down here that use it, but I'd like to have better Greek and Hebrew scholars in on such a project.
What else would you like to see in terms of one-year resources?
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Michael turns three in less than a month (as does his sister, Molly). On that day he officially ages out of the program called "Early Steps", through whom we have been receiving much of his therapy. With the official diagnosis, we should be able to maintain at least some of that therapy, but we'll be working with the school system for the rest. This is not exactly comforting, as Louisiana has the worst education rating in the United States. But we're hoping that what we'll be keeping will be making up for what the school system lacks. (Of course, a Call to somewhere with a better school system and more options for therapy would be nice.)
Thursday, October 30, 2008
Every commandment which I command you today you must be careful to observe, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land of which the LORD swore to your fathers. And you shall remember that the LORD your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the LORD. --Deuteronomy 8:1-3
For some reason, as my son and I sat on the couch this morning waiting for everyone else's day to begin, my thoughts turned to the Office of the Ministry and to doctrine and outreach. The Rev. Gerald Kieschnick, President of the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod, stated boldly at his installation as President, "People, this is NOT a game. Our incessant internal purification at the expense of the eternal destiny of the souls of men and women for whom Christ died must stop!" The first time I heard the words in person was at the 2003 North Dakota District Convention, where President Kieschnick himself spoke against "incessant internal purification" as a hinderance to reaching the lost.
Hearing the words "incessant internal purification" makes my teeth itch. At first glance, it seems reasonable that the fate of the souls of men is much more important than the attempt to have perfect doctrine. The example that I seem to hear most is that there are more important things than knowing how many angels can stand or dance on the head of a pin. And to a certain extent, that's true. To reach the unchurch and the lost, we don't begin by teaching the full counsel of God, any more than we begin with our own children by handing them Franz Pieper's Christian Dogmatics.
However, there is more to "incessant internal purification" than meets the eye. There is a false dichotomy that separates evangelism/mission and doctrine. After all, if you don't know the Lord and His Word, how, then, can you teach the unreached about the Lord and His Word? In his sermon "Why Dare and Can We Never Give Up the Church's Struggle for the Pure Doctrine?" in 1876, the Rev. Carl Ferdinand Wilhelm Walther, First President of the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod, said it this way:
Oh my dear friends of the Lutheran faith, confession, and conflict, do not be misled when today those are everywhere accused of lovelessness who still do not give up the battle for pure doctrine in our Church. . . . Oh my dear friends, let us indeed sorrow and lament over this: that false teachers constantly assail the pure doctrine in our Church and thus are at fault for the conflict and strife in the Church. However, let us never lament but rather extol and praise God that he always awakens men who fight against those false teachers, for, I repeat, this pertains to "the common salvation." . . . This conflict is one commanded us by God and is therefore certainly one blessed in time and in eternity. . . . Oh, therefore, let us never listen to those who praise and extol the conflict of the Reformation for the pure Gospel but want to know nothing of a similar conflict in our days.To say it in an even more succinct fashion, the Rev. Alvin L. Barry, former President of the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod, put it this way: "Keep the message straight, Missouri! Get the message out, Missouri!"
There is a proper order to evangelism and outreach. First we must get the message straight. We do the unbeliever no favor if we lead him to a Christ who exists only in the imagination of our hearts. First we must be rooted in the Word of God. As the Church lives not on bread alone but "by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the LORD", we must know what the Lord reveals to us about Himself through the Word. Only then can we reach out with the Word to the unbeliever with the Christ that actually exists, the Christ who makes Himself known through that very Word. Reaching out without first getting it straight may reach a goodly number of people, but you will not be bringing them to where they need to be.
It has been said that pastors who seek what is dismissively termed "incessant internal purification" live in an ivory tower. Well, we need those ivory tower pastors. Just as we prefer brain surgeons to perform brain surgery rather than general practitioners, we need pastors who specialize in specific areas of the Word of God. These ivory tower pastors have a specific task: to delve into the Word of God so that they may teach the pastors of the Church.
We also need men who are willing to climb those ivory towers, pastors who will sit at the feet of these specialists and learn from them. They climb a goodly number of these ivory towers, and each time they come down they bring with them the riches that the ivory tower pastors have mined from the Word. These are the "general practitioner" pastors, men who do not necessarily specialize in a specific area of the Word but have a solid foundation in that Word. These are the pastors who teach the laity, equipping them for the work God gives them to do. These are the pastors who, with the laity they have educated in the Word, reach out to the unchurched, to the dying, to the wayward and lost. These pastors may not have specialized in a specific area of the Word, but they bring with them a solid foundation and background in the Word. They have studied and can teach about the Jesus who has revealed Himself to us in His Word.
It is as Jesus said to the seventy as He sent them out: "The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few" (Luke 10:2a). But He doesn't stop there. He adds, "Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest" (Luke 10:2b). It is the Lord who calls men to serve as pastors. He chose the Twelve, and He taught them. He gave them three years of intense training under His watchful eye. And then He commanded them saying, "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:19-20a). Notice that He doesn't say to them, "Teach them only what you think is important." He commands them to share the full counsel of what He revealed to them.
Evanglism, outreach, missions--what Jesus calls "making disciples"--consists of two things: baptizing and teaching. Focusing on Baptism without regard for the doctrine of the Church is unfaithful, at best. And focusing on neither Baptism nor the doctrine of the Church in our outreach efforts is nothing more than misleading and nothing less than sinful. Thanks be to God for faithful pastors and laity who both "keep the message straight" and "get the message out"!
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Prayer is one of the greatest gifts God gives to His people. The ability to call upon Him as Father, as taught to us by our Brother and bestowed upon us in Baptism, is a rich blessing. Nevertheless, prayer is another of God's gifts that often finds itself neglected. I certainly speak for myself in this matter. I've tried ex corde prayer (prayer from the heart). I've tried using my miniature-sized copy of Lutheran Worship as my prayerbook. I've used numerous books that are specifically prepared as prayerbooks, such as The Brotherhood Prayer Book from the Lutheran Liturgical Prayer Brotherhood; The Minister's Prayerbook, which was edited by Dobberstein; and my favorite to this point: The Daily Office, edited by Herbert Lindemann. I even wrote my MDiv treatise on daily prayer. (And it's no earth-shattering work, I assure you. If I had it to do over again, I'd at least quadruple the research and spend more than six months working on it.)
