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Author Topic: "The Practice of Ministry"  (Read 8645 times)

Richard Johnson

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"The Practice of Ministry"
« on: September 01, 2005, 11:57:57 AM »
The Practice of Ministry
by Richard O. Johnson
©2005 ALPB

I’ve heard pastors called a lot of things, but never this. At a recent workshop on “Renewing Worship” at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, a seminary staff person, trying to be inclusive of both the seminarians present, and the pastors and others who were from outside the seminary community, referred to “practitioners.” She hoped that at lunch the students and practitioners would intermingle and share thoughts. I wasn’t the only pastor present to roll my eyes.

     It’s almost as bad as “rostered leaders,” my own least favorite phrase in the ELCA’s unique jargon. Heck, I can handle “inclusiveness,” “diversity,” and many other peculiarities of vocabulary; “rostered leaders” leaves me cold.

     Historian that I am, I tried recently to discover the genesis of this abominable terminology. Reluctantly, I have to report that it seems to have its roots in my own predecessor church body, the American Lutheran Church. It was the ALC which, at the time of the merger, had a “clergy roster.” The Lutheran Church in America referred interchangeably  to a “clergy roll” or a “clergy register.”

     Still, I don’t remember the ALC elevating the term to a descriptor of the people actually on the roster. Indeed, my college dictionary doesn’t allow for the use of “roster” as verb or adjective. “Roster” is a noun, period. Of course my dictionary is from the early 1990’s, and so perhaps they hadn’t gotten the memo from Chicago that there was a new usage now in place.

     I’ve actually been thinking about submitting some materials to the Renewing Worship folks that would incorporate this ELCA understanding of ordination. Maybe a hymn—you know, something like, “Holy Spirit, heavenly dove/Who all gracious gifts does foster/Send your unction from above/On these persons whom we roster.” I think there might be a market for it, especially with keyboard accompaniment.

     I’m also in favor of extending the terminology, so as to make everything more consistent. We really should, for example, refer to bishops as “Chief Rostered Leaders.” Or maybe “Synodical Lead Rostered Leaders.” Oh, but we’ve formally rejected any theoretical difference between bishops and ordinary rostered leaders. So how about “Rostered Rostered Leader Leaders”? That, of course, would make Mark Hanson our “Rostered Rostered Rostered Leader Leader Leader” (R3L3 for short). It could catch on.

     Not much better is the concept of “professional leader” or “professional church worker,” which, I understand, is popular especially in the Missouri Synod. I suppose, though, I’d rather be a “professional” than a “practitioner,” if it comes down to that.

I know, I know; all these terms are meant to be inclusive of lay professionals as well as clergy. Trouble is, lumping us all together really devalues and misstates the calling and the purpose of both groups. And, not to put too fine a point on it, our confessions teach us that there is indeed something unique about the ordained ministry. The ordained are not just a particular class of professional church workers. They have a calling that is utterly unique—even constitutive of the church itself.

(Continued on the next post)
The Rev. Richard O. Johnson, STS

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"The Practice of Ministry" (continued)
« Reply #1 on: September 01, 2005, 11:59:23 AM »
"The Practice of Ministry" (continued from previous post)

Of course we Lutherans are so confused about ministry that there will be many who run screaming from the room at such a notion. Without trying to wade too deeply into the centuries-old debate, I would simply observe that the Augsburg Confession’s primary treatment of the ordained ministry comes in Article V—before its affirmations about the church, the sacraments, church rites. Whatever else one may say about the ministry, it seems clear that the Reformers saw it as a unique vocation, one given by Christ to his church in order to bring about justifying faith.

     The professionalization of that ministry is a frequently problematic force in the contemporary church. In its wake it has brought psychological testing, clinical training, continuing education demands—all of which can be appropriate and even salutary in some situations. But it has also brought about a change in the way we clergy see ourselves. Ministry becomes a career, a choice. It becomes a job, for which competitive interviews are held, salaries and benefits are negotiated. What is lost is a sense of calling.

     I heard a story recently about the olden days, when often a congregation would extend a call to a pastor that they’d never interviewed, never met, knew only by reputation. A certain congregation sent such a letter of call, and the pastor accepted it. Only problem was, there were two different pastors by the same name, and the congregation had called the wrong pastor. But it was done, and couldn’t be undone. When the pastor retired from that congregation a couple of decades later, most everyone agreed that even though this was not the intended pastor, the Holy Spirit had graciously in fact sent the right pastor for that congregation.

     Ah, the Holy Spirit. Yes, the Holy Spirit is involved in this whole thing of ministry. The Holy Spirit is the one who calls, gathers, enlightens, sanctifies—and who uses the office of ministry to bring about faith, as the Augsburg Confession puts it. The ministry is a gift from God, and not just in the abstract. Individual pastors are gifts from God, called, not just by congregations but by the Holy Spirit.

