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Advice For Aspiring Preachers

May 2nd, 2012 35 comments

498_preaching_frontMy son, John, has expressed an interest in becoming a pastor and the other day, after he heard me preach, he asked, “Dad, do you get nervous and scared when you have to preach?” It was an interesting question and if there was ever a time when the phrase “it gave me pause” applies, this was that time. I thought for a moment and said, “No, John, honestly, I don’t get nervous or scared anymore, I just get excited and happy. But it wasn’t always that way.”

At one time, I was absolutely terrified at the thought of public speaking. Like many people, I was scared out of my mind at the thought of public speaking. Routinely, studies indicate people are as afraid to get up in front of other people and speak as are afraid of death. I saved my required public speaking class in college for my last quarter, of my last year. During that class I received a revelation that has stuck with me since then. If you are not feeling that “butterflies in the stomach” feeling, you aren’t going to do well. Our professor said, “You better always feel that little tickle and twinge in your stomach, if you don’t, that’s when you should be afraid.” Let me explain. That “fluttery” feeling that many people think are “nerves” is actually the feeling of adrenalin pumping into your bloodstream, and if you don’t feel that, you are not going to be “up” to preach. What I do fear now when I have to preach, or speak publicly, is not feeling that excited “let’s go!” feeling. It’s the same feeling I always had when I got up to bat. Let’s go! Let’s do this! That’s an ok feeling to have.

I think a lot of pastors remain “nervous” and “uptight” because their focus is too much on themselves, and not enough on what they are preaching about. When your focus is so much on “doing it right” rather than what you are doing, you will always come off as stiff, formal, aloof and insincere, and, forgive me, but you are just going to be boring. When a pastor is working hard to make sure he has “covered the bases” in a sermon, and hit all the right notes, the sermon feels rote and formulaic. If you have to think too much about playing the piano, you won’t play it well. Similarly for preaching.

Here are some things for aspiring preachers to keep in mind:

(1) Be yourself. Learn from other preachers, but be yourself. Develop your own voice. Nothing is more grating than hearing a young pastor preaching who sounds just like his favorite seminary professor. And, to be honest, what works for your favorite seminary professor, in all likelihood, isn’t going to work for you. Just because your favorite professor used nouns as verbs, and verbs as nouns, and spoke in incomplete phrases and sentences, doesn’t mean you should.

(2) Be prepared. I do not mean you have to feel that unless you have spent thirty hours each week in excruciating study of every possible meaning and nuance of the verb forms in the text, you have no business in the pulpit. No, you’ll learn that good sermons are not seminary exegetical lectures or “musings on every possible meaning of the text.” But, on the other hand, if you have not given good quality “think time” to your sermon, it will show. You will end up saying the same thing, the same way, Sunday after Sunday. You’ll get bored with your sermons. And if you are bored, the congregation will be too. Some pastors try to excuse their boring sermons by claiming that people are just bored with the Word of God. That’s far too facile an explanation.

(3) Be passionate. No, you should not imitate the Pentecostal tongue-speaker down the road at Family Friendly Church of Happy People, but, if you think the “gold standard” for preaching is the guy you saw at seminary standing in the pulpit reading his sermon in a dry, monotone, well, good luck with that. Sometimes, after I have heard a sermon, I want to shake the preacher and say, “For the love of God, man, why are you talking about the most important things in the world, the most serious of matters, matters of life and matters of death, and the greatest and most glorious good news that there ever in a way that reminds me of a person reading stereo instructions 1?” Everyone has their own style, to be sure. Some people are naturally more dynamic and effusive than others, but if you can’t must a bit of passion when you preach, then, that’s a problem to be overcome.

(4) Be clear. Simple is good. If you can’t communicate your message without relying on a lot of jargon, terms and complicated outlines, you aren’t getting the job done. You are not preaching to impress the most learned in your parish. You are preaching to be understood. If you do not have a clear outline for what you are saying, you will ramble and people won’t be able to follow you. Have a point. Make it. And then stop. Start slow, rise higher, strike fire, retire.

(5) Be real. Don’t assume a “pulpit voice” or “stained glass voice.” I understand back in the days when there was no possible way to amplify a voice, other than to raise it, how and why our pastors developed a booming pulpit voice. And let me say this: If the little old lady in the back row with a hearing problem, can’t hear you clearly, then for her sake and others, speak up! Don’t stand there and mumble and speak softly. But on the other hand, if you sound entirely different in the pulpit than when you speak in real life, you will come off like a fake. If you don’t naturally pronounce the Almighty’s name as “Gawwwd” in real life, then don’t do so in the pulpit. Get the picture?

(6) Be practical. Your hearers deserve messages that are down to earth and practical, not esoteric exercises in lofty rhetoric and literary devices. This is not to say you have to be a slob with the language to do a good job, but if your sermons are out of reach of most of the people in your congregation, then ratchet it back a few notches. Don’t be a slob, but don’t be a snob. You are not there to impress people with your clever turns of phrase and rhetorical flourishes. You are not trying to win a debate contest, or a drama contest. You are preaching, and nothing attracts people to church more than good, clear, practical sermons that speak to where people are in their daily lives and experiences. That’s not my idea, that’s what our Lutheran Confessions say. Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ Himself is the model preacher in this regard.

(7) Be a speaker, not a reader. I know this is a sore point among many pastors, but if you are reading your sermon manuscript in the pulpit, you are not communicating as effectively and as clearly as you do when you are actually talking to your congregation. A manuscript read in the pulpit is a barrier between the pastor and the congregation. They are hearing you read an essay, not preach a sermon. Notes and outlines? Sure, but a sermon is a sermon, not a written essay. Afraid to “go without a manuscript”? Work to get over it. Practice more. Break the manuscript habit. Leave your manuscript in the sacristy, take a brief outline into the pulpit and go for it. If there is something so profound in your sermon that you are afraid you will forget it in the pulpit, then if you do forget it, it wasn’t worth remembering . You’ll remember to say what you most need and want to say. You’ll learn how. Don’t develop a dependency on the crutch of having a manuscript in the pulpit.

