Ministry under the Cross

Robert Schmidt

Editorial Note: The following paper was delivered April 17, 2007, at the Theological Convocation of the Texas District. The theme of the convocation was “Living the Theology of the Cross in a Pluralist World: Being Missional and Confessional.” Other speakers at the convocation were Dr. Paul Robinson of the St. Louis seminary, Dr. Art Scherer, former president of the Southeastern District, and Dr. Dean Wente of Concordia Theological Seminary at Ft. Wayne.

This paper seeks to address the missional aspects of doing ministry in a pluralist world when the LCMS finds itself limited by rising costs, an increasing number of congregations unable to afford a pastor and the necessity to reach out to the ethnic minorities that are often poor and vulnerable.

This paper was written before the details of the Specific Ministry Pastor Program (SMPP) were made public. Nevertheless, it should be noted that the proposal to go back to the Biblical shape of the ministry and the theological preparation for that ministry are very relevant to the discussion of the SMPP proposal coming before the synod in convention.

 

Introduction: Our pluralistic world

It’s no surprise to anyone that we live in a pluralistic world made up of diverse people and cultures. We might call that observation “shallow pluralism.” As a former seminary professor in Nigeria and one who has lectured in Zimbabwe, Germany, Japan, China, Kazakhstan, and India I am well acquainted with that “shallow” pluralism. However, since I retired and began working with an Oromo Congregation in Portland I have come to an understanding what might be called a “deeper pluralism.”

I have had to learn that the Oromo people come from Ethiopia, that there are thirty-six million of them, that there are Oromo speaking congregations in Oslo, Norway, Hermannsburg, Germany, 27 congregations in the U.S, and a number of other congregations in Canada and Australia. There are some 3000 Oromo people in the Portland Metro area, and they are part of the over 1,000,000 immigrants from Africa across the U.S.

Turning to Texas I discovered that a Moroccan, Karim Baidoul is assisting a start-up mission to Muslims and Hindus in the Dallas Fort Worth area. Rev. Eloy Gonzalez is a bi-lingual missionary pastor ministering to Latino and others in San Antonio and is one out of twenty-five ministries to Hispanic people.[1] Pluralism also includes work among Koreans, Chinese, Japanese, African Americans, African immigrants, Native American, Russians and others.

Furthermore, in each of these cultures there are special and unique challenges in working with their children, their young people, their elderly, their college students, and sometimes, their victims of war and torture. How important is it to meet the challenge of pluralism? In the 2004 census, the State of Texas became another state in which minorities at 50.2% made up over one half of the total population.[2]Pluralism also includes those special ministries that have been around awhile like rural ministries, inner city ministries, ministries to the deaf and aging.

 

I. Difficulties in Meeting the Challenge

How shall we go about meeting the missional challenges of this deeper, more extensive understanding of pluralism? It won’t be easy, especially since the Missouri Synod like many other traditional denominations is aging and losing members. From 1985 to 2005 the LC-MS has lost 291,927 baptized members and 182,064 confirmed members. The number of vacant parishes has increased from 565 to 1,069, many of which cannot afford a full time pastor.[3] At the same time there are estimates that seminaries will have a difficult time in placing all of this year’s graduates into parishes.

Not only are the costs of paying a full time pastor rising, so are the educational expenses of men studying for the ministry. A number of seminary graduates will go into the ministry with a debt load of twenty to thirty thousand dollars to pay for the sum of their pre-seminary and seminary education.

How then can the church serve smaller congregations? Out of 350 congregations in the Texas District 108 of them have an average Sunday attendance of fewer than 100. Fifty-one of the congregations or 14% of Texas District congregations have an average attendance of fewer than 50.[4]

While meeting the challenges of pluralism in the United States will be difficult, world-wide, the problem increases exponentially. World population is expected to increase by 2.6 billion over the next forty-five years from 6.5 billion today to 9.1 billion in 2050. Furthermore, almost all of the growth will occur in the less developed regions, where today’s 5.3 billion population is expected to swell to 7.8 billion in 2050.By contrast, the population of the Unites States, Europe and Japan will remain mostly unchanged at 1.2 billion.[5]

Two mission challenges confront the church as we seek to reach the growing number of diverse people in our pluralist world. The first is the problem of cost and the second is the problem of relevance. The problem of cost has been briefly mentioned before. The costs of higher education in both society and the church are putting it beyond the reach of many middle class families, to say nothing of the poor, especially those immigrants coming to the United States. Tuition for a ministerial student at one of our Concordias can come to $18,000 or more. Even with scholarships and work-study jobs students are still left with a debt of five to six thousand a year.

