With Dr. Bruce Hartung
Several readers have recently pointed out to me the need for our professional church workers to examine their work ethic. I have chosen a particularly poignant communication on this theme to share in this month’s column.
Q: My wife and I are deeply troubled … about our pastor. He is a nice enough person and his sermons are generally helpful and to the point. But that is it.
He makes very few sick calls. Our shut-ins never see him. He won’t do follow-up calls to people who visit [our church] on Sunday morning. In my sales business I am always doing cold calls, but I know that he is not doing any. We therefore have no real evangelism effort or follow up. Contact with our greater community seems nil. It looks like he stays in his office, works on the computer, and spends lots of time with his family. He acts like he is entitled to his salary because he is a pastor, but at the same time he really has nobody to whom he is accountable. On the surface, it looks like he just doesn’t want to work hard.
I read your column all the time. You are [generally supportive of] care for the worker.
But what if the worker doesn’t work? We want to support [our pastor] and his family. But he’s not supporting us with his work ethic.
Are we out of line and missing something? If he were working for me in my company, he’d be fired. But he’s our pastor and an LCMS seminary prepared him.
Again — is there something we are missing?
A: Your feeling troubled should trouble us all, because you address a serious rift in the Body of Christ that puts expectations and performance in conflict.
But this type of rift is not rare. Members of congregations have expectations about the workers of the church; and workers of the church have duties and responsibilities that they fill and fulfill. At times, these clash.
There are steps that you, your parish leaders, and your pastor can take. Here are several that are essential, as far as I am concerned:
This is not a rift that should be left alone, nor should there be any pretense that it does not exist.
If I were the pastor in this situation, I would take to heart the concerns you raise.
While there are always two sides to almost every story, I would want to be open to feedback about how my ministry was being viewed. I would recognize that being a faithful minister of the Gospel is not confined to maintaining sound doctrine, but includes carrying out my duties with prayerful energy and regularity. As tempting as it might be, I would not take refuge in the doctrine of the call.
If other issues were interfering with my work — such as anxiety, depression, marital concerns, spiritual malaise, or any one of a host of other issues — I would want to consult with my spiritual director or utilize counseling resources.
I also would want to seek counsel with my brothers in ministry, asking them to help me make an honest appraisal both of me and of the concerns raised.
In short, I would create support systems that would help me engage both the people who have concerns and the concerns themselves. I would not want to stonewall or ignore the concerns, nor be defensive, as difficult as that might be. So, I would implore the Holy Spirit for strength and guidance.
Rev. Bruce M. Hartung, Ph.D., is dean of Ministerial Formation at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted Oct. 23, 2008