Monday, November 22, 2010

Things I'm Not Serious About But Am Totally Serious About #2: The Rite of "We Don't Know What the Heck We're Doing."

Awhile ago, I heard of a congregation that called a pastor.  A congregation calling a pastor is a thing that frequently happens, so that's not why this stuck in my brain.  It stuck in my brain because this was a congregation that, just a few years ago, had two full time pastors, then couldn't afford two pastors, then couldn't afford one pastor who had been out in the field for a while.  So they called a seminarian to be their pastor.  Except they didn't call him to be their "pastor."  They called him to be their "administrative pastor."

Now, I intend no disrespect for the people of this congregation.  I am certain that they are fine Christians who hunger for the bread of life and desperately wanted a pastor to feed this to them  But calling a pastor to be an "administrative pastor" is a bad sign, regardless of the circumstances.  Whether he is one of five pastors on staff or whether he's the cheapest option of sole pastors around, when a congregation bestows the "administrative" title on her pastor, this reveals that her members are ultimately convinced that the chief and primary work of a pastor isn't really to forgive their sins but rather is to run a smooth congregational ship-streamlining programs, integrating activities, fostering an atmosphere of discipleship synergy and a bunch of other CEO type phrases that don't actually mean anything. Likewise, when a congregation that has recently lost both a boatload of members and her status as a mult-pastored staff calls an "administrative pastor," this is probably a clear indication that they think the way to build themselves back up is to play mega-church rather than to focus on repentance and trust in the Word.

So I know what all of you are wondering at this point.  You're wondering, "what made up rite should a congregation that does such a thing be required to go through even though they shouldn't actually have to go through it but maybe they actually probably should?"  The answer, of course, is the Rite of "We Don't Know What the Heck We're Doing."

The Rite of "We Don't Know What the Heck We're Doing" would be a simple service.  It would be a kind of modified confession and absolution, reading something along the lines of this:

C: Pastor, please hear our confession, even though it's really embarrassing.
P: Proceed.
C: What troubles us particularly is that we called you to be our administrative pastor.
P: Why did you do that?
C: Well, you see, we don't know what the heck we're doing.
P: That is obvious.  How do you plan on avoiding things like this in the future?
C: For starters, it would probably be a good idea not to borrow titles that never existed until two years ago from non-sacramental churches that have no understanding of the office of the ministry.
P: Yeah, that would probably be a good idea.  Go in peace.
C: Amen.

Of course, the Rite of "We Don't Know What the Heck We're Doing" would not just be limited to congregations that give their pastors silly titles.  Nor would it even be limited to congregations.  Pastors could also participate.  For example:

P: Why did you move the baptismal font out of the sanctuary in order to make room for the praise band?
C: We don't know what the heck we're doing.


C: Why did you do a sermon series on the seven different ways to sanctify your sex life?
P: I don't know what the heck I'm doing.

I'm totally serious about this.  Except I'm not.  Well, maybe just a little bit.

My name is Pastor Hans Fiene.  Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Liturgical Halloween Innovations

From my very first post on this blog, I have tried to avoid talking about my personal life.  That's what facebook is for.  And twitter.  And myspace, if that still exists.

But when my personal life yields a good theological illustration, I'm not averse to bringing it up.  So up I bring it.

I have three sons.  Currently my wife is out of town with the youngest son.  So I have the two older ones.  The two older ones love two things in life more than any other two things.  Those two things are: 

1. Making lots of noise when I'm on the phone.
2. Halloween candy.

A few minutes ago, my oldest asked for Halloween candy-or, as he calls it, "Trick or Treat candy."  And because I'm really awesome at giving my kids candy, I took out the giant bucket of sugary loot and began rifling through it to find something that I had no interest in poaching after  both boys have gone to bed but that they would gladly devour.  Whilst rifling, I discovered a small container of Play-Doh.  And this irritated me.  Here's why:

As a holiday, Halloween has a ritual aspect.  It has, for all intensive purposes, a liturgy.  On a set day (October 31), you put on a set garb (a costume of some kind; many options are available; you are free in the Gospel).  Then you embark on a set activity (knocking on doors).  When those doors are opened, you speak a set liturgical phrase ("trick or treat").  Then, those owning the doors offer the set liturgical response of giving you candy.

