Author Topic: Setting Clergy Less Apart (January 2006)  (Read 5442 times)

Tim Schmidt

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Re: Setting Clergy Less Apart (January 2006)
« Reply #15 on: January 23, 2006, 11:34:11 AM »
It seems that the short missive I wrote has engendered a fair amount of response, mainly negative, but nonetheless the beginning to a good discussion on this issue of pastoral identity.  

Here are a few thoughts that I would like to share in response to what I have seen here in the online forum.  First of all, it seems as though my piece was read as a beleaguered or even negative view of ministry.  In fact, the intent of what I wrote was just the opposite.  I was arguing for a way that we might find a little more joy in our vocation, by taking a look at why it is we do it in the first place.  

Many seminarians and pastors that I know speak proudly of how they were dragged into the ministry “kicking and screaming” by the uncontestable power of the Holy Spirit.  And although this understanding of divine sanction might be called upon at when people come to question your authority, it is not a very hopeful way to begin a vocation.  Wouldn’t you rather be doing something that you actually enjoy – or perhaps had a hand in choosing yourself?  

But such language often seems off-limits when discussing pastoral ministry.  For some reason we don’t want to talk much about what we would get out of such a vocation – or even what the challenges will be.  But we tend to focus exclusively on an inevitable or even fatalistic idea of “call.”  And I am just not sure that this serves us well.  

It is no secret that on the whole, pastors do not have a high level of job satisfaction. Rates of frustration and even depression are high among us.  Even our presiding bishop in the ELCA saw fit to send us all an email a while back telling us to “cheer up.”  And I wonder if part of this has to do with carrying out a vocation that many of us don’t consider to be of our own choosing.  

I will admit that I entered the ministry partially because I thought I would enjoy doing it – and it turns out I was right.  I considered other vocations very seriously, but felt that the ministry would offer me both a rewarding profession and an opportunity to put to use some of the gifts that God had given me for the benefit of the church and for the world.  

And I wonder why we can’t approach potential seminarians with a similar understanding of vocation.  Why does our language always have to be about what is being chosen for you in God’s plan, instead of how we can best choose to use God’s gifts for a career that might even be rewarding and enjoyable?  

Frederick Buechner has written:  “The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that you need most to do and (b) that the world most needs to have done.”  And then later: “Neither the hair shirt nor the soft berth will do.  The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.  (Listening to your Life, pp. 185-186).      

What I am arguing for here is this dual understanding of call, where the part that we have to play in this whole thing is preserved.  I think that would help us to speak more effectively to those who are considering the ministry, and would also help us relate better to those who have chosen other vocations and whose sense of “call” seems a little more “worldly” than ours.    

Coolrevgaus

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Re: Setting Clergy Less Apart (January 2006)
« Reply #16 on: January 23, 2006, 01:48:23 PM »
Thank you Tim for starting a good conversation, I would not want to be in your position of being a first time writer and having the rebuttal appear in the same edition I just written for. You make some interesting points although I really believe strongly in and have experienced the sense of divine calling and external validation by the Church. I do really resonate with your complaint or should I say ponderings about those clergy who seem to have a martyr complex about being forced into the ministry. What a blessing it is to be in a calling where one can preach, teach, console, visit, counsel and administer all in the course of a week- how many folks get that kind of variety and interesting meaningful experiences in their work week.  God allows us both joys and challenges and has a great habit of turning the latter into the former. It’s a great life! Still lets not forget everyone needs to vent now and then and many clergy do so with one another while in the end they would not trade what they are doing for the world!

Gladfelteri

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Re: Setting Clergy Less Apart (January 2006)
« Reply #17 on: January 23, 2006, 04:30:18 PM »
Tim, in this excerpt from a Homily In January of 2003, the late Roman Catholic Bishop Untner (Saginaw MI) put it this way:  "It was about 15 years ago, and I was giving a retreat for some Chicago priests, and one of them, old Andy McDonough, a tall, tough-looking but kindly-looking priest, told a story. He and a couple of his cronies were on their day off, and were at a rectory playing cards in the evening, and a young priest happened by, and he asked these veteran priests, "If you had it to do over again, and you knew what you know now, would you become a priest?"  

Andy said that he thought about it for a moment and then said to him, "Yes. Yes I would. You probably expected that answer. But the big thing is why I would.

It’s not so much that the bishops I’ve had were all that supportive of me, although I can’t complain. And it’s not so much that the people were always so good to me, although I’d have to say that they were. But that’s not the reason.

Nor is it because I did everything so well. I did my best, but I made some mistakes.

Because it’s an easy life? No. It’s a good life, but not always easy.

