With Dr. Bruce Hartung
In the July “Pressure Points”, I quoted a number of recent seminary graduates participating in a Post-Seminary Applied Learning and Support (PALS) group. In response, a pastor sent the following observation:
Your July [column] did not incline me toward PALS; rather, it reminded me of the danger of a “pastors-only” group (as well as “butchers-only,” “bakers-only” or “candlestick-makers-only” groups). They’re a superb environment in which to reinforce that sense of entitlement we all have.
As a small-church pastor, one of my duties is to quickly clean off the toilets after preschool — 4-year-olds possessing an unreliable aim. Yes, this is properly part of my job, as otherwise, the occasional guest would find himself or herself plopped down on an unclean toilet seat.
Mister Pastor, you are not [Saint] Peter. You are not in Peter’s position. Administrative tasks will always be some portion of your duties, certainly so coming right out of seminary. At times, you will suddenly help wait on a table, otherwise leave overburdened volunteers in the lurch and pretend the ensuing chaos is “not my problem.” Feeling you’re too important for such tasks is bad enough. Insisting to fellow pastors that “hey, you are, too!” is worse.
Matthew Kim (in 7 Lessons for New Pastors: Your First Year in Ministry, Chalice Press, 2012) echoes some of your thoughts. He writes: “Ministers are servants in every aspect. There are many facets to service. Sometimes we get on our hands and knees to pick up crumbs left by the children. At other times, we print and fold all the Sunday bulletins. Service takes the form of washing the dishes after a Sunday meal together. It may involve helping an elderly person get into her vehicle. Ministry service might include shivering in the cold, harsh night of winter when assisting someone with a flat tire. It can mean holding a dying person’s hand at the hospital as he waits for the Lord to take him home. Opportunities for service are limitless if we choose to follow the Master’s example. Get acclimated to the pastor’s life by becoming a humble servant” (pp. 52-53).
“There are many Sundays where I am the last person to leave, usually cleaning the church building, picking up last-minute scraps off the floor in the fellowship hall and nursery. Christian ministry is about service to God and his people” (p. 19).
There is a balance that I believe is to be sought here. If a pastor (or any other church worker, for that matter) sees ordinary life tasks in the congregation as beneath his calling, then that is an attitude that needs repentance. On the other hand, if congregation members back away from participating in the administrative and support needs of their church, then that attitude needs repentance, as well.
Doing tasks together also connects people to each other in ways that are different from when they are sitting around just talking, for instance. And when the tasks are done bathed in prayer and in the name of the Christ, both task and relationships are truly blessed.
In the context of the PALS meeting I referenced in last month’s column, I was not hearing an “entitlement” sense. Rather, I was hearing something akin to identifying gifts in the community and utilizing them. That group of pastors, their wives and even their children were oriented toward service. In quoting them the way that I did, I may not have given a fuller expression to their meaning. Pastors also bring to the table — blessed by God’s Holy Spirit — particular gifts of self and of office. A congregation choosing to clear some duties away to give more space for the pastor’s particular contributions to building up the body of Christ is a very good thing.
Nonetheless, your caution is an excellent one. Thanks for sharing it. Other readers might chime in if they wish.
Matthew Kim’s book is a good read, although the reader will not find everything congruent with LCMS teaching. In this case, though, I think he is on target.
The Rev. Bruce M. Hartung, Ph.D., is professor of Practical Theology at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information or to register, visit csl.edu/resources/continuinged/theological-symposium-2013.
As a participant in a PALS group, now some years ago, I found that our time together did not in any way, shape, form, or implication reinforce a sense of entitlement. Quite the contrary! We shared our joys and challenges as newly ordained servants of Christ and those conversations served as an ideal forum in which to address this very topic of servanthood.
I see no more inherent danger in a pastors-only group (which PALS is not, as it encourages whole family participation) than in any group of sinners in a fallen world. We can always be tempted to look inward instead of heavenward.
The balance between serving, in its many and various forms, and getting bogged down waiting on tables is one requiring continuous discernment. PALS was for me (and I suspect in most cases still is for most) an excellent opportuninty for shared discernment among pastors and spouses.
As a non-participant in the PALS program, because of “exclusion”, I would like to express my thoughts on the PALS program as a wife of a newly ordained Pastor, an SMP Pastor. As far as I know my family is excluded from the PALS program, even though my husband is ordained and a student of St. Louis Seminary. We are currently in the position of fitting into the PALS program now, not in 2 more years after official graduation, which we wouldn’t be included at that time, either.
I’m not bashing any of these programs, especially PALS; I just want to point out an oversight in the program that should be changed. I would like to stand up for the other men and their wives and families that are in the SMP program. These men and their families have earned respect from my husband and me. They are hardworking, dedicated men that deserve any of the support and love the LCMS has to offer them, without the callousness of being excluded from special groups like PALS. I read pressure points every month and have followed it for over two decades, when I became a Lutheran School teacher wife back in the early 90’s. I personally do not feel a strong need for a group like PALS, since my husband and I have been in LCMS ministry as a Lutheran School teacher family for many years before becoming a new Pastors family. Our experience is slightly different from other SMP students and my eyes are wide open to the needs of church worker support and the benefit of a program like PALS to the new SMP families.
On page 8 of the August Reporter Resolution 5-02A calls for support of the PALS program for new pastors and their wives to participate in PALS. The next Resolution 5-03A is to create an oversight committee for SMP. Then the next Resolution 5-04B continues and STRENGTHENS the SMP program and affirms SMPs are “properly called.” All 3 of these, listed right in a row, they should be connected, but they are sadly not connected. I see a problem with not connecting these programs together and I call for the support of the SMP ministry, the Pastors and their families, by including them in the PALS program upon ordination. I think it’s the respectful thing to do and is certainly in line with witness, mercy, and life together. This may be an oversight and with the recent convention affirmations of SMP, including SMP in the PALS program is in order at this time. The PALS program should be a benefit to and offered to ALL newly Ordained LCMS pastors.
Praise and thanksgiving to God for Rev. Hartung’s Pressure Points column.