(8) Be a pastor, not an entertainer. I’ve seen way too many pastors working hard to get a chuckle out the congregation, telling insipid little stories that have nothing to do with the point of the text, and trying to amuse, titillate or entertain “the crowd.” And it works. Let’s admit it. It works. You can pull the heartstrings of the little old ladies and cause the men to clear their throats. You can go for the cheap and easy emotional reaction, but our calling is to be pastors, not entertainers, to be preachers, not comedians, to be messengers, not manipulators. I’m saddened when I see pastors going for the cheap laugh. Pastors proclaim Law and Gospel. Pastors point to Christ. If your sermon is talking more about yourself, than about Jesus, then please, don’t preach. Don’t underestimate how much your people come to hear a Word from God, not a word from you, or about your family, or about children, or your dog, or the latest interesting movie you’ve seen, or book you’ve read, or what your professor in seminary said when you were there. When I hear a pastor gushing on about himself in the pulpit I find it hard not to shout out, “Oh, would you please just shut up about yourself and tell me about Jesus?!?” Seriously, I don’t want to hear about your seminary experience. I want to hear about Jesus. I want to hear what the Bible readings are all about, and how they apply to my life and what a difference they make. I want to hear about God, not about you. I want to hear about my sin and about my Savior, not you. No offense, Rev. Pastor, but Church is about Jesus Christ, not about you.

What advice would you have, either as a preacher, or a hearer, for an aspiring preacher?

Categories: pastoral ministry

A Year in the Life of a Pastor and His Congregation

January 17th, 2012 1 comment

My friend, Rev. William Weedon, prepares an annual report for his congregation, given to them early in the new year. He has produced yet another one and I thought to myself, as I always do when I read them, “What a great way to give people who may otherwise have not a clue what goes on in a fairly typical congregation an idea of life as a pastor serving a Lutheran congregation.” Enjoy. Here is the report:

The year 2011 was the 155th year that the Lord Jesus Christ through His Holy Spirit gathered together a family of Lutheran Christians at St. Paul’s, New Gehlenbeck. A community that delighted to sing praises to our heavenly Father and receive all the good gifts that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have to give to us (and through us!) as we share in their unending life.

In January of last year, Pr. Gleason completed the windows in the doors between the Narthex and the Nave of the Church. Looking outside in, sort of hard to tell what’s what. Looking from within the Church out, though, we see the door devoted to God the Father – gold trimmed and shining white. We see the doors devoted to God the Son, the Lamb of God, blood red and glowing. We see the door devoted to God the Holy Spirit, blue as the sky above from which the dove descended and as the waters over which He brings the church to new life – Baptism. Dave Heidbrink has been protesting since we took down the symbols of the Trinity on the front wall that our nave had removed all reference to the Trinity – and he was among the very first to note that this has now been more than remedied. Janet Engelke and several other folk noted how natural the new art was – looked like it had been here since the building was built. Truly, Pr. Gleason is a master craftsman. But mightier than he, is the Lord Himself who crafted Himself a home, an abode of the blessed Trinity, within little August Paul Schumacher on the very feast day of our Lord’s Baptism. Where the Baptismal waters flow, there the Blessed Trinity continues to build His Church and give life.

Read more…

Categories: pastoral ministry

Temptations Preachers Face

October 29th, 2011 23 comments

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the quality of the preaching in the pulpits of our church and I am growing increasingly concerned that we are moving further and further away from the unique strengths of Lutheran preaching as we have received it from generations previous to ours. I’m going to frame my concerns by referring to temptations preachers face. I’m coming at this, of course, from my perspective and convictions as a confessing, orthodox Lutheran, committed to the Sacred Scriptures, having vowed to preach and teach the Word of God in conformity with the Lutheran Confessions as contained in the Book of Concord. As you’ll see, this is no mere finger pointing exercise, this is also a chance for me to reflect on how these temptations impact me when I preach.

The Therapeutic Temptation
The “Therapeutic Temptation” is one that would have preachers use their sermons to give what amounts to little more than a pep talk, often in the context of cute, touching, emotional or an otherwise manipulative story, either real, or made up. I’m referring to the infamous, “There was once a little boy who…” or the, “There was a man who said/did…” These sermons will be marked by a preaching of Law that is soft and squidgy around the edges, it’s not a preaching of God’s holy, righteous wrath against sin and a warning against it and a rebuking of sin and sinners. It is Law preached in such a way that bad things, bad people or bad situations are lamented in doleful tones. It sounds often like this, “Isn’t it sad when….” or “Have you ever…..” and the tone is one of sounding “oh, so sorry about that” and “shouldn’t we all feel bad” about this problem. Then the sermon goes on to offer encouragement and support for getting out of our bad and negative feelings and circumstances. The Law is soft, the Gospel therefore comes across as antidote to feeling sad and bad. I face this temptation when I preach. I want so much to make people feel better, to feel good, to leave feeling positive. That can get in the way of good Law/Gospel preaching. I would say this is what I’m hearing more and more in pulpits. Law becomes simply lament. Gospel becomes simply encouragement and reassurance.

