Wednesday, February 25, 2009

5 Things

Comment to this post and I will give you 5 subjects/things I associate you with. Then post this in your LJ/Blog and elaborate on the subjects given.

You can ask questions about the post without me giving you 5 subjects. If you do want topics, please ask for them.

I received my topics from Rev. Charles Lehmann at

1. CLTS (which stands for Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary)
2. John Frahm III
3. New Orleans
4. Having a family
5. Being a pastor

Here are my responses:

1. CLTS: Unlike most LCMS pastors, I attended neither Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri, nor Concordia Theologica Seminary in Forty Wayne, Indiana. Instead I attended Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary in St. Catharines, Ontario. One of the biggest reasons was that I could live at home and commute, thus saving money on room and board while keeping the job I'd held for the previous five years, since St. Catharines was only about 45 minutes from home. I knew from the beginning that I wouldn't attend the seminary in St. Louis. The academic reputation of Concordia, St. Louis, was such that I had no interest in attending there. I just don't have the academic credentials, and the arrogance I perceived at the time was just too much to be borne. I gave serious consideration to Fort Wayne. One of my friends would be going into his final year when I started my first year, so I knew I'd have at least some connection to the seminary. But there were rumors going around Bronxville during my last year that the LCMS was going to try to close down the Fort Wayne seminary, and I didn't want to start there if there was a possibility I could end up in St. Louis anyway. Unfortunately, the campus visit that I had planned to make with my best friend to visit both the US seminaries was cancelled due to a well-timed snowstorm during Christmas break, so I didn't get to experience either of them at the time. I have since rectified that lack, but I had nothing to convince me that either of the seminaries would suit me.

Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary, on the other hand, had a lot that appealed to me beyond its mere proximity to my home. The small class size assured me that I wouldn't be able to lose myself in a large classroom and just sneak by. I knew I needed to be under pressure to perform, and in a graduating class of six, I had nowhere to hide. I also appreciated the fact that a small student body would tend to be more like a family. I was seldom disappointed in that aspect, though my second year of seminary nearly drove me away from the Ministry altogether. (But that's a story for another time.) Since I wouldn't be living on campus--since there was no place on campus for us to live--I wouldn't have the distractions of dorm life. And when I visited the campus, I was met by Dean Roger Humann, a man who impressed me with both his eminent competence and his gentle humility.

I was a little disappointed with the lack of options for electives, as I would love to have been able to take some course work on campus ministry and some further electives on liturgical theology. Also, I didn't exactly hit it off with some of my professors from the beginning, especially some of the adjunct professors. But all in all, even with a very stressful second year, my seminary experience was wonderful, and I can honestly say that it prepared me fairly well for parish ministry. Oh, there are things that no seminary class can prepare you for--like the challenges of serving a dual parish in rural North Dakota, for instance--but I don't feel I missed out on much by going to St. Catharines instead of Fort Wayne. Maybe living on campus in Fort Wayne might have been better for me in some ways, but I think that was balanced nicely by the fact that I worked 30 hours a week during seminary, preparing me for being on call 24 hours a day and working 50 to 90 hour weeks at times.

2. John Frahm III: John was in his last year while I was going through my horrible second year at St. Catharines. To be honest, I didn't really like about half of the Fourth Year students at the time, though I've gotten to like them better in the years since. But John wasn't one of those guys. I liked John . . . despite his annoying tendancy to cheer for the Minnesota Vikings. I liked the fact that he threw around German words and phrases rather than Latin words and phrases, even if I couldn't understand those any more than I could the Latin. I also liked the fact that he was approachable. But what I liked most about John was his Lutheran orthodoxy. I think I learned more about what Lutherans believe beyond the basics from John than I did from my teachers that year, probably because I was so miserable in classes that I wanted to stop paying attention. I don't know who gave it to him, but John had earned for himself, and rightly so, the nickname "the Boombox of Lutheran orthodoxy". He knew his stuff, but he wasn't an a$$ about it the way some could be. John was a good friend at a time when I really needed one, and though we've not been as close in days since, I will always appreciate John Frahm as one of the main reasons I survived seminary.