Despite all this, my prayer life has always been a struggle for me. Too often I find myself not praying when I get up in the morning, when I eat, when I go to bed at night. My prayers lately seem to have become the products of the moments of need. "Lord, help me put the children to sleep." "Lord, give me patience." "Lord, I'd like to be a parish pastor again." The Lord certainly hears and answers these in-the-moment prayers. However, being outside the parish ministry at the moment, the struggle to maintain daily prayer has become more difficult. As a parish pastor there's always some flexibility to your morning schedule, and you can pencil in time for prayer and study before you head out for visits or hit the books for your sermon and Bible class work. But working in an office and having young children in the house, maintaining a schedule has been difficult at best.
Though no book can make it easier to schedule time to pray, the new Treasury of Daily Prayer from Concordia Publishing House has the potential to help you make the most of the prayer time you have. With orders of worship, daily scripture readings included in full, the entire Psalter, and a liturgical calendar to follow, you have a large collection of resources in one place. If you feel the need to supplement these resources with readings from the Book of Concord, the book suggests readings from the Confessions for each day. It's a flexible book, and it's completely Lutheran--and thus completely Christian--in its content.
I received my copy of the Treasury today, and I used it for prayer tonight. I prayed the Order of Compline, which is exactly as I remember it from Lutheran Worship as we prayed it at Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary. The ease of the book and its convenient size--about the size of a hymnal or mid-sized Bible--are surprising. Though it's too early to say for sure, Treasury of Daily Prayer may supplant The Daily Office as my favorite prayer book. I can already without hesitation recommend it highly.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
To give you a little background, I'm the manager of a community center in rural Louisiana. I oversee the day-to-day operations, bring in new ideas, and try to keep things running smoothly as I try to bring more people in to use the facility. I have a staff of 5 under me, three of whom are maintenance staff. I have an office assistant, an evening "building babysitter", and the three maintenance workers. The evening worker is the mother of one of my maintenance workers, and that maintenance worker is the father of another maintenance worker.
One of our workers left something fairly serious undone, and it could have been a very costly mistake. Fortunately, it turned out not to be so, but it could have been bad. And then something went missing at work, something only a worker with a key would be able to access. I asked everyone who has a key if they had used the missing item. I didn't accuse anyone of stealing, and I wasn't harsh. Nevertheless, the mother of one of the workers came in to the office today and gave me twenty minutes of heck. And she capped it off by saying, "And you [sic] a pastor. I expected better from you."
So what was it I did that was un-pastorly: overseeing my staff? Holding them responsible for their actions? I guess I'm missing something . . . and have been for a long time.
Sunday, October 12, 2008
Remembering Collective Shame
By Uwe Siemon-Netto
This column requires a caveat: I am not an American citizen and therefore neither a Republican nor a Democrat. But as a German residing permanently in the United States I believe I have a duty to opine on at least one aspect of the upcoming elections – the question whether years from now Americans will have to wrestle with collective shame, just as I have had to deal with collective shame over what has happened in Germany in my childhood for my entire life.
It was West Germany’s first postwar president, Theodor Heuss, who coined the phrase, "collective shame" contrasting it with the notion of collective guilt, which he rejected. No, I cannot be expected to feel guilty for crimes the Nazis committed while I was still in elementary school. But as a bearer of a German passport I have never ceased feeling ashamed because three years before I was born German voters elected leaders planning the annihilation of millions of innocent people.
I am certain that in 1933 most Germans did not find the Nazis’ anti-Semitic rhetoric particularly attractive. What made them choose Hitler, then? It was the economy, stupid, and presumably injured national pride, and similar issues. This came to mind as I read the latest Faith in Life poll of issues Americans in general and white evangelicals in particular consider "very important" in this year’s elections.
Guess what? For both groups, the economy ranked first, while abortion was way down the list. Among Americans in general abortion took ninth and among white evangelicals seventh place, well below gas prices and healthcare. Now, it’s true that most evangelicals still believe that abortion should be illegal, which is where they differ from the general public and, astonishingly, from Roman Catholics even though their own church continues to fight valiantly against the ongoing mass destruction of unborn life. Still, 54 percent of Catholics and 60 percent of young Catholics have declared themselves "pro choice," according to the Faith in Life researchers.
What I am going to say next is going to make me many enemies, of this I am sure: Yes, there is a parallel here between what has happened in Germany in 1933 and what is happening in America now. The legalized murder of 40 million fetuses since Roe v. Wade in 1973 will one day cause collective shame of huge proportions. So what this wasn’t a "holocaust?" This term should remain reserved for another horror in history. But a genocide has been happening in the last 35 years, even if no liberators have shocked the world with photographs they snapped of the victims as the Allies did in Germany in 1945. And it has the open support of politicians running for office next month.
If most Americans, and shockingly even a majority of Catholics think physicians should have the "right" to suck babies’ brains out so that their skulls will collapse making it easy for these abortionists to drag their tiny bodies through the birth canal; if even most white evangelicals think that economic woes are a more important concerns (78 percent) than legalized mass murder (57 percent), then surely a moral lobotomy has been performed on this society.
I agree it would be unscholarly to claim that what is happening in America and much of the Western world every day is "another holocaust." No two historical events are exactly identical. So let’s leave the word "holocaust" where it belongs – next to Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen and Mauthausen. Still there are compelling parallels between today’s genocide and the Nazi crimes, for example:
1. Man presumes do decide which lives are worthy of living and which are not. "Lebensunwertes Leben" (life unworthy of living) was a Nazi "excuse" for killing mentally handicapped children and adults, a crime that preceded the holocaust committed against the Jews. Notice that today fetuses diagnosed with Downs Syndrome are often aborted as a matter of course in America and Europe.
2. In German-occupied territories, Jews and Gypsies were gassed for no other reason than that some people considered it inconvenient to have them around. Today, unborn children are often slaughtered because it is inconvenient for their mothers to bring their pregnancies to term.
3. Murder I is legally defined as killing another human being with malice and aforethought. The Nazis killed Jewish and Gypsies with deliberation – and maliciously. But what are we to think of babies being killed deliberately simply because they would be a nuisance if they were allowed to live? No malice here?
