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A blog of the Evangelical Lutheran Liturgy

A Response to Heinecke on the Need for Men Willing to Die

Reverend Gerald Heinecke left a kind and thoughtful critique in the comments on the post: "Needed: Men Willing to Die." I am most happy for the chance to clarify and distill my own thinking about these things. In an ideal world, Göttesdienst would foster these conversations and the Göttesblog would itself be a space for this very thing. I am going to include his entire comment below my response here. You can read more of Pastor Heinecke’s writings at his website and listen to some of his fine sermons on his church’s Facebook page.

My point in the original blog post, which could have certainly been more clear, was that Our Lord’s statement “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few” is objectively true. It will never cease to be true until the Last Day and effective end of the apostolic office. I say this because I have sometimes heard grumblings against recruiting for the Ministry based on either the Church’s inability or their unwillingness to pay full-time salaries and benefits or even to provide full-time work or because recruiting new men for the office takes possible positions away from eligible men in the LCMS floundering on CRM. I hold all those concerns. At the same time, “the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few.” The Church’s need for the Office isn’t based upon her willingness or ability to pay, etc. It is based upon what Christ has called her to be: the recipient of His grace in Word and Sacrament.

I did not mean to imply that the congregations, the synod as an instruction, or the ministerium itself had no duties to the pastor and that he should be left on his own. While the marine who enlists in 1942 is willing to die if necessary, we certainly hope his life is not viewed as cheap or disposable in any way. We hope that the generals and politicians will give him the best training and equipment and support that they can. In the end, though, we expect him to be a tool for war. In the best cases he will be used strategically, not wastefully, but used nonetheless. It will be risky and he may not survive and he might die in less than obviously heroic ways. He might die in training. He might die from friendly fire. Marines can also die from the neglect and negligence of their leaders or even from betrayal by their brothers. Being a marine is dangerous and they are often asked to do more than seems possible and to do it without as many resources as they would like.

 One would hope that if marines die for any reason other than direct enemy action that there will be an investigation and consequences. But even in 1942 the Marine Corp was full of bureaucracy and careerists. It didn’t and it doesn’t now always work the way that it should. For all that, volunteering to be a marine is an honorable action and worthy of our reverence and thanks and I pray that men still aspire to it.

 As to some of your specifics, I don’t think we disagree. Pay and benefits and how a pastor is to be treated by his congregation, however, is topic for another post. and we will get to it at some point soon. Suffice it to say for now that the worker is worth his wages and that the godly pastor deserves double honor, respect, and even obedience. All this is laid out in the table of duties and the people need to be taught, exhorted toward this, and reproved and rebuked regarding it as necessary. But woe to us if men are attracted to the Office for the sake of double honor! That is what I meant by saying that if men were dissuaded from the Office for the lack of pay, good; but if that was offensive, I am sorry. I do know that we have many pastors who are suffering and whose families are suffering in this way. Even if there is no way out of it, even if the congregations really can’t pay and are giving full honor and respect and obedience and are perfect in every other way, this still is a hardship of the cross and should in no way be mocked or made light of. I thank God that such men live and are willing to serve and to die as necessary.

I am not sure I agree with your argument about worker-priests being only a “ministry of presence.” Nor do I think that only the most gifted men are capable of doing it. I say this not because I myself have any experience with it directly, nor any desire for it, but because it has been the norm over the centuries and in most places. Even in Walther’s day the pastors were generally expected to be part-time farmers while being full-time ministers. Our brothers in Siberia and the Baltic states and most of Africa operate this way without a thought. Again: I certainly don’t want this for myself! I can well see the goodness and luxury of a clergy singularly devoted to the task. I agree with your sentiments and that we should attempt to encourage full-time pastorates wherever and whenever possible and do the proper instruction, exhorting, rebuking, and reproving as needed. But even so I am not sure we will have any real choice going forward or if such hardships won’t actually invigorate us.

Rev. Gerald Heinecke

I agree with this whole article except on three points. I agree we need more than a "ministry of presence" but currently there are over 400 congregations being served part-time. And while there are some congregations that must do this for really good reasons, other congregations choose to make a man serve part time because they refuse to share their pastor with another congregation. Part-time pastors are normally a "ministry of presence" because they can only be present so much. This worker-priest model does not work except for the most gifted of pastors! To add to this, I wonder amongst our some 6000 congregations how many of those that are considered full time positions are paid something much below that.

Second, Along with this I am disappointed that you would say it is good that a man be deterred from becoming a pastor if the church doesn't provide health insurance. This flies in the face of all that the table of duties teaches us, for example, that the worker is deserving of his wages. True, we don't need the free stuff, or the parking spot next to the door (in fact we would do well to park further away, and walk a little more!) but our primary vocation is to be a husband and father first, then a pastor. True we don't go into the office of Holy Ministry as a career to make the big bucks, pastors should still enter into this wonderful, God-pleasing office with the ability to provide for his family, and for most men, that certainly requires health insurance in order to provide for the health and safety of their family.

Finally, as a pastor, I have no problem with the call to "recruit" for the office, but we cannot be blind to the fact that too many congregations tear up, chew up, and spit out pastors and synod/district/circuit does nothing about it. Whether it is help teach pastors how to better approach the situation, or the leadership of synod to rebuke congregations for the way they treat pastors! Even our best districts struggle with this, let alone that too many districts that encourage the congregation to give a severance package and remove him for unscriptural reasons. How can we encourage men to enter into the office, when our church body's house is nowhere clean?

There are many out there who have done an amazing job getting their church catechized and cleaned up, but then you go down the street or to the next town and that church is nothing like yours? Then you have a large segment of churches who have many members who are so confused because that church down the road practices something certainly not Lutheran (open communion, women in positions they should not be, "contemporary" worship, men pretending to be preachers when they are not ordained, and the list goes on) and they don't understand why synod allows it! So yes we want to encourage men to enter the ministry, but what should we tell them to expect?

But you are right, we need to encourage more to be pastors. We need to call on fellow pastors to be faithful. We do have a great job, we get to be in the Word of God all day long, all week long. Lutherans, Christians, are in decline throughout the United States but we have the life saving message of the Gospel that we get to proclaim. Yes there are some without pastors. Some of these problems are challenging but there are real ways to solve this. Keep your pastors full-time. Encourage them to do good work. Encourage pastors who struggle. Keep Christ crucified for you front and center.