Wednesday, September 7, 2011

He won't care how much you know until he knows how much you care

Dear Board of Elders of Wrath of God Lutheran Church,

I'm sorry to hear, through the grapevine, that you are having problems with your pastor. That's a rough business and doesn't do anybody, nor the church catholic, any good. I'm sure that more than one of your gripes have some basis in fact. I know that your young whipper snapper of a pastor is wet behind the ears and has a lot to learn from you men who were born and raised, and in turn begat and raised kids, in this parish. But, you know, he won't care how much you know until he knows how much you care.

Have you ever had a good boss or manager? My first really good boss was Lowell Highby, now communications director for Lutherans for Life, but once upon a time the program director of a small Christian radio station where I cut my teeth in broadcast. I was terrible: I would accidentally toss what I that I was cuing up on the air, miss breaks, and stammer through the weather. Lord willing, all of my aircheck tapes have been destroyed. But I wanted to get better and worked at getting better because I loved Lowell Highby. He was kind to me when I flubbed and was such a genuinely nice person who genuinely cared for me that I wanted to work harder and be better. I did get better because of him and eventually even landed a gig for a short stint as an interim news director at a real live commercial radio station.

Well, I'm boring you with this anecdote right out of a Lutheran Hour sermon for a reason. If you want a good pastor, treat your flubbing, goofy, odd, somewhat lazy young pastor like Lowell Highby treated me: with kindness, fatherly wisdom, and friendship. Show him love, and love for you will grow in him and make him want to serve you better.

But I didn't really learn all this from Lowell Highby, though I learned so very much from him - I really learned it from my board of elders. Once, when I was once again shocked by their kindness and generosity to me, a young whipper snapper with crazy ideas, I mentioned to them how blessed I was to have men like this who supported me and my ministry. And one of them said, "Well, we learned a long time ago that a pastor is kind of like a wife, he's going to do what he wants to anyway, so you might as well get on board."

Now, this was half a joke and we all laughed. If I told them to pray to saints or quit baptizing their children they would toss me out on my ear, as well they should. But it was only half a joke; there was a lot of truth to it, too. They could see that things like chanting, kneeling, getting younger kids into confirmation classes, and having communion every week were important to me. They could see that I was getting my stuff from the Bible (or at least it wasn't against the Bible) and that it went right along with the Synod's hymnal and agenda. They may not have particularly cared for my style, but clearly I was Lutheran. So they took my bad with my good, showed kindness to me and my family, supported me at voters meetings - and by golly did this make me want to be a better pastor for these godly men who loved me for no other reason than that I was their pastor.

And then, the same elder told me this story. Once they got a good pastor: he visited the shut ins, he was a go getter, nice young family, etc. This was several decades ago. Well, about three years in he got a call and took it. They were pretty bummed out, but so it goes in rural congregations: the good ones go on to greener pastures. But they still wanted to do something nice for the guy, so they rounded up some money and bought him a going-away present: a 27 inch color TV, which was quite extravagant at the time. After his last service when this was presented, he said to the elders, "I never knew they liked me."

Now that made them think. That good pastor might have stuck it out here, might not have taken that call, if he had known that his ministry was appreciated - if he had known how much they cared.

Now, maybe you don't think that your pastor is a good one. Well, all I can tell you is that I'm not a very good pastor either - I mess up, I drop the ball, I let people fall through the cracks, I forget to visit Mrs. Schickelgrueber when she is in the hospital, etc., etc. But they treat me with kindness anyway, they gently restore me when I err, and they show tangible evidence of their love for me and my family. I know how much they care - so I care very much what they know, I value their counsel, and I want to be a better pastor because of them. I know that there are no greener pastures for me and I am so very thankful to God for being here.

Your quickest route to a better pastor is to do the same for the one you've got.

Pastor Curtis


  1. Nice thoughts, but why Wrath of God Lutheran Church?

  2. Nice way to turn this phrase around. Thank you.

  3. On behalf of all the tired, despondent pastors out there . . . I thank you for this post. Good words.

  4. Very wise words, which I will be shortly forwarding to my brother elders. It almost sounds like an argument for KEEPING the elders' title and function. . .

  5. Matt,

    I'm all for keeping the sort of functions I mention here - but "Board of Counsel" would be better, in my humble opinion. But most folks call them elders, so what are you going to do?


  6. Hm, Board of Counsel. Nice ring to that.


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