Five things every congregation should know about their young, new pastor (and why they should be grateful to have him)

Five things you should know about your young, new pastor (And why you should be grateful to have him):

  1. He just spent the last four years sitting at the feet of learned theologians and receiving pastoral education. He is now eager to share what he has learned with others. You get to benefit from that eagerness to teach. It is to your advantage that you joyfully receive the instruction that he desires to give.
  1. He has taken a solemn oath at his ordination to be faithful in his teaching and in the carrying out of pastoral care. This means that he is ultimately responsible to Jesus for the souls that are entrusted to his care. He does not take this lightly, and you should expect him to act accordingly. So, for example, you should expect him to confront openly manifest sinners in the congregation with their sins to bring them to repentance. And, you should support him in this. You should expect your new pastor to address false belief in the congregation and/or poor practices. This is what he has been trained to do. This task is made the more difficult if his predecessor did not address these issues. You will be tempted to get angry at him for calling “foul” when he sees something that is amiss. You should resist this temptation and instead, ask him to instruct you in these matters so you will be stronger.
  1. He just spent the last four years sitting at the feet of learned theologians and receiving pastoral education. It will take time for him to learn about you, what makes you tick, to get to know the wool of his sheep. It will take time for him to grow comfortable in the shoes of being a pastor. Be patient with him as he learns to take what he has learned and communicate it to you in terms that you can understand. Be patient with him as he learns from mistakes. This is the most loving thing you can do for him is to be patient. As men are preparing for the holy ministry, they are constantly told, “Be patient with your congregations. Do not do everything at once that you wish to do.” But this can go both ways. St. Paul says that love is above all “patient and kind.”
  1. He likely misses his friends and family. You are surrounded by yours. He and his family (if he has one) have just left good friends and possibly family and moved to a completely new place with totally new people. It is easier in our day to connect with those friends and colleagues through social media and email, but this is no substitute for real, face to face interaction. It’s okay—he’s been preparing for this and so has his wife and family. He’s been taught to view his new parish as a paradise, even with all of its flaws and faults. But be understanding of his need to interact socially, to go to conferences and other events where he will be able to see classmates and acquaintances. Invite him and his family over for dinner or if not dinner then a beer. Take some time to get to know him and his background. This will show him that he does not need to be apprehensive or guarded around you. It will show him that you care about him, that you see him as a person and not just someone who baptizes, confirms, marries, and buries people for a living.
  1. He believes that you actually want to hear and learn the Word and that you care about doctrine. Try not to disappoint him! He’ll learn soon enough that this is not always the case. But you don’t want him to be jaded too soon or become burned out. That would be of no advantage to you. When a pastor is unable to conduct his ministry with joy because he constantly encounters resistance or lack of interest on the part of the people, it is the congregation that suffers. Let me repeat—it is the congregation that suffers. On the other hand, the congregation that encourages its pastor to do what he has been called to do and does not hinder his work will reap great rewards.

Saint Paul reminded Timothy, “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12). All too often, congregations do just that—despise their pastor because of his youth. They don’t think they are doing that. They think it is their job to teach him, to make him a better pastor. And pastors do learn a lot from their members. But remember that no matter what age your pastor is, he has a Divine Call. With that Call comes authority to preach God’s Word publicly and to exercise the Office of the Keys. He will learn many things by sheer experience. Like you in your jobs, he will learn many things by trial and error. This is normal and this is natural. All will benefit, pastor and congregation, when just a little bit of understanding, patience, forgiveness, and long-suffering is shown toward the new pastor. You expect no less from him.

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Beware of Loving Human Peace Too Much

“Peace, therefore, as we now have it, is to be treated as something that ought to be both loved and contemned; otherwise, if it is loved immoderately, the soul of him who loves it may be caught in sin. Consequently, the peaceable are also to be admonished not to desire human peace too much and so fail entirely to reprove the evil conduct of men.”

I came across this as I was reading St. Gregory the Great’s “Pastoral Care” this morning. It is a very good reminder, both to pastors as well as members of the congregation. No one likes to be a “disturber of the peace.” As a pastor I can say that nothing gives me more angst than to have to speak up when something is amiss. We love our peace–our earthly peace. We love concord, and that’s not a bad thing. Gregory says we should love it. But he also says we should hate it too. We should not get so comfortable with this world’s peace that we dare not risk it by opening our mouths in reproof or by pointing out an error in doctrine. The temptation is strong to maintain earthly concord, but to do this immoderately, says Gregory, we run the risk of jeopardizing our eternal peace.

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The Harder I Try, the Worse I Do

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I don’t know if other people can relate to this, but it seems like the harder I try to live a God-pleasing life, the harder I try to avoid sin, the more of a sinner I become. The more I strive to curb my thoughts and actions, the more unholy my thoughts and actions seem to become.

This seems to be the case especially during the Season of Lent. It is the season of fasting, and yet I hunger more for food and drink than ever before. It is the season of increased devotion to Christ, and yet at no other time of the year do I feel less motivated to pray. It is the season of repentance and casting off dead works of the flesh, and yet it almost seems as though my fleshly desires become more active than they do at any other time of the year. Which leads me to conclude that perhaps, Lent is really bad for me. Or really good, depending on which way you look at it.