Pastors are also getting more expensive. With salaries, housing allowance, car allowance, pension and medical expenses, to say nothing of attending conferences and conventions and maybe a sabbatical thrown in, supporting a pastor is more costly. This is why paying a pastor is beyond the ability of many rural congregations, new ethnic ministries, congregations that are aging, and special ministries in inner cities and on university campuses.

The second mission challenge facing the church is that of relevance. By relevance we are not referring to being up to date with current affairs. Rather we are addressing the larger problem of language and culture. For example, I do not speak Oromo, or Spanish, or Korean, or Arabic. Even in Anglo-America many of us really do not talk farm sales, or hip-hop, or even the language of generation Y, the “My Pod Generation.” Relevance in a pluralist world society means having the ability to communicate in meaningful ways to people who are not only different from us but also from each other. Perhaps the best way to deal with both the problems of cost and relevance is to move toward a more Biblical shape of ministry.

 

II. The Biblical Shape of Ministry

In discussing the Biblical shape of ministry we will not be talking about the “doctrine” of the ministry. Nor will we urge people to adopt a more Biblical pattern of ministry because it is in the “Bible.” Rather, we hope to show that the Biblical shape of the ministry is instructive because it addresses the two missional problems of cost and relevance. In viewing the shape of the ministry in the New Testament let us look at the model of the ministry used by Jesus and St. Paul.

After Jesus called his disciples he instructed them and gave them their theological education in the midst of his own ministry. As one reads the Gospel accounts for clues in theological education we see that Jesus taught his disciples through 1) observation, 2) reflection, and 3) mission. With his disciples looking on Jesus did ministry in proclamation, healing, feeding, and conversation. They saw what he did, often without much comprehension of what he and the ministry was all about. Then he would take them apart and reflect on what had been happening. Sometimes they asked him questions; and at other times, like with his Sermon on the Mount, he did more formal reflection on his ministry. Then he sent them out to do ministry as they had seen him do it. When difficulties were encountered there was again observation and reflection preparing them once again for their mission.[6]

The significance of the disciples for our mission today is that the disciples were Jesus’ replacements. Since Jesus was about to leave, the entire mission fell to his replacements. Then he gave them the great commission to make replacements as he made replacements. (Matt. 28:19) Of course, the disciples still did not know all they needed to know. It took the coming of the Spirit to give them courage; it even took a dream from heaven to move Peter to call on Cornelius.

Though he was not present at the great commission Paul readily copied Jesus’ program of theological education when he educated and appointed elders. (Acts 14:23) These elders were replacements. They also learned through observation, reflection, and mission. As Paul preached, baptized, and celebrated the Lord’s Supper the elders would do the same after Paul left.[7] As we shall see it is significant that elders are in the plural. Roland Allen writes that Paul did not ordain one elder for each church but ordained several. This ensured a frequent administration of the sacraments. It also meant that the infant congregations were not left to depend for their spiritual food upon the weakness of a single individual.[8]

From the book of Acts and the New Testament epistles we see that the Biblical shape of the ministry was comprised of two groups. The first were those who moved from place to place. These were the apostles and traveling teachers like Paul, Barnabas, Silas, Timothy, Titus and Apollos. The second group was comprised of elders, also called bishops, and deacons, most of who were resident and stayed in the same place.

The Biblical shape of the ministry enabled the early church to meet the problem of cost. Paul, Aquila, and Priscilla, for the most part, earned their living by making tents. Luke presumably practiced medicine. When help was given, as it was to Paul by the Philippian congregation, it was gladly received. In the local congregations elders were probably elderly. Either they continued working at their employment or, more likely, no longer needed to work for their livelihood. Some indeed may have received something from their congregations but is does not seem to have been absolutely necessary. In the early church, every province and every church were financially independent.[9]

The Biblical shape of ministry also enabled the early church to meet the problem of relevance. Though most of the young congregations spoke Greek and lived under Roman governance there was still significant differences between them. Some like the Galatians were still influenced by their Jewish roots. Others like the Colossians took up Gnostic ideas. However, the elders in the congregations were able to minister within those cultures because they were a part of that culture. So elders today from within the African immigrant community can minister within that community. The same is true for Latino people and those speaking other languages.

