The pastor and the congregation

It is very good, from time to time, to reflect as a Church about the nature of who we are in Christ, and of where and how God works in our midst, giving us the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation.

For Lutherans, we are very familiar and comfortable with phrases like “Word and Sacrament,” “Means of Grace,” and the like. But what do they mean, and in what way do they relate to our common life together in Christ?

Simply put, God works through means to accomplish His will. His will is that all would be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. He accomplishes His Holy will by sending forth His Word to create and sustain faith when and where He pleases. This Holy Word comes to us in the Scriptures, in the preaching of the Gospel, Baptism, Holy Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper. That is where God promises to be found, and where He promises to be at work for us and in us, bringing us to heaven to enjoy His divine favor forever.

This Word, which is Jesus Christ, does not simply come randomly or haphazardly. God has appointed (set apart, ordained) certain men into the Office of the Holy Ministry so that His Word would be faithfully proclaimed and given out according to His command and promise. Our Lutheran forefathers put it this way:

So that we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted. Through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Spirit is given [John 20:22]. He works faith, when and where it pleases God [John 3:8], in those who hear the good news that God justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ’s sake. This happens not through our own merits, but for Christ’s sake (Augsburg Confession, Article V).

In other words, God set up the Holy Ministry in order that faith would spring forth, be nurtured and grown by His Holy Word.

So what does this have to do with us, the saints at Messiah Lutheran Church? What it has to do with us is that it shapes our understanding of the relationship between the pastor and the congregation. Here are some of the more obvious ways:

  • The pastor is not the boss, CEO, employee, dictator, Pope, cheerleader, chief salesman, butcher, baker or candlestick maker. He’s the pastor. Probably the best and most biblical analogy is that of a steward. The pastor is the steward or caretaker for the mysteries of God (as St. Paul writes), and it is his responsibility to give out the gifts of God for the benefit of all. Another good analogy is that of shepherd. The pastor cares for the sheep, guards them, feeds them, and serves them.
  • In the same vein, the congregation or its members are not the boss, stockholders, slaves, cheerleaders, spectators, butchers, bakers or candlestick makers. The congregation is the congregation. The best and most biblical analogies are that of the Bride or of the Flock. As the Bride the congregation received from the Bridegroom (Christ) what He has to give, and returns thanksgiving and praise to him in word and deed. As the flock the congregation receives what the Good Shepherd (Christ) has to give, follows His lead, receives His protection, eats and drinks what He gives for their wellbeing.

Now understanding these two realities makes things both simpler and more complicated. It makes things simpler because it helps us to understand that the congregation and the pastor serve each other in different ways, not in an adversarial or competitive relationship, but in a relationship of mutual love. The pastor has an obligation to care for the congregation, and in return the congregation has an obligation to care for the pastor. When either one breaks down, the whole thing goes awry.

The bottom line, of course, is that Christ is Lord of the Church, and that we are all His heirs and children. Just as in a body different parts have different roles, so also in the Church, the Body of Christ, we each have different roles to play, all to His glory and for the benefit of our neighbor.

Yours in Christ,

Todd A. Peperkorn, STM
Pastor, Messiah Lutheran Church

[From the January 2008 Messiah’s Messenger]

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