A Divine Call To What?

Several months ago I applied and obtained a job at Walmart.

“But, Pastor Richard, I thought you were and are a pastor?”

As many of you already know, I was in the colloquy process for quite some time. I applied for colloquy into The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod October 30th of 2012, after 10 plus years of service in my previous denomination. (Note: Colloquy is the process that pastors from other denominations have to go through in order to be certified as a LCMS pastor.) For me, this colloquy process consisted of several interviews with various church officials; interviews in Montana and Missouri. From the interview process it was deemed necessary that I take three classes from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri in order to better prepare for ministry in the Missouri Synod. Therefore, this last May I finished up my calling as a Senior Pastor in Sidney, Montana and moved my family to St. Louis for the required classes. After successfully completing the required colloquy classes at Concordia Seminary, I moved my family back to my home town of Bottineau, North Dakota to await a call in the LCMS. Needless to say, the waiting process took longer than I had hoped; funds began to run low, thus the reason for me obtaining the position at Walmart.

At Walmart I was offered two positions: a sales associate position in the meat department or a sales associate position in the produce department. I decided to go with the meat department, simply because it sounded and appeared to be manlier. As a result of accepting the position in the meat department, I then underwent a very impressive and extensive orientation that outlined the sales associate vocation in Walmart. I was shown the duties that I was expected to accomplish, as well as the tools that I could use and the tools that I should not use to properly complete my vocation. I was also instructed on the proper vocabulary for communication, the proper work attire, introduced to management, shown the authority structure, and so forth.

Can you imagine the confusion, chaos, and problems that would’ve occurred if on my first day of the job, I was placed in the produce department with my white coat, meat scale, box cutter, and meat scanner? Who would have I reported to? What would have I done? Would have I had the proper tools? Alas, I wouldn’t have even been trained for the produce department! It is obvious that this illustration and scenario is an absolute recipe for disaster and it is absurd at best. Surely Walmart would not and could not function with such chaos. However, does this absurd example happen in the church in regard to the calling of a pastor?  I believe that it often does.

My friends, we live in a time where the role/vocation of the pastor is greatly misunderstood. Commercialism, consumerism, corporate ethos, and therapeutic hopes are powerful ideologies within our culture that often subtly shape and form a congregation’s expectations and understandings of the pastor role. Thus, when a pastor receives a divine call through a congregation, I believe that there are often unspoken or simply assumed congregational expectations of what the divine call is ‘to’ and 'for.' This can also be the case with the pastor as well. Thus, I believe that it is not enough merely to say that one is ‘called’ for there are a plethora of correct and incorrect presuppositions and expectations of what the pastor is called ‘to’ and ‘for.’

On October 27th of 2013 I was extremely pleased to receive a Divine Call from Zion Lutheran Church of Gwinner, ND. I was not only very impressed by the church’s thoroughness with the call documents, but I was tremendously pleased to read a document titled, “Diploma of Vocation.”  A portion of it is printed below:

From my understanding, this document is a standardized document that is included in all LCMS calls. With that said, I suspect that this document may be overlooked at times by churches and pastors. Frankly, I believe that salary compensation, church statistics, and congregational self-evaluations seem to grab one’s attention to a much greater degree than a standardized document. While compensation information, church statistics, and congregational self-evaluations are indeed important, I believe that the Diploma of Vocation is by far the greater document in the call package, for it outlines the authority, duties, tools, and vocation of the called pastor.

This document is of utmost importance for it is a document that defines the role and vocation of the pastor in the midst of other ideologies that subtly attempt to define the role of the pastor.  This document hedges out the pressures that congregations may feel to make pastors into CEOs, Therapists, Salesmen, and Marketers. Think of all the meaningless debate, hurt feelings, broken expectations, and chaos that come forth when foreign ideologies improperly define and collide with the proper role of the pastor. Furthermore, this document also guards the congregation by showing the limitations of the pastoral office, for as soon as a pastor goes beyond his calling in the public ministry towards the teachings and laws of men, he has drifted into areas that to do not have authority over God's flock. Think of all the abuse, confusion, and broken trust that occurs when pastors stray from their calling into the teachings and laws of men.

My friends, as Missouri Synod Lutherans, we have tremendous theology and wonderful gifts, like the Diploma of Vocation, embedded in our polity. This Diploma of Vocation is such a gift to pastors and churches, for it prevents  the church and pastor from confusion, misunderstandings, false expectations, and so forth.  It defines the blessed relationship between the pastor and the congregation, and it helps define what the Divine Call is to.

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