3. New Orleans: I've lived in southeastern Louisiana for over three years now, and in that time I've preached all over the place, including New Orleans and its immediate environs. I've also visited the city a number of times for a number of reasons, both for business and for pleasure. Though there's so much more I want to experience there, I've come to love what I've seen. I could ride the riverboats every day (as long as I wore sunscreen and a hat). St. Charles Avenue is a beautiful drive at any time of the year. The restaurants are wonderful. The people are (usually) friendly. There's so much atmosphere, so many sights to see, so many little shops and hidden delights. No matter where I go in life, I think a little piece of me will always stay in Louisiana.

4. Having a family: I spent a lot of my life as a single man. I didn't even date that much. To be honest, as much as I wanted it, I didn't think I would ever get married, much less have any children. When I met Faith, it surprised me how easily and how quickly we hit it off. That she brought with her a child from a previous relationship caught me off guard, I will admit, but Alexis and I seemed be able to coexist. In the space of a year I went from being completely single to being married with a child, and in another year we had a total of three children. I'd like to be able to say that I'm a good father, though my lack of patience probably puts that beyond the realm of possibility. But I'm a caring and loving father, even if I'm not always doing or saying the right thing. I love having a family, as much of a pain in the behind as it can be sometimes. Maybe things might have been easier if I'd stayed single or if we didn't have any children, but there's no way my life would have been better.

5. Being a pastor: I've been a pastor for nearly 9 years now, and I've experienced a little bit of everything. I've seen what a loving congregation can do to make a pastor's life easier. I've seen what dissatisfied parishioners can do to a pastor and even to his wife. I've learned the kind of love that I never thought that I could have for people, being as introverted as I am. And I've learned that there's things I never want to experience again. All that being said, I love being a pastor. There are things I could do better. There are difficulties and frustrations that sometimes make me want to rip out my goatee. There are some people who can be so cruel that it can almost make you want to brain them with a processional cross. But when it comes down to it, I can't picture myself wanting to do anything else. Oh, I've been forced to find something else for the time being, but I am, first and foremost, a pastor. Well, I am first and foremost a child of God. But I am not a recreation center manager. That's just something I do. I am a pastor. As it is with fatherhood, there are undoubtedly those who are better pastors than I am, people who have a firmer grasp of theology, people who are more loving, people who are better preachers, people who are better at visiting the sick and the shut-in. But I love all of it. I love the hard work and long hours. I love the struggle with a difficult text. I love the vaguely sick feeling I get every time I step into the pulpit. I love that Christ uses me to speak His absolution and feed His body and blood to His people. I truly believe that God chose me to be a pastor, as awful and as terrifying as that Call can be at times. And I'm glad He did.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Living Together Before Marriage

I'm always intrigued that people think it's better to live together as a prelude to marriage than it is to just get married. I know the arguments--the three major ones, at least. The first one goes something like, "It's much better to pay for a moving truck than it is to pay for a lawyer." Aside from the Scriptural, theological and moral arguments--and rest assured, I know plenty of those--there's a good reason not to go the living together route. Living together gives you an automatic out. Living together is not a real commitment. When you're free to go at any time, you don't face a true test because you don't have to face a true test. When the first sign of struggle or of hardship approaches, it's too easy to walk out the door without a look back. True commitment is signing on for the long haul, knowing that the hardship is coming, and resolving to stick it out "for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health". Rather than expecting to pay for the moving truck, why not expect the best and make it work without the moving truck or the lawyer?

