Getting over a pastor

Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne/Steve Blakey

by David Petersen

One of the great privileges of serving as a parish pastor in Fort Wayne, Ind., is this: Every spring I can attend the call service at Concordia Theological Seminary. This is a big worship service in the seminary chapel. The Synod president and vice-presidents are all vested and sitting up front in the chancel, along with all the district presidents and the seminary’s faculty. The chapel is full of the students and their families. The organist pulls all the stops, and there are never any empty seats. It feels a lot like a graduation ceremony mixed in with Easter.

After the sermon, the graduating students line up. One by one their names are called, and then another name is read. They walk across the chancel, shake the president’s hand, and are handed an envelope, not a diploma. That envelope has the second name on it along with the student’s name. That second name is where the student and his family will be living and what sort of work they will be doing. It is usually something rather mundane sounding, like “Trinity Lutheran Church, Lowden, Iowa.” The service draws to a close quickly after that, and the students are ushered out to various campus classrooms to meet, usually for the first time, their district presidents.

The service is nostalgic for me, as it is for every pastor in attendance, because I once had my name called in that place along with another name I had never heard before that night. That other name I can now never forget. It will forever define me as a person and as a pastor. Even though I don’t live and serve there anymore, it is still where I became who I am. It wasn’t always an easy place for me, but it will always be a beloved place.

I do not know if there are any parallels to this in the secular world, whether this is a common sort of thing or not, but what happens at the call service has a theological reality that far transcends mere employment. This won’t be, for these men or for their families, simply a first job or the first move in a career. Their names are being tied to another name in something that is closer to marriage than employment. The pastor will give himself to that place more fully than a hired hand is capable of. I am not sure that it is commonly recognized by the laity, or even always wanted, but the simple fact is that the pastor will suffer for that place and those people. His heart will bleed for them. He will pour out his soul and even give up his life for them.

He will do this because he isn’t a social worker trying to make their lives better or a psychologist trying to help them cope in difficult situations. As outrageous as it sounds, as grand and sweeping, the pastor will try to save their souls and the souls of their children. It is God that does the saving, of course, but the pastor will, nonetheless, even when he shouldn’t, feel the burden of it, and it will leave a mark.

That is why I think congregations can get over pastors. Pastors are, and should be, replaceable. But pastors don’t get over the places, the people, they serve. In a pastor’s mind, those two names, his and theirs, will always go together.

And, no, I wasn’t crying at the call service. I had an itch in my eye.

You can read about Call Day 2017 and see the services from both seminaries here: http://callday.ctsfw.edu and http://callday.csl.edu. Please keep these men, their families, and the places they will serve in your prayers.

The Rev. David Petersen is senior pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church, Fort Wayne, Ind.

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17 Responses to Getting over a pastor

  1. Jenny Moody May 28, 2017 at 6:14 pm #

    Very enlightening, uplifting, encouraging, and sad!

  2. Karen Voss Sardone May 28, 2017 at 6:38 pm #

    Every Call Day I pray for these men, that they may feel this way about their chosen avocation. I especially thank our Lord for the second-career men, as we have more and more of them, through the Holy Spirit’s guidance.
    My dad was an LCMS Pastor and felt this way about those churches he served…so much that when he left each one he wrote long letters to them explaining how he made the choices to go where called. For quite some time, almost the whole of his last 25 years, he bemoaned the tendency for ministry to be approached as a “9-5 job” by newer Pastors.
    He saw this as a real catch-22:These men insulate themselves from being overworked or taken for granted, which is appropriate and healthy, – but at the same time their congregations feel less cared for, and some folks get cranky and critical because they feel rejected or ignored, even as they support the Pastor. They don’t “feel” their Pastor’s awed respect of a Calling by God, and thus don’t respect it themselves as they should. Sometimes it’s hard to find a balance because… humans.
    PS when they stop calling it a Divine Call Day? I guess I’m really old.

    • June 1, 2017 at 7:25 am #

      Not sure congregations understand the divine call anymore. It needs to be retaught to our members in the congregations.

  3. Debra Karina May 28, 2017 at 7:03 pm #

    I understand how this must feel to many congregations when a new Minister takes over where another one left off. I know 3 such ministers I have known that fall into the catagory of sadness, but confusion, wishing that the circumstances didn’t change. I know logically that not only would be a good move for the particular minister to continue his or her growth in his chosen calling. But the congregation as a whole also needs to have some growth as time goes on.
    Even tho the reason I am writing is off topic, it may have a some value to others in this situation.
    The problem we encountered as Lutherans, was the shutting the doors to our home church. As the time got closer, I noticed it was so many of us that shared the same feelings about how we felt about our church closing the doors for ever.
    Many of us were all in the same Confirmation class, and had moved on in our lives and we were all scattered around the US. But we all felt that OUR church was the stability we all felt. The reason they told us was that the church needed many updates, that wasn’t possible. And it also ran out of money. It was a beautiful church, and to us a very big loss. Luckily at the end they didn’t tear it down to make room for condos. Another type of Christian church has now taken it over.
    I personally believe that the last minister came in to liquidate the church. I can’t put my finger on it for sure, but something maybe about this whole situation.
    My ancestors started the church. My Grandfather was the church organist and choir director. He also went door to door looking for members in the early days. Out of the 13 original members, most were my family members. The Pastor that closed the church moved on. My Mom, now 96, won’t have a church service in the church in the end of her life. The Lutheran church will be in another town, she doesn’t remember going to before done by a minister she doesn’t see very often.
    This to me is the other side of the coin when you lose a minister that blends in well in your church and community.
    We lost out church that was the center of many lives through the years.
    Thanks for reading about what has come to my heart and mind this evening.

