Friday, September 18, 2015

Mark's thoughts: A Ranger instead of Pastor

I knew that I wanted to be a pastor when I was in first grade. It is not as if this was an idea that came out of the blue.  Both of my grandfathers had been pastors and then seminary professors.  They certainly had a large role.  Yet in truth it was really the experience at Redeemer Lutheran Church and School in Warrington, FL that made this very clear to me.  I was immensely influenced by the ministry of Pastor Rupp and saw in him the role model of what a pastor was.  I found during my time at Redeemer that I enjoyed being at church. It felt comfortable.  It just felt “right.”

Those feelings never changed.  During my middle school and high school years I discovered that I was very good at foreign languages, literature and the humanities – and that I was not gifted at math and science.  The skills God had given me certainly matched my interest in being a pastor.  I attended Concordia College, Ann Arbor, MI as a pre-seminary student.  And at my first taste of Greek and theology, I was hooked. It was like a drug.  I couldn’t get enough of it and didn’t want to study anything else.  Here was something that was both intellectually fascinating and also of eternal importance for all people.

As a parish pastor today, those two experiences still hold true.  Church is the setting where I feel at home.  It just feels right.  My love affair with theology continues, though now it is meaningful in ways I never could have understood in my younger years because all of the learning is seen through the experiences of pastoral ministry.

I can’t imagine doing anything else.  Thankfully, I don’t have to worry about that since I have been blessed with a parish that is a friendly congregation; is supportive of her pastor; and is committed to practicing as a Lutheran church.  After nine years, my life and the life of my family have been intertwined with people we love and who love us.

Until about six months ago, I had assumed that my oldest son would follow the same path.  He was always very serious about the Christian faith and inquisitive about theological matters.  He had expressed the thought that most likely he would become a pastor.  I never did anything to encourage or discourage this in him.  But I assumed it would turn out that way.  It just made sense.

And then about sixth months ago I learned that things had changed.  He had a different vocation in mind and was very serious about it.  He had decided that he wanted to go into the military as a career.  His plan is now to try to get into West Point, or to become an officer through a ROTC program at college.  And his ultimate goal is to become an Army Ranger.

His mom had picked up on this before I did, and it is now clear that he has been thinking this way for more than a year.  While I was at first surprised, it didn’t take long to realize that it makes sense. There are many reasons it would be a good fit for him.  He is only a freshman in high school, and so much can change. But I will be surprised if it does.

Not long ago I was relating this change to a good friend who is also pastor.  He asked what I thought about it.  I told him that I was relieved.  We both laughed at what I had said – that I was relieved my son now wanted to enter a vocation where death or injury in combat was a very real possibility.  But he knew exactly what I meant.

If my son were to enter the ministry, he would probably attend a pre-seminary program at a Concordia University. I would send him there because the background of Greek, Hebrew and theology would make seminary so much easier, and allow him to get so much more out of it.

Deep down, in my heart of hearts, that is precisely what I feared.  I have been around the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod long enough to know that we are a church that allows congregations to do terrible things to pastors.  Faithful men through no fault of their own can easily find themselves removed by a congregation. When the congregation voters’ assembly decides it’s not going to pay you anymore, it doesn’t matter what some piece of paper hanging on the wall called a “Diploma of Vocation” says. The pastor has no options. I know of so many situations where this has happened.  The stories are so awful. My wife is part of a closed Facebook group for LCMS wives and there are times when she tells me that she just has to take a break from it for awhile because the same gut wrenching stories occur again and again.  Once you have seen a congregation turn on her pastor and remove him, you can spot it coming a mile away.

These men find themselves without a call.  This is a tragic situation because such an individual ends up on CRM status.  He is eligible for a call, but in a Lutheran understanding of the call he cannot solicit one.  While it can happen, more often than not CRM status men do not receive calls because of the perception that there is “something wrong” with them.  After all, if they were good pastors they wouldn’t be on CRM status in the first place!  More often than not, CRM status is a black hole that sucks men in and never lets them out. 

The second thing that occurs is that they find themselves without a job.  Now if you always had being a pastor as your goal, attended college as a pre-seminary student and then attended seminary, you know what other job you are equipped to do? Nothing. Men find themselves with no job; no real possibility to get another job as a pastor; and no training for another kind of job.