But will the faith be submerged in the culture? That was a real threat in the first century and it is in ours as well. Early congregations showed the profound influence of Greek thinking in Gnostic and Neo-Platonist thought. Today in Africa there are many African independent churches which celebrate visions and healing. Some permit polygamy. However, in contemporary independent churches in Africa and elsewhere communication has pretty much broken down between main line denominations and those congregations. While similar tensions existed in the New Testament Paul and John could continue to address the errors of Gnosticism and a false Judaism.

Is it possible to be culturally relevant and still be true to the faith, to be missional and confessional? I believe if we were to move toward a more Biblical shape of ministry, ordaining elders in mission congregations and continuing to instruct and mentor and supervise their work, we might address both the problems of cost and relevance. However, to do so, we will need to see the whole ministry living out the Theology of the Cross.

 

III. Ministry and the Theology of the Cross

Doing ministry under the cross is nothing new to us. As we experience and read about the trials and dilemmas of most parish pastors we know men who are intimately acquainted with the “crosses” of their ministry. Quite frankly, today the ministry is a tough job. Pastors gets loads of criticism, some of which they hear, others of which they fear.

Behind much of the criticism, is the simple fact that no one can do the entire ministry well. Good preachers often lack administrative skills, great pastors are sometimes poor teachers, and often there simply is not enough time to do it all. Then there is the dilemma of being caught between the demands of the office and the desires of the family. Yes, receiving the love of the people still makes it all worthwhile but any good parish pastor intimately knows ministry under the cross.

While intimately acquainted ministry under the cross might we explore the “theology of the cross” for another understanding of ministry? The theology of the cross is informed by God’s seeming foolishness in saving us in the cross of Christ rather than in the glory of human works and accomplishments. It contrasts God’s work through weakness, suffering, and vulnerability to a theology of glory which looks great but is not.

With that understanding of the theology of the cross is a well-trained clergy really a theology of glory? Is the concept of “pure doctrine” really a theology of glory? Coming out of our heritage those questions seem absurd. Yet when we look at what Luther was saying in the Heidelberg Disputation we have to wonder. Luther says:

A theology of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theology of the cross calls the thing what it actually is. This is clear: He who does not know Christ does not know God hidden in suffering. Therefore he prefers works to suffering, glory to the cross, strength to weakness, wisdom to folly, and in general, good to evil. These are people whom the apostles call, “enemies of the cross of Christ” (Phil 3:18).[10]

The Biblical shape of the ministry was a not a ministry by wise debaters of the age. Hear Paul when he writes:

For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will thwart. Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. (I Cor. 1:17)

But how might we keep the doctrine pure if we accept and use the ministry of men not trained in a seminary or a seminary program? Yes, in the New Testament there was a vigorous concern for the doctrine and the identification of false teachers. Who were these? In Galatians they were preaching another Gospel that we are saved by keeping the law rather than through the cross of Christ. In I Corinthians Paul takes on those who denied the resurrection. In his first letter John warns against those who denied that Jesus was the Christ. In his second letter he condemns those who denied that Jesus had come in the flesh. In Colossians Paul condemns those who say do not handle; do not touch and in Philippians in inveighs against evil workers who mutilate the flesh.

Here two things are important: The first is that the false doctrines condemned were those closely related to the message that we are saved by the grace of Christ received through faith and not works. The second is that these false teachings were addressed through ongoing correspondence and teachings for the young congregations with their ordained elders. Here the chief concern was the cross of Christ. It was the subject of the true doctrine. Furthermore, the living under the theology of the cross was the method of theological education for both the teachers and the elders.

