"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)