While these vocational and economic factors are obvious and terrible, it is the personal toll that is probably the worst.  The experience of having a congregation turn on a pastor and remove him often results in depression and mental illness.  Marriages are destroyed – I know of divorces that have occurred as a result the stress produced by this experience. And then there are the most easily overlooked victims – the children. What does it do to a child or young person’s perception of the Christian faith and the Church when a congregation turns on his or her father and seeks to destroy him?

Beyond this, there is the basic fact that our culture is rapidly becoming not only post-Christian, but also hostile towards basic biblical truths.  The pastor is called to walk point. As the shepherd who leads, he is the one who must always take a stand against things that are wrong.  It is a tiring, lonely task that is only going to get harder.

Christ calls men to serve in his Office of the Holy Ministry as he wills.  If he calls, you won’t escape him.  Trying to do so will only make life uncomfortable.  It appears that perhaps, he is not calling my son.  And how do I feel? Relieved.  It seems that he wants to undertake a honorable and important vocation that can be a very fulfilling career.  I know that it is one where there is the possibility of death or injury.  But I am thankful that I will not have to see my greatest fear play out: standing by powerless as I watch a Lutheran congregation destroy him and his family.

This is not the thing you are supposed to say.  This is not what gets said on Facebook when pictures of seminary call night and installations are posted. It is not said because it is too honest.  We hide ourselves from the truth, in hopes that the truth doesn’t find our son or son-in-law.



  1. I suppose, as I draw closer to 71 years old, I shouldn't be surprised after reading your article about pastors being removed from the LCMS. I hadn't thought this was a problem, except in rare cases. Evidently, I and many others who worship at LCMS churches were not aware just how bad it is. I think the denomination must address this issue immediately. I feel bad for any pastor unjustly fired. And the problem is complicated because many other denominations do not share Lutheran distinctives and Confessions, and a pastor from the LCMS would find few churches where he could be comfortable with their doctrines. In effect, being fired certainly ends the pastoral career. I can only say that if I were a pastor removed by a congregation and unable to find another church to pastor, I would act thusly: First, God knows my situation and I am forever His child and servant in whatever capacity I live and work. Secondly, I would enter the secular job market, knowing God has equipped me with skills and gifts. Thirdly, I would support my family in whatever capacity is necessary, including menial jobs....which I have done many many times to bring income into my home. Fourthly, I would see if I could use my pastoral skills on a voluntary basis, as the Lord would soup kitchens, Bible studies, even preaching as a visiting pastor. The great preacher Charles Spurgeon was fired by many churches....but still kept going. When the going gets tough....the tough get going.

  2. CRM doesn't exist. Stop feeding the lie. *gulps the kool-aid*

    1. Excuse my complete ignorance of this issue, as it is new to me, and I cannot understand if it is commonplace or very rare. I cannot take sides because I simply have no experiences or anecdotes to add. What is CRM? But I have been in one LCMS church over 30 years ago which indeed had problems with a pastor being pushed around by various ministry groups each one promoting themselves and seemingly using the church to get attention. There was a certain amount of clique behavior evident, and the pastor, being a gentle soul, had difficulty keeping order. In a way, I felt dirty for his weak authority, because the troublemakers remained in the church even after the pastor retired. I left that particular church as well, because it began to replace Lutheran worship with slide shows of recent mission trips, acted out drama, downright silliness, and it had lost its primary mission. This does happen in some churches, where the contemporary music becomes too crazy, the dress too casual, and the focus turns to people and cults of personality rather than on CHRIST.

    2. Thank you, Mark, for a very honest article. As a pastor in the LCMS for 28 years I share many of the same observations. Yet like you I have also been blessed with a caring and supportive congregation. Still, the pressures and stress of ministry are real for all of us, and I have experienced no small measure of it. There have been moments throughout the years that I wondered if it would be better to leave the ministry than to stay. I don't have any answers beyond what you have raised. The problem goes deeply into our church culture. It can't be reduced to one or two issues such as worship or close communion or the role of women. It is a view of the office of the pastor and how many out there misunderstand it. It is a sometimes broken or dysfunctional system of ecclesiastical supervision. It is a failure of proper catechesis. The list does on. While I give thanks that there are many wonderful churches and members out there who still support their shepherds, I am painfully aware of the many that are not, and the human toll it has taken on pastors and their families. Thank you again for highlighting this important issue. I pray that by God's grace we find some answers for those coming into this wonderful calling in the future.