 

IV. Is the Biblical Shape of the Ministry Confessional?

In Article XIV of the Augsburg Confession Melanchthon wrote, “No one should publicly teach, preach, or administer the sacraments without a proper [public] call.”[11] Rite Vocatus means called in a regular manner by a proper public authority.[12] At the time of writing in 1530 Rite Vocatus usually meant an academic preparation, ordination by a bishop of the Catholic Church and working under the supervision of the bishop. However, events of the Reformation were soon to change and enlarge that definition of Rite Vocatus.

By 1537 Roman Catholic bishops were not ordaining all the pastors who had come out of those churches influenced by the teachings of Luther. In the “Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope” Melanchthon sought to discuss what an evangelical understanding of the ordination of pastors might mean when the bishops would not do their duty to ordain men for the congregations needing a word and sacrament ministry. Melanchthon writes, “However, since the distinction of rank between bishop and a pastor is not by divine right, it is clear that an ordination performed by a pastor in his own church is valid by divine right.”[13] Again Melanchthon writes, “Wherever the Church exists, there is also the right to administer the Gospel.”[14]

He continues, ”Where the true church is, there must also be the right of choosing and ordaining ministers.”[15] Later Melanchthon asserts, “When bishops either become heretical or are unwilling to ordain, the churches are compelled by divine right to ordain pastors and ministers for themselves.”[16]

Congregations of the evangelical persuasion were quick to act to provide a word and sacrament ministry for their spiritual sustenance. Piepkorn writes,

Between 1537 and 1560, roughly a quarter of a century, 1,979 persons were ordained to the sacred ministry of the Lutheran Church in St. Mary’s Church, the parish church (Stadtskirche) of that university city. A minority were university graduates. In the case of 1,025 of these clergymen we know the vocations in which they engaged before they entered the sacred ministry; 44 are described in the record merely as “citizens” (Bürger) without indication of their vocation and 92 were artisans.[17]

In the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod a beginning has been made to move toward a more Biblical shape of the ministry. At the 1989 Wichita Convention a resolution was passed permitting congregations to call certified lay workers to preach and administer the sacraments when no ordained clergy were available. This resolution was adopted only as an emergency measure and was not to be considered as a new path for the ordination of pastors. To differentiate these workers from regularly trained and ordained pastors they were named, “licensed deacons.”[18]

Considerable controversy ensued over that resolution in succeeding conventions and moves were made to rescind the Wichita resolution. However, each time, faced with congregations unable to be served by regular pastors, the conventions voted to retain the practice of using licensed deacons in congregations unable to be served by ordained pastors.

The growing number of congregations and mission sites unable to support a full-time pastor has also led to the formation of the Distance Education Leading to Ordination (DELTO) and the Ethnic Immigrant Institute of Theology (EIIT) programs of the seminaries. The mission of DELTO is to provide contextual theological education leading to ordination for men who provide pastoral service to congregations or in situations that cannot support a full-time pastor or missionary. The EIIT program provides distance education to ethnic and immigrant workers who are already serving as leaders in their own congregations. It is reported that the seminaries are also working on plans for a “pastor specific” program using distance learning to prepare workers to serve in a given congregation but not available for call elsewhere until they have completed the full seminary program.

These new approaches to theological education are as welcome as new wine. But the old wineskin is the role of the stipendiary pastor who is seen to be solely responsible for the word and sacrament ministry. As a mentor to several students in the EIIT program I have seen firsthand how difficult it is to hold down a secular job, serve as a pastor of a church, and be involved in serious academic work. It is so difficult that the most natural inclination for these students is to want to become stipendiary pastors who will no longer need to work at secular employment but can join the ranks of clergy that get paid for their efforts.

This has several effects. The first is that there still is too much for any one person to do. The second is that again of cost. Not only are distance learning programs still expensive, the expectations of the students will still be working toward full-time professional remuneration which many congregations will be unable to afford. While Districts, mission societies, and sponsoring congregations can cover some of these costs the growth and vitality of the church will continue to be limited.

Is this the time to propose a new wineskin? Could we not also go back to the shape of the ministry in Ephesians 4:11-13?

And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers to equip the saints for the work of   ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.

