Thursday, May 28, 2009

Can Transforming Churches Be Fixed? Part 4: New Prescriptions (I) The Holy Ministry

By Johannes

Let me not doubt, but truly see Your Word cannot be broken;
Your call rings out, “Come unto Me!” No falsehood have you spoken.
Baptized into your precious name, my faith cannot be put to shame,
And I shall never perish.

Fixing Transforming Churches (New Corrective Prescriptions):
A careful review of the potential for harm done by TC clearly shows that such harm centers on the Office of the Holy Ministry:

To obtain such [saving] faith God instituted the office of preaching, giving the gospel and the sacraments. Through these, as through means, he gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when he wills, in those who hear the gospel. A.C. V (Kolb-Wengert)

As the TC prescriptions are implemented, it is through the abandonment of the pastoral office that the potential for harm flows. Why? Because the purpose of the Ministry is to build saving faith, not only in the unsaved, but also in those who are already members in the Church of Jesus Christ. Anything that threatens his flock is the proper concern of the undershepherd. So, most of the new corrective prescriptions offered here will focus on that office, directly or indirectly. This is not to place blame on the pastor, or to burden him with additional duties, but to affirm him in his vocation and vows. With the exception of private confession none add any new responsibilities to the pastor’s duties in service of the Gospel. The following prescriptions are filtered through “Gospel Eyes.”

  1. The Office of the Holy Ministry (I) “Accountable Leadership”: Viewed through Gospel eyes, the answer to the question “Who is Accountable to whom and for what?” becomes clear: The pastor is accountable to Christ and the congregation to preach the Gospel and administer the Sacraments (A.C. IV & V) in order that the Holy Spirit will work faith. He is Christ’s gift to the church (Eph. 4: 11). His domain is in the Kingdom of the Right Hand, the Kingdom of Heaven, the Gospel—this is where he should “govern”. To be sure, Authority, Responsibility, and Accountability (A/R/A) are issues in many congregations, but no matter what model of governance is used, the pastor should never become the CEO, rewarding, punishing, hiring, firing. If A/R/A is an issue, certainly TC’s cookie-cutter approach cannot be the “fix” for every situation. Ignorance and just plain orneriness are often root causes for failure in A/R/A, and no system of polity alone can correct it, nor is it a “quick fix.” This is usually an education/training/coaching issue—not structure. In rare cases, bylaws might be to blame, and some changes in order. Perhaps a strong lay leader may be needed to administer the stuff of the Left Hand Kingdom, one who can work with the pastor, as well as hold boards, committees, and individuals accountable for their responsibilities (without rewards or punishments!). Authority is very often the culprit—has it been delegated, so that people can function in their roles within the congregation? Again, some bylaw revisions may have to be made—but certainly not turning the church upside-down. There have already been reports of congregations who have abandoned the prescribed Accountable Leadership paradigm (or plan to), yet who continue to implement some of the other prescriptions. The pastor-as-CEO is attempting to serve two masters.
  2. The Office of the Holy Ministry (II) Advancing the Gospel: Now that we have removed the pastor from the “Oval Office” let him return to his study and his pulpit, to the font, and to the breaking of bread. Let him lead his flock “in paths of righteousness”, to “still waters”:
    1. Preach repentance and forgiveness (Luke 24:47). This is no mean task—it is hard work, takes great skill, and is a constant challenge. Pastors themselves have requested continuing education and assistance in this area. Regular circuit pastors’ meetings (Winkels) can and ought to be an aid in sermon preparation and serve to affirm pastors in their vocation. Continuing education may also be appropriate. DP’s, VP’s, and circuit counselors, take note!
    2. Sacramental focus. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper—Means of Grace—set Lutherans apart from other Protestant denominations. The sacraments need to be highly visible, reverently administered, held in high esteem, and readily offered. The font should occupy a central place in the sanctuary, or in the center of the middle aisle at the rear of the nave. Holy Communion cannot be treated as commonplace or ordinary. It has been reported that in some so-called “blended” or “contemporary” worship services, Holy Communion has no special liturgy or preparation—the pastor simply launches into the words of institution. Even in such services, there is no reason why the communion liturgy from the hymnbook cannot be used. It truly sets apart this important part of the service. The worship folder might also include pre-communion and post-communion prayers.
    3. Administer the Office of the Keys, dealing with inactive members, wandering sheep, healing sinners who have been wounded in body and soul—this is the work of the faithful under-shepherd. So that the congregation has a full understanding of this function, the pastor should lead an in-depth study of Matthew 18:1-19:15, and Ephesians 4:17-5:2, in addition to John 20:19-23.
    4. Evangelize the children and youth—the pastor ought to be building up the Sunday School teachers and youth leaders, reviewing the lessons, leading Bible Studies for them. No moralizing allowed!
    5. Teach the Lutheran Confessions. Members should become familiar with at least the Augsburg Confession, while regular Bible Study continues. The Reader’s Edition of the Book of Concord (CPH) is an excellent resource: user-friendly and elegantly illustrated.
    6. Regular Schedule of Pastor’s classes. Adult instruction should be offered on a regular basis—at least twice a year, with a minimum of 18 hours of instruction. Current members should be invited to come to these classes, to grow in their personal faith and to share that faith with others by inviting them.
    7. Train the laity. Lay members can assist with hospital and shut-in visits, and other such functions, but the pastor leads the way. This is an “equipping” issue.
    8. Revitalize the Board of Elders. What is its responsibility and does it have the authority to function? Do the elders have family assignments and do they carry them out? Is the board pro-active in calling on inactive members? Does it supervise worship, making sure that everything is done “decently and in order”, that ushers are assigned who carry out their duties, etc.? An active and functioning Board of Elders is essential to meaningful revitalization.
    9. Prompt follow-up with visitors. Does the pastor personally contact first-time visitors, by either phone or letter (NOT email!), and within a day of their visit? A board of evangelism cannot substitute for this personal pastoral approach, but ought to be involved in subsequent contacts and follow-ups.
All of the prescriptions in (2) above fall under the duties of the pastoral office, and all serve in one way or another to advance and extend the Gospel. Pastors may think that this is “no-brainer” material, but coming from a consultant, they are given additional weight and significance. If the members are truly committed to meaningful revitalization, they will take an active role in supporting the pastor in the implementation and continuation of these practices. It is all the more surprising that none of the above have been included in any Transforming Churches’ prescriptions!

