Pastor as Administrator (of Word and Sacraments?)

jesus_shepherdWhat is a pastor to do? To be sure, there is something about serving a congregation. But in what capacity? By what means? In what role? Pastors are constantly barraged by increasing expectations (spoken and unspoken) of what a congregation thinks they are supposed to do.

Historically the imagery of a pastor’s work has been that of a shepherd tending his sheep. It stems of course from Jesus’ words about being the “Good Shepherd who will lay down his life for His sheep” (John 10), as well as Jesus’ command for Peter to “feed my sheep” (John 21). However, congregations now days think of themselves as different animals, or more likely, not even as animals at all. Organizations and incorporations are more likely. As a result, they have increased (or changed) their expectations and demands of what a pastor should be, very often moving beyond what was ever originally and biblically meant to be a part of “feeding sheep.”

Over the last 50 years or so a historic shift in pastoral identity has been slowlyc-e-o creeping into the church. It has changed many congregations’ view of what a pastor or least a “good pastor” should be. Many willingly or unwillingly expect that a pastor should have corporate CEO like administrative abilities. However, for Lutherans, the theological practice and purpose of a pastor is to administer the Word of God—enact it, preach it, teach it, and give care with it (seelsorger)—as well as rightly administer the Sacraments (baptize and commune).

I do think these remain the underlying assumption by most (Lutheran) congregations. But depending upon the size and shape of congregations today, it is very often treated as more of a side note. Perhaps that’s due to the modern nature of the beast (be they sheep-like or not). Many present day congregations have placed the organizational leadership and day to day administration of the organization to the forefront of pastoral responsibilities.

To be sure, it is one thing to administrate and organize how the numerous souls of a congregation will be spiritually cared for. But it is another to administrate congregational budgets, building projects, and be boss over multiple staff. In short, one can be a great pastor (seelsorger) but a lousy leader and “boss.” One can profoundly feed sheep while also being profoundly ignorant of what makes an organization tick. And more times than not, what gets the attention of congregations today is a pastor’s ability to be a good leader. True, they do at least want him to be an adequate speaker, if not entertaining and relevant preacher. But why is that? How have congregations come to expect and even demand those qualities from a pastor? There isn’t much by way of biblical evidence.

leadershipBut please understand, I’m not saying organizational leadership and administration are not important in today’s congregational makeup. In fact, I would say just the opposite. Many congregations have suffered from poor leadership (whether from pastor or laity).

In fact, leadership and administrative ability was and is an absolute must at both of the congregations I have served. The first one I served as an associate pastor of 3,300 people with a parochial day school attached, forty-five staff members all together, and an annual budget of $2.4 million. At my second (and current) congregation, I serve as the Sr. Pastor of 820 members and an accompanying grade school, with sixteen staff members all together, and an annual budget of $880,000.

Without question I need to be aware of the organizational makeup of the congregation and school. Mission, vision, and strategy long range planning are essential to maintain organizational cohesion. Seeing the big picture, noting the details, balancing budgets, understanding staff strengths and weaknesses, overworkedanticipating voter meeting reactions and board meeting backups come with the turf. My point is that administration of this kind is in and of itself enough to be a full time job. Add the full range of pastoral care of souls and the administration of the Word and Sacraments and such pastors are often at loss to fulfill their other vocations of husband and father, let alone find time to catch a decent night’s sleep (or do some recreational reading or blogging).

However, as of late there is increasing push back against this expectation occurring among some of the younger generation of pastors. By some standards I might be included in this age group (I have been in the ministry just months shy of 10 years now). Nonetheless, I will readily admit I fell into the belief that it was either learn how to lead and excel at administration or die. And I paid a heavy family, emotional, and spiritual price for it. However, I think I can say that I am on the other side of things now thanks to a wise Father Confessor and mentor, time in the ministry, simple life circumstances, and a profound experience with DOXOLOGY (The Lutheran Center for Spiritual Care and Counsel).

But my question is does it have to be this way? Is this what being a pastor in the 21st century has come to? More and more pastors are saying no. And they are to be commended for trying to restore a more adequate biblical view and historic role of a pastor. However, what I also see happening are congregations that misunderstand or receive this pushback as arrogance and clericalism. In other words, such pastors are asserting their true biblical role as a shepherd leader, but somehow doing so in a way that comes across with an air of arrogance and defiance. This is, of course, counterproductive and has created any number of unsettled congregations and pastors, as well as unemployed pastors and shepherdless congregations.

seek patienceSo what is to be done? I do not think there is any easy solution. In short, teach, love, come alongside, and instruct both pastors and parishioners. Using patience and the art of careful and tactful instruction, particularly on the distinction between secular “power” and spiritual “authority” within a congregation, can help both pastor and parish understand the difference and make a difference.

