This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. 2 Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.
1 Corinthians 4:1-2 (English Standard Version Anglicised- ESVUK)
Our Call Committee continues sharing articles by Pastor David Wendel, which have been an integral part of our learning and reflection as our congregation prepares our Congregational Profile. In Pastor Wendel’s article, A Pastor Must Be Found Trustworthy (2016) (see attached), Pastor Wendel stresses the importance of a pastor building trust with their congregation by teaching and preaching the true Word of God, versus lectures that are driven by a different agenda.
In the second article, Preach the Word in Season and Out of Season and Preach Only the Word of God (2016) (see attached), Pastor’s Wendel quotes Martin Luther saying, “The holy Christian people are recognized by their possession of the Holy Word of God….and wherever you see this Word preached, believed, professed, and lived, do not doubt that the true ecclesia sancta catholica, a Christian holy people, must be there, even though their number may be very small.”
We are proof that small numbers of Christians believing, professing, and living God’s Word can do great things. We are working to provide funds to build a second well in Africa through Water to Thrive. We have supported Oaks Indian Mission in Oklahoma, Corey Elementary School, the Children’s Learning Center, and Arlington Charities, just to name a few.
As we move forward in the process of calling a pastor to ASLC, we are committed to doing our due diligence in identifying the strengths of our congregation as well as our needs. Completion of our Congregational Profile will be the focus of a Congregational Workshop being held on Saturday, January 29th, from 9:00 am until 3:00 pm. We appreciate this is a significant time commitment, but it is a critical step in ensuring that available pastors have an accurate description of our community, our church, and our congregation so that we can match our congregation with our future pastor.
We will provide a continental breakfast, and lunch. Babysitting will also be provided. This workshop is extremely important and will be led by Pastor Mark Braaten, the Dean of the Local Mission District. We need all of you there to help us prepare for our new Pastor!
ASLC Call Committee
A Pastor Must Be Found Trustworthy
Pastor David Wendel, Assistant to the Bishop for Ministry and Ecumenism
St. Paul writes, in 1 Corinthians 4:1-2:
This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.
In this instance, Paul is writing about himself as an apostle. However, we can hear him speaking also to pastors and other leaders in the Body of Christ. Pastors are indeed called to be servants of Christ and so stewards of the mysteries of God. And Paul says — when you are called to be a steward — you must be found trustworthy. As we continue our series on pastors and pastoral leadership, one of the most important challenges is for the servant of Christ to be found trustworthy!
A wise pastor once shared with me that the pastor ought to make no significant changes until earning the love, confidence and trust of the congregation. The customary rule was to wait at least a year before making big chances in a congregation. In some congregations and with some pastors, it may take longer than that.
Once there is confidence and trust, a pastor’s ministry will generally thrive. Until that exists, the congregation may view every action, decision and initiative of the pastor as suspect. Trust is the key to pastoral leadership and faithful shepherding. The question remains, however — how does the pastor earn the trust and confidence of the congregation?
The answer may sound ridiculously simple: A pastor earns the trust of the congregation by showing herself or himself worthy of trust! How does the pastor accomplish that? There are a number of ways a pastor proves worthy of trust.
1. Preach the word in season and out of season, and preach only the Word of God! (2 Timothy 4:2). NALC Bishop Emeritus Paull Spring writes: “The most effective way for a pastor to build trust in the congregation is through a faithful ministry of preaching and teaching the Word of God. Isaiah says, ‘Thy word shall not return to me empty.’ Truer words were never spoken. A pastor who ministers the Biblical word of Law and Gospel, according to the Lutheran Confessions, is laying a firm foundation for an ongoing, trusting relationship with a congregation.”
Unfortunately, in our time of shrinking worship attendance and involvement, pastors are often tempted to turn to what they hope might fill the pews once again, with all manner of stories, gimmicks and strategies. Put that together with our human need to push our own agenda in sermons, and in many places, you will find the sermon time anything but preaching of the Word of God!
Congregations will naturally react to such abuse of pastoral position, as they will note, and rightly so, that they aren’t being fed with the solid food of God’s Word. They will sense the pastor is not worthy of their trust, offering something other than the Word of God.
2. Deep listening and openly sharing. Retired Bishop Ron Warren comments, “Building trust between a pastor and congregation includes a balance between deep listening which focuses on the other persons and openly sharing personal viewpoints with care and compassion. Jesus was a master of building trust in relationships.”
Most pastors, if they are honest, will admit that they are better speakers than listeners. This causes folks to perceive that the pastor thinks “it’s all about me — the pastor.” It is a constant challenge for pastors to be focused on and attentive to the other — the one who is sharing with us a hurt, a concern, a need. And then, being caring and compassionate, we may offer a personal response that meets them where they are. Trust develops as the other person senses that their pastor is truly listening and hearing what they are saying.
