Wednesday, February 4, 2009

What makes a Pastor a Pastor?

So, what makes a Pastor a Pastor? While many of us as individuals have been shielded from having to actually stare this question in the face, it has become somewhat of an Elephant in the room in recent years. What makes a Pastor a Pastor, what are the qualifications, how is it done? The past 40 years have seen some new answers given. In what is now the ELCA, women are made pastors. In the Wisconsin Synod, the pastor is reduced to mere functions - (sort of a pastor is as pastor does approach). And in Missouri, in many places men preach and teach without being ordained (and with scant, scant training).

All of these issues revolve around the practical answers to what makes a Pastor a Pastor. Now, as Lutherans, we have held long and fast to the idea that Pastor is made through a Divine, Mediate Call. Two things are very important that - that the call is Divine - that it is God who calls people and makes them pastors, and that God uses means to call a pastor. No one rightly assumes for himself the title or mantle of Pastor, but rather it is given through the Church.

Both these are important. As the call is Divine, it (and this should be obvious) is to be in accordance with the Word of God. This means that the ELCA is in error when it has female pastors - as the Pastoral Office is limited to men (see 1 Tim 3, Titus 1, 1 Cor 14:34-35). As for those who don't like this limitation, who think that is unfair that God would deny this office merely on the basis of sex, I have two brief replies:

1. Not everyone gets to be a pastor - this isn't a matter of "rights" but rather a matter of being called. Equality doesn't play in here. . . people didn't get to tap Elijah on the shoulder and say, "It's my turn to be the prophet now"
2. I'm a guy. I've never experience the wonder or mystery of motherhood, I'll never get to carry a child to term. That's just the way God set things up, and I need to deal with that.

Also, we need to remember that being a Pastor is a vocation - it's not just a few checkmark tasks that need to be filled by someone. . . anyone. . . Bueller. . . Bueller. And as such, we can't just say that anyone is qualified or permitted to do so.

This is the reason behind a mediate call - the call to be a Pastor comes from outside of one's own self. So what is involved in this "mediate call"? The traditional two things have been call and ordination (as shown in the old Absolution - I as a called and ordained servant of the Word). Sometimes additional steps are listed (like election) - but these two are the traditional heart. I'll suggest that we ought to include one more on the basis of 1 Tim 3:6 - education. Pastors are not to be recent converts, and they ought to be quite grounded in doctrine before asked to publicly teach it.

Here's the rub for Missouri - we have always placed the most emphasis on the "call" - that a congregation (a mediate group) calls a person to be their pastor. That is a mediate call. However, the Church is more than just one local congregation - and that was the purpose of Ordination - that the other pastors in the area would concur that this person is rightly to be a Pastor.

Well, for the past 20 years, Missouri has said in certain cases (i.e. whatever your district president says is okay) people can be "lay ministers" - people who are called (so it is mediate), but are neither ordained, and in terms of education. . . well. . . it ain't the 4 years of Seminary (and in some cases I fear that it isn't even what I put my confirmation classes through!). But. . . there is a call. . . and there is approval of the the Church in the person of the district president. . . and so for 20 years we've called this good - or at least good enough.

When people have complained, it has been pointed out that they aren't "Pastors" they are "lay ministers". Well, if they preach, teach, administer the sacraments, and oversee the Church, isn't that what a pastor does? Saying these people aren't de facto pastors rings as hallow and false as when my dad was sleeping in his chair and just said, "I'm just resting my eyes." No, we see what you are doing. . . you are acting like a pastor. A national guardsman is still a soldier, even if that isn't what they primarily do.

The problem is this - no one group ought have the right authority in normal times to declare a person to be a rightly called pastor - this opens the door to abuse. The reason behind call and ordination is that it spreads out the burden or selecting new pastors from the hands of the few to the Church at large. Professors at a Seminary teach - and they give an okay. There is a college of professors - multiple people responsible for the education of the pastor. Congregations call - and so a multitude publicly says that this person ought to be their pastor. There is an ordination - a multitude of other pastors (not just a district official) give their consent and okay - and the standards for this are all public. Things are done openly and in good order - and by many people at each step.

I'm not willing to say that what Missouri is doing now violates Scripture - but it's running fast and loose, and it's keeping things rather secretive and out of the public ability to review. And it is dangerous -- as dangerous and sending soldiers out without training. I suppose the Government could give me a gun and have me overseas in 3 days - but it wouldn't do much good.

Maybe we ought to be serious and deliberate with whom we have preach and teach - and instead of just focusing on being called - we see to it that we ordain well trained men as well.

(Yes, yes, I know, I could train up a fellow fairly well on my own. . . and if I ever get stuck on a desert island with my congregation I might do that. . . but like Obi-wan says, "I thought I could train him as well as Yoda. . . I was wrong." There's your Star Wars Quote of the day)


Jay Hobson said...

No, No, this is true. You are not Yoda, thus also, I am not your padawan Anakin. (Even though you may like to think so.)

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

You're not tall enough to be Anakin.