Monday, August 9, 2010

Pastoral Authority (or lack thereof) and Clergy Burn Out.

Father Anonymous and I seem often to blog off each other's posts.  He comments on Jeffrey MacDonald's NY times op ed  Congregations Gone Wild about how clergy burn out isn't so much about over work as the trend toward consumer driven religion and the pressure to feed their congregations what they want, not what they need.

MacDonald  and others pick up on the desire of congregations to be entertained and made to feel good about themselves.  Believe it or not where I am the complaint is that they are hearing too much about grace and they want to hear more about judgment.  But ultimately that too, is just about wanting the sermon to make you feel good.  It's just that some people feel good hearing about how others are going to be judged.  (because this wish to hear about "judgment" is a wish to hear about how OTHERS are going to be judged)

I think a large part of clergy burn out is the lack of recognition of pastoral authority.  I am alternately perplexed, offended and disheartened to find how people think they can and should tell me how and what to preach.  What wears me out and saps my energy and makes me want to go home and play Farmville on Facebook is the reality that people don't trust or believe what I say about the Bible or church teaching.  They have their own opinions, thank you very much.  And if I challenge those opinions, they can always find someone else on the internet who agrees with them.

I went to an ordination yesterday.  It was wonderful.  We old clergy need to go to more ordinations.    The newly ordained is presented to the congregation with these words
"He/she has Christ's authority to preach the word of God and administer the sacraments, serving God's people as together we bear God's creative and redeeming love to all the world"

Authority. CHRIST's authority.  Yes Lutherans are all about the priesthood of all believers but we also believe and teach that God has established the office of ordained ministry to ensure that the gospel is proclaimed and the sacraments are administered. 

Now I know that a lot of pastors have abused that trust and that has contributed to this lack of trust in authority.  But sin among the laity is also part of the problem.  We all want to be our own authorities.  Well sorry I know more about the bible than you and I have more right than you to be listened to about the bible.  Not because I'm so smart (which I am) or so well read and educated (which I am) or so morally superior (which I am not) but because of the OFFICE of the public ministry of Word and Sacrament.  

That's why we educate pastors --that's why we pay them enough (or should) so that they can live among us and do nothing but continue to study the Word and proclaim the gospel and see to it that people are baptized and fed at the Table.  People want us to do a whole lot of other stuff and that other stuff can wear you out but you know I could do all that other stuff you want gladly if you would just TRUST that I am telling you the truth about God. 


  1. Nicely said. I expect you'll catch some flack for that next-to-last paragraph, so I'll just mention that the Apology (7:8-28) puts the matter very strongly: "Christi vice et loco porrigunt." That is: "When [pastors] offer the Word of God, when they offer the Sacraments, they offer them in the stead and place of Christ."

    The point that Melanchthon wants to make is that a pastor's spiritual authority derives from the Word and sacraments, and that it is therefore INDISTINGUISHABLE from the authority of Christ--even apart from our moral character and popularity. Obviously, not every stupid thing we say or do qualifies here, but only the things we say and do faithfully and in our proper ministry. Still, it is strong language, and highly counterintuitive to a generation that wants to challenge all authority except that of the autonomous individual.

  2. Thank you--I meant to go look that up but I got lazy. I will also say I think that it is not only pastors who have abused the authority but pastors who have been unwilling to accept that authority (who just want to be your buddy and one of the gang) which has contributed to this problem (I also think it is pastors who refuse to acknowledge this authority who can abuse it terribly)

  3. thanks, exactly! I also like (naturally) how Father Anonymous puts it.

  4. I agree with you about "old" pastors needing to go to ordinations. I know you've said this before, but the sentence that I cling to and think is worth the whole price of admission is where the bishop says, ". . .for God has called you, and your labor is not in vain." Some days (heck, some YEARS!) that sentence is the ONLY thing that keeps me going.

  5. Yup - I need to get that in counted cross stitch or something.

  6. I've meant to get back to this earlier. as for authority, it seems to me that 'we' have lost all respect for authority of nearly every kind -indeed, "I" assume that "I" am the ultimate authority for 'myself' in any given situation. Certainly true for how people treat parents, teachers, doctors, too ... it'a all symptoms of the same problem. Oh the other hand, as a child I was brought up under what I think is too much authority. Segue to "The Office of the Keys" - I want to ask you more about that. but I will save it for another conversation.