The Entertainment Temptation
Public speaking, once becomes fairly good at it, is a place where one’s personal ego can really get in the way of God’s Word. It is so tempting to get wrapped up in the moment and begin to feel a need to amuse, delight and entertain the listeners. Now, granted, the use of the classic art of rhetoric is important, but it is tempting for preachers to work very hard to elicit a laugh, a chuckle, to amuse, to entertain. They mistake audience reaction with effective preaching and they mistake emotionally manipulating the congregation with preaching God’s Word effectively. The problem with the entertainment temptation is that often the effort to entertain and elicit a positive emotional reaction from the congregation causes the preacher to neglect the doctrine in the text he is preaching on, to neglect, frankly, the Scriptures, and to spend an inordinate amount of time developing his story that he just knows will get the kind of response he is looking for. Public speaking is heady stuff. I have been tempted to go for the cheap line, the little quip, the comment I know will get chuckle and spend too much time on that, than on preaching God’s Word. And here again, in this context, Law is neglected, or ignored, because, after all, the Law is not “upbeat” it is not “entertaining.” It will not delight and amuse people to hear that they, by nature, are poor, miserable sinners who have nothing but wicked, evil deeds to offer to the holy and righteous God. And when the Law is neglected, the Gospel then loses the force of its power to convert and regeneration. In such a context, the Gospel is watered down to be part of an entertaining experience for the listeners.

The Hurry It Up Temptation
This is quite an insidious temptation that I think we all have fallen into, nearly totally. For many centuries, and even millennia, in the church’s history, sermons, where they were taken seriously, were thirty, forty or even sixty minutes long. The sermon was the opportunity for the pastor to preach and teach God’s Word carefully and thoroughly, from Sunday to Sunday, but then, and here I’m speaking only of my own church body, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, sermons that were forty-five minutes long, became only thirty minutes, then they dropped to twenty minutes, and now it is often the case that sermons now are only twelve, or ten or even eight minutes long. Simply put, these are no longer sermons, they have become rather formulaic quick devotional thoughts. There is not enough time carefully to delve into the text, and open it up to hearers. A text become more a pretext for the sharing of what becomes quite repetitive themes: some talk of something bad (Law), some talk of Jesus taking care of it all for us (Gospel) and then reference to the Sacrament. I’m tempted to do this when I know that there is a full service with communion. It is tempting to skip lightly over the text and instead use the short time I have to make a couple devotional points and then get on to the Sacrament. For all I love the Sacrament of the Altar and love that we are celebrating it more often, the Sacrament of the Altar must never become an excuse to make our sermons shorter and less substantial. We are the church of Word and Sacrament, not word AND SACRAMENT. I think that we are forgetting this.

The Grind My Axe Temptation
This temptation is characterized by a preacher managing to “find” in any Biblical text, a pretext for him to yet, once more, grind his axe on his hobby-horse issue, or subject, or theme, no matter what it might be. The hobby-horse might be quite correct and what the preacher says about it is quite true, but it is a temptation preachers face to turn nearly every sermon they give into an opportunity once more to repeat the same issues, over and over again. Perhaps he will be wanting to talk always about the liturgical practices in the parish, to turn every sermon into a little discourse on some point of church history, or to keep referring to some particular event or trend in society. Every sermon manages to include a reference to the issue that is really “bugging” the preacher and it comes out in his sermon. I am tempted to do this when I find myself wanting to warn people against the “feel good/health and wealth” prosperity preachers. I find that I can easily find myself bashing this error in every sermon. And while I’m perfectly correct in my warning, it is not appropriate for me to hijack every sermon on every Biblical text, to interject my own particular agenda. The lectionary is a good corrective, and if the preacher resolves actually to preach on the subjects, issues and topics that flow naturally from the lectionary readings, there is much less of a chance that the preacher will fall victim to the “Grind My Axe” temptation.

Do you have more temptations to add to this list?

Categories: pastoral ministry, Sermons

Selective Patience . . .

October 25th, 2011 1 comment

Why is it that some pastors are so impatient with their church body, yet so patient with members of their own congregation? Here’s what I mean. I sometimes take a look at the parish statistics of some of those making the most strident demands for discipline in the Synod, and I notice that often the greater majority of the members in these pastors’ congregations are unfaithful in regular worship attendance. Apparently, therefore, these pastors are very patient in their dealings with the people in their congregation who are regularly sinning against the Third Commandment, and this has been the case for many years in their own congregation. Why then do they demand quick action from others in other situations beyond their congregation? It gives one furiously to think, no?

The situation reminds me of what Dr. Hermann Sasse said years ago. I think we forget this, to our detriment.

“The sect cannot wait, for it must have everything at once, for it has no future. The church can wait, for it does have a future. We Lutherans should think of that.” – Hermann Sasse

Categories: pastoral ministry

Receiving the Gifts of Christ with Thankfulness and Faithfulness

July 1st, 2011 Comments off

When I posted some remarks that Pastor Weedon made recently about women’s ordination on my Facebook page, I received some interesting reactions. Here are Pastor Weedon’s remarks:

“The impossibility of women’s ordination to the office of presbyter or pastor is simply there in the Apostle Paul’s prohibitions in 1 Tim 2 and 1 Cor. 14. Not once has anyone ever showed a woman placed into that office in the pages of the NT (while the service of women in other arenas is copious in the Scripture).  Not once has anyone ever showed that the Universal Church accepted women to such an office – for even the Pope knows that the Church is simply not authorized to do so.  Take it up with the Lord Jesus!  This is not about a lack of clarity in translation; this is not about a dubious practice that was imposed on the Church through false patriarchal assumptions.  This is about “thus says the Lord” and not listening when another voice asks, ever so intelligently, “Did God REALLY say?”

The one that intrigued me the most came from a friend who reacted very negatively toward Pastor Weedon’s remarks. She said: “My comment was with regard to the standard ham-handed law-heavy (practically Reformed) approach to “discussion” on the issue of women’s ordination. This sort of retreat to the Law is often followed by the backhanded “Gospel” that “women are still honorable creatures too.” I think we, as Lutherans, can do better than that.”