     The Augsburg Confession is pretty clear, however, about what is central to the pastoral office. It is preaching the Word of God, and administering the Sacraments, so as to bring about faith. Everything else is peripheral—including all those things that are so important in interviews. Pastoral counseling, administration, long-range planning, synodical involvement, social justice, being a friend—these are all salutary and even important things. But they are not, in the confessional view, the “two things needful.” Preaching the Word of God, and administering the Sacraments—that’s the heart of the calling, even if it sometimes gets obscured by the “job descriptions” we write.

(continued on next post)
The Rev. Richard O. Johnson, STS

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"The Practice of Ministry" (continued)
« Reply #2 on: September 01, 2005, 12:00:35 PM »
"The Practice of Ministry" (continued from previous post)

In the Lutheran ordination service, there is a time where the bishop asks questions of the congregation: “Will you, as the assembled people of God and speaking for the whole church, receive [the ordinand] as a messenger of Jesus Christ sent to serve God’s people with the Gospel of hope and salvation? Will you regard him/her as a servant of Jesus Christ? Will you pray for him/her, help and honor him/her for their work’s sake, and in all things strive to live together in the peace and unity of Christ?” The church says, “We will.” The questions point to the vital connection between the office of ministry and the people of God—a connection that involves more than “professional leadership.” It is a connection that is first of all one of God’s grace. The pastor is given to the church to bring about faith.

Somebody once said that the ministry resembles no vocation so much as that of housekeeper. They do have a lot in common: doing the same things, over and over again; cleaning up other people’s messes; often wondering if anybody notices or cares what you do; sometimes being taken for granted. That’s real life for pastors. Maybe that’s why we prefer to think of ourselves as professional leaders. There’s a lot more ego gratification in it.

But often it’s very different from that, too. Often the reality is that God’s people really do live up to their answers to those ordination service questions. Often pastors do indeed know the honor and help and prayers of God’s people—yes, and the forgiveness and compassion and love as well. For that, we give thanks to God—knowing that all those things, like the office itself, are nothing we’ve deserved or earned, but a remarkable gift of God’s grace.

Richard O. Johnson
© 2005 ALPB
« Last Edit: September 01, 2005, 07:29:27 PM by roj »
The Rev. Richard O. Johnson, STS

Dave_H

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Re: "The Practice of Ministry"
« Reply #3 on: September 01, 2005, 12:57:00 PM »
Thanks for this article.  I have been trying to explain to my wife (who did not grow up Lutheran) the difference in our various "rostered leadership" positions.  It seems that we go to a whole lot of trouble to avoid having (at least on paper) a three-fold office of ministry.

Yes, we have diaconal ministers, deaconesses, and AIMs -- all of which look a whole lot to an outsider like the historical office of vocational deacon -- but we don't ordain them.  We consecrate and commission, but not ordain.  (Interestingly, in other traditions consecration and ordination are used as synonyms).  And yes we have bishops, and many people still call a retired bishop "Bishop ____," but we don't ordain them.

It seems like a whole lot of linguistic and logical gymnastics to come to the conclusion that what looks and seems like a 3-fold office of the ministry is something else entirely.

If it looks like an ordained deacon, is rostered like an ordained deacon, and functions like an ordained deacon ...

Brian Stoffregen

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Re: "The Practice of Ministry"
« Reply #4 on: September 01, 2005, 01:03:05 PM »
My dictionary, a large 2001 edition, gives as a definition of the noun "roster": "a list of members of a team or organization, in particular of athletes available for team selection."

Isn't this precisely what the ELCA "roster" means? It is a list of people who can be (legitimately) called by an ELCA congregation?

The dictionary also indicates that it is a verb (usually "be rostered").
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“In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are not.” ― Albert Einstein

Tom McMichael

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Re: "The Practice of Ministry"
« Reply #5 on: September 01, 2005, 01:42:17 PM »
Richard,

Your reflections on ordination are appreciated--especially on this day when I celebrate the 17th anniversary of my ordination.  We do indeed live in a silly and confused age when it comes to the place of pastoral ministry in the Church.  

My experience suggests that whatever is currently fashionable, solid and effective pastoral ministry begins with understanding what we are called to be and do and who it is that does the calling. I've yet to visit a sick or homebound person who is looking for comfort from a "rostered leader." Nor are those who gather around the altar and pulpit on Sunday mornings looking for a religious "practitioner." They instinctively look for what we all should look for: one called and gifted to bring the living Christ and his grace to the Church and the whole World.  


     
Catholic priest, former Lutheran pastor.

