Archive for October 2008

Pastoral Reflections on “Pastoral Care”

October 19, 2008

Seelsorger is a German word which is used as a synonym for Pastor.  It means “curer of souls,” that is one who cares for and comforts the soul.  The following newsletter article, which I initially wrote for the July-August “Holy Cross Messenger,” reflects how God’s intended purpose for individuals and congregation alike can be thwarted by presumably well-meaning parishioners and pastors who ignore the divine shepherd-sheep relationship within a congregation.

A fellow pastor and I were talking recently at breakfast.  We were attending the same meeting later that morning, a continuation from the day before.  The topic of our conversation at one point turned to a project he and his wife are working on to provide a place of retreat for pastors and their wives.  A place away from the pressures of the parish, and yet a place where spiritual care will be provided for the Shepherd who himself has no Shepherd to whom he can turn.  This was by no means a mere whim on his part, as I learned upon my return home, finding in my email a few days later a paper he promised to send me.  It was titled: “Who Shepherds the Shepherds?” He had written it for one of his seminary professors in a graduate level class a few years back.  As I read through the paper I was pleased with this confessional pastor’s understanding of the situation, and I pray his project will become a reality in the near future, for the sake of the Church.  

I bring this up to introduce a topic I would like to address this month: “Pastoral Care.”  No, it is not about or for me.  It is about you, you and your fellow sheep at Holy Cross.  You see, in reading his paper, one sentence in particular caught my eye about life in the parish: “Sheep under the care of a pastor are not free to place themselves under the care of another pastor without the blessing and consent of the first pastor.”  That raises three questions: What does this mean?  Why does he say this?  What are the implications today?

What does this mean?  When Jesus speaks about those who follow Him, as He does in John 10, He is clear in His claim upon them: “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me” (27).  Sheep in Holy Writ are mentioned in numerous figures of speech; and their patience (Jer. 11:19; Isa. 53:7) and stupidity (Num. 27:17; 1 Kings 22:17; Isa. 53:6) were proverbial.  As such, some may object to Jesus calling them sheep, but it does not change the fact that He does so, and it means something important to you.  First, you are not your own, but you belong to Him, for He purchased you with His shed blood and marked you with His holy name in Baptism.  Second, third, and fourth, because you are His purchased possession, you hear His voice … He learns to know you personally … and you follow Him as a way of life—and all this happens in the here and now.  That’s right, all three verbs are present tense.  Because all verbs are true in the here and now, it means that what the pastor writes— “Sheep under the care of a pastor are not free to place themselves under the care of another pastor without the blessing and consent of the first pastor,” which finds it authority in Jesus’ words to His apostles: “He who hears you, hears Me, and he who rejects you rejects Me, and he who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me” (Luke 10:16)―is most certainly true.  Pastors, “regularly called” (AC XIV) according to the rite, serve in the stead and place of Christ to the congregation, and those who are sheep under his care in that place hear and follow Jesus by listening to and heeding His servant’s teaching, for he comes and speaks in the place and stead of Christ to His people.   To suggest “sheep” are “free” agents in the matters of pastoral care is to ignore (not heed) Jesus’ serious warning!

Why does he say this?  The pastor who wrote this revealing sentence has, perhaps unwittingly,  hit upon a particularly important principle that seems to have been all but lost in the last century or two.  Pastoral care requires pastoral oversight, and oversight means: “watchful and responsible care.”  For a “sheep under the care of a pastor” to turn to “another pastor without the blessing and consent of the first pastor” for pastoral care is to short circuit Christ’s intended way, for by design none can know the “sheep”―nor their need―but their own shepherd, the one whom God has placed over them through the divine call of the congregation to serve in the stead and place of Christ.  This pastor’s revealing sentence has serious implications for pastor and people in every generation.  