4. Ordinary Germans of the Nazi era were rightly chastised for not having come to their Jewish neighbors’ rescue when they were rounded up and sent to extermination camps. Ordinary Americans and Western Europeans might find the fad to kill babies disagreeable, but as we see from the Faith in Life poll, most have more pressing concerns.
Some future day Americans and Western Europeans will be asked why they allowed their children to be slaughtered. They would even have less of an excuse than Germans of my grandparents’ and parents’ generation. In Germany, you risked your life if you dared to come to the Jews’ rescue. In today’s democracies the worst that can happen to you is being ridiculed for being "a Christian."
As a foreigner I have no right to tell Americans whom to elect on Nov. 4. Recently, though, a friend asked me: "If you worked in an office and a colleague asked you at the voter cooler, whom he should vote for what would you tell him?" Well, I would say: "I am not here to make up your mind for you. But personally I could never give my vote to so-called pro-choice candidates."
This would doubtless lead to a heated postmodern dialogue. Perhaps the colleague is not a Christian; he might chastise me for mixing politics and religion. "If you as a Christian oppose abortion," he could say, "then by all means don’t get involved in an abortion, just don’t impose your religious views on the rest of us." How would I answer that? An evangelical might yank out his Bible and quote passages pertaining to this issue. But to a non-Christian the Bible is meaningless; I am not sure a political debate around the water cooler is a great venue to start individual evangelization.
My Lutheran approach would be different. I would argue natural law, the law God has written upon the hearts of all human beings, including non-believers. Unless they really have undergone a moral lobotomy they should be open to this story: Down in Wichita, Kansas, there is a physician by the name of George Tiller. On his website he boasts that he has already performed 60,000 abortions, mostly late-term, and week after week he is killing 100 more unborn babies.
Dr. Tiller does not think of these fetuses as clusters of cancerous cells. He knows they are human because he baptizes some of them before he incinerates them in his own crematorium. You don’t baptize non- humans. Dr. Tiller knows that. He is a practicing Lutheran. His former congregation, Holy Cross of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, excommunicated him as an unrepentant sinner. But the Lutheran Church of the Reformation, which belongs to the ELCA, communes him. Did I mention that he kills 100 human beings every week and has already one away with 60.000? Sixty thousand! In Nuremberg they hanged some fiends for murdering less than 60 -- zero point one percent of Hiller’s toll. Perhaps this little tale will give even non-believers pause if they have not discarded their conscience, known to Christians as the law God has written upon every man’s heart. One day, of this I am certain, this will indeed result in collective shame – and God knows what other horrible consequences.
Uwe Siemon-Netto Ph.D., D.Litt.
Center for Lutheran Theology & Public Life
801 Seminary Place
St. Louis, MO 63105
Sunday, September 28, 2008
I also experienced for the first time the abstergent nature of private Confession during my time in North Dakota, which served to exuviate the guilt of my sin. The pastor to whom I confessed, a fubsy, olid, somewhat griseous man wearing a nitid, cruciform periapt, pronounced sin a malison, a collection of recrement. He then spoke the words of absolution to me, which served as a roborant. He also attempted to vaticinate regarding the end times, but his words lacked fatidical conviction.
For an explanation, read this: http://editorialass.blogspot.com/2008/09/dying-words-contest.html?ext-ref=comm-sub-email
Thursday, September 25, 2008
What five people, past or present, inspire your spiritual life? (From what I hear, the initial instructions for this meme say that Jesus is assumed and doesn't need to be listed. Luther also is if you are a Lutheran. ) These come in no particular order after the first one.
1. The Rev. Kim L. Scharff, my vicarage Bishop. He doesn't blog, and he barely participates online. However, he has been and continues to be a profound influence on my spiritual life. I was a somewhat lukewarm Lutheran before I started my vicarage. Under his tutelage, I found myself caring about theology, caring about liturgy, caring about something more than generic spirituality.
2. The Orthodox priest formerly known as the Rev. Dr. C. Robb Hogg--now known, I believe, as Fr. Gregory Hogg. Though I will never follow him across the Bosphorus into "Orthodoxy", Dr. Hogg as one of my seminary professors first kindled in me an interest beyond a vague curiosity in the Lutheran Confessions. It saddens me that he has since abandoned the confession that he defended so competently, and that he led so many away with him. However, I still have my notes from Confessions I, and I hope never to lose them.
3. The Rev. Dr. Harold Senkbeil. I've never had him as a professor, but his book Dying to Live: The Power of Forgiveness has had a profound influence on my life. I read this book at the same time that I was first reading Franz Pieper's Christian Dogmatics, and the fact that he made the faith so profoundly simple influenced my preaching and teaching as a pastor.
4. The Rev. John T. Pless. Another man I've never had as a professor, but his writings have had a significant influence on me. His focus on liturgy and pastoral care (and liturgy as pastoral care) has guided me as a parish pastor. (And I ask that no one blame him for my failures.) When I was a single man convinced that I would remain a single man, he encouraged me to believe that it would not stunt my ability to be a pastor to married people.
5. Deaconess Emily Carder. She drives me absolutely nuts sometimes. When we first encountered each other I wanted to smack her upside the head--maybe literally. However, she forced me to look deeper into things, to examine more closely what I was saying and the implications of what lurks beneath the surface of my words. Still drives me nuts, but I have a great deal of respect for her. And I wish I knew my languages as well as she does.
Honorable Mention: the Rev. Eric Swyres, the Rev. Drew Newman, the Rev. Dr. John Stephenson (though I ask you not to tell him--his head is already big enough), the Rev. Thomas K. Spahn (who was the first to instill in me a love for the liturgy).
I won't tag anyone, but feel free to share.
Saturday, September 20, 2008
Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Christians hear those words a lot. Like myself, many pastors do begin their sermons—not to mention their newsletter articles and all correspondence with their congregations—with the words, "Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." After all, if it's good enough for the Apostle Paul, it certainly must be a salutary greeting between Christians, especially when a pastor communicates with the people he has been Called to serve.