It is her strong feeling that Pastor Weedon’s remarks were all law and will only turn off people who were uncertain or unconvinced about the issue of the ordination of women to the pastoral office. I think that what she is driving at, but not quite arriving there, is that while when we present these issues, we must do so in such a way that the Word of God is taught very clearly and allowed simply to stand on its own merits, we must also take care not simply to present the Bible’s prohibitions against women as pastors without providing discussion of reasons why God has chosen, in His wisdom, not to give the pastoral office to women. And, where I agree with her the most, is when she asserts that simply telling women, “No, you can’t be a pastor. God’s Word says no, now go away” is a rather legalistic and negative approach. The better way is reflect the Bible’s teaching on this issue in such a way that we speak to the positive reasons why only certain men are called to this office and the positive opportunities God gives to women that he does not give to any man. In other words, embracing a holistic approach to the issue is the most helpful one.

At any rate, this conversation called to mind a paper I gave quite some time ago, in the 1990s. It was published as an article in LOGIA journal in 2001. The title of the presentation was Receiving the Gifts of Christ with Thankfulness and Faithfulness. I think in that paper I captured some of these nuances and I’d like simply here to offer it again for your consideration. I welcome your comments and feedback.

By the way, here are a couple different formats of this paper, in case you want to use it: Receiving the gifts of Christ


Receiving the Gifts of Christ with Thankfulness and Faithfulness
Thoughts on the Bride of Christ’s Royal Priesthood and Holy Ministry

by
Rev. Paul T. McCain

St. Paul paints a beautiful picture of the church in the Epistle to the Ephesians. In Ephesians 5 Paul describes the holy Christian church as the Bride of Christ. It is noteworthy that according to St. Paul the Christian family, a man and woman, in their calling as husband and father, and as wife and mother, are to be images of the truth that the church is the Bride of Christ. As God’s creation through the blood of Christ, the church dare never begrudge the gifts that God has given to her. She dare not sneer at God’s gift of the royal priesthood, nor dare she denigrate God’s gift of the office of the holy ministry. She receives both with thanksgiving and praise to God for his wisdom in giving these gifts. How tragic it is when the divine equilibrium between the priesthood of all believers and the office of the holy ministry devolves into a sort of civil war in the church! The church is known, according to Luther, only as “a little flock of those who accept the Word of the Lord and who teach and confess true doctrine against those who persecute them, even though they must suffer for it.”[1]

At the heart of these issues, in addition to whatever else might be said, and even must be said, is the question of remaining thankful for and faithful to the gifts the Lord has given, in the manner in which he has chosen to give them. This brief study presents some thoughts on the royal priesthood, the office of the holy ministry, the Lutheran concept of vocation and station in life, and then applies these understandings to some contemporary questions about these important gifts that Christ has given to us. One of Luther’s great rediscoveries at the time of the Reformation was the scriptural truth that all the baptized people of God are called to be the “royal priesthood,” as St. Peter describes it in 1 Peter 2:9. We turn to Luther in light of the fact that our Lutheran Confessions make it clear that “We wish to be regarded as appealing to further extensive statements in his [Luther’s] doctrinal and polemical writings” (FC SD RN, 9; Tappert, 505; BSLK, 837), and that Martin Luther is the “chief teacher of the Augsburg Confession” (FC SD VII, 34; Tappert, 575; BSLK, 983). In Luther’s struggle against the medieval conception of the church as a structure that connected the lowly layperson to the heavenly realms through a system of meritorious works mediated by an ordained priest, Luther held high the centrality of Christ and his gospel by which each baptized person is completely free and liberated from all of his sin and set free to serve in whatever station in life to which he had been called by God. For Luther, the church is not defined by a papal hierarchy or by priestly orders, but by the gospel of the forgiveness of sins for the sake of Jesus Christ. Luther’s views demolished the Roman Catholic belief that life was to be separated into two distinct realms, the sacred and the secular. Even as Christ humbled himself to be born of a lowly virgin, so now the Christian is set free to serve in whatever status in life he is placed.

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Martyrs of the Devil

August 28th, 2010 1 comment

One of the Missouri Synod’s new Vice-Presidents, Rev. Dr. Scott Murray, offers these great observations in one of his “Memorial Moments” — daily devotions he offers, which you can receive here.

Pastors are dropping out of the ministry of the church and choosing secular vocations at an accelerating rate. Why? On 7 August, the New York Times ran an op-ed piece entitled “Congregations Gone Wild,” and I don’t think the author, G. Jeffrey MacDonald, meant it in a good way . He pointed out that Christian congregations are increasingly demanding that their pastors dumb down the message, preaching merely to entertain or to make their congregants feel good. He recounted his own experience, when as a parish pastor about ten years ago the advisory committee of his congregation told him to keep his sermons to 10 minutes, tell funny stories, and leave people feeling great about themselves.

Lots of congregations are making similar demands on their pastors these days. The problem is that these demands run completely counter to the prophetic role to which the Bible calls our pastors. The Lord called on the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel and said, “So you, son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me” (Ez 33:7). Sometimes the warning the pastors give rubs the people who hear it the wrong way. They don’t appreciate having their wickedness pointed out to them. Some years ago, I conducted a funeral for a young mother in my congregation who had died quite suddenly. I preached about her sin and the great grace of God given to her in Christ Jesus, who forgave her sins and called her to everlasting life with Him. Many of the young professional people in that funeral service were angry because I called their friend or colleague a sinner. Her husband came to me afterward and recounted this to me saying: “Way to go, Pastor, you preached what I wanted you to preach and what we all needed to hear.” I could not ignore death and sin because its results were so obvious in the casket that stood in the middle of church. Many people went away from the service that day profoundly angry, but angry because what I said about this young woman was also attributable to them; they were sinners and they too would die.