The second argument has to do with sex. "Don't you want to know if you're compatible?" Tell me something. Does one of you have Tab A? Does the other have Slot A? Poof! You're compatible. Your preferences are negotiable, and part of the marriage relationship is learning what you like and how you work together. Trial and error, experimentation and hard work will go a long way to helping you learn to make your partner happy and helping your partner learn to make you happy. That's not just true about sex, but it is true about sex.

And the third argument is that living together is the best way to get to know someone on the way to getting married. If that were true, no one would ever have gotten married in the first place. If you do it right, getting to know someone takes a lifetime. You only start in dating. The rest of it is done in marriage. And sure, you want to know before you get married what a person is truly like. But if you think you'll get that from living together, you're wrong. What you get in living together is a skewed picture, the doctored picture that's been touched up so you don't' see the blemishes. And when you do see the blemishes when you're living together, it's all over.

You want a trial? Commit a crime. You want a test? Go to college. You want a real relationship? Find someone of the opposite sex who loves you, who cares about you, and who is willing to stick with you no matter what. Then marry them.

Happy Valentines Day. Go love somebody.

Friday, February 13, 2009


One of my pastor friends made a comment about his retirement date, which is projected to happen around the year 2040, and it got me to thinking about my future. When I was a new pastor, I'd given that some thought . . . though what a 25 year-old is doing thinking of retirement is beyond me. Anyway, after some consideration, I'd come to the conclusion that I probably wouldn't retire. The work is too important, and if the Lord wanted me to stop, He'd bring me Home.

I've been thinking about this in light of the current "clergy shortage" in the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod which apparently precipitates the need for programs such as DELTO and SMPP. According to the January 2009 edition of "The Lutheran Witness", we have 9,164 pastors in the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod, 5,356 of whom are serving parishes right now. Remembering for the moment that some of those pastors are serving in congregations with two or more pastors and others are serving two or more congregations, that leaves approximately 811 congregations without a pastor and 3,808 pastors who are not serving a parish right now. So my question is, is there truly a pastor shortage? My former district president told me in no uncertain terms and in capital letters, "THERE IS NO CLERGY SHORTAGE." He was was mistaken about a number of things, but I don't think he was wrong about this. Of the 3,808 pastors not serving a parish right now, there's no indication of how many of those are retired/emeritus and how many of those are CRM or inactive pastors who remain on the clergy roster. But between those 3,808 pastors, are there truly not 811 pastors who could not serve those congregations without a pastor? I know I just turned down a Call to a congregation that needed a pastor, and I'm one of those 3,808, but that does not mean I'm unwilling to serve. And I know I'm not the only guy in this circumstance.

I don't have any beef with the brother who is looking forward to his retirement. That's a decision every pastor must make for himself, and I can't fault anyone who feels they need to step away from the strife. The life of a pastor can be worrisome, and even the best of situations can be exhausting. I've seen both sides of this now. I've seen the Ministry in good times and in bad. I've seen pastors treat their congregations like they were children . . . or worse. I've seen congregations treat their pastors like hirelings . . . or worse. But I've seen congregations love their pastors through horrible family situations and worse, and I've seen pastors sit at the bedsides of their parishioners for literally days on end. Whether it's the best of times or the worst of times, pastors have a responsibility to preach the Word. And I plan on doing so until the day I die.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

My decision concerning the Call to Grace, El Paso

Since by now it has been announced to the Grace congregation in El Paso, Texas, I can now announce it publically. I have regretfully decided to decline the Divine Call to serve as their pastor. It was not an easy decision to make, and my heart bleeds for the Grace congregation. Please pray for this congregation, that they may receive a faithful pastor and persevere under difficult circumstances. They are not receiving much support from the people whose job it is to support them, and that made the decision to decline that much harder.

I imagine there are some people out there who can't understand why I'd decline a Call when I desire one so desperately. All I can say is that I honestly believe that the Lord wants me to be where I am right now. That could change tomorrow. Who knows but God? I'll leave that up to Him.

Thank you so much for your prayers for me throughout this process. God is good, and He will provide--both for me and for Grace.