A Message from Pastor Hale

A Message from Pastor Hale

People have many expectations of clergy. But the main thing to expect is easy: God’s Word. Not man’s word, not Synod’s changing policies, not acceptance of sins, but a clear condemnation of wrongdoing and full forgiveness in Christ. Scripture is the norm and your pastors have vowed to teach it in accordance with our Lutheran Confessions, which includes the Small Catechism and the Augsburg Confession, among others. Our teaching is written in stone, long before your pastors were born (438 years ago our Lutheran teaching and Confessions was codified in written form). It does not change based on who comes to church, how long someone is involved, or whether they have given money or not to Zion. Ministers are called by God to speak His Word.

Pastors are called through the congregation, but not by the congregation. They must answer to God for what they teach and preach, not to popular opinion or voters. So you are to expect the Word of God, not a weak, flimsy message that morphs depending on circumstances and audience. You should demand the pure Word of God. That means you should know the Word of God enough to deduce whether your pastors are being faithful. Pastors do not give opinions and “Dear Abby” advice, they speak for God. So they are either true to Him or speaking for the devil. The truth does not change, and neither should a pastor turn away from the truth of Scripture for the sake of comfort, custom, or convenience. The stakes are too high. They must give an account for the exercise of their office – for their overseeing of the sheep for whom Christ died: “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Heb. 13:17).

Hearing the Word of God does not just mean Sunday morning or during a regularly scheduled service. Should you ever want the forgiveness of sins, because you are troubled by them, let your pastor know. Our main job is to forgive real sins. If you have a problem with a biblical matter or why we do something in church, talk to your pastor. We are trained to teach and lead with God’s Word. We are here for you. How do you get a hold of a pastor when you are not at church? Call the church office. After hours, leaving a voice message at Zion’s phone number is the best way to ask for pastoral care. We get those voicemail messages delivered to us, even when we are not at church. We will respond in a timely fashion to an emergency. But do not expect real pastoral care or a meaningful conversation by email. It is great for short notes, but a virtual message cannot replace a real face-to-face meeting with the pastor God has appointed for you. The Word of God is personal and the Word became flesh. Again, our job is to proclaim the good news of Christ. So if it is desired, by all means ask for it and demand it.

ChurchHowever, pastors are not psychiatrists or counselors. Our job is not to listen to complaints or affirm people's feelings. We are called to speak for God and to give His Word and sacraments, which distribute the forgiveness of sins. We are to call sinners to repentance. So we expect sinners, not people who want a self-esteem boost. Christ’s death is our power as Christians, not how we feel about ourselves. So expect God’s Word, even when it is not wanted. And unfortunately, the old Adam does not want God’s Word. It is always a miracle when anyone listens and believes the Word. The Spirit creates faith through Christ’s Word, but not man’s word of acceptance or excuse. The Church is made and extended by baptizing and teaching into Christ, not by giving sinners what they want.

But listeners also have an obligation: “Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches. Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap” (Gal. 6:6-7). Do not take the Word of God for granted and treat it lightly. It is not spoken faithfully in many churches today. Many demand that they hear only what they want to hear – the itching ears syndrome. But pastors are to be unseasonable and untimely: “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions” (2 Tim. 4:1-3). Expect a broken record from your pastors – a divine one.

The external duties of a pastor are not the most difficult aspect of the ministry of public teaching. We bear the burden of speaking for God and answering to Him, as poor, miserable sinners ourselves. Of course, we want people to be happy and content and like us and our preaching, but all those must serve God and His Gospel. They must not become false gods, loved more than Jesus. So do not judge a pastor based on who likes Him or does not. People leaving the church or joining does not say if He is doing the duty that the Lord of all the universe laid upon Him. We plant, but the Lord causes the growth. If the true Word is being scattered, the Lord’s will is done. Pray for your pastors and encourage them, so that the results of their faithful teaching will be seen in heaven.

As it turns out, sinners do not like to hear the pure Word. The words of Scripture establish our teaching – it is an eternal doctrine, valid for all times and peoples. Just like Christ, whom we receive through the teaching and preaching of Him, the Word of God does not change. So expect and demand it, until you are with Christ in glory. Amen.

Rev. Philip W. Hale is a pastor of  Zion Lutheran Church in Omaha, NE.