Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Multi-Staff Parish Ministry: Considerations in the Call Process

During my third year in my first parish—a sole pastorate in a dual parish in North Dakota—I received a Call to serve as an associate pastor in a large congregation. This was totally new ground for me. I’d received a wonderful education to prepare me to be a parish pastor. However, this training was focused on serving as a sole pastor in a single-congregation parish, and neither my first parish nor my second fit this description. This is not the seminary’s fault, of course. With only so much time and with so many required courses, there are only so many possibilities for which the seminary can prepare prospective pastors. It’s much better to prepare these men for what they are most likely to face.

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


It's 5:23 AM as I start writing this. That's because my son just went back to sleep, having woken me up a scant hour and a half after my daughter went back to sleep. I'm tired, but I can't go back to bed just yet. Well, I guess I could, but if I don't wait a few minutes to see if Michael is really asleep and not playing possum, I could be back out here in two minutes to pick him up again.

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

E'en So, Lord Jesus, Quickly Come

I want this piece performed at my funeral. I performed it when I was in the Tour Choir of Concordia College in Bronxville, New York, and I don't think I ever performed it without crying at the beauty. The text is taken from various parts of the Revelation to St. John. It's called "E'en So, Lord Jesus, Quickly Come", and it's composed by Paul Manz. He supposedly (according to then-Choir director, Dr. Ralph Schultz) wrote the music for this in the hospital where his son was supposedly dying; and his wife Ruth, who just died, adapted the text. It's not easy to hear in the YouTube video, but it's a gorgeous piece. And the title is a constant prayer of mine.

They need no light, no lamp nor sun, for Christ will be their all.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Ready, SET? Go.

EDIT: My SET is now updated here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 11, 2008

My CRM Story

This is the story of how I ended up on CRM status and thus in exile. ("CRM" is the initials of Latin words which are roughly translated "Candidate for the Holy Ministry".) I tried to be as objective as possible. In terms of the facts, I have saved all the corroborating evidence--letters, e-mails, comments made both in the "Parish Renewal Program" and the Ministerial Assessment I mention herein. In terms of my opinions, as I said, I've tried to be as objective as possible. In terms of the opinions of others, I've tried to be as factual as possible; and where I don't have firsthand evidence, I've tried not to report at all.

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.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Semper Fidelis

This is a bit off the beaten track from what I usually post here. However, there is something to be said for thanking God for the the freedoms we have in our great nation and the men and women who sacrifice so much to earn those freedoms for a sometimes ungrateful nation.

From time to time I forget how much I love being a citizen of the United States of America. With all the political chicanery, with all the infighting, with all the corruption, with all the violence, sometimes it's all too easy to forget what a great nation this is.

And then something reminds me. I watched Extreme Makover: Home Edition tonight. It's a repeat of an episode I've seen before, but it really touched me tonight. The man whose house they demolished and rebuilt is a Marine. During his second tour in Iraq he was the victim of an IED attack, and he lost his leg. He died twice on the way to the hospital, but obviously they brought him back both times. After he finally got home, his wife left him, leaving him the single parent of four children. So here's a man with a prosthetic leg who can't really get around his house, raising four kids on his own, working in a home garage to support his family.

When they were building the new house, some of the men from his unit were able to participate in the project--including the guy who wrapped the tourniquet around his leg to keep him from bleeding out. A number of Marines were there when the family came home, lining up along the road, saluting as they raised the US and Marine flags. Ordinary men and women become heroes when they put on those uniforms and step into the daily fight for freedom.

This Marine sacrificed so much in the cause of freedom. And when you realize that he's just one of many who daily sacrifice for the cause of freedom--leaving their families and jobs, working long hours in terrible conditions, sometimes giving up parts of themselves, sometimes making the ultimate sacrifice . . .

I know other nations have their own armed forces, but ours makes me proud to be an American. Thank you to all of you who have served with honor and with distinction. Though I may not always remember to say it, your hard work and sacrifices mean a great deal to me.