According to pastor and scholar John Kleinig, secular power is a limited commodity while spiritual authority is unlimited. Power is obtained by disempowering someone else while authority only grows as others are authorized to act with it. Thus, the authority of a pastor to be a pastor in the biblical sense comes only from Christ’s authorization of him to be pastor on behalf of the congregation; whereas the power to be a leader and administrator of an organization comes from the power of that particular congregation’s governance structure.

As Kleinig notes, “The worst thing you can have is a pastor who operates with power rather than authority.” This is because a pastor operating on “power” means he has disempowered someone else, which then creates power struggles, and will inevitable smack up against other “power” players in a congregation and create political factions. But a pastor who operates on “authority” brings the authority of Christ to heal and thwart spiritual affliction, administer the Sacraments and enact God’s Word to forgive and retain sins.

Think about it. How many voters’ meetings and church divisions are over power struggles rather thanPower_Struggle issues of spiritual authority? The inability to recognize the difference between the two fosters much unrest among our pastors and our people.

In the end, my hope is for congregations to see the need for pastors who operate under Christ’s authority and not their secularly created power structures. And my hope for pastors is that they will not crave earthly power but be content with the authority of Christ. When this happens, pastors are free to more fully engage in the feeding of sheep rather than trying to tame the beast, while congregations will be free to see their pastor as a an undershepherd of Christ rather than a CEO of their organization.

As always, this blog endeavors to thoughtfully and collegially talk about the mission of the Holy Christian Church and what it means to be authentically Lutheran, while “discipling all nations” in the 21st century. For those willing to enter the fray, I welcome your constructive thoughts and reactions.

Yours,

Rev. Woodford

Smelling the Roses: The Recovery of Vocation

I have been gone from this blog for some time. Life has a way of filling up, keeping us busy, moving us forward, and then at times, backward. In the midst of it, there are many vocations to fulfill. As a husband, I have a bride to love and cherish. As a father of four young children, I have many voices to hear, discipline to provide, and many hugs to give. As a son and a brother, I have other family to care for. As a Sr. Pastor in team ministry, with an active and growing parochial grade school, there are staff members to lead and many souls to shepherd. As a Christian, I have sins to be absolved, temptations to battle, and neighbors to serve. In short, there is much that has been on my plate.

But taking time to “smell the roses” and to fill our vocations can be refreshing and freeing. No, it may not always be easy. Yes, it can be mundane. Yes, it can also be draining and even demanding. However, there is joy in knowing that in each of these vocations God is at work behind them, ensuring His created order is cared for and nourished. And it is within these very vocations that the Holy Christian Church also has a distinct and yet simple gospel proclaiming vehicle.

No extra burden needs to be placed upon Christians. No “you’re not really a BurdenChristian if you don’t make your whole life about evangelism.” No “you’re not fulfilling the Great Commission if you don’t witness to the gas station clerk.” Everyday ordinary Christians can be freed to live their ordinary lives, love their family, go to work, serve their neighbor, and share their faith in the midst of their vocations.

The massive burdens that some current church trends, along with their speakers and authors, are placing upon the faithful are taking their toll. The Gospel of Jesus Christ continues to be confused. His work “for you” is being displaced and even replaced by “your work for Him.” Of course I recognize the “good works” which “God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). However, I want to celebrate and maintain the truth that we are first and foremost “His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus…” (Eph. 2:8-10). It’s something that the Scriptures are clear that we cannot replace or even displace in the slightest if we want to take sin and the forgiveness of sin as seriously.

Of course, telling others about the salvation that comes through Jesus Christ is part of the Christian faith. But that alone is not what defines and shapes the Christian faith. Far from it. The work of Christ “for you” defines the Gospel. And His Spirit at work through His Word defines the faith. Nonetheless, the recognition and recovery of the theology of vocation frees us to live life, love our family, go to work, serve our neighbor, and share our faith in the midst of our vocations.

You lost meIn fact, the recovery of vocation is spreading to more than just Lutherans. In his 2011 book, You Lost Me, David Kinnaman explores the possibilities of why the Holy Christian Church is losing countless young people from the Church. He has many thoughtful things to say and offers the contemporary church much to consider. However, one fascinating claim he makes is that the Church needs to recover the theology of vocation:

The second thing I have learned through the process of our research is that the Christian community needs to rediscover the theology of vocation. There is confusion about this term, the use of which is often limited to trade or “vocational” education. But in Christian tradition, vocation is a biblically robust, directive sense of God’s calling, both individually and collectively. Vocation is a clear mental picture of our roles as Christ-followers in the world, of what we were put on earth to do as individuals and as a community. It is a centuries-old concept that has, for the most part, been lost in our modern expression of Christianity… It is a modern tragedy. Despite years of church-based experiences and countless hours of Bible-centered teaching, millions of next-generation Christians have no idea that their faith connects their life’s work.   (Ch. 11, Kindle Edition, location 3482).