What are the implications today?  Perhaps a lengthy discussion,  can be undertaken later, but in summary I place these thoughts before you for your consideration.  The body of Christ is made up of many members, and though “all the members do not have the same function,” we are “one body in Christ, and individually members of one another” (Rom. 12:4f).  Ignoring or abusing either the “function” we serve or “one another” hurts the whole body!  And when the whole body hurts, every member of the body feels it.  When pastors, while seeking to carry out their God-given functions within the body toward each and every member of the body, are short circuited by a member who seeks pastoral care from another without the blessing and consent of his or her pastor, important matters pertinent to the spiritual well being of the members, and thus also the body, are not addressed.  Still unresolved, the matter will continue to trouble the congregation.

Confession by those who have violated this important principle and absolution from their pastor can go a long way in restoring health and vitality to the individual and body alike.  No sweeter words are there than when *my* shepherd says to me: “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them.”  Your sins are forgiven, Little Lamb.

 

Rev. Bruce G. Ley

Superintendent, The Augustana Ministerium

Advertisements

What TAM Has Been Doing…

October 7, 2008
In mid-September, I wrote a note in response to a comment that had been made regarding an article on the Brothers of John the Steadfast site (about the wacky ‘Jefferson Hills Church’, where Missouri District mission offerings are being wasted on anti-Lutheran theology and practice). The commenter to whom I was responding had indicated that his congregation was directing its offerings away from LCMS, Inc., having seen the gross mismanagement of their previous offerings (including the directing of funds toward projects that were theologically unacceptable, while seeking to eliminate what was the corporate synod’s most excellent venue for both outreach and edification, Issues, Etc.). I made a suggestion as to a fiscally responsible organization that is focused on the cross of Christ, a group whose purpose is to support the mission Christ gave to His Church in John 20:21–23—forgiving sins—by promoting “Lutheran pastors and a distinctively Lutheran Ministry of Word and Sacrament to Lutheran congregations.” Dr. Hein was prepared to build off of that comment for an article on the BJS website, but final preparations for teaching in Sierra Leone took precedence and he asked that I would continue in his place by fleshing out my earlier suggestion. What follows is what was placed on the BJS site.

I had written:

If I might interject a suggestion for offerings at this point: I know of a pastor whose salary will disappear as of 10/1/08. (Indeed, I know of another, but he found a job that will take care of his family’s needs, while this pastor has not yet been able to do so.) I know of others in similar situations. I know of one and only one organization who is trying to do anything to help such men: The Augustana Ministerium.

If any of you—or your congregations—are looking for a way to help pastors and to help congregations keep their faithful pastors if they aren’t able to pay them in full, I urge you to visit the Ministerium’s website at http://AugustanaMinisterium.org, where you can find information about this group and what it does to keep pastors and their families alive and, if possible, serving parishes. Check out the ‘Confraternity’ tab on their menu, too, and download their bimonthly newsletter for an accounting of what was accomplished through this group in the past four years (including their teaming up with Lutheran Church Charities of Addison, Illinois in LCC’s fantastic work after Hurricane Katrina).

If The Augustana Ministerium received even a tenth of what is being wasted by LCMS, Inc., the assistance provided would be too amazing to recount (i.e., the need is that huge, beyond most folks’ reckoning).

Well, that’s three ‘if’s in a row…will the reality be that this pastor of more than a decade will lose all he owns while he tries to find a low-paying job just to keep food on the table, and that he goes on CRM status, never to be in a parish again, or will he receive whatever aid he needs, perhaps to start a new mission somewhere (maybe across the street from Jefferson Hills…) and to continue in service to the Church as God has prepared him to render?

 

I concluded by noting that I am a non-LCMS pastor but was asking for assistance to a rostered LCMS pastor and that The Augustana Ministerium (TAM, for short) wished to help any Confessional Lutheran pastor…and that now is, therefore, the time for those disgusted with Synod, Inc. [whether Missouri, WELS, or whatever] to ‘step up’ and put local pastors (even someone else’s, but especially your own) above bureaucracies, directing funding through agencies that actually put offerings to work where you think they’re going when you give them. That’s how TAM operates: we don’t just grumble and grouse about the problems, we connect gifts with needs, so that families can live and the work of Christ’s Ministry can be done. (And, as said above, if we had more gifts, we could use them all, as there is no lack of needs.)