There is something a little deeper behind this seemingly innocuous greeting, however. In our text, Paul lauds the church in Corinth for its faithfulness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But the church in Corinth is not without its problems. Because of their faithfulness, they have become complacent and even arrogant in their faithfulness. The church itself has divisions and factions. If you read on through the rest of this epistle, Paul takes the congregation in Corinth to task for a number of things: a laxity in church discipline, tolerance of sexual immorality, the tendency of congregation members to bring civil law suits against each other, and—dare I say it?—a tendency to practice open communion, inviting the uncatechized and the unreprentant to receive the body and blood of Christ to their judgment.
With all these problems, you might expect Paul to open his letter with a scathing rebuke of the people. But Paul is their pastor. Yes, it's his job to lead God's people to the truth of the Word, and he would do them no favor by letting them remain in their sin. However, he is also Called to preach the Gospel to them. He is Called as their pastor to love them with Christ's love. And he does precisely that.
Even with all the problems this congregation is struggling with, Paul says, "I thank my God always concerning you." And he does this in quite a few of the Epistles we have recorded in the New Testament. We should always be thankful to God for the brothers and sisters we havein Christ. This is not always the easiest example to follow. We in the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod should understand that very well. We are a body divided. We don't agree on what hymns should be in our hymnals, how we should interact with those Christians around us with whom we have doctrinal differences, where our mission money should be focused. And even at the congregational level, the fight is fierce. If you'll forgive me for saying so, look at how deeply the lines are drawn in this congregation between those who want one service on Sunday and those who want two services on Sunday. I'm not your Called pastor, I'm not a member here, and I don't make it a habit of talking to Mt. Olive's membership when I'm not here; and yet even I can see it. But it's not just here, of course. Every congregation has its disagreements. And when we Christians fight, we tend to "lose our religion". Disagreements between Christians often turn ugly. The Eighth Commandment? Throw it out the window! Matthew 18? Why would I speak to my brother who I feel is sinning against me when I can tell fifty of my closest friends? We call each other hypocrites. We assume the very worst about the people with whom we disagree. And then we threaten to stop coming to worship altogether or leave the congregation entirely if our way isn't found to be the "right" way. Even in the most faithful of congregations, we allow disagreements to divide us, distract us, and turn us away from what our Lord Jesus calls "the one thing needful".
Paul calls the congregation at Corinth—and us—back to this one needful thing, reminding us of what unites us. He names us, "those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours." This is creedal language. This brings us back to the Apostles' Creed, where we confess, "I believe in the holy Christian Church, [which is] the Communion of saints." We first confess in the Creed who God is and what He has done, and then we confess what we are through Christ: the communion of saints, the body of Christ, God's holy people.
As we see in how Paul greets the congregation in Corinth, it begins with grace. It begins with God giving us life, with Christ giving us new life, with the Spirit granting us faith as we live that new life. Without these gifts, without this grace, we have nothing and we are nothing. The grace of God is not something we have earned or were born with or have made for ourselves. Our Lord Jesus Christ suffered and died in our place, and He rose again so that we would rise with Him and so that we would receive all the blessings and benefits God has for us.
Once that grace has been applied to us, peace follows it. In Baptism we are made children of God. When we speak of ourselves as brothers and sisters in Christ, this is no hyperbole, no metaphor. We truly are brothers and sisters in Christ. And because we are family, we should treat each other as family. The people in the pews around you and in the Church at large are not enemies to be overcome, no matter how much we may disagree with them. No—they are brothers and sisters in Christ, family to be loved fiercely, forgiven freely, and, yes, sometimes endured patiently. We bring our Christian siblings before the Lord in prayer, thanking God for them, no matter how much we may disagree with them. We thank God that He has loved our brother in Christ, that He has died for our sister in Christ, that He has made our brothers and sisters in Christ His own through Holy Baptism, that He forgives their sins with the Word of Holy Absolution, that He feeds them in the Holy Supper. That grace from God is the source of the peace we share with each other. Because Christ has brought us to reconciliation with the Father, we are now also reconciled to each other—no matter how often we feel worship should be offered each Sunday.
And now, because it begins with grace, let us end the sermon with grace, and see what follows behind. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ (+) and the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.
Monday, September 15, 2008
I'm preaching this Sunday on the epistle for Trinity 18 in the one-year lectionary, which is I Corinthians 1:(1-3) 4-9. Looking at v. 4 in his commentary in the Concordia Commentary series Father Lockwood says, "Faced by the host of problems in the Corinthian congregation, Paul might naturally be expected to begin on a note of complaint. But he takes care not to let the abundant abberations loom so large in his mind that they sour his relationship with the church and make him lose sight of the far more abundant grace of God. As their faithful apostle, pastor, and intercessor, he first assures the Corinthians that he always thanks God for them (p.34)."
Taking this a step further, we should first always thank God for each other as members of the Holy Catholic Church, (which is) the Communion of Saints. If we did so, it would help our conflicts to be less bitter and our resolutions all the more joyful.
Thanks be to God for faithful pastors, and thanks be to God for such a faithful commentary to remind us of what we already know in our hearts to be true.
Friday, September 12, 2008
I've also, unfortunately, seen some of the worst. As far as I can tell, we haven't had the wide-spread looting that followed Katrina. However, I've been first-hand witness to racism, political maneuvering, and blame shifting as a result of events that happened during and after the storm. It's always sad to see what fallen man can bring forth--even in the best of circumstances, but especially in the worst of circumstances.
I'm not saying anything new or profound, of course. We all know that we are sinners by nature, fallen. It's just . . . it's so disappointing to witness the depths to which we can sink when there is so much good God gives us to do.
Wednesday, September 03, 2008
Hi all! I just wanted to let you know that the Kornacki family is safe and sound. The storm, which destroyed the stained glass window in the church I attend down here, otherwise left us mostly unscathed. The house I stayed in had some roofing damage and we lost power and phone/cable/Internet, but we were otherwise unaffected. Power is still out, but everything else is back.
I'll be here for at least one more full day, but I may go back on Friday or Saturday. My father-in-law stopped at all our houses today, and he said there may be some shingle damage, but the houses are otherwise fine. Power is still out in both Morgan City and Amelia. Water is also out in Morgan City. If I go back, I'd probably sleep at the Rec or at my in-laws' house and spend some time each day doing some cleanup at our house. Meanwhile, we've got some people sleeping at the Rec at night, so I'll be able to monitor that.
