With Dr. Bruce Hartung
Q: Our pastor is pretty protective about matters concerning the church. Regardless of who is in the office, the pastor answers the phone. He sees the mail first and distributes it.
Sometimes we do not even hear about things that are sponsored by our Synod. He seems to want to serve as a filter in some way or another. One question I have is what is the ethic behind such practices? I desire to honor and respect the pastor whom God has called through our church to serve, but it feels at times like we are being overly sheltered from the blessings of walking together as a Synod.
Do you have any thoughts on how this could be approached in a healthy way?
A: This inquiry is actually a composite drawn from several communications to “Pressure Points,” from different sources.
All pastors have a duty — part of their office as ordained ministers in Christ’s church — to do the filtering that you describe, to a certain extent. The question is more how fine a filter is used or how broad the outer limits are of the boundaries that are created.
For instance, an LCMS pastor would likely not put up a poster that advertised an evangelism event for a non-Christian group, nor would he actively promote a cause that was antithetical to LCMS doctrinal positions. At this level of filtering, the response is clear and even warranted. At the same time, I hope a pastor would do more than just stonewall such things. Rather, he could also teach and help his parishioners learn “how come” in an open and engaged way.
In the situation the “reader” describes, the filter of the pastor is very fine and the boundaries quite close. To approach this in a healthier way does require conversation. How should that conversation take place?
The first step could likely be to approach the pastor directly. You might start by asking him something like this:
“I know that the Synod has a number of initiatives we are not hearing about or at least I am not hearing about. I’d like to be aware of what our district and Synod are offering for me and for all of us of all ages here in our congregation. Can you help me learn more about these offerings?”
Perhaps your pastor’s response will help you get a glimpse of what is in his mind or heart concerning his reluctance to share such information. I trust that he does have a rationale concerning this — at which he has prayerfully arrived. You need to know what that is. He also needs to hear your wishes for your own education and growth as a member of the body of Christ. This may be enough.
But if not, a second step might involve congregational leadership. If your congregation’s leaders want your pastor to use such a fine filter for information, then his way of filtering is supported by those in leadership. You might find that out by asking a congregation leader or leaders a question like the one above. Be sure that you pastor knows you are asking your leaders about this. And remember — this second step occurs only if the first has not yielded fruit.
I take it that you are coming from a position of wanting to learn and grow and wanting others in your congregation to have information and opportunities that our church body freely offers to all LCMS congregations. And I believe that you are certainly free to participate on your own in Synod- and district-sponsored events. You can learn about such events and information from the Synod website or your district’s website. But I would not encourage your active engagement in Synod or district events or information gathering from the Synod or district as a way to oppose your pastor or your congregation’s leaders. Rather, ongoing prayerful conversation is essential.
Your congregation would do well to discuss what the actual concerns of your pastor and/or parish leaders are in regard to events and information from the Synod and from LCMS districts.
The Rev. Bruce M. Hartung, Ph.D. is the associate dean of Ministerial Formation and director of the M.Div. and Alternate Route programs at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted Oct. 21, 2011