Rev. Dr. Lothar Schwabe
July 13, 2013
Today marks the day of the 60th anniversary of my ordination. It is early in the morning and I reflect on being a pastor now and then. Yes, there is a difference. I write with the realization that some pastors are not going to like what I pen. But, we still do have free speech and are allowed to express ourselves, even when it stirs up a controversy.
I begin by observing that I know many pastors who still do their ministry they way it should be. They still make home calls and give themselves to their calling with all they have. I also agree that times have changed. Our society is less church-friendly and less respectful of persons in authority, especially the clergy.
But I do not agree that such cultural changes give pastors a licence to spend most of their time sitting in their offices and waiting for people to see them. I also do not agree that because some pastors feel that ministry is a stressful profession they are now entitled to take extra Sundays off and work for fewer hours. I cringe at the thought that some pastors, knowing that their members are loving and caring, now take advantage of that compassion and negotiate with their church councils a work schedule that provides maximum benefits for minimum efforts. I find that despicable!
I am sure that Dietrich Bonhoeffer found his life stressful and yet he gave it all. Martyrs could have considered looking after their own needs first, but they gave it all, and because of them the church grew.
Yes, times have changed but 60,000 Mormon missionaries still make house calls on people they have never met and their church still grows.
We still have congregations that grow and flourish. They may not all be Lutheran congregations. I often attend a Lutheran Church (not ELCIC) that has seen phenomenal growth and is filled with young people who joyously express their faith.
I counted 200 people who now attend that congregation who used to go to ELCIC congregations, 40 of those I recognize as former members of congregations I served.
And it is not all about singing choruses instead of chorals and having a big screen in front that displays the songs and the prayers. It is very much about hearing the sermons of sin and salvation. I believe that people still need to hear that sin ruins our lives and that Jesus died on the cross for our salvation. It is important to raise environmental concerns but not at the expense of preaching the law and the gospel.
I challenge our younger pastors not to accept the “inevitable” shrinking of our congregations due to the attrition of the older generation. Yes, you can make a difference because the Holy Spirit still calls through the gospel and enlightens with his gifts. Luther might say to us that it has never been our own efforts that made congregations grow and yet it has always been the efforts of followers of Jesus who gave it all that made the church grow (simul - et).
While I am at it, I also detest the pomp with which our current Bishops surround themselves. That sends the wrong message! Compare those symbols of power and prestige with the description of the Lord’s servant described in Isaiah 53. The only real authority the Church ever had is the authority of the Holy Scriptures. The only real power the Church ever had is the power of the Holy Spirit. My personal opinion is that pomp and adorned vestments are the heritage of the Roman Empire and not of the Church of Jesus.
On this day I am thankful for the opportunities my church gave me to serve. I am also ashamed of the times when my ego needs ruined the effectiveness of my ministry.
Lord, have mercy on us.
Well, it is time for breakfast.