Perhaps it would be good for the church to give her members permission to take the time to “smell the roses,” fill their vocations, and live in the freedom Christ has won for us.

As always, this blog endeavors to thoughtfully, honestly, and collegially, talk about the mission of the Holy Christian Church and what it means to be authentically Lutheran, while “discipling all nations” in the 21st century. For those willing to enter the fray, I welcome your constructive thoughts and reactions.

Yours,

Rev. Woodford

If you’re not “missional”… (Revised with apology)

***This post has been revised as of 11/30/12. The original post included some language towards my District that was not consistent with the collegial tone that I desire to maintain. Though the theological evaluation and call for dialogue remains the same, I have done my best to remove uncharacteristic inflammatory language, with my apologies to those I have offended by not first speaking to them in person. Be assured I am in the process of personally speaking with individuals regarding this transgression, while also aiming to continue an in-person dialogue on this topic.     

…………………………..

This world is full of unbelievers. We need simply look around and we’ll find someone who does not know that “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). Like you, they are in desperate need of the truth of the Gospel—that “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23). It’s a powerful truth. God’s love is so intense that He sent Jesus to be “crucified, dead, and buried” for their sin, my sin, and your sin.

I like the way Paul put it to young Pastor Timothy: “[God our savior] desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:4-5). In other words, God does not discriminate. His love is clear. He wants all to receive it, rest in it, and share it. His ultimate desire is for “all” people to have faith and receive, as the creed says, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. The Lutheran church (LCMS) has long stood upon this truth (AC IV) and the desire to make sure the Gospel gets delivered. As our confessions simply state:

So that we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the sacraments was instituted. For through the Word and the sacraments as through instruments the Holy Spirit is given, who effects faith where and when it pleases God in those who hear the gospel, that is to say, in those who hear that God, not on account of our own merits but on account of Christ, justifies those who believe that they are received into grace on account of Christ. Augsburg Confession, Article V.

However, as of late, many in the Holy Christian Church, and notably in my own Lutheran church, feel that the church has lost her way, that the mission of the church has somehow been displaced. As a result, a new movement has emerged. It’s called the Missional Movement. I’ve already written about it at some length. But it needs continued dialogue. Many are still confused about it. Many are frustrated it’s not being embraced. There’s even much discussion about using the word “missional” itself. It’s a new word. Some like it. Others don’t. Does it describe a behavior or imply a particular theology? Not everyone is sure. In short, we need to talk.

Thus, I propose that we engage in some forthright, collegial, and honest conversation about what it means to be missional, and how for better or for worse, the movement is impacting our Lutheran church body. So, once again, here we go. I apologize for the length of this post in advance. But since I’ve been away for a while, perhaps you won’t mind.

In short, the Missional Movement has the desire to “reclaim” the mission of the church—to take back what some say has been high jacked by a “maintenance mentality” that only seeks to serve “their own,” ignore the lost, and remain insulated from the invading and changing culture. Consequently, a passionate “missional” paradigm shift is being thrust upon the church. It’s crossed denominational lines. But as we’ll see, its origination has a distinct identity.

At its core, the desire is to get the Gospel out. This is, of course, an awesome thing to do! However, as we will also find out, the understanding of the Gospel does not have uniform agreement or understanding within the Missional Movement. (Just consider Matt Chandler’s recent book, The Explicit Gospel, as well as J.D. Greear’s recent book, Gospel: Recovering the Power that made Christianity Revolutionary. Both are written as reactions to the movement’s inability to maintain a clear confession of the Gospel.)

In short, the paradigm being offered attempts to organize the ecclesiology of congregations (i.e. church governances, organizational structure, and their defining purpose) in a way that is entirely focused on getting the message out to the lost. Part of this includes the emphasis on “making disciples who make disciples” though what those “disciples” actually look like is also not always agreed upon.

One book in particular attempts to establish this paradigm in great clarity. It is titled, Shaped by God’s Heart: The Passion and Practices of Missional Churches. Simply put, it’s a guide to developing missional leaders and missional communities: “Missional leaders, along with their leadership teams, have a clear vision for creating authentic missional communities. Everything they do is designed to facilitate development of Christians as missionaries sent by God to live and proclaim His kingdom in their world. Ultimately, the leadership team desires every member of the community to function in a missional lifestyle, equipped and empowered for effective ministry” p.168.

Shaped by God’s Heart?

The book is a favorite among missional advocates, and is a Leadership Network Publication written by the experienced Baptist Pastor, Milfred Minatrea. It is perhaps the best articulation of the movement’s missional paradigm and ecclesiastical desire. As such, it also provides a distinct opportunity for insight into the paradigm’s inherent theology and some of the resulting friction it creates with our Lutheran theology and practice.

