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On Reading and the Pastor

January 30th, 2007
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Dr. C.F.W. Walther preached a very powerful sermon at a pastoral conference in which he talks about the pastor and the reading that he does. Now, it would be my opinion that the text he is preaching on, when it refers to "give attention to reading" is actually better rendered, "give attention to the reading" referring to the reading of God’s Word in the worship assembly of the Christians, but….regardless of how one wishes to take that Pauline/Dominical command, Walther’s point is still very good and worth our careful consideration.

My lawyer friend here marvels that in his profession he is required to take continuing education classes every year in order to retain his certification to practice law, but pastors have no such requirements. Doctor friends too have wondered aloud at the fact that they have to continue to take courses in order to retain their license to practice medicine, whereas pastors can graduate from the seminary and never again crack open a book. It is an interesting point. What of it? Should we clergy-person types be required by the Church to receive formal continuing theological education? I’m not talking here about Synodical fund-raising workshops, yet another Church Growth week long seminar with the latest guru, or programmatic things like that, nope none of that. Rather, what about in-depth theological education: courses in contemporary trends in various theological discplines, preaching workshops, practicums on various areas of pastoral care and practice, truly meaningful stuff. How about a Greek brush-up class? Or Hebrew?

Imagine the howls of protest that would arise if today there was required what was commonplace in Martin Chemnitz’ church consistory: regular examination of  pastors and other church ministers. In Chemnitz’ day pastors had actually to have memorized his "Handbook" and be able to recite it upon questioning. Yikes!

Walther offers a healthy corrective. Thanks to Pastor Joel Basely for kindly offering this sermon to me to share with the Cyberbrethren community. Thanks Joel! Here is Walther’s sermon:

Download Walthersermononreading.pdf

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Paul Beisel
    January 30th, 2007 at 21:07 | #1

    Indeed, you would no doubt hear these protests: “Reading? Classes? I don’t have time for that!! I’m too busy being a pastor to study!!”
    McCain: And, parish pastors are dreadfully busy! No denying that. It’s a tough challenge.

  2. Tim Kuehn
    January 30th, 2007 at 22:10 | #2

    Maybe if pastors & people were made to publicly give account for what they believe, we wouldn’t have the kinds of problems we have today where so many are doing whatever is right in their own eyes.

  3. January 30th, 2007 at 23:44 | #3

    Continuing education is important but you correctly point out how hard it can be to identify what should be considered continuing education. Our circuit is a very positive environment for our area to develop our ongoing academic skills. We present for one another topics that engage us in lively discussions. We also develop programming for the laity in our circuits.
    McCain: Thank God for this. I was reflecting on this more and thinking that back in the “old days” the Wenkel was a wonderful source of ongoing continuing education, but sadly few circuits actually organize themselves and meet like this. I was blessed to be in a circuit that met every month, for an entire day, and began with Holy Communion, then studies in: exegesis, Lutheran Confessions, systematic doctrinal topic, then practical topic. Wow, what great experience.
    A few good questions: What reading is at our bedsides? How regularly are we reading theology for its own sake and not just mining for a sermon illustration?
    I have especially appreciated the csl itunes contributions, including Kolb and Arand talking about the Confessions.

  4. Rebellious Pastor’s Wife
    January 31st, 2007 at 10:29 | #4

    There are a number of impediments to what you suggest that are often not present in the practices of lawyers and doctors.
    1). To attend such lectures and conferences, a pastor would have to leave the care of his flock to someone else. A doctor or lawyer can cancel his appointments and ask a colleague or business partner to handle his emergencies. A hospital can schedule another doctor. In many places, that kind of backup isn’t available for a pastor, and with the gap widening in practice and politics, the presence of a true colleague may not be a reality even if there are 5 other Lutheran congregations in the same town.
    Sunday’s sermon always needs done, people are sick and die, people need counseled, meetings go on, and all of these things cannot be put on hold easily, so a pastor that is going to conferences or attending classes is increasing his workload and his time away from his family, not decreasing it. Many pastors find a way to do this and value it highly. Others just do not see a way to make it happen.
    2. Funding for such education is difficult. Our church is a typical congregation in size and income and it struggles to meet its daily expenses, and more and more of what was possible to allocate is being funnelled into the benefits system whose costs are increasing by 7-10% a year. I know this isn’t just Concordia Health and Retirement Plan, its happening all around, but to a congregational budget, this is a nightmare.
    3. There is often a perception (though not in ours) that such conferences and opportunities are luxuries. I even know pastors who think this.
    Pastors often only have one day off a week and so taking additional time away from his family is an additional burden.
    I have worked as a social worker, and my places of employment were always presenting opportunities to increase our knowledge and skills, and to meet licensing requirements. And in many ways, various pastors, congregations, and “coalitions” are making continuing education possible without the CEUs and mandatory requirements. I think a Continuing Education system would be a good thing. But either the pastor would have to make enough money to pay for it himself and deduct the expenses, or the congregation would have to come up with more ways to provide funds. The pastor also would need a better support system for his congregation. I don’t see that happening very easily in many places, and these requirements would make it even more difficult for struggling congregations to call and maintain pastors.
    McCain: It would definitely need to be a very intentional effort on the part of the pastor, congregation, district and Synod. I just find it rather telling that we do not have any such organized, meaningful system in place to *allow* and *encourage* and *make it possible* for pastors to receive this kind of continuing education. Sad, really.
    It is impractical in a field where the income of the pastor is not based on services rendered (so he could figure in his continuing education costs into his fees) and a micro-economy that is based on voluntary giving, when costs are already rising. If the economy got worse, the whole system of licensing pastors would have to collapse. Bureaucracies let go of their regulations less easily than times change. Can we really declare good, devoted pastors ineligible for the ministry if there is no means for him to meet a set of requirements? And where does our theology of the Divine Call fit into this. The Synod could refuse to maintain certification, but would they have the authority to rescind a call because CEU standards weren’t met? A congregation might not care if their pastor keeps up with those things, as long as he cares for his flock, and it might make it more difficult for him to receive a call somewhere else.
    Maybe our theology has made this more difficult in our church body, because it already is established in some church bodies who don’t believe the Call comes from the congregation.
    I really do think some kind of system like this would be good. The need for pastors to interact with colleagues and to grow theologically is terribly important. This is probably one of the areas why depression and leaving the ministry is happening so frequently. Our pastors are often isolated in their parish and are not being continually re-equipped to deal with the responsibilities that they hold.
    Maybe every profession goes through this when they set up their ethics standard regarding continuing education. But I do think there are difficulties there that are not there with other fields.
    Since my field of study requires continuing education to practice, I have been concerned that this is not something that is universally considered necessary, but these challenges, as well as others are real.

