Author Topic: The Other Six Expectations (Feb. 2005)  (Read 1143 times)

Richard Johnson

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The Other Six Expectations (Feb. 2005)
« on: January 22, 2005, 12:36:15 PM »
The Other Six Expectations (February, 2005)
by Richard O. Johnson
Copyright 2005 American Lutheran Publicity Bureau. All rights reserved.

Dorothy Sayers’ provocatively-titled essay “The Other Six Deadly Sins” makes the point that most people believe human sinfulness begins and ends with sex. In fact, the Christian tradition speaks of seven deadly sins. Lust is only one of them, and not at the head of the list in any event.

Things haven’t changed much in the four decades since Sayers’ essay, and nothing demonstrates this more than the current tendency to think that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s Vision & Expectations is all about clergy and sex. Sexual behavior is in there, to be sure, but it doesn’t head the list. Our preoccupation with it often prevents us from giving any attention at all to the less, well, sexy expectations the ELCA has of its pastors.

There are more than six others, of course, but for the sake of congruence with Sayers’ article, let’s pick six and see what they might say to us.

Pastors, for instance, are expected “to accept and adhere to the Confession of Faith of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.” Now that’s a tough one to gauge — sort of like covetousness, perhaps, a reality that exists only in the heart of hearts of each individual pastor. But the “expectation” of the church is that its pastors are not doctrinal innovators or creedal free-lancers.

Sometimes, I must admit, I have a sense that some pastors of the ELCA don’t really adhere to our Confession of Faith, and perhaps “accept it” only in the sense that one accepts one’s eccentric relatives, as something to be humored. I recall a conversation some time ago in which a pastor of my acquaintance argued that the Apostles’ Creed was utterly irrelevant to modern life, and therefore he declined to include it in the liturgy of his congregation, if one could call what he did liturgy. “Why on earth do you think it is so important?” he demanded. One non-plussed colleague blinked her eyes in disbelief. “Because it’s the faith into which we were baptized?” she wondered.

I’m not big on heresy trials, really I’m not. But I do sometimes wish that a bishop here and there, or a brave colleague, might be willing to probe these theological lone rangers and gently help them realize, to take but one example, they really are expected to “confess the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

Pastors are expected to engage in daily prayer. How many do? I will admit, there have been periods in my ministry when I have not, when my prayers were on the fly, undisciplined, unfruitful. I thought regular prayer was a pretty good idea, I urged it on others (“seven days without prayer makes one weak”). But nobody ever told me I was expected to pray daily, and left to my own devices, the discipline was hard to muster.

I don’t imagine I’m the only pastor who could make that confession. We all talk a good game, but it’s easy to let prayer slide, we all know that. Couldn’t we hold each other accountable for this? Couldn’t we have a conversation with a colleague about our own prayer life, and about his or her prayer life, and see if we could stir up one another's fervor for daily prayer?

Pastors are expected to “work in a collegial relationship with one another.” I wonder how that plays out with those pastors who adamantly refuse to attend conference meetings, or synod pastors’ retreats, or other events where they actually might be in face-to-face contact with one another? I confess to finding my conference meetings often dull and sometimes exasperating, but I almost always attend. It’s an expectation the church has of me, and I have of myself. There are pastors in my conference who have not attended in years.

The church expects a pastor to be “a faithful steward of time, talents, and [uh oh] possessions . . . an example to the community of generous giving."

Perhaps most of us are, or perhaps not. My congregation has just been through a major capital campaign, and that’s something that will help you evaluate just how generous and faithful you are. The consultant we were using encouraged us to tell “personal stories.” And so I spent a lot of time reflecting on how I learned to give, and why I do it. It was not always a happy reflection, sorry to say, but it was worthwhile. The short of it is, I ended up giving a lot more than I at first thought I was going to be giving. Funny thing.

A pastor is to be “an example of self-care.” Ouch! It doesn’t take much looking around to see that lots of us have a ways to go on this one. Exercise, diet, recreation — all those things we know we should do, but we so often don’t — those are expected of us.
 
A couple of years ago I joined a gym, after having been a couch potato for most of my adult life. I lost thirty pounds or so, enough to be noticeable; certainly I’m in much better physical shape. What genuinely astonished me was how many in my congregation expressed appreciation for my example. Now I don’t mean to suggest that I’ve got this all figured out; I still have an unseemly love affair with chocolate. But knowing that the church expects me to be healthy is a wonderful encouragement for me to keep at it.
 
Pastors are expected to make use of individual confession and absolution.
 
How’d that one get in there? If I were a betting man, I’d wager that this one is the least observed of all these expectations, surpassing even the sexy ones. I haven’t ever heard a bishop ask pastors if they are fulfilling this expectation. Outside of the membership of the Society of the Holy Trinity, I frankly haven’t heard pastors talking about it with each other, either.
 
This may help to explain the rather weak view of sin that can sometimes be detected among us. Those who haven’t the self-discipline, or the desire, or the courage, to examine themselves on a  regular basis, seeking what Martin Luther called the “sure refuge” of private confession and absolution, are not in much of a position to speak convincingly about what it means to be in bondage to sin, and even less about what it means to be forgiven. That’s why the church expects its pastors to make use of what the Reformers could on occasion call the sacrament of absolution.
 
Those are just six of the “other expectations” the ELCA has of its pastors. We are waiting for the day when as much attention will be paid to them as to sex. Not that the expectation of chastity and marital faithfulness isn’t important; it is supremely important, doctrinally as well as individually. But so are the rest of these things. Truth be told, we suspect they are more widely ignored and violated than the ones on which we seem to spend so much time. 

 
“The Other Six Deadly Sins” by Dorothy Sayers was originally published in 1963 and can be found in The Whimsical Christian (Collier Books, 1987).
 
Copyright 2005, ALPB
« Last Edit: August 16, 2006, 01:22:22 AM by Richard Johnson »
The Rev. Richard O. Johnson, STS