The book is divided into three parts: Part One—The Church in a New and Changing World, establishes the belief that most churches in North America are “maintenance” churches that are only focused on “survival” and thus are failing God’s mission and therefore need to move to becoming “missional.”

Part Two—The Nine Essential Practices of Missional Churches, explore what “missional” churches do on a regular basis: 1) Have a High Threshold for membership, 2) Be Real, Not Religious, 3) Teach to Obey Rather than to Know, 4) Rewrite Worship every Week, 5) Live Apostolically, 6) Expect to Change the World, 7) Order actions according to Purpose, 8) Measure Growth by Capacity to Release, Not Retain, 9) Place Kingdom Concerns First.

And Part Three—Structures and Strategies for Becoming Missional provides some specific details of the organizational change the congregation must go through to become “authentic disciples” and “truly missional.”

What becomes apparent from the very beginning of the book is the context from which the author is speaking. His regular comparing and contrasting of “missional” to “maintenance” churches reveals that he is operating with a distinct theological and ecclesiastical context that is unmistakably Baptist in nature (including nondenominational or evangelical expressions of this theology).

He is quick to criticize (rightly I might add) how many congregations “have adopted and adapted to consumer culture” where “just as they count on Wal-Mart meeting their material needs, they expect their churches to provide religious goods and services” (p.7). But then he also asserts that maintenance mentality churches merely focus on “preserving the ‘savedness’ of the members, and the church’s function to manage that salvation” where in such churches, “both clergy and laity lose sight of their obligation to make disciples” (p. 9).

However, with this assertion he offers no consideration of the ongoing spiritual needs of church members (i.e. the forgiveness of sins, despairing souls etc.), or any recognition of how sin can continually wreak havoc on the faithful and the peculiarities of each afflicted sinner, nor about the God pleasing nature of vocation. To be sure, he does note how each person has a “sphere of influence” where they can share the Gospel, which includes their place of work (which I completely agree with). However, that is portrayed as a divinely mandated obligation and issue of obedience rather than an outworking of the Gospel, to say nothing of the God pleasing nature of their other various family or work vocations.

His attempt to theologically back up this assertion reveals a distinct difference in how his “missional” mind understands the desire of God and how Lutherans understand the desire of God: “God desires His church to relish in His glory, share His glory among the nations, and reflect His glory in word and deed. The church is a Body made in His image, sent on His mission, to be His glory!” (p.9). The glory of God is not explained in terms of the forgiveness of sins through Christ (central for Lutheran theology), but rather in people coming to worship God.

In other words, it appears that according to this paradigm, missional churches do not emphasize the forgiveness of sins, but rather that people are to praise God, worship God, and give God glory. “Their passion is to see the people of all nations worship God” (p.122). To be sure, worship of our Creator and Redeemer is indeed a salutary and proper activity. But Lutherans recognize worship consists of things far greater than our human endeavors of praise and adoration, and can only occur because of God’s gracious activity toward us.

This approach should not be surprising. It would only be consistent with the non-sacramental nature of Baptist and nondenominational theology, (i.e. that worship is all about the human action of giving praise and glory to God, not about God serving the forgiveness of sins and the gifts of His grace—Word and sacrament worship in Lutheran parlance.) This would also help us understand why he emphasizes the importance of his missional practice number four: Rewrite Worship Every Week (p.65-75). Though he says “worship is about content, not form” he still emphasizes that missional churches are to “make sure worship stays fresh” so that a “relevant” connection can be made with worshipers (p.66). Thus, by theological default, the emphasis of this missional paradigm is repeatedly on the law—what we are to do. As such, if we are being honest, this creates friction for Lutherans.

Law and Gospel or Just Law?

By-in-large, this is the reoccurring theological emphasis of the book. Though he attempts to portray this paradigm as simple “practices” of missional churches, the reality is no practice is theologically neutral, nor is any ecclesiology theologically neutral. They have inherent to them the theological disposition of those creating any such “practice” or “church structure.”

Consider what he says are the four “dimensions of missional churches.” These are what establish the heart and soul of being a missional church—what it is and what it does: Dimension one: Love God—worship and obey. Dimension two: Live His mission—serve and share. Dimension three: Love people—embrace and invite. Dimension Four: Lead them to follow—equip and empower (p. 16-26). Nowhere is the Gospel clearly declared, at least not as Lutherans understand it.

Again, the emphasis is all on the human action rather than on what God in Christ has done and is doing. In fact, from a Lutheran perspective, the Gospel is made into a law—do this, do that—love, live, lead. To be sure, those are sanctified activities and even part of the works that God has in advanced prepared for us to do (Eph. 2:10). But that is not the Gospel. The saving work of Jesus Christ is the Gospel.