What would happen if we again saw the purpose of the professional, yes, stipendiary clergy to equip elders for word and sacrament ministry? Using language from the confessions we know that our present pattern of theological preparation is not by “divine right.” Rather it is a human arrangement and as it has been changed in the past, it can be changed again. Using the Biblical pattern of ministry we would see the chief purpose of full-time seminary graduates is not to do congregational ministry as much as to teach others to do the ministry. This means teaching others to preach, to baptize, to administer the sacrament, to call on the sick and dying, to do the work of the ministry. Now the goal of the parish pastor would not be to “stay in the saddle” but to work oneself out of a job.

This would also require a change in people’s perceptions to become what might be called “a Romans 12 congregation.” Paul writes:

Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; he who teaches, in his teaching; he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who contributes, in liberality; he who gives aid, with zeal; he who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. (Rom. 12:6-8)

To make such a change toward a more Biblical shape of ministry would also require even further changes in the theological education done by the seminaries’ resident programs. Seminaries are extremely important. However, they should move away from training pastors to training missionaries and theological educators like Paul, Timothy, Titus, and Apollos. Yes, there might be fewer students, who, when educated, could take on this role, but they would be equipped to multiply ministries.

There would also need to be a sea-change in Synodical culture. This means people would need to go from saying, “let’s get a pastor who really cares about us” to asking, “Who will help us to care for each other and reach out to others?” Indeed this would require leaders of the Synod to step out in front and advocate change through synodical conventions, publications, and theological convocations.

Where shall we begin? Though the theology of the cross can lead to resignation that things are bad and likely to get worse, it can also lead to the insight that Christ meets us and others in the midst of our sufferings. It can also show us the way to an ecclesiology that suggests we plant congregations among those most afflicted by suffering, vulnerability, and poverty. We are seeing that some of the fastest growing congregations in the world are made up of the poor and displaced. Working among these people will now be possible with a more Biblical shape of ministry. Yes, arrangements will need to be made to fund the missionaries and theological educators working among these populations but the total costs will be far less than we now have with our traditional understanding of ministry.

 

Conclusion

In our church discussions, whenever the question of cost arises, we should reflect back on the Biblical shape of ministry. Whenever the question of relevance arises, we should think of the Biblical shape of ministry. Whenever the question of doctrine arises, we can think of the Biblical shape of ministry. It is a ministry under the cross – a ministry that is both missional and confessional.

 

[1] Texas District, LCMS (www.txdistlcms.org).

[2] U.S. Census Bureau (www.census.gov).

[3] The Lutheran Annual (St. Louis, Concordia Publishing House, 2007), 736.

[4] Ibid., 214-225.

[5] United Nations, Population Division, ECOSOC (www.un.org).

[6] Perhaps the finest account of Jesus’ theological education of the disciples is found in Martin Franzmann, Follow Me: Discipleship According to St. Matthew (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1961).

[7] Acts 14: 23 became the seminal thought behind the many writings of Roland Allen, one of the most significant missiologists of the last century. He is the author of Missionary Methods, St. Paul’s or Ours (London: World Dominion Press, 1956)., The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church and the Causes Which Hinder it (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1962). The continuing relevance of Allen’s thought for today’s mission is underscored by the new release of a collection of his writings entitled, Ministry of the Spirit (Cambridge: Lutterworth Press, 2006).

[8] Missionary Methods… , 135.

[9] Ibid., 68.

[10] Martin Luther, “The Heidelberg Disputation” in Luther’s WorksVol. 31 (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1959), 53.

[11] Kolb, Robert and Wengert, Tim (eds.) The Book of Concord: Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000), 46, 47.

[12] Ibid., 47 (see footnote on that page).

[13] “Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope” in the Lutheran Confessions…, 340.

[14] Ibid., 340, 341.

[15] Ibid., 341.

[16] Ibid., 341.

[17] Arthur Carl Piepkorn, Concordia Theological Monthly 38, 1 (January 1967), 38, 39. Piepkorn quotes this information from Hans Lietzmann [editor], Die Bekenntnisschriften der evangelisch- lutherischen Kirche, herausgegeben im Gedenkjahr der Augsburgishen Konfession 1930,5th ed., ed. Ernst Wolf [Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1963], 501. n 1).

[18] Convention Proceedings, LC-MS, 1989 (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House), 111-114.

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