"Here’s the reason. It’s because, as I look back, God worked through me. God was able to use me to do some good. There were times when my homily wasn’t so good, but I believed what I said and God let my faith show through to some people, and it helped them. There were times when my words of advice were fumbling but, by God, they helped some people. As I look back, I can see the hand of God in my life. God managed to use me to do some good. That’s why I’d do it over."  When Bishop Untner wrote this, he was speaking for me and most clergy I know regardless of their denomination.

Ref:  http://saginawchurch.org/homilies/homilies_2003/homily2003_0126.htm


Richard Johnson

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Re: Setting Clergy Less Apart (January 2006)
« Reply #18 on: January 24, 2006, 11:44:26 AM »
Quote

And I wonder why we can’t approach potential seminarians with a similar understanding of vocation.  Why does our language always have to be about what is being chosen for you in God’s plan, instead of how we can best choose to use God’s gifts for a career that might even be rewarding and enjoyable?  

Frederick Buechner has written:  “The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that you need most to do and (b) that the world most needs to have done.”  And then later: “Neither the hair shirt nor the soft berth will do.  The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.  (Listening to your Life, pp. 185-186).      

What I am arguing for here is this dual understanding of call, where the part that we have to play in this whole thing is preserved.  I think that would help us to speak more effectively to those who are considering the ministry, and would also help us relate better to those who have chosen other vocations and whose sense of “call” seems a little more “worldly” than ours.    


Well, Tim, seems to me that you're getting close to the issue here, which is not so much that pastors should be seen as "less set apart" but more that ALL vocations are, in fact, callings from God. That's the Lutheran view, seems to me, and it is a distortion to suggest that only the ordained ministry is a call from God. The corrective is not to argue that the ministry is "less" a call from God, but that the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker's vocations are all also from God.

Ah, but then there's the siren call of "choice." Of course there is a sense in which we "choose" one profession or another. But if we honestly understand it as the call of God, then what "choice" is there in the deeper sense? "Woe to me if I do not . . ." etc. We believe in a God who "makes the best of all the stumbling turns we take," of course, but that's in the context of "Whatever God ordains is right."
The Rev. Richard O. Johnson, STS

Alvin J. Bruenger

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Re: Setting Clergy Less Apart (January 2006)
« Reply #19 on: January 27, 2006, 07:34:37 AM »
      I have not been a regular reader of  FORUM LETTER for quite a number of years, but when a friend loaned me a copy of the January 2006 issue, I was intrigued by the subject matter,  How set apart should a pastor be? What sets him apart? I’m not at all certain I have the answers to these questions but after almost 47 years of ministry, both active and retired, I have some observations.
     I grew up in a parsonage where my parents very much felt that you should always address a pastor by his title. To address him by his first name was disrespectful to the office of the ministry. This carried over into other situations. My third grade teacher was known throughout the school as “Miss Adeline”, something my mother considered downright scandalous. When it came time for my vicarage, I was assigned to a parish where a good portion of the members addressed the Pastor (who had a PHD in classical languages) by his first name, Sometimes prefaced with “Pastor” or  “Dr.”. more often not. I soon learned there was no disrespect in that practice, particularly in a congregation where advanced degrees and corporate titles were the rule rather than the exception.
     I also learned that a clerical collar was a great advantage in getting into hospital parking lots and getting information from nurses (and sometimes doctors). I also learned over the years that it could sometimes be a conversation opener (once you got past the “Father” greeting) but more often it was a conversation killer when traveling or at social functions. Over the years I found myself wearing them less and less, Sundays only, then not even then. A few years back I gave away the ones I had left, admittedly after I was retired, but I hadn’t been wearing them for a number of years anyway,
     Part of my abandoning them had to do with the growing feeling that I couldn’t imagine my Lord, or even the apostles walking around in clerical garb. But a good part of it came from my still developing concept of my role as a pastor. I am a redeemed sinner, who, by the grace of God, and through His church has been afforded the opportunity to share the message of redemption with other sinners.  Some of them are fellow believers with me and I have the privilege of encouraging them in their faith through the message of the Gospel and in turn I am strengthened and encouraged by them. Some are broken sinners who need the hope that only Christ can give, and some are complacent in their worldliness and need to be shaken up by the word of the Law.
     I am convinced that more important than titles or garb is the ability to relate to people where they are, in their need. Some people can wear a clerical collar almost all the time and relate well to people, others will just as effectively relate and serve their Lord in jeans and a “t” shirt, or somewhere in between. Some seem to need titles to set themselves apart for the task, while others held the respect of the people they serve and the communities in which they live on a first name basis. For a young pastor trying to find what he should do, my advice is “listen to your people and let the Holy Spirit lead you.” I think you will find what is best for you.