Increasingly, this inconvenient truth is being denied, rejected, dimmed, muted, and finally rejected. Instead we desire to be entertained. MacDonald rightly pointed out that “churchgoers increasingly want pastors to soothe and entertain them. It’s apparent in the theater-style seating and giant projection screens in churches.” Pastors are increasingly presented with the dilemma of reducing the sharpness of their preaching, such as calling people to repentance, or to look upon the cross for their salvation, so that if they do not they will be looking for other work. They have become entertainers or dispensers of soothing spiritual Kool-Aid; the mind-numbing soma of the modern religious institution. And the excuse is: “It gets people in the church who wouldn’t be here otherwise.” But the problem is that if the message has become unbiblical is it really the church of which Christ says the gates of hell shall not prevail against it, or has it become merely a smarmy religious club?

If our pastors are dancing to the devil’s tune, they will have to dance rather hard, like those old fashioned dance contests that awarded the prize to the last couple left standing. It becomes a double whammy; those who must dance for their dinner will never be able to stop and then they will continue to dance for their father forever. Let Christ do everything by preaching His gospel. It is so much easier. And it actually works too.

From Martin Luther
“The workers of the Law are very rightly called ‘martyrs of the devil,’ if I may use the common expression, because they procure hell by greater labor and trouble than that by which the martyrs of Christ gain heaven. They are worn out by a double contrition: while they are in this life, performing many great works, they torture themselves uselessly; and when they die, they receive eternal damnation and punishment as their reward. Thus they are most miserable martyrs both in the present life and in the future life, and their slavery is eternal.

“It is not so with believers, who have afflictions only in this life, while they have peace in Christ, because they believe that He has defeated the world. Therefore we must stand fast in the freedom Christ has acquired for us by His death, and we must be diligently on our guard not to be enticed once more into a yoke of slavery. This is what is happening today to the fanatical spirits: falling away from faith and freedom, they have condemned themselves here in time to slavery, and in eternity they will again be oppressed by slavery. The majority and greater part of the papists have today degenerated into nothing better than Epicureans, who, as they are accustomed, use the liberty of the flesh and sing securely: ‘Eat, drink, and play, for after death there is no pleasure.’ But truly they are slaves of the devil,who holds them captive to his will. Therefore the eternal slavery of hell awaits them.”

Categories: pastoral ministry

Women Can Be as Good a Pastor as a Man Can: While This is True, It is Entirely Beside the Point

July 5th, 2010 8 comments

I just bumped into a great post over at the Touchstone blog that succinctly points out the fatal flaws in the “functionalist” arguments in favor of ordaining women to serve as pastors. I hear these arguments all the time. But, as this blog posts points out, they are quite beside the point. I think the post points out a number of reasons why such “functionalist” arguments fall so short of the mark. You might have other points to add to it. Here is the blog post, by S.M. Hutchens.

From the ongoing battle of Christianity against egalitarianism . . . .

“A friend referred me to an article where once again the familiar argument for women’s ordination had been made by what I referred to in my response to her on purely functionalist grounds: women can perform all the necessary actions of ordained ministry as well as men–a point fully agreed to by C. S. Lewis, by the way, in “Priestesses in the Church?”–so it is irrational to deny them ordination.  What term, my friend asked, should we use as the orthodox antithesis to “functionalism,” particularly with regard to the preaching and teaching office we understand as peculiar to men?

“There is a form of prophesying the New Testament shows to be among the gifts of women.   What we are dealing with here is a distinctively male apostolic office that has to do primarily with authoritative teaching, from whatever platform.  To refer to this is to refer to a tradition that reaches back to the Lord and his apostles.  I have always believed it could have been otherwise, that these offices could have been chartered on the basis of the equality in Christ of men and women, and the exalted place–I do not hesitate to define it as sacerdotal, as the highest exemplar of the priestly office of women–of Mary as the principal (!) giver, under Christ himself, of the Lord to men, rather than along (equally valid) male-female hierarchical lines.

“(I will say parenthetically here that Protestants who ascribe no authority to catholic tradition are throwing away the most decisive part of their panoply in the struggle against egalitarianism–a strong word about how the Church has traditionally interpreted the Bible.  Of course this opens a floodgate of disturbing and potentially destructive questions about why, then, their denominations do not follow Tradition on other matters–but still, this point has to be made.  It is this Lerintian Canon that needs to be placed down against the wildly improbable interpretations of the biblical seats of doctrine set forward by egalitarianism on the basis of a higher scholars’ gnosis:  What they are teaching is a novelty: no one except perhaps a few of the oddest sects believed or taught it until the recent egalitarian enlightenment.  This places the burden of proof where it belongs.)

“But to return: The Lord chose men only for these offices, and with this, I believe, presumptively validates many if not most of the reasons given, some of them by St. Paul, for their distinctive “maleness,” and his choice along this line has been followed by the Church from the apostolic era forward.  (As Fr. Reardon and others have demonstrated, the attempts to show otherwise have been boldly but less than ingeniously cut from whole cloth.)  If the arguments that oppose women’s ordination have been accepted, it follows that those which advocate it, as logically unexceptional as they may be from the standpoint of the (true) doctrine of women’s equality with men, are to be rejected as, at the very least, irrelevant to the case.