3. Keep confidential matters confidential. Nothing shows that a pastor is not trustworthy more than the divulging of information intended to be confidential. It is critically important to the care of the souls entrusted to us that pastors keep confidences. Unless given specific permission to do so, pastors ought not share about the health, wellbeing or challenges of parishioners — not in sermons, not in announcement, and not in public prayers. The sharing of confidential information in just one or two circumstances will quickly convince the congregation as a whole that the pastor is not able to keep confidences. This lack of trustworthiness will often compromise the pastor’s ministry as a whole, as it raises doubts about the pastor’s commitment to the nature and aim of the call to ministry.
4. Pastoral visitation and awareness of the congregation’s history. Retired Bishop Ralph Kemski states, “Pastoral visitation must be a priority when arriving in the parish. Pastors should listen carefully to members and be aware of the congregation’s history.” There are many reasons for pastors to visit the households and/or visit with those in their spiritual care. This is how relationships grow and develop. This is how trust is built, and this is how pastors come to understand and appreciate the congregation’s unique history, customs and culture. When a congregation comes to believe that the pastor truly values each and every follower of Jesus in his or her care, listening and seeking to be sensitive to what is important and cherished in this particular congregation, they will come to trust the pastor. The pastor will be seen as wanting to be part of the community, not an outsider trying to change long-held patterns and practices. It may well be that there are patterns and practices that need to be changed, but change never happens effectively and positively until the shepherd has earned the love and trust of the congregation.
5. Build consensus and foster joint decision making in all things. In this time when worship attendance and involvement are declining in all congregations, it is common for call committees and congregations to indicate in the call process that they are looking for a pastor who will shake things up and help the congregation “turn things around!” This leads the newly called pastor to come in ready to just that — and is surprised in six months when folks are complaining there are too many changes made unilaterally by the new pastor.
Someone sent me a cartoon of a church council meeting where someone says, “We need to get a new young pastor with lots of new ideas to help us do the same things we’ve always done!” This is all too true, and it is a trap. Regardless of the spoken intentions of call committees and councils about “stirring things up,” the new pastor ought not make unilateral changes or decisions about anything until earning the confidence and trust of the congregation, and especially the congregational leadership.
Listening to folks and learning the history of the congregation is Job Number 3 for the pastor, after Job Number 1, which is preaching and teaching the Word of God, and Job Number 2, which is showing oneself to be worthy of trust. Pastors who make changes too quickly to worship, sanctuary arrangements, structure, schedule, etc. will do so to their own peril. Similarly, a new pastor who begins a ministry by authorizing purchases and spending without the full consensus
and support of the council will hinder the development of trust and confidence, creating difficulties down the road.
6. We build trust when we do what we say we’re going to do! This is important advice for each of us in any relationship — whether marriage, work, family, church. We build trust — we earn others’ trust when we do what we say we’re going to do. If a husband says he’s going to be faithful to his wife, but has an affair, he breaks trust and shows himself unworthy of trust. To rebuild that trust, he must be faithful, as he has promised. For a pastor or a council leader, people will trust us when we do what we say we will do.
If the pastor says he will visit a parishioner this week, he should visit that parishioner. If the pastor says she will be at a meeting, she must be at that meeting. Of course, emergencies happen and schedules change, but trust comes from being accountable, responsible and doing what we say. This is one of the simplest ways a pastor — or anyone — earns the trust of others! And just because we are in the loving, caring Body of Christ, we ought not think we are relieved of accountability, responsibility, and the need to be worthy of trust.
My hope is that these reflections on pastoral trustworthiness will be helpful to pastors and congregations, as we seek to more faithfully minister in Christ’s name, as servants of our Lord and joint stewards of the mysteries of God!
Pastors and Pastoral Leadership – Preach the Word in Season and Out of Season and Preach Only the Word of God
Pastor David Wendel, Assistant to the Bishop for Ministry and Ecumenism
After the last Ministry Matters article on “Pastoral Trustworthiness,” I realized the comments by Bishop Emeritus Paull Spring warrant an entire reflection of their own — that the faithful pastor, seeking to offer pastoral leadership, must be focused always on the Holy Word of God.
Bishop Spring stated: “The most effective way for a pastor to build trust in the congregation is through a faithful ministry of preaching and teaching the Word of God. Isaiah says, ‘Thy word shall not return to me empty.’ Truer words were never spoken. A pastor who ministers the Biblical word of Law and Gospel, according to the Lutheran Confessions, is laying a firm foundation for an ongoing, trusting relationship with a congregation.”
It is truly unfortunate and tragic that there was a movement away from faithful preaching and teaching of the Word of God in some parts of Lutheranism in the last few generations.
At the recent Canadian Rockies Theological Conference, lecturer Rod Dreher quoted another writer who said the problem is that much of Christianity has been reduced to (or replaced by) “MTD” — “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.”
This means that, rather than preaching, teaching and pastoral leadership being guided by the truth of Holy Scripture, proclaiming that we are saved by grace through faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, what has been offered are selective moralistic, agenda-driven presentations that aim at helping people feel better about themselves, drawing upon a general notion of God (deism), when it might be useful. The bankruptcy of this approach is obvious, given that such a proclamation is devoid of “the power of God unto salvation.”
