Even though I’ve never known anything else, in a professional sense, the culture of the LCMS clergy seems strange to me. I sit somewhere on the edge of the Autism spectrum in these things so this may not be necessary for most of you. It is unsettling for me when I don’t know what the social expectations are. Here is what I have learned, or think I have learned, about being a pastor in the LCMS regarding these things and hope they can help some of you not make the mistakes that I have made.
How to Address Brothers in the Circuit
For the most part, within the Ministerium of the LC-MS, first names are assumed. It is generally best, however, especially when you are in your first years of the Office, to address brother pastors in the circuit as “Pastor Jones” until, or unless, you are invited to use first names.
New guys are viewed with some apprehension. No one likes the new guy putting on airs. There is also some suspicion that the new grad will be a zealous idiot who makes problems for everyone. At your first call, at your installation Service and/or your first circuit meeting be very deferential and wait to be invited to use first names. I would also call your home pastor, your vicarage supervisor, etc., by title, as you have for years, until you are invited by them to use their first names.
After the first year or so you can take a few liberties in this regard reserving the honorifics for retired pastors, the district president, and faculty members. Most pastors actually call everyone by their first names. But I find this uncomfortable. I try to speak to the DP and SP by title and honorific even though I knew them both on a first name basis before they were elected.
At the same time, insisting on formality and titles can seem distancing even if you mean it respectfully. If either the DP or the SP invited me to call them by their first names, I would do it. I would rather they didn't, and so far they haven't, but I have learned that it is nearly as rude to continue to call someone “Pastor Jones” after being invited to address him by his first name as it is to assume a casualness that isn’t deserved.
How to Address and be Reintroduced to Pastors Beyond the Circuit
Please introduce yourself by name unless you really are well-known to the other person. When you see a pastor at some meeting larger than the circuit, stick out your hand to shake and say, “Hello, Pastor Stuckwisch. Dave Petersen.” He will probably say, “Of course, I know you.” But he might be being polite. No harm has been done by giving him your name and you might well have made him more comfortable and saved him a little mental struggle or embarrassment.
It seems to me, as well, that the first meeting of someone like Stuckwisch, outside your circuit, even if you have been calling him by his first name, is formal. I am pretty good friends with Stuckwisch. So I wouldn’t do that. But if I sat down with Marty Noland, whom I have met and know by reputation but don’t know personally, I would say, “Good morning, Dr. Noland. Dave Petersen.” He would say, “Of course, I’ve read your stuff in Gottesdienst. How are you?” And then I would probably call him Marty for the rest of the meal. Weird. I know. This is foggy ground for me. There are real but invisible class distinctions within the LCMS. I can feel them, but I can’t define them. We aren’t supposed to draw attention to them, but we are supposed to recognize them. Dr. Noland, no doubt, is super polite. But if I sat down and put on airs with him, assumed a relationship and equality immediately that I don’t deserve, the other people at the table would stiffen. They would do the same, by the way, if I made a big fuss over him and acted like he was a war hero. There is an appropriate line were we acknowledge who he is and what he has done for the cause but don’t embarrass him. Some pigs, like Stuckwisch or Evanson or Noland, are more equal than others. If you figure this out in a way that can be explained, please let me know.
How to Act in the Circuit
For my part, I totally blew it with my first circuit. The first names confused me. I misunderstood my relationship to them. I thought that I would be entering into an atmosphere like that of coffee at CTS after Chapel. I thought we would engage in heated, lively debates about Theology and practice. I thought I was in a semi-scholarly environment. Not only was I sorely disappointed, but worst of all, I let it be known in my verbal and body language. I was disgusted with them, disrespectful, arrogant – fulfilling perfectly the Ft. Wayne stereotype. Fortunately for me, they were gentle and kind. They disliked me but they tolerated me and eventually I calmed down and they befriended me. I was surprised to become their friends but I did. That was to their credit, not mine, and I am thankful for it.
What should I have done? I should have shut up. I should have listened quietly and patiently. I should have been more sympathetic. I didn’t know as much as I thought I did. They knew more than I gave them credit for. I was looking for them to be my classmates and to continue what I loved about the seminary. They weren’t. But they were a pretty accurate cross section of the LCMS clergy roster. They had a wide array of skills, interests, and experience.
If you’re like me and have trouble figuring out relationships and social things and are new to the Ministry, I suggest you enter into your first circuit meetings like you would an LWML meeting. Treat them as gently as you would an uncatechized, but pious, widow in Bible class. Even if they are only a few years older than you, defer to their experience. Recognize that they are your brothers, are struggling and striving to be faithful. Withhold judgment. It will take several years to get to know these men. Your first impressions are probably wrong. Everyone says stupid, even heretical things, from time to time in circuit meetings. They are meant to be a safe place to be stupid. Don’t dismiss a man simply because he lets his guard down there and can’t recite the Small Catechism, etc. Withhold judgment. Don’t be that Ft. Wayne guy. Wait. Pray. The Lord created the Office and placed these men into it. You are not wiser than God.
Preparation versus Reality
Being in the Office is very similar to being married. It doesn’t matter how good your pre-marital instruction was – it was mostly worthless. Not because it was worthless in itself but because you were in no frame of mind to hear it. You thought you were. You nodded along. You agreed with all of it. You probably thought you could have come up with it yourself. But marriage is learned in being married. Being a pastor is learned in being a pastor. Newlyweds embarrass themselves when they give marital advice to senior citizens – even if the senior citizen has been divorced twice. Fortunately, senior citizens tend to be very understanding. So are the senior pastors of the LC-MS. So don’t be scared. If you make a fool of yourself, it won’t last. It is sort of expected and it will be forgiven and maybe even forgotten. It is not that your seminary education was lacking, though of course it was, it is just that you are a newlywed. That doesn't mean you aren't fully a pastor or lack authority or ability. But it does mean that you aren't yet fully formed and will learn as you go.
And if you're a Ft. Wayne grad, the voice you will hear in your head, again and again, is that of Dr. David Scaer. You will say, "Holy smokes! I had no idea he was soooooo right."
Call him "Dr." Scaer, and even though he always calls me "Dr." Petersen, to draw attention, I suppose, to my utter lack of any advanced degrees, you can call me "Dave."