Saturday, May 15, 2010


The Pastor's Information Form (PIF) and the Self-Evaluation Tool (SET - a bit of an Orwellian title for the form others will use to evaluate me, no?) together form the instrumental cause of the widening gap between LCMS parishes and districts when it comes to worship (and overall pastoral) practice. I don't know the exact year they came into existence - mid-1980's I think, someone commenting will know.

Whereas in years past a piety of almost random selection of pastors insured that all pastors had to at least be in the same ballpark, now a congregation that wants open communion will find it much easier to get a pastor who supports that: it's right there on the SET. So also DPs with an agenda find it easier to populate call lists with their sort of men...until, one day, you have a whole district in revolt against closed communion (FL-GA in 1995, and still today even after the convention's slapping down of their resolution). Seminarists recently called continue to report that certain DPs in the after-Call Service meeting say things like, "Now, we don't practice open communion in our district, but it's certainly not closed communion either. . . "

Well, all that was enabled by the PIF and SET which serve brilliantly to line up likes with likes. And who can blame us for inventing this system? Don't we want pastors and congregations to get along? Of course - but our pastors and congregations should not be expressing differences in theology or in degree of willingness to live as Lutherans live - which is exactly what the PIF and SET allow for and encourage.

That said: it's the system we are stuck with for now. You've got to fill it out. And especially if you are looking to fill out your PIF and SET for the first time - or the first time in a long time as you are looking to get on call lists - you've got to be....wise as serpents and meek as doves.

Father Petersen has the most excellent advice here. Here are a couple of other thoughts, for what they may be worth.

Relatively early in my first call (as an assistant in a part-time arrangement while doing some grad work) I realized that I wanted to serve as a sole pastor. The DP invited me to his office and we went over the PIF together. Here is what he told me: on the PIF there are a couple of things with right and wrong answers. Period. They are these: Theological Position and Liturgical Attitudes.

On Theological Position you are supposed to check a number from 1 to 5. They try to clue you in that there is a right answer by putting the word "Evangelical" under number 3. That's the right answer. Check that one.

The Liturgical Attitudes question includes a 3x2 chart right out of Catechetical Helps. The rows are Traditional, High Liturgical, and Contemporary. The columns are Rigid and Flexible. You are to check between one and three boxes. The right answer, you guessed it, is anything in the flexible column. Guys who read this blog will probably want to check two boxes: Traditional-flexible and High liturgical-flexible.

What is the point of this little exercise? Who knows. Everyone who has actually sat down with a DP to go over this stuff is told what the right answers are. I offer this little nugget to those who have not had the experience. To the DPs anything rigid means you are a bull in a china shop - either for starting a praise band or incensing the choir loft. Anything other than a middle of the road Size 3 Evangelical indicates a dangerous boat rocker with an ax to grind.

Now for the SET, here's a little something I figured out when pondering Fr. Petersen's advice. The people who will actually be reading this - call committees in congregations - often don't want to hear a theological discourse, they just want to know what you are going to do. The questions are often worded, "what do you think..." or "what is your position..." and we are tempted to go into theological overdrive. But that's often counter productive.

For example, there is a question about women voters. What do you think about the 1969 resolution, it asks, and the practice of women voters today? As for me and my house, I think a lot. I have a nuanced position. I could (and have) written pages and pages on MO, women, and the Order of Creation. But the congregation doesn't actually give a rip what I think, and the space is too small for it to come across right anyway. But that's OK, because they just care about what I am going to do and the space is more than adequate for that. So just tell them what you are going to do: are you going to work to get women voters where they are not or to get rid of them where they are? Then just say so. Mine simply says: I would not seek to change the local practice on this matter whatever it may be.

On the other hand, I make it clear that I will live within the Lutheran liturgical heritage and move to do away with the practice of lay readers and lay assistants in the distribution of the Sacrament. Those take a little more explaining since you are advocating for a specific side - but not much. Again, they just want to know what you'll do and that you have a reason for it. Thoughtful, not verbose, and fatherly firm, not arbitrarily insistent, is the tone to aim for. Read that insightful paragraph from Fr. Petersen again for a good approach.

So that's my advice, for you to take or leave, sitting here after a few years out. If you are a seasoned veteran or have through good or ill learned other pointers worth sharing, please do so in the comments for the benefit of our seminarist readers.

One more thing: there is a story that one guy filled out his whole SET in rhyming, Seussian poetry. I really hope that is true. And if it is, and you are reading this: Sir, I salute you.



  1. When I went to the sem in 1975 (StL) they talked about 'self-studies.' I, being young and awed by such a great institution, figured: if they're doing it it must be good and right. Later I saw more "self" this and "self that" including congregational studies, bibles etc. How fatuous. No one can be objective enough to study himself. We in the LCMS are such fools. I don't know if we were ever anything more, but at least we wanted and hoped to be.

  2. Sage advice, both yours and Petersen's. People reading your stuff trying to decide if they'd like you as their pastor will not want to be bored to tears with your theological discourses, whether in your SET or in your sermons; and they will be wise to look at the SET from that angle.

  3. Thank-you again for the thoughts. I will hopefully absorb a great deal of your, and Fr. Petersen's, wisdom and advice.

    On another note, are you making any personal intercessions for the weather? That the sun may appear and dry up all the rain. So that the water warms up and the itsy-bitsy Crappies come out of the deep water again?

  4. You need to work on your pop culture references... It's Ubu, not Booboo.

  5. Really? Well, I trust you to know, Mark. Especially in that hat.


  6. Aaaaaaccccckkkkkk!!! Fr. Peterson's sagacity is not available at the above link.

    Help! Where can I find it now?

  7. Found Fr. Petersen's little work, "FILLING OUT THE SET," here.

    It simply reads:
    "Write answers to be read by completely uncatechized lay people in the remotest corner of the earth. This is the document the 'call committees' will use to try and tell if they like you or not. Figure they know nothing. They don't know what RIM is. They barely know who Martin Luther is. The only thing you should come out against on this form are those things that you believe bring damnation, that is, unbelief and impenitence. Do not condemn anything that is remotely adiaphoristic or which a misguided but well-meaning layman might do or enjoy. Do not write answers for the District Presidents, pastors, or professors. Be gentle and patient. This isn't a confession. It is an introduction to the congregation on how you handle stupid questions in Bible Class. Answer everything in that vein."


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