“One recalls the wording of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, that “the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination upon women”– which does not indicate, as some believe, that such ordination is impossible and unnatural–only that authority for this change, authority, that is, to institute women’s ordination to the offices of authority along lines of their equality with men–would have to come from Christ himself.  I am among those who cannot see that this has happened, particularly in light of (1) the ecumenical rejection of the change,  (2) its acceptance and promulgation by the most deracinated and heresy-addled segments of Christendom, (3) its advocacy in the latter by gross exegetical and historical dishonesty, and (4) the ecclesially destructive quality of the witness of its supporters–even if women more orthodox than the radical feminists are borne in the egalitarian train.  This looks like the devil’s work, not that of the Holy Spirit.

“So, what opposes “pure functionalism” is an overriding dominical choice and the apostolic tradition that follows it–in brief, functionality is opposed by apostolicity.  That women can function as well as men in the tasks of ordained office, reason can readily stipulate.  That they have been chosen for it is what we doubt, and with this doubt goes acceptance of a pattern of reasoning that submits to the Lord’s choice and  rejects all reasons proffered against it, as “reasonable” as they may appear.  This includes the argument from functional parity.”

Categories: pastoral ministry

“Keep Your Doubts to Yourself, I Have Enough of My Own!” A Good Thought on Preaching

July 3rd, 2010 3 comments

‘Preaching is not the proclamation of a theory, or the discussion of doubt. A man has a perfect right to proclaim a theory of a sort, or to discuss his doubts. But that is not preaching. ‘Give me the benefit of your convictions, if you have any. Keep your doubts to yourself; I have enough of my own’, said Goethe. We are never preaching when we are hazarding speculations. Of course we do so. We are bound to speculate sometimes. I sometimes say, ‘I am speculating; stop taking notes.’ Speculation is not preaching. Neither is the declaration of negations preaching. Preaching is the proclamation of the Word, the truth as the truth has been revealed.’

G. Campbell Morgan, once preacher at Westminster Chapel, London, from Preaching (1937), quoted in John Stott, Between Two Worlds , Eerdmans (1982), p.85, in a section on the modern church’s loss of confidence in the Gospel. HT: Glosses from an Old Manse Blog

Categories: pastoral ministry

What would you need to hear if you had not received a call to be a pastor?

May 1st, 2010 11 comments

Last week something very sad happened on the campus of Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana and the campus of Concordia Seminary in Saint Louis, Missouri. Over thirty men who had gladly responded to the Lord’s call, “Who shall go for us?” saying, “Here am I, send me!” did not receive calls into the office of the holy ministry. Thirty men. Thirty men who had heard how much our Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod needs pastors. Thirty men who have been told how many are the vacant congregations in our Synod. Thirty men who heard how great and urgent is the immediate need of the church for laborers for the Lord’s harvest. Thirty men who spent many years being prepared to be the best possible pastors they could possibly be, receiving the finest training they could possibly receive. Thirty men who went through multiple moves, to seminary, out to vicarage, back to seminary, and they are ready to move again. They have known financial want. They have known difficulties and hardships, sacrificing much for the sake of the Ministry, and when the time came, there was not a single call to serve as a pastor, for them.

How would you feel? What would you want to hear? What would you need to hear? You would need to hear this:

http://dizzysound.net/media/RevHarrison_April30_2010.mp3

Categories: pastoral ministry

A Pastor’s Tool Kit

December 23rd, 2009 1 comment

I loved this blog post by Pastor Paul Cain. Note: that is “Cain” not “McCain.” We’ve had some fun with this over the years. I told him that obviously somebody cut the “Mc” off an otherwise perfect last name. Paul is a pastor in Wyoming and does a terrific job as the Wyoming District’s worship resource guy, producing a newsletter called Liturgy, Hymnody and Pulpit Quarterly Book Review, that he has now transitioned over to a blog. I encourage you to add QBR to your blog feed reader. Here is his post on his pastoral “tool kit.” Love it!

On the Road: Pastoral Care Tools in Wyoming

The Weather in Wyoming can confront a pastor with just about anything. It’s snowing outside as I type. How can one make sure he has everything for a shut-in or hospital visit and protect it all from the elements?

Shortly after I was ordained, I got tired of carrying my Bible, Communion Kit, and Hymnal along with bulletins, Portals of Prayer, and other resources in my bare hands. So, based on being raised by a carpenter, I went to SEARS and bought a tool bag. It served me well for nearly ten years until I needed something a little larger.

I am told that “Craftsman” is actually a better translation for Joseph’s vocation in Scripture than “carpenter” anyway!

So, the first photo in this blog post is my new pastor tool kit. I have bulletins, devotionals, Lutheran Service Book, an English Standard Version Bible, the LSB Pastoral Care Companion, and even the pocket edition of Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions on one side. On the other side is my Communion Kit, CDs for shut-ins, and a small kit for emergency baptisms. And it usually makes people smile.

You may be wondering, “If that’s his pastor bag, what does his Communion Kit look like?”
I’m glad you asked. This summer I drove up to see a shut-in in the mountains. After I arrived, I noted that the glass bottle from my original Communion Kit had burst. Everything was ruined. I needed a replacement fast.
Looking throughh the catalogs, one could spend hundreds or thousands on a new Communion Kit. I saw a nice looking one for $250 that looked like a handgun case. So, I went to the local sporting goods store and re-purposed a handgun case and food safe plastic camping bottles.

So, that is an insider’s guide to pastoral care tools out here in Wyoming. And may a be a good time to remind my brother pastors to be diligent in visiting your people. These are your tools: bread, wine, water and word. They appear humble, but they have great promises attached to them. No part of my ministry has borne more fruit than doing visits to shut-ins, hospitals, nursing homes, and eventually every member family in their homes. My wife calls it “hunting the brush.” Jesus called it leaving the ninety-nine to seek out the one. And heaven and earth rejoiced.

