Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Three Dirty Words

The next time I hear someone say these three dirty words, I think I will wash their mouth out with soap. "I'm too busy". Seriously, next time I hear them, I am going to go grab a bar of Irish Spring and go after someone.

How often do people actually mean it when they say that they are too busy? If they actually are too busy they will say how they are busy - "I'm sorry, I've got ______ going on, I can't then." They might even make another suggestion - "Can we do it ______".

No - "I'm too busy" is a lie. What it really means is "I don't want to, I'm not interested, but I don't want to tell you that I think your idea is dumb."

We had a wonderful free Conference on death and dying out at Camp Lutherhaven - and apparently many pastors had said that they were too busy. Really? In the summer? When things that happen all year round slow down? No Confirmation - no Advent or Lent - no special services - perhaps even some other classes slowing down - and you are too busy?

Our circuit hadn't been meeting for winkels in the summer because people were "too busy." Now that I am the circuit counselor, we are again. They are available. If you cannot make it - vacation or VBS or whatever - that is fine. If you don't want to make it - it's summer, you want to relax and spend time with the family - that too is fine (go chill with my blessing - summertime is more relaxing and we won't do too much business).

If you don't want to come to an evening bible study - so be it. If you are blowing of Church - admit that you are blowing off Church. If you don't want to do X with person Y - say you aren't interested. But don't just use the random "I'm too busy" - that is so vague as to not mean anything.

We are Christians. We are to call a thing what it is. We are to let our yes be yes and our no be no. And we are never too busy. . . we might have a scheduling conflict, we might be unable to do something because of prior commitments, we may even be simply tired and in need of rest (or even just flat out uninterested in your crackpot plans) - but let us be honest and truthful.

Or I might be tempted to wash your mouth out with soap.


Father Hollywood said...

Dear Eric:

"I'm too busy" is indeed often a euphemism. Like telling grandma that her burned peanut butter cookies are delicious.

One should never be "too busy" for Divine Service, worship, study of God's Word, catechizing the young, visiting the old, showing mercy to those in need, bringing good tidings to the sick, etc.

But as necessary as bureaucracy may be to our church body (insofar as any form of government is a necessary evil), it is certainly a lower priority. My circuit always meets when I am teaching my classes - and I have to prioritize.

Everyone's situation is different, but by the time summer rolls around, I am absolutely beat - and even then, I have much to catch up on that has had to go on the back burner because of school. Not to mention try to squeeze in a little down time with my family.

Though it is none of my business, personally, I think you should continue the tradition of not meeting in the summer. You will undoubtedly have men coming to these meetings (instead of spending necessary time with wife, children, house, home, and parishioners) because you (as a figure of authority) have told them so - no matter how much you tell them they don't have to.

The Bureaucracy is already a multi-headed hydra that saps the lifeblood out of the synod - I hope it doesn't become the trend that circuit counselors start asking even more of their pastors' time.

Because I would smile and say: "I'm too busy" while inwardly thinking things that really might require a washing out with soap. ;-)

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

No - I'll just demonstrate that I literally mean it is fine not to be there by missing the next one because I have vacation.

And go meet with your brothers to be in the word. Prioritize rightly. >=o)

Anonymous said...

I didn't go to the Free Conference because:

1. Free Conference is a dumb-sounding name that I've never understood.
2. I didn't want to drive out West.
3. I wasn't interested in the topic.

Now I am in favor of summer winkels. Trust me, no one is coming because Eric is "an authority figure." We like to meet as a circuit, and I miss the fellowship and consistency.

But this gets me on another hobby horse: the overworked busy pastor who has no time for his family. I think it's bogus. Now there are certainly times I wish I didn't miss softball games. I do miss out on bedtimes once/twice a week on average. Sometimes I am gone on days off, and so forth.

1. But I am home everyday for lunch, and there's no reason ANY pastor couldn't be 95% of the time.

2. I am almost always home at dinner time, and there is no reason any pastor couldn't be 95% of the time.

3. I can often go to special programs at school and such, and most pastors can also do that.

If you're a workaholic, admit it, but don't blame the job and its duties for your desire to work 60+ hours a week...

Thanks for chance to rant!

Myles said...

I'd add something here. But I'm to busy.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Chris:

Ha! I see the point about Eric not being seen as an "authority figure." You're right.

