2. Hey Lutherans! Time for a New Vision of Ministry

I am writing this from my Lutheran heart. The time has come to dispose of the one size fits all understanding of clergy. The first step in this process is to find a title for clergy that is not a job title. Currently most Lutheran denominations use the word “Pastor” as both a job title and a title that designates ordination; many Christian denominations simply do not do this. The Methodists call their ordained individuals Elders and the Anglicans call their ordained individuals either Priest or Deacon; and the time now has come for the Lutherans to find a title for ordained individuals other than Pastor, which is a job title for someone serving a congregation.

Among Anglicans, Methodists, and Roman Catholics an individual serving a congregation as a Pastor could be an Elder/Priest, a Deacon, or even a lay minister. For them the word Pastor does not denote ordination, but instead serves as a job title; and a very serious one at that.

Currently Lutherans have a very well-defined concept of individuals serving as Ministers of Word and Sacrament and these individuals are highly educated professionals. They are so well educated and trained, that in the secular world, these Ministers would be identified as either an executive director or a chief executive officer; and to a degree they perform many of the functions of these positions within the congregations that they serve. With this said, Lutherans need to find a way to identify the individuals serving as these Ministers without using a job title; two titles from Christian Scriptures come quickly to mind, Elder and Presbyter.

Unlike the Anglicans and Old Catholics, many Lutheran denominations have not embraced the concept of a local version of lay professional Ministers of Word and Sacrament (clergy). A ministry in which the Minister does not attend a seminary or other kind of accredited school of theology; but instead is trained and mentored on the local level (like EFM program of the Episcopal Church). To some degree, but not entirely, this is because of the collegiate nature of many Lutheran bodies, which promotes only professional clergy.

Over the years, Lutherans have struggled with the concept of Minister of Word and Service (Deacon). In more ways than one, this struggle is centered on identity; in that, Lutherans in North America have not made a clear choice, either to stand with the Evangelical Protestants or the Sacramental Protestants. In others words, to stand with those who favor the heritage of the Hauge Synod and the Lutheran Free Church (Evangelical Protestants) or those who favor the heritage of the Church of Sweden and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland (Sacramental Protestants). In this light, the Evangelical Protestants favor lay deacons and the Sacramental Protestants favor ordained deacons. It is my concern and fear that the North American Lutherans will choose to remain conflicted in this matter rather than making a decision.

Both the Anglicans and the Methodists have Ministers of Word and Service and a few of these Ministers serve as Diaconal Pastors in congregations, mostly in missions and rural areas. While they do not provide the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharistic, they do provide pastoral care and management of the flock. Through its focus for human services and social justice Lutherans already have a good foundation for Ministers of Word and Service; all they need to do is open themselves to this ancient concept of Christian ministry.

Lutherans have also struggled with the idea of licensed/certified Lay Ministers. The United Methodist Church has not only embraced this kind of non-professional ministry, but celebrates it and bestows spiritual leadership upon it. The Certified Lay Ministers of the Methodist Church serve rural congregations that could not be logically served by either an Elder or a Deacon. The Episcopal Church has accepted, in their own way, the idea of Lay Ministers serving as lay pastors; they are formally identified by the Canons as a “Pastoral Leader.” They serve congregations in much the same way as the Methodist Certified Lay Ministers do. Like the Deacons, Lay Ministers cannot provide the Sacraments, but they can offer pastoral care and guidance to a little flock in need of a shepherd.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has lay Associates in Ministry, but these individuals serve in specific areas of ministry that is professional in nature; therefore they cannot be placed in the same category that the lay professional Anglican and Methodist lay ministers are in. The Lutheran community has many congregations that have minimal resources and financial limitations; and therefore could benefit from having a Lay Minister serve them as their Pastor. With this in mind, I encourage the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and other Lutheran bodies in North America to learn about the Certified Lay Minister program of the United Methodist Church, especially from those Conferences that serve large rural areas.

In closing, as I said in the beginning of this article, the Lutheran faith community needs to discard the one size fits all and embrace different concepts of public ministry and a wider vision of what can serve congregations as a Pastor. It would mean that many in the Lutheran faith community will have to move away from comfort zones and established new ideas. But the time has come to start looking at developing a bigger picture of ministry; one with color and concepts not currently in use, but nonetheless holding a history that has benefited many congregations and individuals throughout the history of Christianity.

Written by Dave Pflueger July 14, 2013 © copyrighted by Pflueger

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