Ironically, the book is titled Shaped by God’s Heart, but seems to have missed the mark of what makes God’s heart beat, (not to mention the marks of the church)—namely, the justification of the ungodly in the cross of Jesus Christ; the forgiveness of sins regularly doled out through Word and sacrament.

Instead, the Gospel is depicted as activities that must be done by those who are “authentic” disciples of Jesus. (By the way, does this mean that non-missional folks are not authentic or real disciples? He is fond of backhandedly indicting those who are not missional: “Missional churches are communities of authentic disciples. These churches take discipleship seriously.” p.45. Does this mean that the rest of us don’t?

Also consider this quote by Erwin McManus: “I think that in the traditional church what you oftentimes have is the affirmation of beliefs, and that’s how people get fed. In a missional church it’s the implementation of the actions of beliefs and the fleshing out of beliefs. We actually hold ourselves more fundamentally to the scripture. Honestly, I think most traditional churches don’t really obey the scriptures” p.56. (Seriously?!)

Unfortunately (and perhaps ironically) sin and repentance are dealt with very little in this paradigm. At one point, Minatrea depicts repentance as a past act with no apparent continued need, where it is portrayed more as a part of a past church culture, rather than as a vital part of “authentic” faith:

Leroy Eims is a marvelous disciple builder, author, and master storyteller who called for authentic discipleship in the twentieth century as a representative of the Navigators. Some years ago, as he tells the story, he was listening to the radio while driving toward his Colorado Springs home, It was Saturday evening, and he was listening to sounds of the Big Band era. While enjoying one of his favorites, “Chattanooga Choo-Choo,” the song was suddenly drowned out by a higher-powered station broadcasting a “fire and brimstone” preacher who shouted, “Repent. Repent, now!” In response to this appeal, Eims replied, “Now my problem is I’ve already done that. I did that years ago. I have repented. Right now, I am trying to listen to ‘Chattanooga Choo-Choo! But he won’t let me listen to ‘Chatanooga Choo-Choo’; instead he insists that I repent!” Living apostolically can be like that. Our connection to the church can be so strong that it repeatedly interrupts our attempts to move beyond the church and into the culture of the world. While we try to hear what is being said in the world, the sounds of our religious traditions continue to overpower us.” (p.78).

I believe his aim is to challenge the prescriptions of a particular church culture (which can be a fair approach), but in so doing he reveals that the forgiveness of sins is not necessarily central to “missional” congregations (which would not be a healthy approach). Rather, being missional seems to mean that a person is someone who gets others to know who Jesus is; know his love (whatever that might mean) and what he did a long time ago on the cross, but not necessarily know the ongoing effects of sin and the need for the forgiveness of sins today and tomorrow. In other words, the life of evangelism, not the life of repentance, is the core of the “authentic” disciple’s life.

Measures of Success

What is more, the “success” of missional congregations is not measured by the presence of the forgiveness of sins, but rather by a numerical evaluation: “Concerning measures of success… ‘The measure of church success may need to be reevaluated. One day, a church may evaluate its fulfillment of Christ’s commission not only on the basis of attendance, its strength of fellowship, budget and cash flow, but by the number of congregation it begets.’ Indeed, missional churches are redefining what it means to be a church” (p.122-123).

In the end, this is what concerns me about this movement. Confessional Lutherans maintain the nature of the church does not change. This missional paradigm says it does. If we are being honest, we would have to acknowledge that, at a minimum, this poses some very significant concerns.

Ultimately, this is what makes the book, along with many elements of the movement itself, so disenfranchising for me as a Lutheran. Minatrea claims the missional church wants to work with all churches, and not compete with other churches since they are “members of the same team” (p.135). However, I find it troublesome when he notes that “moving to missional is a deep change that is inherently difficult because it requires leaving established ways of doing things” (p.173). Sometimes there are things that are not up for debate. There is not the option to leave them.

Thus, I occasionally wonder if we are really on the same team when there are such disparities of understanding the Gospel. Is the Gospel Jesus’ work for me or my work for Jesus? Lutherans say it’s the former, this missional paradigm says it’s the latter. Leaving the way of Jesus “for me” is to leave the way of the forgiveness of sins. That’s not an option for Lutherans.

This is by no means to disavow all non-Lutheran Christians. Rather, it is to simply affirm the clarity of the Gospel—the forgiveness of sins earned by Christ—for the sake of God’s kingdom and the sake of those sinners called into it. In fact, I love how Reformed Presbyterian Pastor Tullian Tchividjian puts it in his just released book: Glorious Ruin: How Suffering Sets You Free:

Listen carefully: Christianity is not first and foremost about our behavior, our obedience, our response, and our daily victory over sin—as important as all these are. It is not first and foremost about us at all–it is first and foremost about Jesus! It is about His person; His substitutionary work; His incarnation, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and promised return. We are justified—and sanctified—by grace alone through faith alone in the finished work of Christ alone. Even now, the banner under which Christians live reads, “It is finished.” Everything we need, and everything we look for in things smaller than Jesus, is already ours in Christ (p.83).