I do think you're making an overgeneralization by using the word "ANY" and the percentage "95%." There is every kind of configuration imaginable for pastors: large congregations, small congregations, lots of folks in the hospital, nobody in the hospital, etc.

Some pastors have schools, some (by necessity) live a long ways from their parish(es).

I don't think faithful pastors are necessarily "workaholics" (which implies that their work has become a sinful addiction). Some pastors are genuinely busy.

Of course, we all draw on our own experiences. In my case, I live a block and a half from church. I too see my family for meals every day (of course, when I had a long commute, this was not the case). But on the other hand, my church has a school. About 30 hours a week of my time is devoted to my school duties. I still have a good-sized parish to serve as pastor. That's the simply reality.

Believe me, I'm no workaholic. In fact, I'm the real Peter Gibbons from Office Space. But I'm also one pastor (where we used to have two full time plus an emeritus). I could probably get away with being lazy and doing a 9-5 kind of thing, but I also know what Satan would do to my flock were I to adopt a slacker attitude.

One of my brethren in the area (the pastor of a church still recovering from Katrina) indeed works 60+ hours a week, has a large family, and has not had a vacation since 2006. The bureaucracies at every level should stop pestering this man for even more of his time. And I think the implication that he's a "workaholic" and "desires" to be away from his family is balderdash.

There is also the consideration that your circuit likely doesn;t invite female "pastors" to participate, likely doesn't celebrate the sacrament in their seats Baptist style handing the hosts out like crackers, doesn't deliberately avoid theological discussion due to theological divisions, and isn't openly hostile to closed communion.

Like I said, every situation is different. If I were in your circuit, and if my time allowed for it, I'd be inclined to join y'all. But I would also keep in mind the very real situation that a lot of pastors are genuinely overworked and not dismiss it by comparing their situation to being the town drunk.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...


1 - Get to your winkels, even if just to be the voice of reason who makes clear that his abstentions from tom-foolery is based on doctrine and not scheduling. Besides, skipping means you just abandon those who might be swayed by sound theology to the rampant kooks who do show up.

2 - 60+ hrs a week is not healthy. Period. And certainly not as the norm. Pastors can say no - and not just to the district talking heads - and if you are consistently over 60+, it's probably time to stop doing some things.

3 - Why do you put pastors in the passive - pastors are "being" overworked - there above? How many pastors don't get to set the vast majority of their schedule? There is flexibility - and if a pastor is being impelled to work X hours (where X is 60+), there is something wrong going on - and that needs to be fix, not merely understood and accounted for.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Eric:

1 - No. Matt 7:6; Luke 10:10-11. It's poor stewardship to walk away from a classroom of children who *will* listen, in order to waste time traveling to meet with a bunch of pastors who *won't.*

"Get to your winkels"? Goodness, Eric, you've only been a circuit counselor a couple weeks and you're already getting bossy! ;-)

2 - If you want a 9-5 job, don't go into the ministry. I don't know many pastors who work 60+, but I know very few who work less than 50. I can't think of a single pastor who works 40 or less. There have been a lot of church workers whose labor conditions were "not healthy" (Peter, Paul, Stephen, Lawrence, Ignatius, Polycarp...). I think we have it pretty easy in comparison.

3 - Some calls are just very busy. That's the sad reality. Some parishes have schools. Some are filled with the elderly. There are some men with three parishes. There is also an increasing number of men who need to have jobs to keep the family fed. Sure, there is some flexibility - but *if* a guy needs to work 60 hours a week and sleep 56 hours - the "flexibility" starts to become, well, less flexible.

And it is proper to "put the pastors in the passive." We pastors are not the boss. We are slaves of Christ. If work needs done, we are to do it. We don't dare tell the Boss to "take this job and shove it." Somehow, I doubt that St. Paul was working under conditions the UAW would approve of.

The problem is when bureaucrats begin to think *they* are the Boss. They aren't. The more time they want me for meetings and paperwork and programs, the less time I'm doing real work for the real Boss (and I don't mean Bruce Springsteen, either). ;-)

Rev. Eric J Brown said...