Thank you for your kind words and prayers.
Sunday, August 31, 2008
I am safely entrenched in the house of a fellow pastor and his family in the Baton Rouge area. Another pastor from the New Orleans area and his family may be joining us tomorrow. God is generous, and I thank Him for the generosity of the people He has brought into my life.
That includes my vicarage bishop and his wife in Missouri, who will be hosting Faith and the kids starting tomorrow. Faith stopped somewhere in Arkansas tonight, and I certainly hope she's been sleeping for a long time by now. They'll finish the journey tomorrow, and I can't think of a better place for her and the kids to be than the place where I was taken care of for a year . . . except maybe my parents' place, but that would have been an even longer trip.
The storm still looks like it's going to hit somewhere around New Orleans, Houma, Morgan City. If it's going to hit there, it could at least speed up a lot so it goes through quickly. A slow storm makes things even worse.
I'll keep updating from time to time, as long as we don't lose Internet here. In the meantime, be safe, and keep praying!
Thursday, August 28, 2008
If they go, I probably won't be joining them. I am the manager of a large public facility, and chances are good that the community center would be used as a staging ground for local relief/recovery efforts. I'd need to be close by in case our facility is needed. We are not a shelter--we are below flood level, so we can't be a hurricane shelter--but we have a large gymnasium and a banquet/meeting room that might be utilized after the storm. As I said, I am the manager. The facility is my responsibility, and I have a job to do. I may flee as far as Baton Rouge if it appears the storm is headed straight for the Morgan City/Amelia area, but that's about as far as I can go.
This also, strangely enough, puts me in position to be of service to area congregations. I've already told some of the area pastors that, should they and their congregation members need to flee the area, they can give out my cell phone number, and I'd help to coordinate communications so that we don't "lose" people the way we did after Katrina. I moved down here not long after Katrina, and I've been blessed to be a pulpit supply pastor for congregations who are still looking for members who disappeared after the storm.
I don't write any of this to boast. I'm doing what the Lord has called me to do as a pastor, a father and a worker. If I do it faithfully, then to God be the glory. Instead, I write this to make two requests of you. First off, I ask for your prayers--for myself, for my family, for the people of Louisiana and the rest of the Gulf coast, and for those who have already been hit by Gustav or will be hit in the course of the storm. This area, and the greater New Orleans area in particular, is still recovering from Katrina, and we've got a long way to go. And second, if you know people from the Gulf coast who may be fleeing and you have some place available, please open your homes to them. If the storm comes this way, the need will be great, and hotel rooms are already booked for hundreds of miles.
God bless you as you serve in your vocations as citizens and Christians!
Saturday, August 16, 2008
You can't tell me that Molly didn't know it was wrong to hide the remote. And you can't tell me that she wasn't covering up something she knew was wrong by first playing ingenuousness and then by lying to me about it. She's not yet three, but she knows.
Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. The Word should be enough; but if it's not, just ask my daughter. She knows.
Thursday, August 07, 2008
It's not often that a couple comes to you in a state of cohabitation and can honestly say, "No, we haven't had sex." That's the extremely rare exception, not the rule. So they're already living together and engaging in the act of procreation. Is it enough that they want to get married and rectify the situation?
No. It's a good step, but it's not the most important thing. If all you want to do is make official what you've already been doing, you can go to a justice of the peace for that . . . or find the local "marrying/burying pastor" who will do any official act for a bit of green in the pocket. For a God-pleasing resolution to the situation, first there must also be an admission that what has gone before is sin. It doesn't have to be rubbed in their faces, but they need to acknowledge before God and each other that they have sinned by their actions and inactions. Pre-marital counseling is a wonderful teaching moment. It's a wonderful thing to be able to tell a couple, "You have confessed your sin. Thanks be to God, your sins are forgiven in the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. It will be my joy to perform your wedding ceremony." That way, confession and absolution is at the heart of their marriage. When you can say without sarcasm to your husband or wife, "I was wrong; please forgive me," your marriage should be in great shape.
Thanks, Rich. It's great being able to talk shop with a brother.
Monday, August 04, 2008
Issues, Etc. is a radio program that used to be on the LCMS radio station until the program became too Lutheran for our current leadership. Now they are an independent radio program, and they're no longer censored by those who don't want them to speak the truth. If you're at all interested in learning what it is to be truly Lutheran--and thus, truly Christian--listen to these guys. The above link at "Issues, Etc." takes you to their "On Demand" page, and you can also subscribe to their podcasts on iTunes. Take the time to listen. It's worth it!
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
This was not only new ground for me. The congregation which extended this Call to me had been a sole-pastorate for most of its history with a few very brief jaunts into team ministry. About 5 years before I arrived, the congregation Called a second pastor for the first time in 30 years, and that team ministry was marked by conflict. I arrived over a year after the initial senior pastor retired. A year after I arrived, the congregation decided to extend a Call to a third pastor. In the space of two years—or 6 years, depending on how you look at it—the congregation moved from a sole-pastor arrangement to a team of three, and nobody set out to define their roles beforehand. This team ministry was marred by conflict, and all three pastors have since departed.
While it is a new idea in many congregations, team ministry itself is not a novelty or a recent innovation. It has been a reality in the Christian Church from the very beginning. The Lord Himself chose twelve men (Mk 3:14-19), and these twelve men became a team to continue His work. When He sent out the seventy (Lk 10), He sent them out in pairs. To aid them in the task of ministering to the widows (Acts 6), the Apostles chose a team of seven deacons.
We also see in Scripture how the team dynamic can be strained and can ultimately fail. Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss (Mk 14:45). When Paul and Barnabas disagreed about John Mark, another member of their team (Acts 15:35-40), they split up, and Paul continued on with Silas.
