The Law stings. It hurts. It exposes. It crushes one’s pride. Here’s a fine example from the pen of Dr. James Bollhagen (The Practice of Pastoral Theology: Practical Reflections on the Holy Ministry, Fort Wayne, IN: CTS, 1995):
There is often heard in the church a little “horror story” which aptly demonstrates the avoidance of pastoral responsibility. You will hear a story that goes something like this: for some time a man has been the called pastor of a church whose membership has hovered around fifty communicants for the past several years. Of the fifty members twenty of them can be classified as delinquent members, who have not darkened the doors of the church for a minimum of two years. Ten others are listed as “whereab0uts unknown.” And, the twenty stalwarts that remain are not getting along very well with each other: in fact, you can hear them arguing in the room adjacent to the pastor’s office. Meanwhile, what is the pastor doing? He is watching it all happen. With his computer he is documenting it all as he sits in his office day after day. He complains about the lack of zeal for the kingdom amongst his members, a malady which might make a good subject for a future journal article. He is getting increasingly nervous about the prospect that sooner or later the complaints are going to turn in his direction. He is already beginning to suspect that the arguments outside his door are starting to center around him. Perhaps, he thinks, it is time to put his name on a call list, so that he can go someplace where he will be appreciated. He doesn’t have to put up with this, and no one could ever accuse him of false doctrine.
Such a pastor needs to be shaken up with the reality of his responsibility: “You’re the pastor–do something!” He also needs a good dose of the Gospel in order to turn the paranoia that accompanies lethargy and inactivity into the joy that goes along with service. A renewed awareness of his divine call would lead him to what might be called a “pastoral awareness,” a full realization that he is Christ’s man for the job. Looking the other way may be the path of least resistance, but the path of most assistance is the one that follows the way of Christ himself” (p. C.10).
I could say that I wished that I had read this book when I came to my first parish, but I wonder if I would have been able to accept it at that point. Oh how these words, and many others, have stung as I have read the pages of this book by Bollhagen, and yet how comforting many of the other passages are. His words are grounded in a thoroughly incarnational view of the Office of the Holy Ministry, and yet are seasoned with both Law and Gospel through and through. I highly recommend this volume to new and so-called “experienced” pastors.