Bad Pastor

Mea culpa.  I am a bad pastor.

Yesterday was Call Day for our denominational polity.  I’m often asked in different circles how one becomes a pastor.  The answer depends a great deal on which Christian tradition you’re a part of  – if any.  In some circles, you simply start preaching and this fact validates that you’re a pastor.  I don’t have any problem with that, per se.  The Holy Spirit works in diverse ways, I sincerely hope!

However in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, the way to become a pastor is generally much more dictated.  Typically, you complete an undergraduate degree, and then apply to seminary.  Seminary is a kind of school that specifically prepares people for ministry – Christian or otherwise.  Again, types vary, I’m sure.  But for us, that means you will relocate (traditionally and still generally speaking) to one of our two denominational seminaries – either in St. Louis, MO or Ft. Wayne, IN.  There, you will engage in theological study for two years, including four major branches of study – homiletics (preaching), exegetics (study of Biblical texts in the original languages), history (Christian/church history), and systematics (the study of doctrine).  Then you go away for a one year internship called a vicarage, where you are the understudy of a pastor in a congregation, and you gain experience in applying the skills and topics you have been studying the past two years.  Then you return to seminary for a final year of coursework, hopefully intended to polish rough edges and provide final useful preparation for full-time ministry.

All of this culminates in the spring each year on Call Day.  On Call Day, students receive either their vicarage assignments or their official Calls to serve as a pastor of some sort, somewhere.  Generally, nobody knows in advance where they are going, so there is a lot of build-up and tension and excitement and anticipation.  There’s a big traditional church service first, which culminates in the announcement, one by one, of where each vicarage or Call candidate is going.  Considering that many have spouses, children, and other family and friends around them, it’s a pretty exciting thing.

To a point.  Or maybe for others.  But because I am a bad pastor, it isn’t that big a deal for me.

Most of this is personal.  I didn’t attend either my undergrad or grad degree graduations.  One was too big, and the other I was already out in the field as a pastor.  I did have my Vicarage Call service, but I already knew where I was going.  I’m probably not emotionally wired for it – I try to take things in stride, and it takes a lot to get me really worked up about something.

My Facebook friends who either are pastors or are deeply involved in the Church were posting links yesterday to the live streaming of the Call Services, but I don’t have an interest in watching them.  I’m happy for those guys, but I worry a bit – beyond my own emotional cauterization – about the big deal the Church makes about new pastors.  Yes, it’s a lot of work to become a pastor.  But it’s a lot of work to become an engineer, or a doctor, or many other lines of work.  Yes, the role of pastor is unique.  But so is the role of mother, or teacher, or librarian.  Pastors are an integral part of the Church and have been from the beginning, but I worry that we emphasize them more than we do the many other vocations of people in our congregations.  Vocations that are every bit as valid and important as the role of pastor.

I want to lift up and honor all of the various vocations that God’s people fulfill, whether compensated or non-compensated, tenured or non-tenured, part-time or full-time, minimum wage or maximum wage, cubicle or corner office, home or office, humble or glorious.  All of these vocations are necessary, masks of God, as our last apologetics speaker talked about, through which God reigns and orders and blesses his creation.  We have to take all of these vocations, all of these masks seriously.  And we need to exhort one another constantly to do the best we can in those vocations.  Our neighbors depend upon it, and it honors God when we show love for our neighbor in these ways, even if our neighbors don’t see it that way.

So I’m glad for the guys who are headed off to new experiences.  I’m glad for their congregations and pray they’ll be a blessing to those people.  And I pray that they will lift up and honor the vocations those people perform, that they will remind them that it isn’t more important to be a pastor than to be an IT professional.  We need them both, and we need both to do their jobs faithfully as empowered by the Holy Spirit.

 

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