When I received the Call to serve in a team ministry, I had no idea where to begin or what questions to ask. As students we are all taught general guidelines for considering the Divine Call. However, considering the Call to multi-staff parish ministry is a more complex matter. It’s not merely a question of assessing one’s fit in a particular congregation. One must also consider the other personalities on the staff and discern whether or not one fits in with those personalities. Here is a list of areas one should contemplate when deliberating the Call to a multi-staff parish:
1. Staff Personalities: Talk extensively with the other members of the staff, especially the pastoral staff. Get to know them as well as you can as you consider the Call. Are they the kind of people you can work with? Are they the kind of people with whom you and your wife can get along? Are you theologically and doctrinally similar? (In other words, does everyone on the staff believe in Jesus?)
2. Your Specific Areas of Responsibility: Check your "job description". If the congregation doesn't have any descriptions, ask that they try to provide one for you beyond the Call documents, which can be rather nebulous. You need to know exactly what they expect of you, and sometimes that goes deeper than Call documents. For example, your Call documents may say that the congregation wants you to focus your attention on the youth. How committed are they to the youth? Do they really want a youth group? The same goes for whatever else may be in your Call documents. Make sure the congregation really wants what they say they want. It’s very disconcerting to arrive at a congregation and realize that you’re there under false pretenses.
3. Staff Responsibilities and Overlap: Check "job descriptions" again, this time for all the members of the multi-staff parish. Look at what the other members of the staff are expected to do. Where do their areas of responsibility cross your areas of responsibility? Who takes charge when these areas cross? Are you merely the low man on the totem pole, or will they respect your experience and expertise? The proper division of labor can make or break staff interaction and effectiveness. The congregation that desires to move toward multi-staff ministry but does not break down the responsibilities of each member of the staff is asking for trouble.
4. Conflict: Will your fellow pastors discuss disagreements in private, or will they voice those differences in the presence of parishioners? When there is conflict, does the rest of the staff promise to abide by Matthew 18? How does the congregation handle conflict? Does the congregation have a history of calling the District President or Circuit Counselor without speaking to the pastors when complaints arise? Do the other pastors have that history?
5. Lay Leadership Interaction and Selection: What kind of support will you have from the laity? Are the elders appointed by the Senior Pastor? What kind of voice do you have in the process of selecting officers? Are you part of the nominating committee, or is that solely the domain of the Senior Pastor? How active is the laity? How important are the lay leaders in the life of this particular congregation?
6. General Areas of Responsibility: Are you an “associate” pastor or an “assistant” pastor? It makes a difference in the eyes of Synod and District and Circuit, and it may make a difference in the eyes of the Senior Pastor and congregation. What kind of participation will you have in Word and Sacrament? How often will you lead the liturgy? How often will you preach? How often will you celebrate the Eucharist? How are the shut-ins divided? In other words, are you a pastor, or are you a glorified Director of Christian Education or vicar?
7. Office Matters: Talk to the church secretary or secretaries. Are they friends with the pastors? Do they gossip about confidential matters? Can you work with them? Do the other pastors gossip to the secretaries? Will the other pastors use the secretaries to play the pastors off against each other? Are you going to be the de facto secretary when the church secretary goes on vacation?
8. Three Pastors: Another important factor to consider is the triangle of conflict. When a congregation has (or seeks to have) three pastors on staff, a natural two-on-one division occurs when it comes to conflict. It may not always be the same two uniting against one, but remaining neutral is seldom possible when tensions are running high. Rare is the congregation that operates smoothly with three pastors. Having more or less pastors doesn’t eliminate conflict, but having three pastors almost always promotes conflict.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of matters to consider when contemplating a Call to multi-staff parish ministry. However, a pastor does his prospective congregation, his fellow pastors, his family, and himself no favors if he doesn’t ask some questions before he wades into the fray. Multi-staff parish ministry can be a complicated matter, and, like any relationship, team ministry can fail and fall apart. With the guidance of the Holy Spirit, a pastor can avoid all sorts of pitfalls if he contemplates thoughtfully and prayerfully before accepting a Call to serve in a congregation with more than one pastor.
Monday, July 28, 2008
Some days, the vocation of "father" is more difficult than other days. It's not just the exhaustion . . . though, God knows, there's plenty of that. I haven't been able to sleep through the night in two weeks now, and it's beginning to take its toll. But I've noticed that, when I'm tired, my patience wears thin. This is not a good thing when dealing with toddler twins in their terrible twos. (Like that alliteration? I was an English major for nearly two years. Can't help myself sometimes.)
I like to think I'm a good father. Doesn't every father? I mean, I work a full-time job to support my family, and then I come home and I play with and watch over my children. I play with them. I help feed them. I change their diapers. I kiss their boo-boos. I nibble their toes. I help put them to sleep, and then I take night duty, holding them and sometimes feeding them back into insensibility and sleep. Not that I'm looking for kudos or anything. After all, isn't that what a father is supposed to do?
You know, I never thought I'd be a father. Not that I ever had anything against children, but I never thought I'd get married. No wife? No kids. I had some vague notion about someday possibly adopting a teenager when I was in my 40s, but as I said, it was just a vague notion. I went from being a bachelor to being a husband and the father of a seven year-old in a matter of minutes--well, in less than a year, anyway. (My wife and I had a whirlwind courtship.) I was never prepared for all this.
On the other hand, I've had three wonderful examples in fatherhood. My own father worked two and sometimes three jobs to support our family, but he always made time for us. He read me bedtime stories. He coached my baseball team. He knew when to be just and when to be merciful. If it's any indication of the kind of father he was, he was the best man at my wedding.
My vicarage Bishop is another. He's the father of seven--though I imagine it seems like 30 sometimes, with all the friends running around the house. He's an island of calm in the middle of the fury that is his family. He seems almost effortlessly to balance his various vocations: husband, father, pastor, mentor, etc.
And then, of course, there is the perfect Father. He's the Father who sent His only-begotten Son to atone for the sins of the world. He's the Father who perfectly answers every need of His children. He's the Father who loves wayward children who love to rebel against him. He's the Father who loves us to call him "Father". He heals our ills. He comforts our griefs. He provides "all that we need to support this body and life".
Time will tell what kind of father I end up being. God willing, even if I'm not a great father, at least my children will grow up knowing I love them and have done everything I can to take care of them. It's now 5:50 AM, and I've got to be up in another hour or so, but Michael seems to be sleeping soundly. What more could I ask for? I guess Daddy can go back to bed now.
Friday, July 18, 2008
They need no light, no lamp nor sun, for Christ will be their all.
