Friday, May 1, 2009

Specialization is for Bureaucrats

A couple of thoughts from listening to call day services at Concordia Seminary - St. Louis last week.

1. It's no wonder that many of our pastors simply do not understand church as a place for reverence. There was the usual mini-stand up routine from the sermon delivered by a DP. I'm almost numbed to that, so didn't really notice. But then during the actual calling forward of the candidates, it was one constant joke after another. While the names are changed, I am not making up the following.

dramatae personae: Candidati (duo), Director ponitendi subrusticus

Director: John Doe, assistant pastor for youth, California-Nevada-Hawaii District, St. Mark's Lutheran Church, Fremont, CA. . . . Well, John, looks like you won't be needing that snow blower! Maybe you can sell it to the guy behind you.

[pause a beat]

Director: Joe Schmoe, associate pastor for evangelism and assimilation, Rocky Mountain District.....[pause a beat]......Our Lady of the Reformation....[pause a beat].....Phoenix, AZ.

[chuckles throughout the crowd are audible.]

Director ponitendi subrusticus awaits the bus after the service.

Get it? You see, Joe had been told that he was probably going to Phoenix. He and his wife had been planning on that for weeks. Since he was looking for a call as an associate pastor, he had interviewed and he had discussed things with the Director and knew that he was slotted for Phoenix going into the DP placement meeting. But everyone knows that sometimes crazy things happen when those DP's get together and work it out like 10-year olds with baseball cards [Need him, got him, got two just like him, need him, trade you for that one....]. Hence the hilarity of the snowblower line. The wife back in the pew probably thought that was pretty funny! Being cruel to sem wives is always funny! Especially in church!

2. Specialization is for insects and other invertebrates. A great many of these calls were to associate positions "for assimilation," "for youth," "for left-handed ministry" etc. Big parishes need more than one pastor - check. But I think we should hope that they will be allowed to, well, be pastors. One church I looked up was calling their fourth pastor. They already have a senior pastor, a pastor for outreach, and a visitation pastor. How truncated will this fourth pastor's experience be? He won't have to go on many, if any, shut in and sick calls: there's a visitation pastor for that. He won't have to take many, if any, non-Lutherans through catechesis, there is an outreach pastor for that. With four pastors - how often will this new pastor get to preach? Celebrate the Lord's Supper? Baptize?

I've served as an associate at a large parish. I understand the pressure to specialize, to focus on one area. There is so much to be done that it appears that specialization is a necessity. But that's all the more reason that a special effort needs to be made at large parishes to ensure that each pastor is actually pastoring.

Why? Because a pastor needs the whole gamut to be good at any one aspect. How will you know how to teach your confirmands until you have seen their grandmothers alone with their thoughts in the nursing home? How will you know how to "assimilate" someone into the parish's life until you've gotten your hands dirty in a church council meeting and felt out the fissures of who is angry with whom? How will you know how to preach at a baptism until you have watched someone die alongside his family?

A pastor should be able to write a sermon, stop a meeting and reconcile warring parties, preach off the cuff, comfort a child whose dog has died, commune 12 people with the last thimble's worth of Blood in the chalice, drink a beer with the trustees, call a sinner to repentance, chant High Mass, say he is sorry, speak Low Mass, teach a youth group, plan a strategic vision, genuflect on the correct knee, hold the hand of a dying man, manage the parish alms, speak comfort to a woman who has miscarried, and build a wall.



  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Good article. One question: How do you commune 12 people with a thimble full of blood? Do you dilute? :)

  3. Oh, no Dan. Diluting is a no-no, for the following reason. Our Lord has attached his presence to the elements of bread and wine.

    Now, if you went into a restaurant and ordered a glass of wine and they brought you a thimble full of wine in a glass of water, what would you say? You would say: This is not what I ordered.

    So how do you commune a whole table with a thimble full of Blood in the chalice? Very carefully. . .


  4. Amen! Last 2 paragraphs especially.


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