  3. From a Lutheran pastor:
    Thank you, Mark, for speaking the truth! I took my first "call" out of seminary (Ft. Wayne - ‘90) over 25 years ago and have stayed in this congregation since. Why? Primarily because of the TRUTH of what you speak.

    The congregation I serve kicked three pastors out before I got here. Instead of looking at themselves as the problem they, of course, blamed the pastors and decided they needed someone younger, someone “fresh” out of the seminary, someone they could shape, mold, and fashion (i.e. control) into what they thought they needed.

    Well, I was loved the first few months after I arrived but then the “power brokers” controlling the church inevitably turned their guns on me. It was a 5 year battle and a living hell for our family. I have much to share on how the Lord enabled me to survive but that story is for another time (summary: the Word, good Elders, and Church Discipline).

    We have four children, two girls, two boys. One of my boys is at the seminary right now. He went in with a Masters in Education and is a Fulbright Scholar. Everyone says, “You must be SO PROUD of your son following your footsteps!” Of course I am but to a much lesser degree than most people think. Privately, I’ve told my boys through the years NOT to go into the Holy Ministry unless they can do no other. God pulled me in kicking and screaming and the way pastors are treated and the Office of the Holy Ministry is viewed today, I’ve told them NOT to to “pick up this mantle” unless they can be happy in no other calling.

    Mark, I just sent your article to my son. I told him I’m so thankful he has a Masters in Education and a Fulbright Scholarship under his belt. If he gets chewed up and spit out in some congregation I’m thankful he can (probably) become a public teacher some place and survive.

    I always felt a little guilty telling my boys not to go into the Ministry, but after reading your article my guilt is much more assuaged.

    Oh, by the way, I’ve remained in this congregation for over 25 years now because, by the grace of God, I won that terrible battle and we have peace. I’ve turned down other calls through the years because I’ve never wanted to “risk” going through that living hell once again.

  4. I am one of the "children" who can attest to the suffering and the long-term ramifications of this kind of treatment. My father, an LCMS pastor, was tortured in this way by a few people in a congregation. The spiritual and emotional suffering he and the rest of the family endured was horrible, and to this day, I am the only sibling attending a confessional Lutheran church. Two of my siblings do not attend at all. Considering that our grandfather and many other family members were also pastors, it is sad that following generations have gone another way because of the cruel behavior of a few in the church.

  5. This is not unique to LCMS. Being a pastor is not a job for the weak of mind. It is a tough career, and it takes a strong person, in the Lord, that is, to stand in the evil day.

  6. Mark, your article stirs up mixed emotions for me. I was pressured to resign one call, and then simply not budgeted for at a second. I ended up CRM and back in school--yay, more student loans--and pretty burned out. I was sure I wouldn't get another call, and kinda glad for it. But the Lord Jesus isn't done with me yet, and I now serve bivocationally. I will say that the knowledge that my family is not financially beholden to our current congregation makes me bolder in my preaching, while the juggling of time for work, church and family makes me more tender.
    I will say going bivocational is not very easy, and certainly not the route I would've chosen, but it is satisfying, intimate ministry. However I confess I am secretly grateful that neither of my sons is at all interested in being a pastor. It will be enough if they (and their sister) remain in the communion of saints and not turn their back on the Body of Christ.

  7. Ouch! This is very true and it is painful to see in print. I understand where you are coming from and it's incredibly sad. Even among men who re in the same camp there is back biting - instead of being brothers and having each other's back. We are all sinners- but really, it's too bad that this happens.

  8. I have had my ups and downs in as a LCMS Teacher, DCE and Pastor. Through all of this, God has remained gracious and forgiving in spite of my sin and that of others. As an Army Reserve Soldier of 36 years, and the only known Command Sergeant Major (I am told) ever to have commissioned to become become an Army Chaplain and now holding the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, realize you never know where God may be leading your son. Some of our best military Chaplains have prior military service.