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
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.
Friday, July 11, 2008
I accepted the Call to serve as Associate Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Zanesville, Ohio, in June of 2003, and I was Installed on August 3 of 2003. Trinity is one of the oldest congregations in the LCMS, being founded in 1844. When I was Installed, the congregation had 1,200 active members. According to my Call documents, after Word and Sacrament ministry, my primary focus as Associate Pastor was to be on the youth of the congregation. I rejoiced at this, as much of my life before my Ordination (nine years) was spent working with youth in a secular community center.
I was serving under a Senior Pastor, a man who at the time was in the Air Force Reserve. We went to the same college, and our theology seemed very similar and our few conversations during the Call process indicated that we'd probably be able to work well together. Trinity was also expecting a vicar, and he was brought in two weeks after my Installation. We also seemed to develop a healthy working relationship. When his vicarage was complete, he was brought back as a second Associate Pastor.
Thought most of the congregation didn't know it, there was a great deal of conflict between myself, the Senior Pastor and the other Associate Pastor. Most of the conflict was between the Senior Pastor and the other Associate Pastor, as they are both very type-A personalities who are at their best when they're in charge. The Senior Pastor and I had some conflict because of his attitude toward my wife, but we seldom had any problems in terms of him being in charge. He's not the best administrator in the world, but when you know that going in, you can do what needs to be done and make things work. However, the Senior Pastor and the Associate Pastor both seemed to vie for the "important" things—baptisms, weddings, certain funerals. There was plenty of work for three pastors at Trinity, but if one looks at the records of pastoral acts during the time the three of us were at Trinity, one will note that most of the baptisms, weddings and funerals were done by the Senior Pastor and the Associate Pastor, and I took the ones that neither of them wanted or that conflicted with more important events. We were in what I call the Bermuda Triangle of Ministry--having three pastors in one church is a recipe for disaster, as it always seems like two are teaming up against the third. In fact, once the other Associate Pastor left, things seemed to calm down a lot at Trinity, at least in terms of the office. I don't know if there was any one of the three of us who was particularly right or wrong; it was more that there were too many cooks trying to stir the pot. If that was the only problem I'd had at Trinity, I would have been happy to stay in my little niche, to work with the youth and teach catechism instruction and preach when my assigned dates came up. The Senior Pastor was the Senior Pastor. I knew that when I came in, and I had no problem with that.
I met my wife in 2004, after I had accepted the Call and had begun to serve as Trinity's Associate Pastor. I met her online. This caused some issues with certain members of Trinity. I worked extensively with the youth group, and one member of the congregation complained in writing, "I wish we had a youth leader who could set a good example for my children. A leader who doesn't go to the internet to find his wife." I knew that finding a wife outside of the congregation could cause some problems, especially for people who had young single daughters who they thought would be perfect as a pastor's wife. However, I did not expect to be accused of immorality merely because of the way the Lord introduced me to my wife. Such sentiments dogged the two of us through the rest of our time at Trinity.
Near the end of 2004, the congregation began a 'parish renewal' program. This was a nightmare. The way it worked out, it was just a bunch of people taking anonymous pot-shots at the pastors. One person had the audacity to say that all three pastors needed to leave. My integrity, my morality, and my competence--and that of both of the other pastors--were attacked. The 'parish renewal' was completely un-Christian, and I don't think anything good came from it.
About four months after our wedding on New Year’s Eve of 2004, my wife became pregnant, and we found out early on that we were expecting twins. Over the course of her pregnancy, she became increasingly dissatisfied with the medical care she was receiving. The obstetrician/gynecologist who was responsible for her care was trying to force a specific method of delivery on my wife, and my wife was not pleased. He went so far as to falsify her medical records. We looked for another doctor, but we couldn't find one with whom my wife was happy. In addition to this, we considered the practicalities of raising twins with no support from family, and we realized that, because of the attitude of certain members toward my wife, we could expect little help from congregation members.
My wife is from southern Louisiana, which means that we have family and friends in the Katrina-ravaged area. Knowing that families from Louisiana would be relocating throughout the country and knowing that the need would be great (and knowing that a family from Trinity was at the time hosting some of their family members from Louisiana and that at the time a number of families had already relocated to the Zanesville area), she contacted the local Red Cross chapter to see how she could help. The director assigned her the task of contacting local congregations to see how we could pool resources. However, three members of Trinity contacted the director, complaining that my wife was railroading the Trinity congregation and forcing them to help. At that point, she had only spoken to the Ladies Aid to notify them of the upcoming need; she spoke to the Church Council; and she put inserts in the bulletin asking people to put things they'd possibly be willing to donate on the resource list. She even said in the bulletin insert that listing items would not obligate anyone to donate anything. She did not speak individually to anyone in the congregation to solicit support. Of all the congregations in the community she contacted, none of the others had complained about her efforts. Nevertheless, on the strength of these three members of Trinity, the Red Cross director asked her to step down, afraid that the Red Cross would lose the support of the Trinity congregation. My wife was devastated that members of our own congregation could be so hurtful toward her that they would deny 17 transient families the help they so desperately needed.
From the standpoint of the leadership of the congregation, the stated crux of the matter--and I have reason to believe this was spurious--is my journal (also known as a blog). I kept a personal journal, one I felt was fairly private. However, it was an online journal. This journal was meant to be a way for me to keep in touch with friends, a way to return to writing, and a way for me to talk about the joys and frustrations of my life. The nature of the service I used is that one can make one's journal completely private, one could choose a select group of individuals who would have access to the entries, or one could make the journal completely public. I chose to make my entries available to a select group of people—mostly people I know in real life and trust to give me advice and encouragement. I say encouragement because I tend to complain a lot in my journal. It's a defense mechanism of mine. When something went wrong or something frustrated me, I complained about it in my journal. I would let it all out and then some. It didn't mean that I was unwilling to serve. I just wanted to vent my frustrations in what I in my naivety saw as a harmless way so that I wouldn't carry those frustrations into my dealings with members of my congregation. Never in my journal did I violate confidentiality or the Seal of the Confessional. Nevertheless, I realize now that I shouldn't have used the journal in that way.