Thus, it should be clear that I’m not trying to be elitist, snobbish, or a preservationist. I simply desire to affirm the Lutheran principle that doctrine and practice go together; that doctrine is not negotiable, that Christ is central, that sinners need to be forgiven, and that life is very often much more messy than what this missional paradigm seems to acknowledge.

I like how Luther puts it in his 1535 commentary to the Galatians: “Therefore, as I often warn you, doctrine must be carefully distinguished from life. Doctrine is heaven; life is earth. In life there is sin, error, uncleanness, and misery, mixed, as the saying goes, ‘with vinegar.’ Here love should condone, tolerate, be deceived, trust, hope, and endure all things (1 Cor. 13:7); here the forgiveness of sins should have complete sway, provided that sin and error are not defended… But by the grace of God our doctrine is pure; we have all the articles of faith solidly established in sacred scripture. The devil would dearly love to corrupt and overthrow these; that is why he attacks us so cleverly with this specious argument about not offending against love and the harmony among the churches” (p.41-42).

Doctrine and Danger

Yes, as with all books, there are some helpful things that can be learned from this one. Congregational structures can be tenuous and difficult, and there are some helpful pointers that could be gleaned from Minatrea. But the inadequacies of this paradigm as its presented here prevents me from being able to recommend this book.

Curiously, one of the dangers Minatrea notes about the movement is one that I have observed with some frequency. Minatrea offers this warning: “The Missional community must shun the pretense of viewing themselves as ‘more spiritual’ than members of the church who do not pursue the missional vision” (p.177).

It has been my observation that there is a significant amount of pressure to be “missional” even though not everyone agrees or understands on what it actually means to be missional. Nonetheless, congregations and pastors are being evaluated and assessed (implicitly and explicitly) on how “missional” they are. This book itself has multiple missional assessment tools after each chapter that can be used to measure pastors’ and congregations’ missional effectiveness.

I will acknowledge that tools can be helpful to take stock of a congregation’s situation, however this particular mode of measurement would seem to be foreign to Lutheran theology and practice. It does not lend itself to creating a unified atmosphere of Lutheran ministry, but would rather seem to divide and label by way of a new emerging (and yet uncertain) movement.

As a result, those that are not be deemed to be “missional” (either by choice or by circumstance) end up getting looked down upon. Very often they are then viewed or labeled as inferior. They’re seen as upholding a “maintenance” congregation. They get a mark against them and, for some, are seen as a hindrance to “real” ministry. The intent of such measurements may indeed be sincere. But such resulting labels are unfortunate, particularly in view of Minatrea’s own warnings.

In the end, if measurement tools are going to be used, at least from a Lutheran theological and practical perspective, I wonder how pastors and congregations would feel if they were to be evaluated by similar tools on whether they are being truly Lutheran? I know, its a touchy statement. But it draws out the accusatory slippery slope we risk when utilizing such assessment tools.

I believe the Missional Movement desires to get congregations headed in the right direction. I just think Lutheran theology has been pointing us there long before this movement came along.

As always, I invite your collegial and constructive comments as we seek to dialogue about what it means to be a 21st century Lutheran who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).

Yours,

Rev. Woodford

Replacement Ref’s and Replacement Rev’s?

There has been much rejoicing this past week. The NFL got its real referees back! If you weren’t aware, or don’t care about football (gasp!), the replacement referees were struggling terribly. There were missed calls, botched calls, and contradicting calls. None probably greater than the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back from last Monday night’s game between the Green Bay Packers and the Seattle Seahawks.

Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson scrambled from the pocket and threw to the corner of the end zone as the clock expired. Seattle receiver Golden Tate shoved Green Bay defender Sam Shields out of the way, and then wrestled with Green Bay’s M. D. Jennings for possession of the ball. It was ruled on the field as a touchdown and after a lengthy review, referee Wayne Elliott came out from under the hood and announced “the ruling on the field stands” and Seattle’s Century Link Field erupted in celebration.

However, it was utterly obvious that the pass was intercepted. NFL fans, especially those of the “cheesehead” kind, were outraged. Combined with the numerous shortcomings of the officiating crews from other games around the league, people were at wits end. “That’s not how the game is to be played!” “It’s ruing the league!” “We deserve better!” Players and coaches were unequivocal. Many “tweeted” their grievances. Many simply spoke out about them at post game conferences. Everyone wanted the “real” refs back!

Interestingly enough, only 48 hours after the botched call, it was announced that a deal had been reached and the “real” refs were put back to work. Fans were so appreciative of the referees return that before Thursday night’s game between the Baltimore Ravens and the Cleveland Browns, they stood and applauded the officials as the seven referees tipped their caps to the fans. (Also interesting is that the league wanted to make sure a solid officiating crew would work the game so they picked a veteran crew of referees with a combined 70 seasons of NFL experience.)

