Hindsight is Overrated

It has become a rather common feature of men who have been in the Ministry for several years to be very apologetic for their first years in the Ministry. On blogs, Facebook, and in personal conversation, when the topic of pastoral approach and practice comes up, I frequently hear and read great public apologies being made, or deep regret and remorse being expressed regarding the decisions that were made, or the sermons that were preached, or the attitude that one had in that “first call.” I understand. I made mistakes too. I still do. And it is good to repent for the true mistakes that we made. It is good to repent of those things that truly were sinful. If we willfully neglected our work, if we preached false doctrine, if we despised our members in our hearts (or openly), these are sins that need to be confessed, and forgiven. And God, in the cross, says: “Apology accepted. I forgive you.”

It is not good, however, to be remorseful or regretful of the good things that were done, but were not perceived that way. Nor is it good, in my opinion, to continue to wallow in that guilt. We dare not insult the Lord by apologizing for being faithful. We’re all imperfect people. We all are wiser with experience. But that goes with the territory. Learning how properly to distinguish the law from the gospel is taught by the Holy Spirit in the school of experience.

Hindsight is always 20/20. That’s the problem with hindsight. It’s brutal in its accusation. “If only someone would have told me this 20 years ago when I first started as a pastor, then…” Well, duh. We all have situations that we would have handled differently given more experience. So, again, repent, and move on. Get over it. Get to work. Try to tackle it differently next time. You had rough edges. We all did and do! And I’m not so sure that is a bad thing. John the Baptist did too. He would have been characterized by our modern “polite” society as being “rough around the edges,” one of those “guys right out of the seminary.” “He’s a good pastor, but just needs to have his edges smoothed a little bit.” “Maybe it would help if he got married and had some children. Then he wouldn’t seem so out of the ordinary.”

Maybe it’s my rebellious nature, but it makes me think of that one Spongebob episode with “Normal” Spongebob. His edges become smooth, and he becomes “normal.” I resist this “normalizing” process in the Church and as a pastor. Not everything we did in our first years of Ministry was wrong. We preached. We fed. We baptized. We confronted people in their sins. We did what we could to get our people to appreciate the liturgy and the Sacraments as we had been taught. I will not be apologetic for that. I will not insult the Lord, who was all that time working through my lack of wisdom and experience, by acting as if my first eight or so years in the Ministry was something of which to be ashamed.

We have a Call as pastors, and we do the best we can at the time, given the circumstances and resources available to us. If we sin and make mistakes, then let us repent, and rejoice in the forgiveness of Christ. But let’s not wallow in false guilt. The Lord is with us, as he promised (Matthew 28), and He will not fail us. For those going out into the Ministry for your first Call, go out there and do the work you’ve been given to do. Go make your mistakes. Repent. And live under the grace of God. My advice: don’t be unnecessarily severe on yourselves. You’re only human. Don’t second-guess yourself. If you have guilt to confess, then confess it to your father confessor. But do not, and I repeat, do not be apologetic for being faithful, or for preaching God’s Holy Word. Beware of false guilt. And contrary to popular opinion, hind-sight is overrated. Cheers!


About Rev. Paul L. Beisel

Graduate of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN in 2001 (M Div.) and 2004 (S.T.M.); LC-MS Pastor and Adjunct Instructor for John Wood Community College; Husband of Amy and father of Susan, Elizabeth, Martin, and Theodore.
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6 Responses to Hindsight is Overrated

  1. Derek Johnson says:

    That’s some very interesting thoughts. I do think, given how much our denomination can be bound to tradition at times, there is a tendency to blame young people and young pastors harder than need. (Of course, being attached to tradition doesn’t have to be a bad thing.) Mark Zuckerberg made some huge mistakes in creating Facebook, but creating Facebook was a great thing in many ways.

    It reminds of my church’s senior pastor who came fourteen years ago when he was 36. Three years after he arrived, there was a large scandal in the church’s school, and everyone blamed him for being too young, but I doubt his age had as much to do with it as personality (he took sides in situations where he should have been more diplomatic) and the simple fact he came into a bad situation at a bad time. Since then, he’s moved on to another congregation, and our church has better leadership.

  2. pandeter says:

    The only one you need to apologize to for your own personal sins is God. Sin if personal, unless it has harmed another person directly. No one has the “right” (from God or man) to hold someone accountable for their personal sins.

  3. Rev. Paul L. Beisel says:

    And Jesus said: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” Not my words, but His.

  4. pandeter says:

    Yes, Jesus did say that. Jesus gives His disciples authority to announce forgiveness and to warn of guilt, as authorized by the Holy Spirit.

    This lays down the duty of the church to proclaim forgiveness to the penitent believer, and the duty of the church to warn the unbeliever that they are in danger of forfeiting the mercy of God. This does not mean we confess our sins to others and if we obtain their forgiveness we are forgiven by God.