We are now at the eve of the above-mentioned pastor’s going without pay…and the eve of The Augustana Ministerium sending him a check to help with his family’s expenses. This past weekend, another check went out to help another pastor with medical bills. There is no telling what other needs may present themselves before October is through. What will TAM do? If we have the resources, we will do what we always do: provide for pastors physically and emotionally, connecting them, when possible, with other pastors near them who can provide ongoing pastoral counsel and aid. As an example of how that has played out so far this year:

Through 08/31/08, we received $ 18,015.39 for mission and personal assistance.

  • In January, a pastor forced out of his parish without severance received $ 2,000.00 and began a mission congregation, needing no further support to this point.
  • In January, a pastor received $1,000.00 to assist his family with uncovered medical expenses.
  • In February, a designated gift of $1,000.00 was received to assist a pastor with vehicular expenses.
  • In April, a pastor received $1,000.00 to allow him to catch up on bills that were overwhelming him in his low-salaried secular job after having been illegitimately forced out of his parish.
  • In April a designated gift of $750.00 was received to assist a pastor with his wife’s medical expenses.
  • In May, a CRM pastor received $850.00 to keep him from being evicted.
  • In May, a designated gift of $1,000.00 was received to assist a pastor with living expenses after having been forced from his parish.
  • In May, a grant of $2,000 was given to assist a mission pastor and his family of four with basic living expenses while he relaunched his employment search following the unexpected withdrawal of a job offer.
  • In July, an additional $1,000 was provided to a pastor and his family who continued to suffer through a severe financial crisis, due in large measure to legal bills incurred while battling an unjust effort to remove him from serving faithfully the faithful people of God in his parish.

Total personal assistance through 08/31/08: $10,600 (I won’t have the financial statement for September for a few more days, but suffice it to say that at least a couple thousand more dollars in aid were disbursed.)

At the same time, we have worked to keep pastors in parishes where they could not afford to stay without our assistance:

  • A pastor in California has received mission assistance in the amount of $100 per month, for a total of $800.
  • A pastor in Michigan has received mission assistance in the amount of $250 per month, for a total of $2,000.
  • A pastor serving a three-point mission in Wisconsin and Michigan has received mission assistance in the amount of $300 per month, for a total of $2,400.
  • A pastor serving a mission in Minnesota has received mission assistance in the amount of $500 per month, for a total of $4,000.
  • A pastor in Nebraska, serving in a parish and on a reservation, has received mission assistance in the amount of $300 per month since March, for a total of $1,800.

Total Mission expenditures through 08/31/08: $11,000 (plus the above-mentioned $4,000 of personal aid that allowed pastors to continue to serve or to establish new mission work)

On the other hand, TAM operates very frugally. Outside of the $1,556.24 (all raised from members’ dues, not at all from gifts for personal and mission aid) that paid for this year’s Theological Conference, our total administrative costs have amounted to $102.50 (due, in part, to the fact that Administrative Council members often do not seek reimbursement for their expenses).

I hope that no one will take this as TAM ‘patting itself on the back’; I made a remark about fiscal responsibility vs. irresponsibility, and I present you with these figures only so that you will know that the data backs up such claims. If anything, TAM has been too quiet as it goes about its work, preferring to just ‘get the job done’…but we lay these facts and growing needs before you so that we might, indeed, ‘get the job done’ on the larger scale that is necessary in this ‘post-synodical’ era, where struggling pastors and congregations must look beyond an ecclesiastical structure that offers them little to no support in such practical matters. Again, I encourage you to visit our website—http://AugustanaMinisterium.org—to learn more about us, to click on the ‘Donate’ button to support this necessary work, and to join The Augustana Confraternity so that you can be sure of receiving up-to-date information about our needs and activities. If you have any questions for me or the other officers of TAM, you will also find a contact form there so that your question is directed to the right man or men.

Rev. Eric J. Stefanski

Dean of Communications, The Augustana Ministerium