And on the other side of the coin, pietism is a danger even for us today - and the idea of "look at all I'm doing for God" can slip in. A back door arrogance can come in - how the Pastor HAS to do so much, or else God will be sad, or the Church will fall apart. . . that's not humility, that's something else. Also, having to work a second job to make ends meet is something else entirely - and there the problem is a lack of support for the Pastor - or even a lack of pastors for the parish. A pastor ought be able to manage his time and not kill himself. Period. (and by the by, I am a circuit counsellor, and it is my duty to see that the pastors in my circuit are not worked to death).

Also, you are flat out wrong in your use of Scripture there. Matthew 7 deals with not the preaching or teaching of the Word (which is scattered), but rather things concerning the Sacrament. Otherwise, we would have to condemn Jeremiah and all the other prophets for continuing to teach and preach (even in the temple, even to other teachers) - otherwise we would have to condemn the Apostles who continually are before the Jews. Misapplication. Get back in there and teach - preaching and teaching isn't something you have to be delicate with - don't be a theological nancy boy worried about the slop - go be a theologian of the Cross and call things what they are! >=o)

Also, if you are gonna cite Luke 11, that's dangerous for you. You might have wiped your feet, but you ain't left town yet. We are still in this synod, and as such we bear the responsibility of reproof and admonishment - and not merely in some glorious Synod wide fashion, not merely in a detached fashion on-line, but in the areas and with the pastors in whose midst God has placed us.

Sloppy citation there - sloppy. Therefore I shall continue to buzz about your ear!

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Eric:

This has nothing to do with Pietism. For Lutherans, "Pietism" is the new "Jesus" - the pat Sunday school answer that is automatically blurted out to answer any question.

The Lord Himself warns us of casting pearls before swine lest they turn and devour us. There is a time to go and preach to the unrepentent, and there is also a time to wipe the dust off one's feet.

We're talking about men who are hardened in their contempt for the Lutheran confessions. They have long since abandoned them. There is a stewardship issue. While a pastor is trying to convince his fellow pastors to actually believe in what we've all vowed - there are others, eager to learn, who are being neglected.

I vehemently disagree with the idea that we must always try to convince people of something they have utterly rejected. That is the point of shaking the dust off one's feet.

Again, the Lord isn't talking about formal synodical membership here. He is talking about limits. There comes a time for the pastor to move on and preach and teach where he will be received.

When winkels include woman pastors and when we're told not to discuss theology because it is too divisive - that is a total waste of time - time that I frankly don't have.

And I do think you're fooling yourself if you think we really have the kind of fellowship in this synod that we did in 1847. We already have impaired fellowship - whether formally declared or not.

And you, as a circuit counselor, might be forced to ignore this, to treat those who have rejected the Lutheran confessions as though they haven't. And that's far less healthy than working a lot of hours every week.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

I would contend with this question: which actually ignores the issues - going and defending the faith, or brushing things off as a waste of time?

Also, while I do not know your circuit (and if I were there I might write everyone off as lost as well), I would strongly hesitate to simply assume that all in a given place are hard and fast opposed -- many are weak, many don't think things through theologically -- and if you absent yourself from theological discussion, you let the weak hear only the wicked. Besides, I doubt they are all completely sold on being flaky - if that were the case discussing "theology" wouldn't be divisive - there would be total agreement in wickedness.

And Larry, quite often Jesus is the right answer in Sunday School (or at least it should be) - and likewise Pietism sadly describes what is going on - for Pietism is nothing less than elevating one's own work -- or the fact that God *needs* one to be doing something. Again, it happens a lot - people will use their piety to excuse an awful lot.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Eric:

In not going to the winkel, I *am* defending the faith. I'm able to teach those willing to learn. Going to the winkel deprives those who wish to learn. It's a matter of "opportunity cost." That is the very basis of the idea of stewardship. We are incarnate creatures, locked into space and time. We can be in only one place at one time. It *may* be the best use of our time to be at a winkel, or it may not. Your one-size-fits-all answer is naive.

I don't believe anyone can make a blanket statement that it is *always* the place to be. But you're a circuit counselor. Can you expect a guy on the board of directors of Pepsi to ever say "have a Coke"?

You're telling me to attend my winkel - not knowing anything about it.

There is a huge difference between Pietism and recognizing that one is a slave of Christ. God doesn't *need* me to do anything. He *commands* us in the ministry to work "while it is day." If it means having three parishes (which I don't), then that is one's orders, one's cross. We all have our own orders and crosses.