Martin Luther, in his listing of the seven marks of the Body of Christ, says that we should first look for the Holy Word of God. The holy Christian people are recognized by their possession of the Holy Word of God — and “wherever you see this Word preached, believed, professed and lived,” Luther said, “do not doubt that the true ecclesia sancta catholica, ‘a Christian holy people’ must be there, even though their number may be very small.”
Luther continues, “Those who have the pure Word of God are those who ‘build on the foundation with gold, silver and precious stones’; those who do not have it in its purity are the ones who ‘build on the foundation with wood, hay or straw’ … this is the principle item, and the holiest of holy possessions, by reason of which the Christian people are called holy; for God’s Word is holy and sanctifies everything it touches: it is indeed the very holiness of God. ‘It is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith’, as we read in Romans, and ‘Everything is consecrated by the Word of God and prayer’ as we read in 1 Timothy 4:5 … ‘God’s Word shall not return empty,’ as we read in Isaiah 55:11.”
Any pastor (or congregation) who moves away from a primary and foundational focus on the Holy Word of God will be skating on thin ice and always be in danger of falling through and drowning in the freezing waters of false teaching and belief. As a congregational preacher, my strategy has always been to stick with the Biblical text — if for no other reason than to keep myself out of trouble!
A congregation may very well disagree with a preacher’s own personal opinion, thoughts and musings, and tell her so. If the sermon simply reflects the clear, unequivocal message of Holy Scripture, the pastor stands on solid ground.
How does a pastor focus on the Holy Word of God?
1. Preach and teach only the Biblical Word of Law and Gospel. There is often the temptation for preachers or teachers to want to present new and innovative “discoveries” or understandings of Scripture that might, in the mind of the preacher, make the sermon more interesting, fresh, or reflective of the pastor’s great knowledge, intellect or ability. This often leads the preacher and the congregation away from a focus on the message of the Biblical text, redirecting focus on the pastor’s agenda or curiosity. I have said recently, and continue to remind our young pastors and preachers, to stick with “the meat and potatoes” of the Biblical passage. Because our parishioners, young and old alike, may not be familiar with basic Biblical accounts, it is helpful to preach on the clear, straightforward message of the text. This is good for the hearer and good for the pastor! It keeps the main thing as the main thing — that God’s Word is the power of God for salvation.
2. Don’t allow stories and illustrations to become the primary text of the sermon, taking the place of the Biblical text. Whole sermons are preached on stories, accounts or funny experiences of the pastor without the Biblical text being mentioned. Unfortunately, such material, while sometimes perceived as “entertaining” and “memorable” by the congregation, leaves them untouched by the power of God for salvation.
One congregational member told me years ago, “We love our pastor — he begins every sermon with several funny jokes!” While funny jokes may keep people coming back for more, it leaves them lost in their sins, without having heard the good news of forgiveness, life and salvation. Let the congregation receive humorous banter and stories on late-night television. As Luther wrote, “Those who have the pure Word of God are those who ‘build on the foundation with gold, silver
and precious stones’; those who do not have it in its purity are the ones who ‘build on the foundation with wood, hay or straw.’”
3. Help people to grasp and understand the Incarnation! Until and unless our parishioners grasp the meaning and mystery of “the Word
become flesh to dwell among us, full of grace and truth,” there will be a lack of hunger and thirst for the Word of God written, read, studied and preached, and broken and poured out for us in the Lord’s Supper. In much of Christianity today, there is often a “spiritualized” notion of Christ’s presence. This means Jesus Christ is present with us “spiritually” if you can “feel” or “experience” Him with you through your own sensitivity or perception. This is a kind of “disembodied” Jesus, but not the Word made flesh, Jesus, incarnate to dwell among us.
We believe that the Scriptures proclaim not a spiritualized Christ, but an embodied, enfleshed Lord who comes to us, yes, through the work of the Holy Spirit, but through Word and Sacrament — what Luther and the Small Catechism term the “Means of Grace.” Rather than expecting us to experience Jesus’ presence with us, perceptible more or less depending upon our own “spirituality,” God gives Himself to us in His Son, Jesus Christ, who is now embodied in the Word, written, read, studied and preached, and, in the Sacrament of His Body and Blood, broken and poured out for us in the Lord’s Supper.
Why is this so important? Because it is at just those times when Christians are struggling, lonely, in despair that they are least able to experience Jesus’ presence spiritually. When we are distracted, burdened and troubled, we are most in need of our Lord who comes to us in tangible, touchable, concrete means — in Word, bread, wine, and water that we can hold in our hands, read, hear, eat, drink, to know that Christ is truly present with us, in spite of our own ability or inability to spiritually perceive or receive Him. This is a great blessing, and at the core of what it means that Jesus is Emmanuel — God with us — in Jesus Christ, risen and with us always!
Pastors and parishioners will want to teach the reality of the incarnate Word made flesh, understand it and focus on it, so that people will hunger and thirst for Jesus Christ, feasting on Him who is the Holy Word of God!
As pastors and congregations of the North American Lutheran Church, to be “Christ-Centered” is to be centered on, always and only, Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh! The faithful pastor will keep the Word as the focus of his or her ministry.