I don't know how it happened, but someone from the congregation gained access to my journal. This person shared these entries with a number of people in the congregation, and eventually these entries reached the elders of the congregation. At no time in this process was I notified that anything was amiss, and to this day I have no idea what entries were circulated or who circulated them. It's entirely possibly that the entries that were attributed to me were not written by me, because I've never seen them to verify that they were, indeed, mine. Anyway, the elders never approached me, opting instead to bring this to the attention of the District President.
At a meeting with then-President Bergen of the Ohio District on October 12, 2005, he notified me that I would be placed on Restricted Status. That same day, the Senior Pastor notified me that I was required to attend a meeting with him, the Circuit Counselor, and the President of the Trinity congregation. At this meeting I was told that Trinity’s Board of Elders wanted me to submit my resignation. I could say no, of course, but if I chose to refuse, I was notified that the elders of Trinity would ask the congregation to rescind my Call and that any considered severance package would disappear. Both the Senior Pastor and the Circuit Counselor knew this was coming, but they were forbidden by President Bergen from speaking to me on the matter.
I wanted a little time to consider this—overnight, if nothing else—but I was given little time to consider. I asked for a little privacy. I prayed, gave what consideration I could give the situation in ten minutes, and then I called my wife. We decided it would be best if I resigned voluntarily. I could have fought it. I could have asked for a District Reconciler. I could have demanded a vote from the congregation. I could have called members of Trinity who loved and supported me and asked them to speak on my behalf to other members of the congregation. However, I had no desire to create any further division at Trinity, especially since Trinity at that time was already in the midst of transition and conflict. I didn't want any longer to cause children of God to sin. Most of all, I didn't want to drag the youth of the congregation into a situation where they felt they had to choose between me or the congregation. In addition, resigning and moving to Louisiana meant that my wife would have some knowledge of the medical professionals available to undertake her care and the delivery of the twins and that Faith's family would be available to help Faith at times when I was unavailable. I wanted to announce the resignation myself at the Council meeting scheduled for that meeting, but even that was forbidden. I was at no time allowed to defend myself.
I can't speak for the elders of the congregation at that time. I don't know what their motives were, and they certainly never spoke to me about anything about which they had concerns. One elder walked out of worship the last Sunday I was there and said to me, "You certainly accused a lot of good people." I asked him to explain himself, but he just kept walking. The head elder refused to answer any of my questions after my resignation--"at the prompting of President Bergen," he said. So I don't know what they were thinking, but they never approached me as Matthew 18 would have them do. They never treated with me as brothers in Christ should have.
Part of the problem as I perceive it now was that I didn't automatically follow the party line, so to speak. I was an associate pastor at this congregation. The Senior Pastor and I were both fairly conservative on paper, but the Senior Pastor under which I served had served under a senior pastor who had been there for 33 years, and his theology left something to be desired. For example: under him open Communion became standard, and he did weddings for everyone who came in. None of use forced the issue, but we all taught with an eye toward the future. At private elders meetings, getting rid of the three of us was discussed frequently. They got their wish. The other Associate Pastor took a call after only a year there. I was forced out. And the Senior Pastor left so he could go full-time military before he could be forced out.
A few of those in leadership also didn't like the fact that, as my Call documents demanded, I focused a great deal of my attention on the youth of the congregation. That was supposed to be my focus, and I took it seriously. However, they didn't appreciate that the group continued to grow and took a great deal of my attention.
If I'd been a single man, I might have made the elders force me out. With a wife, a child, and twins on the way, I had no choice. Maybe the voters would have let me stay long enough to find a Call, or maybe they would have voted to rescind my Call. Or maybe they'd have asked me to stay. I don't know. All I know is, with the threat hanging over my head and a family to support, I put my vocation as father and husband over that of pastor. I may regret leaving as I did, but I can never regret making the decision I did for the sake of my family.
I certainly wasn't without guilt in what happened at Trinity. Talking about the congregation in my online journal was wrong, even when I was speaking positively about things—though I did a lot of that, especially when it came to the youth. I'll admit that I was not overly concerned about the money I utilized as the youth group organizer. I used the budget I was given as I thought best. I did my best to be a good steward of the money. I can see where some might argue the result, but my motives were never nefarious. Meetings and game nights brought more kids to the church than I'd thought possible. I don't know if any of them still come, but one youth in particular was a wonderful young man who had a bright future at Trinity. I don't know that I needed to spend that kind of money to keep him there, and I certainly wasn't trying to buy anyone off. I just wanted to provide a welcoming environment.
As I said, I have reason to believe that my journal being the reason I was asked to resign was a cover for something else. One of the leaders of the congregation did a mid-year audit of the youth money, looking for improprieties--in spite of the fact that they always do a year-end audit of every account. The response I received to my relationship with my wife and the continuing harsh words and actions were another sore spot with the leaders of the congregation. As I said, I was not right to keep accounts of congregational happenings in my online journal, and I would never do that again. However, I don't believe it was an offense that merited being asked to leave the congregation, and I don't believe it was truly the reason the board of elders wanted me gone.
As far as the aftermath of my resignation goes, then-President Bergen met with me and informed me that I was on restricted status because he needed to investigate whether or not I had acted sinfully. He threatened me at that time with the possibility of suspension and even removal from the clergy roster of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. He also wanted me to go to see a specialized counselor in Minnesota (which is affiliated with the ELCA) to assess my suitability for the Ministry, and he made this a condition of my return to active status. He also wrote in his assessment of me which he shared with the specialized counselor a list of problems, and in that list of "problems" he included the fact that I am "very conservative theologically". He saw me as a malcontent because I had signed the document "That They May Be One". From the time I was Installed at Trinity, he made himself unavailable to me, refusing to return my phone calls and answer correspondence, though he made himself available to the Senior Pastor, the Associate Pastor, and to those who sought my removal from the congregation. In December of 2005 he promised to remove me from Restricted Status as soon as I completed paperwork he was sending to me, but he did not remove me until August of 2006, though I returned the paperwork immediately. He also urged me not to seek out “rigid and ultra-conservative pastors, who do not have good relational skills”.
In the 31 months since my resignation, I have filled in at eight congregations in three states. I've served two different vacancies. And now, I'm waiting for a Call. In God's time, of course.