Indifference is not characteristic of the liturgy
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A blog of the Evangelical Lutheran Liturgy

For the Work of the Ministry


In a private discussion group for pastors, an LCMS pastor made the following statement:

"Our role as pastor is not to do the work of the ministry but to equip the saints for the work of the ministry Eph 4:11-12"

Think about that.

"Our role as pastor is not to do the work of the ministry" - because Ephesians 4.

The passage (Eph. 4:11-12) reads as follows:

11 καὶ αὐτὸς ἔδωκεν τοὺς μὲν ἀποστόλους, τοὺς δὲ προφήτας, τοὺς δὲ εὐαγγελιστάς, τοὺς δὲ ποιμένας καὶ διδασκάλους, 12 πρὸς τὸν καταρτισμὸν τῶν ἁγίων εἰς ἔργον διακονίας, εἰς οἰκοδομὴν τοῦ σώματος τοῦ Χριστοῦ,

Here is the KJV translation:

11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; 12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:

And here is the ESV (following the punctuation of most modern translations):

11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,

The two renderings express different thoughts based on punctuation.  There are a couple issues at work.  First of all, since the Greek originally had no punctuation, what is the sense of "for the work of the ministry" - is that what the saints are equipped for, or is that another of the pastor's enumerated duties?  An argument can be made for either based on the sense of the text.  Moreover, the word translated as "to equip" is an overlooked but important element of the text.

One of the problems of translation is cultural bias.  After Vatican II, which put a great deal of emphasis on the work of the laity (lay readers, lay Eucharistic assistants, lay ministers, lay bidding of prayers, etc.), the word "ministry" shifted from being primarily understood as the work of the ordained ministers to the work of the laity.  And as the old saying goes, when the pope catches a cold, the Missouri Synod sneezes.  My district reflects this democratization of the word "ministry" by titling its newsletter for "professional church workers" ("Where is my hard hat?", as Dr. Eckardt might quip): "This Ministry That We Share."  One column in the newsletter is subtitled "Celebrating the Ministry of Pastor and People" (which makes one wonder if pastors are people...).  Of course, this reflects the LCMS nomenclature that various lay vocations in service of the church are manned by "commissioned ministers."  This shift in the meaning of the words "ministry" and "minister" perhaps reached its zenith with the 1974 publication of Oscar Feucht's Everyone a Minister.  In using the universal quantifier "everyone," it's difficult not to paraphrase the line from The Incredibles as "when everyone is a minister then no one is a minister."  

The other issue centers on the word "ministry" itself.  Certainly, the word διακονία (diakonia) can be translated as ministry in the narrow sense of Word and Sacrament ministry, or in the broad sense of "service" - which encompasses many kinds of work in both the church and society.  Fudging on the range of meaning of the word διακονία has given us such chimeras in the LCMS as women trained for "church work" clad not in a hard hats, but vested in albs and stoles.

This bait-and-switch also gives us a pastor making the argument that "Our role as pastor is not to do the work of the ministry."  This illustrates Luther's metaphorical quip about the drunken peasant who avoids one ditch, only to stumble into the other.  To avoid clericalism, we become anticlerical.  To avoid a dictatorship of the pastorate, we seek out a dictatorship of the proletariat.  

And like the "dictatorship of the proletariat," using ministry in this way calls to mind the faux-egalitarianism of Communism, which speaks of equality, but in practice, creates an upper crust that does nothing while the proles do all the work ("Some animals are more equal...").  The pastor who does not "do the work of the ministry" himself because he is delegating everything to his minions (in the egalitarian name of "everyone a minister" of course) leads to a kind of "pastor as CEO" in which the pastor is free to command from a leather chair while everyone else does the heavy lifting.

There is a cultlike invocation of the term "pastoral leadership" among many in the LCMS's non-liturgical megachurch subculture.  When I hear someone emphasizing "pastoral leadership," this sets off a red flag for me.  It strikes my ears as a vote of no confidence in the Holy Spirit and a disrespectful disdain for Chesterton's fence.  And I say this as a credentialed PMP, and one who has found much good in the lessons that I learned and continue to learn in the acquisition and maintenance of my certification.  Learning the principles of leadership and project management is a valuable thing, but it is crucially important to understand that pastoral ministry is not the same thing as running a business.  In my opinion - and it is just my opinion: PMI > PLI.  And especially in this day and age of the worker-priest, earning a PMP credential (and other internationally-recognized credentials offered by the Project Management Institute) will have more value to be applied in the secular world than its acronymic lookalike.

At any rate, here is a novel idea: avoid the ditches on either side.  Let's not push clericalism or anticlericalism.  Let's stop blurring lines in a vain attempt at an egalitarian Utopia in the church.  The message of Ephesians 4:11-12 is precisely anti-egalitarian.  We are different.  We have different gifts.  And this is a good and salutary thing.  In economics, this is called the "division of labor."  In theology, it's called the "doctrine of vocation."  Not all are called to serve in the ministry (in the narrow sense).  We should not water down the word "ministry" to include such things as basketball.  Ministers ought to do the work of ministry, and ought to work hard.  Individual lay people should likewise faithfully ply their vocations of service (diakonia in the broad sense) diligently.  Making everyone a minister resulted in a situation where a lay church worker once made the argument to me that he was qualified to preach, because, after all, he was a "minister" and had a "call."  Our nomenclature colored his interpretation of Augustana XIV to where it came to mean the exact opposite thing.

This, along with a pastor arguing that "Our role as pastor is not to do the work of the ministry" ought to be a canary in the coalmine to warn us that we're asphyxiating ourselves with secularism. 

We American Lutherans are fond of the term "pastor" for our presbyters.  We even typically address them as "Pastor."  Of course, we have lost what the term means, having surrendered the study of Latin in exchange for "Social Studies" and political correctness.  The word "pastor" is Latin for "shepherd."  A shepherd is not just one of the sheep with a vote.  There is no passage in Scripture that argues "every sheep a shepherd."  In the Old Testament, the shepherd metaphor was one of lordship - as is illustrated the Latin title of the 23rd Psalm "Dominus Regit Me" ("The Lord Rules Me").

Of course, pastors, in their shepherding, are not to "lord over" or "dominate" the people in the carrying out of their work (John 13:12-17) in the way of the Gentiles.  But in refusing to work, and in delegating the work of the ministry (to which the minister is called) to the laity, this is just a more cunning way of lording over.  It satisfies the Old Adam's lust for domination and laziness.

Of course, there are many aspects of "church work" (there we go again!) that can and ought to be delegated to those who are not in the Office of Word and Sacrament.  But the diakonia done by lay people under the oversight of the pastor is not because "Our role as pastor" is "not to do the work of the ministry," - but just the opposite.