I find this to be utterly fascinating. People desire the real thing. And it wasn’t just the NFL players and coaches, but people across the country were weighing in. From commentators to politicians, even President Obama gave a sharp criticism of the botched call. It seems people instinctively know there is something about having the real thing, about having competent, well versed and well equipped people at the helm. At least for sports, that is.

Then again, even though I know basic CPR, and have even had to use it twice, I know that doesn’t make me a surgeon. And though I do get the mail from my mailbox every day, it doesn’t make me a mailman. And just because I can run a calculator doesn’t qualify me to prepare your taxes. It’s an interesting standard. People recognize it. They see the need for it. They want it. People value expertise. They want proficiency. They need proper service—NFL referees included.

I have written much about the value of vocations. But my point here is a bit more directed than just the affirmation of the service that various vocations provide.

Even though they were collegiate or world league referees, the replacement refs still didn’t measure up. Their ability to handle the games, know all the rules and the procedures, maintain order, and give a sense of authority was simply not there. In one case, it prompted NFL coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots to run out and physically grab one official to ask for clarity about another game ending uncertain call. (That was a definite “no no” on Belichick’s part. He received a $50,000 fine by the NFL for touching the referee.)

What’s my point with all of this? Since October is pastor appreciation month, I thought I might make a small observation. Over the last number of decades there has been the movement among many churches to remove and replace what has been considered an unnecessary divide between the clergy and the laity. The thought is that because the people of this world are so desperately in need of the Gospel (and yes, I absolutely agree they are!), we need to rid ourselves of just having the select few well trained, well equipped, and duly qualified people to serve as pastors and missionaries.

As a result, since all Christians know Jesus and know what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, why shouldn’t all Christians be “ministers” and “missionaries.” Subsequently, many practice that “everyone is a minister” and hold that “everyone is a missionary” After all, they say, what’s really the difference between a pastor and people?

Perhaps the NFL replacement referees helped us see the difference. The care of souls (being a pastor) is far more detailed and demanding than simply sharing the faith. I absolutely 100% agree that every Christian can and should share their faith in the midst of their various vocations. In fact, I wrote a book about it! But that does not thereby make everyone a minister (pastor) and everyone a missionary, not as they have been biblically defined, traditionally understood, and historically taught. Nor would simply knowing Jesus automatically make one qualified for the job or cause them to know the vastness and the burdens of that office.

There is intricate spiritual diagnosis and detailed care that must be tended to by pastors. Sins perpetrated and sins suffered must be lovingly and patiently fleshed out, and then brought to the cross of Christ. There are significant maladies, miseries, and misbeliefs, that need adequate, informed, and compassionate law/Gospel application. Life is complicated. Sinners are complicated. Being a pastor is complicated.

The mission of the church (and pastors) goes far beyond simply getting the message of the Gospel out. Once the Gospel message is out, there is great and profound spiritual care that needs to be administered to those who will continue to suffer from the effects of sin (you and me included). Yes, being a disciple of Jesus means freedom from sin in Christ, but not freedom from being a sinner. (At least, not this side of eternity.) Nor does it mean freedom from living under the curse of sin and the afflictions of Satan.

This is why pastors have been authorized, equipped, called, ordained, and sent—yes, to seek and save the lost—but also to shepherd God’s people, to meticulously administer law and Gospel, to give a real and raw word of hope and forgiveness, to baptize and to commune. In the words of Jesus, to “feed my sheep.”

This is not a slight against all those who desperately want others to know Jesus and to receive the forgiveness of sins. I want that too! And yes, of course, the priesthood of all believers does play a part in that. Rather, this is simply an appeal for the Holy Christian Church to recognize what the sports world so openly did this past week. Replacements for the real thing are not the real thing.

As always, this blog endeavors to thoughtfully and collegially talk about the mission of the Holy Christian Church and what it means to be authentically Lutheran, while “discipling all nations” in the 21st century. For those willing to enter the fray, I welcome your constructive thoughts and reactions.

Yours,

Rev. Woodford

The Mission of God

The September issue of The Lutheran Witness lays out the six mission priorities of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. I was extremely flattered and honored when I was informed they would be using my book Great Commission, Great Confusion, Great Confessionas well as the congregation I serve (Zion Lutheran, Mayer, MN) as an example of their first mission priority: Revitalizing Churches. The brief quote from the article is below.