  4. May 28, 2017 at 8:17 pm #

    I have worked with four amazing Lutheran pastors as a secretary/ad. assistant and I have learned this. The congregation was important to them but through my interaction with them I knew that their allegiance to Christ and serving Him came first. Their service to the congregation was centered on its well being–not for a few “useful members” but for the greater good of the whole. And it was often difficult to placate such diverse personalities with many expectations. For them it wasn’t about “advancing their career” but about listening and leading with whatever talents they possessed. And I really don’t mind naming these four pastors, who. we’re so generous in spirit. They were: Rev. Jeffery Moore, Rev. Daniel Fienen, Rev. Delmar Krueger, and Rev. Larry Bell. Each of these men enriched my spiritual life in a very positive way while serving Christ and their congregation.

    • June 1, 2017 at 7:31 am #

      Great perspective. Secretaries see and hear a lot. Pastors really appreciate their secretaries when they have this point of view.

  5. May 28, 2017 at 8:41 pm #

    No one can replace Pastor Martin Schultz.

    • June 1, 2017 at 7:34 am #

      I hope you don’t keep reminding your new pastor of that. Thankful you had a pastor you loved and shared in ministry with. Pray you will be blessed with the next pastor, and find he was sent to serve, but with different gifts.

  6. Christine May 29, 2017 at 7:52 am #

    So very true

  7. Chad Kapfhamer May 29, 2017 at 11:10 am #

    “…As the true pastor labors on in love, in the field in which God has placed him, and finds his labor not in vain in the Lord; as he sees the souls whom he has enabled to turn from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, growing in grace and in the knowledge of Christ, maturing in discipleship, abounding more and more in love and good works, he realizes that he is gathering fruit unto life eternal. He can say, with Paul, “What is our hope, our joy, our crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of the Lord at his coming?

    Yes, “He that winneth souls is wise.” “They that be wise shall shine as the firmament, and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars forever and ever.”

    Excerpt from “The Lutheran Pastor ” by G.H. Gerberding, D.D. Copyright 1902, Augsburg Publishing House, 2nd Edition, 1915, pages 452-453

  8. David Prout May 29, 2017 at 11:27 am #

    Very neat, it’s a surreal setting for Gods call on our life.

  9. May 29, 2017 at 2:33 pm #

    Very good article Rev Peterson. Congregations can get over a pastor, but pastors can not get over a congregation. I have served three congregations, all have been a blessing, one I still think of as mine.
    A pastor gets swallowed up in a congregation. Losing himself in the work of preaching teaching and most importantly, love for the flock.
    I was injured and forced to retire disabled. Still I am loving the people I served in each place. They in turn have loved me in the past 6 years even though I no longer work. I am still Pastor, still one they turn to, still the one who comforts when I can.
    Perhaps a congregation can replace a pastor but as I’ve learned they will continue to love the one replaced.

  10. George and Janet Wilken May 29, 2017 at 3:45 pm #

    God bless them as they go out into the world to preach the gospel to where they are being sent. May God guide and protect them. Never in my lifetime are they more needed to preach the Holy Word in its truth and purity than now. We are blessed to be able to pray and support them.

  11. John Hearing May 30, 2017 at 6:17 pm #

    This blog is very true, but also in other ways. When you have a bad Pastor, Congregations will not get over the damage for decades. In our case, it was 10 years ago when my wife (Treasurer) discovered that he was having an affair with a parishioner, had charged his hotel rooms to the church, and that her predecessor and some of the church Elders knew about it but had done nothing. She blew the whistle, formally notified the Board of Elders, and with the help of the DCE, notified the District to have him removed. We discovered this was not the first time he had done this and had been making sexual advances at young women for years before this blew up. Over a decade later, we still have womem who were hurt by this man. So, yes, Congregations sometimes take a long time to get over a Pastor.
    As a parishioner, I will forever oppose Pastor as the CEO congregations and will always hold the pastor to a bit more scrutiny and way more oversight than I may have in the past..

    • Debbie August 9, 2017 at 1:37 pm #

      One correction. This was not an “affair” but rather clergy sexual abuse of power. Good for your wife blowing the whistle and I hope this pastor was removed and the abused women loved and supported. It has been nearly twenty years since the same thing happened at our church. I personally know that many have not gotten over this pastor. Sorry, a bit off topic from the original article 🙂

  12. Bernice Rice May 31, 2017 at 11:44 am #

    I don’t feel either “get over” the other. We just move on because what choice is there really? Sometimes the transition is easier to accept depending on the cause for leaving, but the memories remain(the good, the bad and the ugly). I keep my focus on Jesus, the only unchangeable in life.

  13. June 1, 2017 at 7:42 am #

    As we all should do, keeping our eyes focused on Jesus, through the good, the bad and the ugly. I believe if our eyes were always focused on Jesus, we wouldn’t see the bad and the ugly. But we are sinners who have been blessed to be called God’s children, and He shows us His mercy, grace, and love every day. Praise be to God. And I agree with you. I think it is not easy for either party to get over, for those who love their pastor.

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