  1. The Office of the Holy Ministry (III) Private Confession and Absolution: There is now a growing interest in and focus on private confession and absolution in the LCMS. This practice, highly praised by Luther, and part of our Lutheran Confessions (AC XI and XII, Ap. XI, SA III, VIII), has been long neglected. (Although we do not treat confession and absolution as a sacrament, the Confessions do recognize its sacramental character, and in some instances, treat it as a sacrament. Its restoration among us, which has been commended even by Convention Resolution (2007 2-07A), is long overdue. The congregation must be adequately prepared—this cannot be “sprung” on the members. The pastor can begin by a personal in-depth study of private confession, perhaps with other pastors in his circuit. He can then lead a class for interested members. In due time, private confession and absolution can be offered to all your members, and can become a regular practice in the congregation. Private confession and absolution will ordinarily take place before the altar, though it may also take place in the pastor’s visits to his members at the hospital or in their homes. Here again is the Gospel, offered to the people of God, provided by the Chief Shepherd through His undershepherd. (Of course, the pastor will have his personal brother-confessor, as well). This practice is clearly an extension of the Great Commission—as the members (disciples) are taught—taught to cling to this precious gift as if their lives depended on it—as indeed it does. Again, this is not a law-driven mandate of TC, but teaching these disciples something they will come to guard and treasure. Unlike typical TC prescriptions, this practice should be voluntary, not mandatory. “…We do not prescribe a set time because not everyone is prepared in the same way at the same time….The ancient canons and the Fathers do not appoint a fixed time…Our pastors, accordingly, do not force those who are not ready to use the sacraments.” (Apology XI, 62, Kolb-Wengert Book of Concord). “Therefore, when I exhort you to go to confession, I am doing nothing but exhorting you to be a Christian. If I bring you to this point, I have also brought you to confession. For those who really want to be upright Christians and free from their sins, and who want to have a joyful conscience, truly hunger and thirst already. They snatch at the bread just like a hunted deer, burning with heat and thirst, as Psalm 42:1 says, “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.” That is, as a deer trembles with eagerness for a fresh spring, so I yearn and tremble for God’s Word or absolution and for the sacrament, etc. In this way, you see, confession would be taught properly, and such a desire and love for it would be aroused that people would come running after us to get it, more than we would like.” (Large Catechism, Kolb-Wengert)
The Law reveals the guilt of sin and makes us conscience-stricken;
But then the Gospel enters in the sinful soul to quicken.
Come to the cross, trust Christ and live; the Law no peace can ever give,
No comfort and no blessing.

Next time: Fixing Transforming Churches—New Prescriptions (II): The Call, The Church, The Royal Priesthood, and Conclusion.

Jump to Part 5

This entire series may be downloaded as a single document in Word or PDF format.


Pilgrim said...

Inclusion or Exclusion
Some people have an Idea that God is inclusive for mans eternal destiny, that all religions and all people will be saved. That God will allow all of mankind to enter into heaven because everybody is good so God must be fair and include everyone! It is true God does love the whole world but God is exclusive about mans eternal destiny without the Savior. To keep this simple man has a problem called sin in which man refuses to believe that there are eternal consequences for having sin, which is a one way ticket to hell. God is holy and he will not allow anyone with sin to enter into heaven. God is hurt and angry about our sin, we have broken his laws. But God is just and good and he knows our need so he provided a solution to our problem. His solution to our problem is to have our sins removed by having our sins placed on someone else, a sacrifice for us; paying for the penalty of the sin we have in our lives. So that someone else would get the penalty of Gods wrath and separation on him that was meant for us. So God sent his son Jesus on a mission from heaven to earth as our sacrifice to die on the cross on our behalf after this happened three days later Jesus came back from the dead, alive. But that’s not all remember I wrote that God is exclusive about mans eternal destiny without the Savior? The only way that Gods promise can be applied to your life is for you to turn from your way of thinking and know that your sin offends and hurts God and call on the Lord Jesus who’s alive to save you. Your sins are then transferred to Jesus for what he did at the cross, dying and being abandon by God because of your sins, for you and because Jesus arose from the dead he is alive you can now enter into a relationship with God. Will you call out to Jesus to save you? It’s your choice to enter in exclusively with God’s grace for you. Where will you want to spend eternity after hearing Gods promise for you?
If the answer was yes that you do want Jesus as your sin bearer, Savior, and you do believe God raised Jesus from the dead you can pray with your voice.

“Dear Lord Jesus save me.”

Acts 20:21 Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance towards God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.

Scott Diekmann said...

Thanks for your comment Pilgrim. Before our conversion, we are enemies of God, and can in no way come to Him:

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 1Co 2:14

We can pray “Dear Lord Jesus save me,” only after the Holy Spirit has moved us to repent and seek Christ’s forgiveness. There is no portion of conversion that we can claim as a “decision” of our own free will - but only by God’s grace and work in our life:

"No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day. Joh 6:44

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. Joh 15:16

Thanks be to God, that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us!