Al Bruenger, LCMS emeritus      

PastorWJHarper

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Re: Setting Clergy Less Apart (January 2006)
« Reply #20 on: January 27, 2006, 07:24:17 PM »
Another word in favor the young 'un...

He is right about the constant pressure to have a "call story." Seems that people are asking their pastor to have had some mystical experience (maybe even an audible voice) after which he was entirely sure that there was nothing else in the world for him to do but to go to seminary. I always thought that this wasn't our theology of the call anyway. Or are we all now in favor of the immediate call?

A friend of mine wrote in his seminary application, "I was walking back to law school when I was struck by lightning, and I called out to St. Anne... no wait, that wasn't me...it was someone else."  

A little braver than I am. But it makes me smile because it's better than all the blank stares one gets when your "call story" is deemed inadequate by the hearers.

Gladfelteri

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Re: Setting Clergy Less Apart (January 2006)
« Reply #21 on: February 04, 2006, 09:12:39 AM »
Quote
He is right about the constant pressure to have a "call story." Seems that people are asking their pastor to have had some mystical experience (maybe even an audible voice) after which he was entirely sure that there was nothing else in the world for him to do but to go to seminary. I always thought that this wasn't our theology of the call anyway. Or are we all now in favor of the immediate call?


Perhaps this is an instance of a "dis-connect" between what the clergy are taught in seminary (especially the theologically liberal ones) and what the people in the pew actually believe, the people generally, in most places, being a good deal more theologically conservative than the clergy (at least this is generally what I have observed - even in the LCMS - in some 37 years as an organist serving mostly Lutheran Churches.) Or, maybe it is part of a general theological liberal / conservative "dis-connect".

One of the students in my 1st year Greek Class at a Southern Baptist Seminary was a student at the local (theologically liberal) United Methodist Seminary.  (He was taking his Greek at the Baptist Sem. because the UMC one did not offer Biblical Languages every year . . . )  He told me that when, in one of his classes, when they were discussing how they decided they wanted to enter the Ministry, he told the class that he felt a strong, persistent call from God urging him to become a Minister and eventually he heard the still, small voice of God, Himself, calling him to become a Minister - he was aware of the actual words of God forming themselves in his mind.  So he obeyed.  

The reaction?  He was required to undergo counseling.  They were afraid he was "delusional."  I told him he had a great future in the Methodist Church - not the UMC, but the Free Methodist Church - and that is where he is happily serving as a Pastor today.

Don't necessarily rule out an "immediate call."  Since God is not a concept or a process but is rather a living, self-aware, sentient being who is "above nature" (supernatural,) is alive, well, and active in our own lives as well as in this world and the universe.  He can do whatever He wants, whether we like it or not, whether it makes sense to us or not.  

Perhaps we should think twice before saying God absolutely can not or will not do one thing or another.  God may generally act one way or another, but we should remember that He can do whatever he wants . .  ::)

Blessings,
Irl
« Last Edit: February 05, 2006, 03:40:03 PM by Gladfelteri »

PastorWJHarper

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Re: Setting Clergy Less Apart (January 2006)
« Reply #22 on: February 16, 2006, 04:54:31 PM »
I graduated from Concordia Seminary St. Louis, no liberal place, but I remember that one of the earliest things you are told (and will be told again and again) is that "You did not feel a call to the ministry." I.e., you are here to prepare yourself for the ministry; to make yourself available to the church; and to wait and see if you are called. Of course, you might not be... which means what, exactly?, the seminarian wonders to himself. (Especially when, in my case, one has resigned a job of 11 years, and brought along a wife and two kids.)

In this case the word "call" means (and only means) that which proceeds from the properly conducted actions of a Voters Assembly.

Like Tim Schmidt I also enjoy being a pastor. I still smile as I remember explaining to the Adult Bible Study at my Field Church that I had "no call" as of yet (me thinking in the limited sense), and them disagreeing with that statement. It was very affirming that they thought I was wrong about this, but this conversation could not be shared at the Seminary where the error of the people in the pews would be confidently asserted.

Fred_Douglass

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Re: Setting Clergy Less Apart (January 2006)
« Reply #23 on: May 17, 2006, 08:02:25 AM »
At a dinner party standing with my wife someone asked me if I'd inherited a substantial amount of money would I still be a pastor.  I was having a tough week, and I had an imediate answer.  At the same time my wife and I spoke. I said "Yes!"  she said "No!".

The call does not mean you have your doubts now and again.......

I do not think there is enough "church help" when someone is down and ready to walk away......

When people do (ELCA), people just assume it is over church matters.....it could be depression and the need to hear the validity of call....

