Pastors make what seem like a million, seemingly insignificant, decisions on a day to day basis. At the time, these decisions don’t seem to make much of an impact on the overall “climate” of a congregation. Because of this it is easy to underestimate their importance. Over time, these seemingly small and insignificant decisions add up. The cumulative effect of these day to day, week to week decisions is that the congregation is, after several years, stronger than it was before, or weaker–depending on the way those day-to-day decisions were handled.
Take funerals for example. We are all faced with countless decisions. Will we or will we not use “that hymn” or will we let so and so’s sister’s aunt’s first-cousin give a eulogy? At first people might chafe and protest when we say “no” to this or that request because it is not in keeping with sound Lutheran practice. It is not pleasant, but painful rather to make some of these decisions, even though we know it is for the overall good of the congregation. What is happening though is that precedent is being set. Over time, the net result will be a stronger and more spiritually mature congregation.
Certainly, one can “make a mountain out of a mole hill,” and I wouldn’t suggest looking at it like that. But I don’t think it is inaccurate to say that most pastors whose theology and practice is driven by the Confessional witnesses have a certain ideal in mind, a goal towards which they are striving, a standard by which such day to day decisions are measured and gauged. I wouldn’t call it an “agenda,” as if it were some secret, evil plan, but simply an ideal towards which we are striving.
I think this might be helpful for the pastor who wants to see everything turned around in a matter of months or even a couple of years at his congregation. It generally doesn’t happen that way. Keep the overarching goal in mind. Keep the ideal at the forefront of your mind. It might not seem like you are making much of an impact. But don’t give up on that account. Stay at a congregation long enough, and you may begin to see the fruits of your labors. The Church, like a large ocean vessel, takes time to turn. As we steer this holy vessel, which is sometimes wayward or simply drifting, let us not become discouraged when things don’t necessarily go “our way” right away. Do your work, and remember that the seemingly small decisions that we make will, over time, add up.
Perhaps one should ask himself, when faced with a choice between two courses of action, “Will this, in the long run, help to make this congregation stronger, or weaker?” Always think long term.