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Be Careful What You Wish For…

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We’ve all heard the expression, “Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.” I think the same rule can be applied to prayer.

Many years ago, before I was a pastor, before I was married with children, I prayed that the Lord would teach me the Theology of the Cross. It was during my later college years and into my first couple years of seminary that I frequently found myself uttering this prayer. I knew that it was something I needed to learn. I knew it was something that was important. I had read much in books and journal articles about Luther’s Theologia Crucis, and I wanted to know it. To learn it. So I truly and honestly prayed that God would teach it to me.

Sometimes I wish that I had not been so fervent in this prayer. Because what I didn’t realize at the time was that one cannot learn the Theology of the Cross from books alone. It was not merely his reading of books that taught Luther to look at life through suffering and the cross, but his own experience of the cross in his life. His own suffering, terrors, and trials, his internal struggles and battles–these, finally, are what taught Luther the theology of the cross.

Suffice to say that God has answered my prayer, over and over again. In many and various ways, He has schooled me in the theology of the cross, but it has not been a free education. The tuition has been costly. I confess that I have not always borne well the crosses that God has laid on me. And for this I repent. But there is only one way to get the juice out of a fruit and that is to squeeze the hell out of it. So, I suppose the fruit that God has squeezed out of me is that my fervent prayer has now become, “Come, Lord, quickly.”

What makes the trials and afflictions of life bearable is the fact one day they will come to an end. One day, God will deliver us all from this vale of tears and sorrow, and take us to himself in heaven. And the pain and misery that was endured in this life will not be remembered any more. The thoughts that daily plague my mind will finally cease, and there will be unending joy. This is what gives me comfort in difficult times. God will wipe away every tear from our eyes. Christ suffered, and then He rose. Sorrow gave way to joy. Come, Lord, quickly.

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Keys are Given to the Church, But Administered only by those Legitimately Called

I appreciated these words of Martin Chemnitz in which he explains Luther’s teaching that Christ has given the keys of the kingdom of heaven to the Church:

Against these tyrannical opinions Luther taught from the Word of God that Christ has given and committed the keys, that is, the ministry of the Word and of the sacraments, to the whole church, not however in such a way that everyone might usurp and appropriate this ministry to himself by his own will and personal rashness, without a legitimate call, but that, after the immediate calling ceased, God sends ministers of the Word and of the sacraments through the call and choosing of the church, if it is done according to the command of His Word, so that the highest power of the Word and of the sacraments is with God; then, that the ministry belongs to the church, so that God calls, chooses, and sends ministers through it. Thirdly, then, it is with those who are legitimately chosen and called by God through the church, therefore with the ministers to whom the use or administration of the ministry of the Word and the sacraments has been committed.

It is interesting to me that Chemnitz equates the office of the keys and the ministry of the Word and the sacraments with those words, “that is.” So often they are spoken of as though they are something different. Chemnitz speaks of no “public” vs. “private” administration, as in, “Pastors are called to exercise the keys publicly, but all Christians use them privately in their vocations.” The ministry of the Word and sacraments is carried out only by those who are legitimately called through the Church. And yet, Chemnitz affirms (as do our Confessions) that the keys have been given to the whole Church. He speaks not of an individual possession, but a collective possession. The keys belong to the whole Church, through which God calls and chooses ministers to use and administer.

Chemnitz further explains:

With this distinction, which is true and plain, Luther meant to restrain the arrogance of the priests who were puffed up by the opinion that they alone possessed all power with respect to the Word and sacraments, so that the sacraments were valid on account of the imprinting on them some kind of character from ordination…This is also the reason why they wanted to quote and condemn certain mutilated and falsified words from that disputation of Luther’s in this canon. (Examination of the Council of Trent, vol. 2, pp. 96-97.)

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Reminiscere – Matthew 15:21-28

If only more people prayed like Jacob: After wrestling with God from dusk till dawn, he says: “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” Jacob refuses to let go of God until he receives a blessing. He holds God to his promises. And he would do that throughout his life. He holds God’s Word and promise in front of his face, and says, “This is what you said. This is what you promised. And you cannot be unfaithful to your promises. You cannot deny your own Word. You cannot lie.”

It sounds presumptuous. But it is actually what faith does. It is like your kids when you promise to do something with them. They don’t let you forget it. A whole month or a year could go by. And still they will say to you: “But you said. You promised.” They don’t easily forget the promises of their fathers, and neither should we forget the promises of God.

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Choirs and Faith-Formation

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Last Saturday we were privileged to have the “Singing Saints” from Saint Paul Lutheran High School in Concordia, MO sing at Immanuel. It was a wonderful experience. The concert itself was very good, and people were amazed that they sang everything from memory. We enjoyed hosting choir director Bill Gasau and his wife, Linda, and two of the girls from the choir at the parsonage. I would do it again in a heartbeat. Now, if I can just get the Seminary Kantorei to come!

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