Richard Johnson

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Re: "The Practice of Ministry"
« Reply #6 on: September 01, 2005, 04:24:23 PM »
Quote
My dictionary, a large 2001 edition, gives as a definition of the noun "roster": "a list of members of a team or organization, in particular of athletes available for team selection." Isn't this precisely what the ELCA "roster" means? It is a list of people who can be (legitimately) called by an ELCA congregation? The dictionary also indicates that it is a verb (usually "be rostered").


My objection isn't so much to the use of the term "roster" as synonymous with "list"; as I said, a predecessor body used "roll" or "register", another used "roster," all of which is just dandy with me.

My objection is to turning the noun into an adjective, "rostered leader," and then giving that concept some sort of ontological privilege.

As for your 2001 dictionary, obviously they have gotten the memo from Chicago, at least the part about making it a verb. Still doesn't say it can be an adjective though, huh?
« Last Edit: September 01, 2005, 04:25:02 PM by roj »
The Rev. Richard O. Johnson, STS

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Re: "The Practice of Ministry"
« Reply #7 on: September 01, 2005, 05:55:44 PM »
Quote


My objection isn't so much to the use of the term "roster" as synonymous with "list"; as I said, a predecessor body used "roll" or "register", another used "roster," all of which is just dandy with me.

My objection is to turning the noun into an adjective, "rostered leader," and then giving that concept some sort of ontological privilege.

As for your 2001 dictionary, obviously they have gotten the memo from Chicago, at least the part about making it a verb. Still doesn't say it can be an adjective though, huh?



Richard

i hear you, but I must admit, in the weekly prayers of the people, I grow so tired of the formula "associates in ministry, deaconesses, and diaconal ministers" that "rostered lay leaders" drops in more often.

Call me a pain in the butt...I wish we'd dump all three terms and just call them what they are as workers in Word and Service--deacons.

Besides, if I hear one more person say "diaCONal" instead of "DIAConal" I might scream... :o :o
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Brian Stoffregen

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Re: "The Practice of Ministry"
« Reply #8 on: September 01, 2005, 10:14:29 PM »
Quote
Call me a pain in the butt...

Are you sure about that imperative? :)
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Re: "The Practice of Ministry"
« Reply #9 on: September 02, 2005, 09:17:05 AM »
Quote
My objection is to turning the noun into an adjective, "rostered leader," and then giving that concept some sort of ontological privilege.

As my dictionary noted, "roster" is also used as a verb. Verbal adjectives, as in "rostered leaders," are acceptable English grammar.
Brian Stoffregen
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Re: "The Practice of Ministry"
« Reply #10 on: September 02, 2005, 03:11:53 PM »
Quote

Are you sure about that imperative? :)


By all means!  (with apologies to the Apostle)  :)

It's the other things that I might be called that worry me....  :o
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Re: "The Practice of Ministry"
« Reply #11 on: September 02, 2005, 05:52:49 PM »
Quote
Besides, if I hear one more person say "diaCONal" instead of "DIAConal" I might scream... :o :o

Shortly before the 2001 Churchwide Assembly, there was a gathering of the ELCA Diaconal Ministers, a goodly percentage of whom actually showed up.  Among their actions: a vote on how to pronounce "diaconal."

The winner: "die-uh-CONE-l"  I say "dee-ACK-un-l" anyway.   ;)

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Re: "The Practice of Ministry"
« Reply #12 on: September 03, 2005, 01:43:38 PM »
Quote

Shortly before the 2001 Churchwide Assembly, there was a gathering of the ELCA Diaconal Ministers, a goodly percentage of whom actually showed up.  Among their actions: a vote on how to pronounce "diaconal."

The winner: "die-uh-CONE-l"  I say "dee-ACK-un-l" anyway.   ;)


Wonder if a gathering of insurance agents would be able to make a decision about whether to say "in-SUR-ance" or "IN-sur-ance"?

Well, no matter what they decided, I'd still say it "in-SUR-ance." So does my dictionary.

And, now that I look it up, my dictionary agrees with you, Zip, on "diaconal"! And so do I!   ;D
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Re: "The Practice of Ministry"
« Reply #13 on: September 05, 2005, 10:13:53 AM »
Richard, Zip and Art make three.

Argh!

Now that we can agree how to say it, why can't we make it simple and call them what they are:  DEACONS!

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Re: "The Practice of Ministry"
« Reply #14 on: September 05, 2005, 11:59:23 AM »
Quote
Now that we can agree how to say it, why can't we make it simple and call them what they are:  DEACONS!

<returning soapbox>

Other denominations use "deacons" in quite different ways than we. For some, being ordained a deacon is a step in the process of ordination as a priest or pastor. (I think that's a process of Roman Catholics and Methodists.)

For Presbyterians, deacons are lay people elected by the congregation and retain that title for life.

Brian Stoffregen
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“In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are not.” ― Albert Einstein

 

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