That's the Halloween liturgy.

And Play-Doh is not part of it.  Now, you may think it's a neat idea to change that set liturgical response to giving kids Play-Doh.  And you may have lots of reasons for thinking this. You may think that giving kids Play-Doh will make you stand apart from the rest of the crowd and make them remember your house above the rest.  You may think your smooshy-toy-for-candy-substitute is a healthier option and will serve them better than the teeth rotting stuff of Halloween's past.  But no matter what your reasons, when you autocratically depart from the established Halloween tradition without a single word of discussion with your fellow candy handerouters, it's really annoying.

And if that's a really annoying thing to do on All Hallow's Eve, it's even more annoying on Sunday morning.

My name is Pastor Hans Fiene.  Thanks for reading.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Praise Song Fail

While I was driving around town today, I was listening to the radio.  Although, to be accurate, I wasn't so much listening to the radio as I was desperately trying to find something worth listening to on the radio.  You see, Denver is strange.  Despite being a big city, Denver has really bad radio stations.  It breaks down as such:

5 NPR stations.  I can't listen to these because, to my ears, the worst sound in the universe is that of overly sincere lady NPR commentator's voice.
2 Classic Rock stations.  I can't listen to these because I get violently angry every time a radio station assumes that, because I like the Beatles, I must also like John Mellencamp and that horrific Sign, Sign dirty hippy song. 
7 Modern Pop stations.  I can't listen to these because I die a little bit inside every time I hear a Katy Perry song.
3 Sports Radio stations.  Aside from ESPN radio, which is always at commercial break, my options are either to listen to local radio hosts calling for Josh McDaniel's fingers to be cut off or to listen to Jim Rome.  If you've never heard Jim Rome before, imagine the sound of fingernails scraping across a chalkboard.  Then imagine that those fingernails have a really huge ego.  That's Jim Rome.
147 Mariachi stations.  Mariachi stations, I'm convinced, are a big conspiracy financed by the global Mexican Restaurant Industry, intended to make me want chips and salsa every time I hear happy trumpets.

And finally...

4 Contemporary Christian Music stations.

Today, I stopped on one of these stations for a moment.  At the time, I did not know it was a CCM station.  I did not know this because it took at least seven seconds before I realized that the song playing was a CCM song and not a commercial jingle for a car or car dealership.  The reason it took at least seven seconds to realize this was because the CCM song sounded exactly like a commercial jingle for a car or car dealership.  It was not until the singers stated singing something about being in God's presence (and not Toyota Camrys) that I realized what was going on.

And, as far as Church music goes, that should be considered a big fail.  If you are singing a song of praise to God, that song should not be easily confused with Rattle, Rattle, Thunder, Clatter, Boom, Boom, Boom...

My name is Pastor Hans Fiene.  Thanks for reading.

Friday, November 5, 2010

An Everybody Pastor

A few months before I began classes at Concordia Theological Seminary, I worked as a waiter at a restaurant in my hometown.  My hometown is a relatively small hometown and in relatively small hometowns every one knows each other, relatively speaking.  On account of this, I would frequently have the following conversation with familiar faces whilst grating fresh parmesan atop their fettuccine alfredo:

Them: So, Hans, what are you doing these days?
Me: Well, in September,  I'm moving up to Fort Wayne to start at the Lutheran seminary.
Them: Oh, so you're going to be a pastor?
Me: Yeah.
Them: a youth pastor?
Me: No, just a regular pastor.

Now don't get me wrong.  I like youth.  I think youth are awesome.  I enjoy talking theology with them.  I get along with them well.  And just as these things are true now, they were also true when I uttered this rather snarky response.  So the reason I uttered it wasn't because I didn't want to be a pastor to teenagers.  The reason I uttered it was because, without really knowing why at the time, I just had a sense that there was something wrong with the title youth pastor.

