Calls and Rumors of Calls
Q: I like what I read in your column. I was thinking about visiting and maybe even joining your church. Then I heard at another area church (not Lutheran) that you were leaving. Is this true?
A: At present, this is patently untrue — and an excellent example of failure to keep the Eighth Commandment in the matter of gossip. Our normal Lutheran practice is for congregations to call pastors, trusting the Holy Spirit to guide a proper candidate to their midst. Once installed, our pastors are expected to remain in service at that place until the Spirit leads them to accept the call of another congregation. Even if some difficulties arise (and these are often more of personality than of doctrine or practice) we are to work through our ecclesiastical supervisors to test whether or not we might serve Christ’s Church better in another location or even in a different capacity.
Meanwhile, our congregations also pledge themselves to a Scriptural understanding of the pastorate. In the rite of pastoral installation, they promise, in accord with Holy Scripture, to receive with thanksgiving and treat with honor and respect those whom the Lord calls to be their ministers of His Gospel: “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. (Hebrews 13:17)” Similarly, Saint Paul wrote, “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. (1 Timothy 5:17)”
In light of God’s Word, we, as a church, long ago decided that the only valid reasons to remove a pastor from office are persistent teaching of false doctrine, the living of an immoral lifestyle, grievous public sin, or gross mis- or malfeasance of office. Of course, some apply each of these criteria more stringently than do others. If someone is bound and determined to drive off a pastor, he may appeal to any or all of these reasons, even if no major offense exists in any of the categories. Sometimes the struggle is rooted in genuine doctrinal differences. Usually, however, it’s either because a pastor does things differently than did his predecessors or because his personality at times strongly contrasts with those of parishioners.
In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need pastors. In a less imperfect world, we wouldn’t see nearly the strife that we do among Christians, including struggle between pastors and their flocks. Yet where Christ is most clearly proclaimed, Satan quite often is most active. An old German proverb clearly captures this sad truth: “Where God builds a church, the devil builds a chapel.”
So will I ever leave? That I don’t know. God has not called me to serve anywhere else. Meanwhile, I’ve finally been in this area long enough that I’ve built community relationships that are bearing fruit in outreach. New opportunities for evangelism and preaching have just recently opened. Whether I’ll be privileged to participate in all of these for years to come remains to be seen. I’ll leave the details in God’s hands and keep preaching, teaching, baptizing, communing, and visiting the sick and the dying. Worrying about the future won’t change it — as a Christian and as a pastor, my concerns are more with the present and with eternity than with either the past or the future.
So if you’re of a mind to visit, I’ll be here until I hear otherwise. Let me know when, and I’ll make sure that we have kind welcome at church and a fresh pot of coffee for Bible study. And if you or any other readers are interested, here’s a complete site search on the office of the Holy Ministry.
Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.
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Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.
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Newspaper column #547:2