    And when taken with other verses Jesus says “If your brother sins against you”. Brother, meaning Christian, who sins against you, not brother who sins in general.

  5. Rev. Paul L. Beisel says:

    Pandeter, I’m going to assume the best about you and your posting. I’m going to assume that you have not been catechized as a Lutheran. And, therefore, I trust that you may not be familiar with the liturgy of our Individual Confession and Absolution. The pastor, after the penitent confesses his sin (either general or specific), asks, “Do you believe that my forgiveness is God’s forgiveness?” And then the pastor says, “Let be done for you as you desire….” And he goes on to pronounce the absolution. I think this is something that is missed by non-Lutherans (and even many in our churches.) The forgiveness of sins has been won by Jesus on the cross for all people, and when Christ speaks to his apostles he was speaking to all pastors (indeed, all Christians according to their calling one might add) when he said: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven.” It is not my voice that one hears when I say, “I forgive you all your sins, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” It is the voice of Christ himself.

    Of course, if someone sins against me personally, then I am also to forgive that person from the heart, whether he repents or not. But the pastor speaks not for himself but for Christ. He is authorized to do so. Not all Christians are so authorized. As Paul says, “We are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.” We are just the tongues and the mouths. When pastors absolve those who are penitent, it is God who is heard. As Jesus says, “He who hears you (his apostles) hears me. And the one who rejects you rejects me and Him who sent me.” This is biblical stuff.

    But, this is not the only way that God makes his Word of forgiveness available to us. Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, the preaching of His Word, the reading of Scripture, the mutual conversation of Christians–all of these are ways through which the Gospel reaches our ears. Understand?

  6. pandeter says:

    Mr. Beisel, I’m going to assume the best in you, and hope that you don’t assume everything you believe is the correct way. First I’ll deal with my Lutheran background. I was born and raised WELS lutheran, have multiple teachers and pastors in my family that went to MLC, or Bethany Lutheran, and on to the seminary. I know exactly what Lutherans believe, and I know exactly what the Bible says. And the two are not in agreement.

    You make a lot of “if this, then that” assumptions that don’t stand. First off, nowhere in the Bible does it say I NEED to confess my personal sins to anyone other than God. So any argument from that point on that starts out with “if one forgives you” has no biblical basis. Continuing on with that argument: Asserting that the meaning of Christ’s words “If you forgive anyone his sins..” is a mistranslation of his words, and in contradiction with the only way to receive forgiveness of sins, which is by faith in Christ Jesus. Forgiveness is not based on if another forgives me, or if I confess to another. When Jesus said “forgive” he used the greek word APHIEMI in the aorist active subjunctive tense, the second time he uses it in the perfect passive indicative tense. This is significant. Basically it means that someone did the forgiving in the past and is still doing it. God has forgiven, and the disciples will continue to go and preach this forgiveness. But again, the importance of this is still not meaningful because God has not commanded us to ask forgiveness from other individuals. To deny that Jesus was saying preach forgiveness, rather than do forgiveness, is the opposite of all other passages we have on the subject, such as Mark 2:5-9. In fact, I know my sins are forgiven because of what Jesus did, not because one of you forgave me of my sins.

    “When pastors absolve those who are penitent, it is God who is heard. As Jesus says, “He who hears you (his apostles) hears me. And the one who rejects you rejects me and Him who sent me.” This is biblical stuff. ” – “The one who rejects me” does not mean anything related to if I’m forgiven by the messenger as you asserted. That is quite the stretch to say it does. Jesus is saying, “Hey, if they reject your message, which is about that I died on the cross for forgiveness of their sins, then they in turn reject me and what I have done for them.” Again, this is inline with my previous post, and with other Biblical verses. I have yet to see one verse that coincides with your view.

    In fact, that brings up my last point. Lutherans always have a way of sidestepping the importance of Jesus. Look, I know what Lutherans believe, very well. I was raised with the catechism. It’s all bunk. It’s Catholicism on a diet. Infant baptism, can as you say “provide forgiveness”? No it does not, nor does it say that anywhere in the Bible. All of the arguments in favor of it have been logically and scripturally proven wrong. The Lord’s Supper was simple, “Do this in remembrance of me”. If remembering him reminds you of forgiveness, great! But it doesn’t grant forgiveness. Luther took a small step in the right direction, but he didn’t go nearly far enough when he wrote his 95 Theses.

    But since we have gone so far off the track, I would be fine with discussing some of the other disagreements I brought up. However, there is simply not any argument that can be made against the fact that nowhere in the Bible does it say my salvation depends on another persons forgiveness. My salvation lies in Jesus, through faith alone. The Bible does not contradict itself, and when it makes one thing very clear, and others interpret other verses differently, then there is usually a mistake with those who are interpreting it.

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