But at some point during my studies at the seminary, I learned why I had this sense.  Granted, there are no direct proof texts that deal with this title.  There is no Hezekiah 10:14 reading, "And it came to pass that on the sixteenth night of the moon of Naphish, the sons of Israel shaveth the goatees of Todd and Jamie and broketh their trendy horn rimmed glasses, for they had called themselves pastors of youth."  (I felt like Joseph Smith writing that.)  However, the Bible does teach the following syllogism:

1. Jesus has given His church pastors in order to forgive people's sins.
a.       John 20:19-23 "On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, 'Peace be with you.'  When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.  Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.’  And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.’”
2. All members of a congregation are called to respect and obey their pastor in this work.
a.       1 Corinthians 16:10-11  “When Timothy comes, see that you put him at ease among you, for he is doing the work of the Lord, as I am.  So let no one despise him. Help him on his way in peace, that he may return to me, for I am expecting him with the brothers.”
b.      Hebrews 13:17 “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you."


3. A congregation's pastor has been sent by Christ to forgive the sins of everyone in that congregation.

Granted, the many congregations in the LCMS that have called youth pastors would, I'm certain, not deny this.  By virtue of our proper understanding of the office of the holy ministry, I don't think you'll find any call documents in the Missouri Synod with language to the effect of, "you will be faithful in the Word and Sacraments when ministering to those ages 12 to 18 and you will have no interaction with anyone else."  However, like with so many other things, what we teach on paper tends to fall apart when what we teach in practice is something else altogether.  And when, instead of simply calling a man to be a pastor, a congregation gives him the title youth pastor, there are two very, very, very bad things that we end up teaching people, things that are contrary to what the Scriptures teach about how a pastor is to care for each and every sheep in his flock.  Those two things are:

1. If you are not a youth, this guy really isn't your pastor. 

When there is a pastor at your church who barely ever preaches, who never, ever preaches on any of the big days (Christmas, Easter, LWML Sunday), who rarely teaches the Adult Bible class on Sunday mornings, who is never deferred to at voter's meetings, who has maybe been in your home once, who officiates none of the weddings and none of the funerals, who doesn't baptize any kids but his own and whose interaction with you is pretty much limited to talking about youth retreats, it will be very easy for Satan to convince you that you shouldn't listen to this man.

So, if the youth pastor rebukes you for your sins, it's easy for Satan to convince you that the young guy with Rev. in front of his name has as much authority over you as a kindergarten teacher has over a masters student and that you don't have to obey his call to repentance because you're not a youth and therefore outside his jurisdiction.  Likewise, if the youth pastor gives you the Word of forgiveness, Satan has a very easy time convincing you that there is no peace to be found from his lips, that his words doesn't really count because this guy was really only called to give that word to the young people.  

And the other bad thing this teaches is:

2. If you are a youth, the real pastor has more important things to do than spend his time with you.

Youth are not stupid.  They pick up on things.  When they hear that the congregation is going to get another pastor because the original pastor can't do everything he needs to, and when that new pastor is the one who teaches them confirmation and goes on youth trips with them and leads Vacation Bible School, they know what this means.  When the old pastor doesn't spend much time with them anymore, the youth know this means that he think the board of elders is more important than they are.  When the new pastor who gets paid way less than the senior pastor and doesn't even have his name on the sign outside and who will be replaced by another guy in 4 years when he gets called to be a sole pastor of another congregation is the one who deals with them, they know this means that their guy is the junior varsity shepherd.  Which makes them the junior varsity sheep.  And not only does this make it easy for Satan to convince them that they are not really all that valuable in the eyes of God.  It also makes it easy for Satan to lay the groundwork for what he does in point one, eventually convincing them that they both can't and shouldn't listen to the pastor they've just outgrown.

I'm certainly not arguing against a congregation having more than one pastor.  If a congregation can't feasibly start a daughter congregation when she has gotten too big for one pastor, getting a second pastor is a good thing.  Rather, I'm simply saying that, whenever a congregation needs more than one pastor, even if one guy is great with the youth and the other one just kinda stinks, that congregation should do everything she can to ward off the devil in his attempts to prevent the sheep from hearing the voice of their shepherd.  For every sheep in the world, I pray that Satan never convinces him that his pastor's authority derives from his job title and not the Word of God.  And for every shepherd whom God has called into his service, when he is asked, "are you a youth pastor," I pray that that man can respond by saying, "no, I'm just a regular pastor."  Or better yet, "no.  I'm just an everybody pastor."

My name is Pastor Hans Fiene.  Thanks for reading.

My Reason for Recent Blogtastic Silence


I'll be writing again soon.  I promise.