01 September 2009
Excerpt from an article by a former president of Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary, St. Catharines, Ontario (Lutheran Church-Canada), Rev. Dr. Jonathan F. Grothe:
CONCLUDING THOUGHTS … of Diagnosis, Prognosis and Proposal: What’s going on … and what to do?
Has this always been a problem in the Church? I suspect so. Has it always been as bad as now? I cannot know and could only guess.
A. WHAT IS THE CAUSE? Sin … . Sin that invades and corrupts hearts of ministers and laity. So it has probably always been a problem, and probably as bad as now. Sometimes people point to the widespread “lack of respect for authority” and general conditions in society as contributing factors to the removal of pastors. I don’t think so. Most of our congregations are strongly inclined to respect their leaders. But I do think there are some contributing factors that have exacerbated the problem. They come from the Ministerium itself: We have contributed—greatly, I would say—to the conditions in which bad situations develop and are dealt with poorly.
1.) We have promulgated—or acquiesced while others promulgated—an Übertragungslehre [transferral doctrine], a distorted view of the relationship of Lord, Church, and Ministry. We have let it be taught and caught that the Lord gave “ministry” to the Church, that is, to the local congregation, which can order and delegate to its chosen representative such functions of ministry as it wishes. What therefore the congregation (supposedly) gives, it can (supposedly) also take back again. The transparochial Church is lost sight of, as is any personal minister representing it: any “bishop” is already deposed. Synod is “only advisory”; the “real stuff” is between pastor and congregation, and the District President better watch his step. Thus we have helped set up the situation in which a congregation acts on its own, for its own reasons, and thinks it has the full right to do so.
2.) We pastors and church leaders have also contributed to the conditions where this happens by spreading—or agreeing with— all kinds of nonsense about the human skills needed for “effective” ministry. I’ve done this much myself in the Scriptural Standards and Ecclesiastical Expectations document, which N. Nagel criticised aptly, as looking too much at the vehicle, not enough at the Giver of Gifts.17 When we talk about how it’s so “different” in the parish today (a “new world”) and what kind of communications and counselling and cross-cultural skills today’s pastors have to have. … And when we rely on Personal Information Forms and interviews and all kinds of human psych-soc. stuff to get a good “fit”, a round peg in a round hole, etc … . And when we marvel at the “effective” ministry in growing churches … WE RAISE CONGREGATIONAL EXPECTATIONS SO HIGH that they would be “satisfied” with only a small percentage of the current clergy—and only with them till they hit about (age) 55.
Leaving out the need for “the right attitude”, for love, forbearance, trust, thanksgiving for God’s gifts—all attitudes which arise from spiritual sources, we focus on talents and training. We scare the daylights out of the humbler seminarians, and we raise the hopes of congregations that they can get a Renaissance super-hero for a pastor and have a booming, effective “ministry”. And what happens? People see: things aren’t booming here, this ministry is not effective. What (we think) should be happening here, isn’t. In disappointment, and with good intentions for the “mission and ministry of the Church in this place”, the congregation removes the pastor. Perhaps the District President may even let this happen—even without demonstration of godly causes—because he wants “effective” (successful) ministry, or perhaps because he suspects the man should be deposed but has no desire (or thinks he hasn’t the power?) to effect the deposing.
Either way, in trumping up the pastors’ needed skills, we sow the seeds of discontent and disappointment which can come to fruition in congregational removal from office.
3.) Finally, we in the ministerium contribute to all of this happening because of a certain kind of “professional courtesy among lone rangers”.
pp.24-26. “Deposal And/Or Removal: Principles, Practices and Proposals” in Lutheran Theological Review, Volume VII:1&2 (Fall/Winter 1994 & Spring/Summer 1995) published jointly by the seminaries of Lutheran Church-Canada, Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary, St. Catharines, Ontario and Concordia Lutheran Seminary, Edmonton, Alberta.