Fred

Samuel_Zumwalt

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Re: Setting Clergy Less Apart (January 2006)
« Reply #24 on: May 17, 2006, 01:56:44 PM »
About 25 years ago when Pete Steinke was clergy counselor for Lutheran Social Services of Texas, he used to remind us pastors that we ought not to sit around waiting for someone to figure out that we were having trouble.  He would say something like: "When I was a child, I could expect my Mom or Dad to figure out what I needed and then provide for me.  But now that I am an adult, I need to ask for the help I need."

Pete was there for me and many others in the early days after ordination. Sometimes I didn't need a counselor as much as I needed an older and wiser pastor.  On those days, I would call one or another older pastor and ask to spend some time with them.  One would take me for a drive, buy me lunch, listen, challenge, and encourage.  The other was long distance and would listen, challenge, and encourage over the phone.

Later I was part of a colleagues' group organized by ELCA.  Later still I went to a former Jesuit priest and clinical psychologist for care, encouragement, and instruction.  

After that I was regularly part of a small ecumenical group of senior pastors serving in congregations of similar size and context.  At the same time, I was part of a leadership group led by a pastor trained in the Bowen family systems approach.

By seeking out help when I thought I needed it and even when I didn't think I needed it, I was better able to serve faithfully.

The Holy Ministry is different.  It is often lonely, rewarding, maddening, frustrating, and immensely satisfying.  You plant, tend, water, and occasionally get to see the fruit of another's labors in the Gospel.  Perhaps, if you stay long enough in one place, you also get to see some of the fruits of your own work on behalf of the Kingdom.  But God gives the growth in His own time.

I think it's good to remember that in the gospels and in Acts there is preaching before there is Church, there is the Lord before there are disciples.  The call to ministry is a privilege and not a right.  It is the Lord's call and not simply the action of Christian communities.  We experience an internal call but that is affirmed, nurtured, and ratified by the Spirit working through home congregation, seminary, regional judicatory, and calling congregation.

Scripture gives some images of ministry that are worth exploring in one's listening and prayer time.  The prophets mostly go kicking and screaming unlike the would be prophets of today.  Jeremiah feels seduced by God.  Moses doesn't get to go over to the Promised Land but only can look on from afar.  Joshua does get to go but still can only say "As for me and my house...."  And on and on and on.

A friend of mine went through seminary with flying colors academically and had many of the gifts to be a parish pastor.  But, in time, he learned that he had neither passion nor joy for ordained ministry.  Today he has found his ministry in the marketplace and serves well as a congregational and community lay leader.  

Seek help when you need it and when you don't.  Pray, read, and serve as faithfully as you can.  

Remember that they crucified the Lord Jesus.  Most of the time they just get ticked off at us -- sometimes fairly and sometimes not.  

Fred_Douglass

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Re: Setting Clergy Less Apart (January 2006)
« Reply #25 on: May 18, 2006, 03:56:54 PM »
Serve as faithfully as you can is the best advice to give.  When counseling members who go through tough times, many of us say "lean on God".  We need to heed that  advice as well!

When I started in ordained ministry I had moments when I was dissillusioned.  The experience was similiar to my first months at seminary.  I think at one point I said "well God, lead the way"....

I just wonder if there are resources out there that can help during those rough spots.  Many pastors I know who go through it feel lost and no where to turn and can not handle the pressure of being set apart.

Fred

Jeffrey_Spencer

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Re: Setting Clergy Less Apart (January 2006)
« Reply #26 on: May 18, 2006, 05:31:48 PM »
I wonder too if the "theology of the congregation" seminarians and pastors are sometimes picking up isn't setting them up for disappointment and failure.  I spent time studying at both PLTS and Luther.  At both seminaries there were some professors who had a rather idealistic view of the congregation (that it was an agent for societal change, a place where the teachings of Jesus were lived out, etc).  Thankfully, I sat at the feet of Jim Nestingen and Gerhard Forde long enough to imbibe a more down-to-earth, realistic perspective on life among sinners.  Thus, I am never surprised when the sheep I pastor bear their teeth.

I was aghast recently when I heard Barbara Rossing say during her presentation on the Lutheran Course that Lutherans overemphasize atonement, and that the core message of the NT was NOT the forgiveness of sins.  Rather, she said, (and I'm paraphrasing here), the core message of the NT is the call to follow Jesus' example and be gracious people.  Partially true (and sometimes it even happens!), but when we get too far afield from the center of Lutheran theology (God's justification of the ungodly), which is truly the core message of the NT, we are setting ourselves up for deep disappointment.  

I think some of the people I know who are leaving ministry or are struggling with extreme frustration in their calls are those who expect their people to be something other than sinners in need of the justifying Word.

Jeffrey R. Spencer
Winlock, WA