It isn't Pietism to say "yes sir," roll up one's sleeves, and get to work. That's what we're called to do. The ministry is hard work. If there are any potential seminarians reading this, you need to know it. Don't think you're getting a cushy "job." Being a pastor is like being a soldier. It is gut-wrenching warfare, and it is relentless - because Satan is relentless. We need men who are willing to work, to fight, and to know when to call a frontal assault and when to fall back and fight a different battle. There is no single strategy for every man in every situation.

If I were in your circuit, I would probably attend winkels. My circuit is a different story. period.

No, Eric, Jesus is *not* always the right answer. If I ask you where evil comes from, or why we sin, or who goes to hell - Jesus is not the answer. We need to be theologians, not sloganeers. Nor is Pietism a sort-of one-stop shopping for all that ails the LCMS.

The Pietism card is often a flimsy mask for laziness, antinomianism, and a form of reverse Pietism that is Pietistic about not being a Pietist. It's also a way of "Godwining" the discussion. It is a bully club designed to end discussion. It's the hottest ad hominem non sequitur (not to mention "bubulum stercus" since I'm throwing the Latin around) we have in the LCMS.

Pietism (in its true sense) is not a problem among the "confessional" crowd. Modern Pietism takes the form of emotion-based worship. To accuse everyone who works many hours of Pietism is rather uncharitable and, frankly, untrue.

My colleague who works 60+ hours a week is no Pietist. He is a faithful minister of the Gospel who never draws attention to himself. And yet, that charge is often mercilessly hurled at him because he is pious and doesn't join some of the other "non-pietist" pastors in getting drunk and making sexual innuendos. He has been stung by the charge so often, he wants nothing to do with the "confessionals."

The Pietist card is as overplayed (and misapplied) as the race card.

Our structure in the LCMS is way over-bureaucratic. I believe we spend far too much time and money on the bureaucracy and not enough time doing what we've been called to do.

Just my opinion, of course. I have great respect for you as a colleague, but I do not agree with your thoughts on this.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...


First of all, have I not said that if I were in your shoes I might not go to the winkels myself? To use your phraseology, there is an opportunity cost in not going to the winkels, and not from a synodical point of view, but rather in the fact that too often solid men leave the field. Too often solid men are silent, and all that are heard are blowhards (to where that pious man you mention and other like him become sick of the so-called confessional) or errorists. Why leave the field to them?

Second, when did I call anyone specific a Pietist? I am speaking in generalities - so you can't jump to defending someone who I may or may not have ever met as a counter -- it doesn't work. More over, it doesn't negate my observation that I have seen men who take an undue pride in their (fill in the blank) as it relates to being a pastor. (Also, saying, "No, Eric, Jesus is *not* always the right answer" as a response to me saying that it is often the right answer is also very sloppy argumentation. You are twisting my words - I did not imply that it always is the right answer - but one that comes up often. I am not made of straw)

Third, if a pastor is working a hard schedule, they need to take breaks. Pastors are like soliders - well, soliders get R&R. They get the opportunity to see family. We are slaves of Christ, but He is not a cruel taskmaster, for He makes His yoke to be light. Pastors need rest too. Simple as that. It needs to be taken. If you cannot take breaks, too many things are being done that don't need to be done by you.

Fourth - I will agree that there is too much bureaucracy - I don't think pastors getting together to discuss casuistry and to study the word is bureaucracy though - and that is what you should demand of your circuit counsellor.

Rev. Paul Beisel said...

I think Larry is spot on. One has to prioritize. It's good to have winkel and conferences high one's priority list, but there can be an overabundance of these, which I think there are. I'm sorry--I have four children; In addition to being a full time pastor I teach online classes (and next fall, two structured classes in addition). And my wife works part time at Wal-Mart. We are busy. Plain and simple. One simply *cannot* go to everything. We are already running ourselves ragged this summer with various engagements; family reunions, etc.

A pastor's time is not his own. I disagree with this post as much as I disagree with the practice of pastors going into full retirement. Wasn't there something in the Bible about putting one's hand to the plow and looking back? How can one decide one day, "Well, Lord, I guess that's enough Ministry for me!"

Of course, I mean all of this "in the way of the Gospel." :)