Peace in Christ,

Paul J Cain, QBR Editor

Categories: pastoral ministry

Advice for Seminarians and New Pastors

December 4th, 2009 1 comment

country-churchVia Justin Taylor, I read a brief article by Tim Keller who answers a question he is frequently asked by seminarians and new pastors, “What kind of ministry situation would best help me learn how to be a pastor?” His answer might surprise you. It did not surprise me. When I was assigned to be a pastor to a small, rural congregation in Northeast Iowa it was the best experience I could have possible received. And this article will tell you why.

Categories: pastoral ministry

Banishing the Dead from Their Own Funeral

October 14th, 2009 8 comments

Yeltsinwid2504_468x379Pastor Peters has an extremely important post up on his blog site. I simply must repeat it here. I can not begin to tell you how powerfully essential the body of a loved one is, to view, and to bury, at the time of death. People think that somehow they are doing something good by an instant cremation or a simple memorial service, with the body of their loved one out of sight. Believe me, it is not helpful. Please consider carefully Pastor Peters’ very wise words.

Funeral practices could probably take up a hundred posts and still we would but scratch the surface. Suffice it to say that the industry is profit driven and that most funeral directors will do whatever the family wants to please the customer. I am not faulting this but suggesting that the goals of the funeral home may be at odds with the Church.

I for one am not a big fan of the big screen TVs that have shown up in every funeral chapel around. They are fine in the viewing areas where family meets friends and often help put a fuller perspective on a person’s life than what someone might know only from the perspective of work or neighborhood. If chosen well it can relieve some of the pressure on the family to rehearse over and over again details and stories that can be easily told in the form of a single photo. But…
None of this belongs in the chapel or in the church. There these screens stick out at cross purposes with the funeral liturgy. Here we focus not on the life of the deceased but on the hope that bestows resurrection and life everlasting — in other words, we focus on Jesus Christ. But it is hard to talk about Jesus while photos of the deceased and the family trip to Yosemite flash behind or on either side of the preacher. And if the family is non-Christian, why do they gather in the “chapel” at all — it seems a curious place for people with no beliefs.
I am equally uncomfortable about most of the canned music that is played as either background or front and center during many funerals at funeral homes (and, unfortunately, in churches, too). The music for the funeral is the music of the Church — the sturdy hymns of old that give melody to the message of death and resurrection, forgiveness and life through Jesus Christ. ‘Daddy’s Hands” may be good for a ton of tears but sentiment is no substitute for the hope that is within us. For that it must be Jesus Christ — crucified and risen for me and my salvation. Again this is directed to Christians — to church members — and not to the unbelieving world which can play whatever they want (with the exception of music of the faith) — including “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” (ala The Big Chill).

But increasingly we are finding the phenomenon of a funeral in which the deceased is not present. People are doing more and more immediate cremations with memorial services that follow later (often sans even the ashes). In other words, a funeral in which the dead have been banished. But why? Well, there are a lot of reasons. Having the dead present only reminds us that funerals are, well, about death. They make it hard to turn the funeral into a happy event when there is the unpleasantness of a dead body lying right there in front everyone. It costs a bit more and who wants to waste money on a body that is already dead? The person isn’t really there anyway so that body is just a shell that has been outgrown, right?But I am all for having the body there. Even if cremation is the choice, having the body there for the funeral is a good thing. Yes, it reminds us that we have not gathered to remember a life but to bury the dead. But that is the reality of it. Death is real. We can cover it up with pancake makeup, we can dress it up in new clothes, we can make it look like sleep (but isn’t that a pleasant thought — your loved one is sleeping in a casket and about to be closed in a covered up forever), but it is death we must deal with.

The resurrection only makes sense as hope if death is real to us — the thief who steals away our lives… the result of a sin we were born into and added to on our own… the cold darkness that would swallow us up except that Jesus swallowed it up for us…

All our wonderful funeral practices cannot make this reality go away — only Jesus can. And we do not do ourselves any favors by trying to make it appear as if death were not real. It is. It is real and personal. Only a Savior who is as real and personal can address it and steal away its victory.

And we do our children no favors by shielding them from death. We won’t teach them to pray “if I should die before I wake” because we don’t want them to have nightmares. We drop them off at the babysitter so that they don’t have to suffer seeing grandma in the casket. Are we helping or hurting them? Or, by insulating them, are we are hurting them?

I have a vivid memory of my mother lovingly and gently fixing the hair of her Aunt Alice when she died. It did not scar me. It taught me. Like the men and women who brought the spices to anoint Jesus’ body, this was an act of love. Years ago the family washed the body and this duty of love was not only an acknowledgment of death’s reality but pointed to a reality even bigger — of the love that raises the dead to life everlasting. Years ago every home had a formal parlor whose duties included housing the coffin and the dead for the family visitation. Churches has formal parlors for just the same purpose.

I can still recall when my Grandpa Peters died and the pallbearers lifted the heavy casket and body to carry it out the door of the country church and down the hill into the cemetery behind it. I can still see the long line of people who had filled the building in testament to their love for my Grandpa. I can still hear the dirt and the sound it made on the metal casket as the casket was being lowered into the ground. I remember the tombstones of my great-grandparents nearby and other family members as I looked around that day now forty six years ago. These are not terrible memories but comforting ones. Death was real and honest but life was proclaimed in Jesus Christ who is even more real and more truthful. It all combined to tell me where my Grandpa was, who he was a child of God, and what grace supported him in life and now called to him in death with the life only Christ can give.

