Bishop and Christian*, February 2016

What is a pastor for? I’ve been thinking about that a lot, lately. The answer is obviously of vital importance to me! I think much of the answer that a person might give depends upon expectations. One member of a congregation has certain expectations based on his experience with previous pastors. Another member might have expectations based on what she wants done in the future. One pastor has expectations based on good or bad experiences in the past; another has expectations based on what he’d like to see in the future. Insofar as they are found in the Scriptures, these expectations are not right or wrong in themselves.

But often the expectations of both pastors and congregations are based on abstractions or generic descriptions, rather than on particular contexts and specific people. Normally, when people are hired in the secular business world, it makes sense to identify a need and hire someone who can fill that space. That doesn’t always work well when it comes to pastors and congregations, because the Christian Church is based around a single need and a single solution: dying sinners in need of Christ, who is life.

What a pastor is for, then, is tied directly to what a Christian congregation is for. A pastor has a single job, from which everything he does flows: to be the servant of Christ, in order to serve the people for whom Christ died. And a pastor cannot serve those people with anything but what Jesus gives. Jesus tells His disciples to give the people something to eat, and they do, but it is only the bread and fish which Jesus Himself multiplied and gave them. In His own holy irony, God still uses finite sinners to deliver the mercy of Christ to other finite sinners. So pastors do not have a special status before God that other Christians lack; nor are they better Christians; nor are they above congregations as experts in divine things.

All a pastor’s education, all his reading, all his time spent hearing the Scriptures speak of Christ—it is all for the same purpose: to bring the same Jesus of whom he has learned to those among whom God has placed him. He is a “professional” only in the sense that his vocation consists of delivering Jesus’ mercy to other sinners, whether that takes place in homes, hospitals, or the Divine Service (this is what Matthew 28, John 20, and 1 Corinthians 11—not to mention 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus—are about).

Your pastor simply wants for you to rejoice in the Word of God in Christ that he has been sent to proclaim to you. He has no right to give you anything but what he Himself has received from Christ. At the same time, the fact that he’s there to do that “job” doesn’t take anything away from the witness of Christ that you bear to those within your vocation. He is not you, and he’s not in the places where God has put you. God has organized the Body of Christ the way that He wants it, and all the members are important.

Our temptation, whether we are pastors or lay members of Christian congregations, is often to make the Office of the Holy Ministry either less or more than God has made it. We all want many things from ourselves or our congregations (pastors) or from our pastors (congregations), things a given pastor or congregation may or may not be able to do. But together, as the sheep of our one Good Shepherd, Christ, we must begin with the one expectation needful: the preaching of Christ’s own Word and the delivering of Christ’s own sacraments. Whatever else we expect or want, we all need those gifts. If we can, by the Holy Spirit, start with the same Word and the same Holy Baptism, the same Holy Absolution, and the same Supper, we will be much better prepared to work together to make sure Christ is proclaimed among us both for our sake and for the sake of everyone who might hear Him.

Pr. Winterstein

*St. Augustine said, as Bishop of Hippo in North Africa, “For you I am a bishop [overseer]; but with you I am a Christian.”

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