Wednesday, June 08, 2011

The Pastor's Call; Congregational Conflict and "Fit"

From the Rev. Peter Speckhard, Associate Editor of Forum Letter (you do subscribe, right?) and Moderator of ALPB Forum Online, with his permission. I was going to offer some context first, but I think that just distracts from his point in these thoughts offered yesterday:
[T]he idea of a good fit between congregation and pastor is part of the problem. Perhaps a pastor who irritates the congregation (or vice-versa) is the perfect fit for what God is trying to accomplish there. It goes back to the doctrine of the call. Where there is a dispute between pastor and congregation, they need to go back to what both parties vowed at the installation. If the pastor can point out that he swore in front of the whole congregation that he would teach according to the Confessions, and if he can show that the Confessions claim private confession/absolution is retained in our churches and held in highest regard, then the congregation needs to remember that he is the pastor and they swore to submit to Confessional teaching. If, however, the pastor introduces, say, Imposition of Ashes on Ash Wednesday and the congregation objects that it is too Catholic, the pastor needs to remember that it is not his church, it is not a Confessional issue, and there may be all kinds of good practices that a congregation is simply not interested in, and it is not his place to shape the congregation in his preferred image.

But if we just blame conflict on a generic "bad fit", the congregations grow further and further apart, because to a congregation a pastor will always seem like the best fit who leaves them comfortably going wherever they are going, and to a pastor a congregation will also seem like the best fit that already wants to go where he wants to lead. Instead of congregations unified within a tolerably broad but recognizable range of piety, we get one congregation with more smells and bells that Byzantium at its height (because pastors who love that are a good fit for congregations who love that) and another congregation that plays a few ditties in the coffee shop and chills out and calls it church, because they found a good fit. Nothing ever gets challenged or corrected or integrated into the larger church. Instead, we all march off in opposite directions, choosing drummers who carefully play to the rhythm of our walking. Yes, it absolutely goes without saying that teaching should be done gently. But sometimes gentle teaching and time still results in conflict.
If you want to read this in context, go here. But much of the thread is on another one of those unending disputes that are internal to the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Which is why I almost missed it. I'm glad I didn't. Pr. Speckhard serves an LCMS congregation in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and it's (young) pastors like him who boost my hopes for the future of Lutheranism in North America.


Anonymous said...

That, Pastor Zip, is the Koinonia Project in action!

Pastor Zip said...

Perhaps, Anon. But the comments apply in many (most?) other Lutheran churches, too.

Anonymous said...

Most Lutheran churches? Perhaps, but the post by Rev. Peter Speckhard gives me hope that the LCMS is slowly becoming kinder, gentler, and above all less sectarian. Do you see an emerging trend? I can only hope that the movement towards confessional Lutheranism continues to gather steam.