Let the body be at the funeral… Let the children come, too… Don’t let memories be your only consolation — let it be the Resurrection of our Lord that lifts your spirit. Don’t hide the death in the hopes that it will make it all easier. Let us be honest… honest about death and honest about the life that is ours in Christ. It will help and will not hurt. God promises us this…

Categories: pastoral ministry

On Women Pastors: From Johann Gerhard

October 10th, 2009 Comments off

Here is an interesting bit of Gerhard shared with me by Rev. Dr. Benjamin Mayes, who is working on the Gerhard Loci Theologici series of volumes. In this particular section, Gerhard is responding to the accusation from his nemesis in these volumes, the Roman Catholic theologian Bellarmine, who accused the Lutherans (and Calvinists) of agreeing with heresies from the first five centuries. You’ll find the particular heresy being treated here to be very interesting: committing the office of the holy ministry to women.

Fourth, the heresy of the Peputians. § 210. (IV) “According to Augustine (De haeres., c. 27), the Peputians give so much authority [principatus] to women that they even honor them with the priesthood. In art. 13 of those which Leo condemned, Luther says that in the sacrament of penance a woman or child can absolve as much as a bishop or pope can. Now, in fact, a woman is the chief pontiff of the Calvinists in England.”

We respond. (1) We do not entrust the ordinary administration of the ministry to women, which the Peputians once did. As for the fact that in an extreme case of necessity we concede to the laity the administration of baptism, the Papists agree with us in this.

(2) Luther is speaking about an extraordinary case of necessity when a priest cannot be had. There, he says, the absolution of a Christian woman or even of a child can accomplish as much as that of a priest. He says: “In the remission of a fault the pope accomplishes no more than any priest and, in fact, when a priest is absent, than any Christian.” He also teaches: “The power to wipe out fault is placed not in the quality of the minister but in the faith of the believer. We must not assign the effecting of remission to any such power of the minister, such as the Papists claim, but to the faith by which we embrace the word of Gospel promise.” On the other hand, he has by no means taken away the function and dignity of the ecclesiastical ministry, for he writes as follows in his Post. eccles., for the Sunday after Easter: “In 1 Corinthians 14 the apostle requires that all things be done in order. But if we all wanted to administer the sacraments, what will become of the order? If we all wanted to preach at the same time, what sort of croaking will we have? We all have the power to administer the sacraments, but no one should rashly take it upon himself to do this except he whom the Church has appointed for this task.” We must believe the same about the power of loosing and binding.

(3) We know that Elizabeth was the queen of England, but that she usurped the functions of the ecclesiastical ministry is the lie of Cochlaeus. Bellarmine is repeating it here. He would have done far better if, remembering that the popess John VIII came from England, he had abstained from the false accusation he makes here.

“For whom the bell tolls? It tolls for thee.” Thoughts On Preaching Against Sin

September 23rd, 2009 4 comments

bellsJohn Dunne wrote: Each man’s death diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind. Therefore, send not to know gor whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee. I remembered these words when I recently bumped into some perceptive remarks from Pr. David Petersen on how pastors preach against sin. I thought you might appreciate them. It always bothered me as a pastor when I heard people say, “Pastor, you preached what some people in our church really needed to hear!” They were usually always, of course, referring to some specific sin I had mentioned in my sermon. I always took that not as a compliment but as an indication my preaching of the Law and against sin was not encompassing enough, or that I had ground a personal hobby-horse more than I should have. Pastor Petersen offers these thoughts, and I welcome your thoughts on this. Here is what Pastor Petersen said:

“The problem with so much of our Law preaching is that we’re preaching against people who are absent rather than preaching to those gathered to hear the Word and receive the Lord’s Body and Blood. As is fitting with our fallen flesh, this preaching is often wildly popular, characterizes frequently by Dr. David Scaer as the boastful self-indulgence of a “self congratulatory society.” Perhaps it is best seen in the apocryphal tales of old timey LCMS Reformation services where the pastor preached at length against the pope, who never once has attended a Reformation service in the LC-MS. The problem not simply that the Law isn’t heard by those who need it . The problem is that this preaching feeds prejudice and stokes hubris in the hearts of those present. It fails to convict anyone or glorify Christ. In contrast, the Law is to be preached in such a way that the hearers would not turn to judge their neighbors, or those in the church down the street, but that they would examine their own consciences. The hearer needs to be led to recognize his own delusions and self-justifications, to see how his bad behavior is not exceptional but characteristic, that his sins come from inside himself and are a better expression of his true self than the fiction he presents to the world, all of which is to say that he is thoroughly corrupt and evil. This can be a painful and terrifying experience, but strangely, Christians love it. Christians love it because it is the Truth and it glorifies Christ. When the Law convicts us of our sins and we say “amen” to it, it and we, have told the truth. The truth feeds faith, underscores humility, and subdues the flesh. Conviction leads to repentance, a sincere sorrow over sin, a desire to do better, and a desperate hope that there is an escape provided not by justice by by mercy. This is the chief work do the Law: to lead to this desire for mercy, to lead to Christ. For the Law shows the sinner his need for a Savior and sweetens the Gospel by contrast. We preach the Law not to condemn the absent, but to condemn sin and sinners, to teach sinners the hard and humility work of examining themselves, of confessing the pitiful lies we’ve told and our self-absorption, our thousand pretend ways meant to fool ourselves and our neighbors into thinking we are better than we are, to confront what is really in us and who we really are, not as a way of nagging us to better behavior or to make us feel superior to other people, but to show us how great and selfless Christ’s rescue is. Christians love this because it is true and because it glorifies Christ. In contrast, condemning the sins of others is popular, but it does nothing to glorify Christ. Even if the grace of God prevents it from becoming open racism and the like, the only thing it might positively do is glorify morality, and we already have Aristotle for that.”

Categories: pastoral ministry

God is Not Tolerant and Grace is Not Tolerance

August 27th, 2009 5 comments

Pastor Larry Peters knocked this one out of the park. Do you agree?

Categories: pastoral ministry