  5. January 31st, 2007 at 12:15 | #5

    There’s no question that, of itself, such continuing education is a good thing. The crux is: is it good enough that it should be required, or might such a requirement have unintended consequences? As with most things that are good ideas but can become bad ideas if applied too zealously (no one would want a pastor’s work to suffer because he was taking too many classes to become a better pastor!), it is probably wisest to leave it up to the individual. Of course, pastors do not exist in a vacuum and should be assessed by their peers or administrative superiors and encouraged where they are found lacking. Just as pastors should do with their flock.
    But it is interesting to note that the fields of medicine and law are always changing, with new laws being passed and new techniques or truths being discovered. This is not so when it comes to God’s word. The world may change (or, more accurately, may seem to change), but in theory a seminarian has, at graduation, the tools he will need for the rest of his job. That said, he would do well to keep them sharp.

  6. George Schmidt
    January 31st, 2007 at 13:55 | #6

    I organized a Pastor’s Study Group in my area (which is interesting, because I am by far the youngest, least experienced pastor in whole area. Hadn’t anyone ever thought of this before?). The results were depressing to say the least. The area in which I am a pastor has approximately 20 or more Lutheran pastors (both in the parish and retired). The attendance at the meetings was on average 4-5 pastors. I gave it up.
    I am convinced that the marjority of LCMS pastors (and pastors throughout Christendom) don’t feel the need to read or study once seminary has ended. I personally find this deplorable. As you have raised the point, who of us would go to a lawyer who hasn’t studied the most recents develops and additions to the law? Who among us would go to a doctor who hasn’t picked up a medical journal in 5 years? So why do we think people want to hear a pastor teach and preach who hasn’t bothered reading theology for the past year, 5 years, etc.?
    Personally, I have delved into the mysteries of the Christian faith in more depth than I ever did at seminary. Seminary is not the end, it is the beginning. As one professor claimed over and over (and I think it should be the mantra and method of every professor), “If you came here to get the answers, you are in the wrong class. I am here to teach you how to think.” And he did.

  7. February 2nd, 2007 at 12:47 | #7

    As a retired college professor, when I taught in the health sciences, I was required to maintain my state licensure. While the vast majority of my parish ministry has been as a worker/priest, I developed the habit of continually reading in my fields (emergency medicine, human physiology, equine science), I have continued the discipline and read theology voraciously. Perhaps a healthy insecurity that I have makes me realize that I do not know all that I should know and that keeps me reading. My congregation supports that reading and encourages me to take time to study. The Society of the Holy Trinity has been my other stimulus to read, discuss and study. At our quarterly Chapter retreats and annual General Retreat, there is ususally a “reading assignment” which broadens my horizons and keeps the education going.
    I am not certain that mandated CE would work in our system, and the appeal to the new nature should make studying a desire, but alas the old nature is pretty strong and easily persuades us that we are “too busy” to learn new things.

  8. Rev. Scott Hojnacki
    February 2nd, 2007 at 17:41 | #8

    Many thanks for emphasizing the value and importance of continuing personal study.
    Increasingly, I fear we are being taught that the opposite is true, as the most “missional” among us offer the caricature of the lazy pastor in his study with a book, like Nero fiddling while souls burn.
    Even if it fails to yield a specific sermon illustration or Bible study topic, I have always viewed my personal reading as an enhancement of my work, not a detraction from it.

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