“Zion Lutheran Church, Mayer Minn, is shepherded by the Rev. Lucas Woodford (see his book Great Commission, Great Confusion, or Great Confession? Published by Wipf & Stock). Pastor Woodford describes the congregation’s focus as growing out of Luther’s explanation of the Third Article of the Creed so that the royal priesthood called to faith by the Gospel is enlivened for liturgical living. God serves us in Word and Sacrament, and we serve our neighbors in and through our various vocations in the world. Rather than slavery to strategic plans crafted by worldly wisdom, the congregation is freed to live in Christ by faith and in the world by love.” Lutheran Witness, September Issue, p. 9.

Here are a few quotes of how I speak about it in my book:

When the saints assemble around Word and Sacrament, they do so to be ritually forgiven and freed, renewed and refreshed, discipled and dispersed out into the vocations of their daily lives. In worship, the royal priesthood is served by God. He loves us. He feeds us. He nourishes us. In turn, we are then sent out into the vocations of our lives to serve and love our neighbors. Thus, it is my contention that worship is the wheel that moves the church out into the world… (p. 166).

At the center of this wheel is Christ and His Gospel, who “calls” and “gathers” disciples around Him through Word and Sacrament, where believers are ritually forgiven and freed, renewed and refreshed, discipled and dispersed into their vocations to serve their neighbor and gossip the Gospel. Here others are then called by that Gospel, and so they too are gathered (discipled) into the community of saints through Word and sacrament. The pattern repeats itself, daily and weekly, as confessed in Luther’s explanation to the third article of the Apostles’ Creed. It’s the wheel that moves the church out into the world, while bringing people in to the faith. It’s a sorely underemphasized theology. But if it would be celebrated and championed by the church there would be, I contend, an increased vibrancy to the daily life of the church and an increased fidelity to the mission of God (p. 186).

As I get back into the swing of things, and as a reminder, this blog endeavors to thoughtfully, honestly, and collegially, talk about the mission of the Holy Christian Church and what it means to be authentically Lutheran, while “discipling all nations” in the 21st century. For those willing to enter the fray, I welcome your constructive thoughts and reactions.

Yours,

Rev. Woodford

Compassion: What’s Good for the Soul.

Given my previous post on acedia, I thought perhaps the fruit of my sermon wrestling this past week might be an appropriate follow up.

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost; Mark 9:14-29 

This Gospel lesson confronts us with a number of problems. There is a boy afflicted by a demon. There is a father who desperately wants his boy healed from this affliction. There are the disciples puzzled by their inability to drive out the demon. And finally, there is Jesus left to sort it all out.

At first glance, we may be tempted to write this off as a simple matter of those who lacked faith. The disciples lacked faith because they couldn’t drive out the demon. The father openly admitted he needed help with his unbelief. And the boy himself must have been a total unbeliever since he was afflicted by a demon. Thus, there is the temptation to think that if they had just believed a little bit harder and little bit longer, everything would turn out all right.

But if we read things at this level, we’ll miss the absolute visceral nature of the text. We’ll miss the desperation of a father, the compassion of Jesus, and the rawness of faith.

In fact, such a reading of the text risks turning “faith” into magic. In other words, it treats faith as a simple means to get what you want—just like a magic wand—where you wave it, say the right words, and wish things to be the way you want them and voila, life’s just peachy again.

But that’s not the way it is. It’s in inaccurate view of the sin afflicted life and incorrect view of faith. It’s the idea that, “If I just have enough faith life will always be perfect.” That you’ll have no worries, no hurries, and no juries to tell you what went wrong.

But look around. Life’s not so peachy is it? The fact is, there are a lot of moldy peaches and a lot of rotten peaches in life—the bully at school, the empty bank account, the spouse who wants out, the loved one buried in the ground.

Sometimes life presses in on you so hard, and so intensely, that you can’t sleep, you can’t eat, you can’t even breathe. But don’t you believe for a second that such things happen to you because you don’t have enough faith! That’s a flat out lie. Jesus will never abandon you. He pledges himself to you in baptism.

But the devil wants you to believe He’ll abandon you. He wants you to give up on God, give in to temptation, and go over to a life of sin. And he’ll send any manner of demon and discouragement to get you to give up your faith and give up on God.

However, the Good News is that God’s love is not dependent upon the level of your faith. His favor is not dished out in proportion to the degree of your faith. As Isaiah reminds us in the Old Testament lesson: “the Lord God will help you” (Isaiah 50:9). And He will help you not because He favors some of you more than others, or because some of you are super-Christians and others are not. He helps you simply because He loves you fully and completely.

Listen. You don’t get more of God’ love if you believe harder. You don’t get more of God’s grace if your faith is bigger. God’s love is unconditional and immeasurable. He delivers it to you equally through Jesus Christ. So whether you think your faith is big or small, His favor toward you is equally constant, consistent, and current through Jesus Christ.

This Gospel lesson is meant to show you this truth. It’s meant to give you this comfort. It does so by showing the desperation of a father, the compassion of Jesus, and the rawness of faith:

17“Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. 18And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.”

Throughout the Gospel of Mark we find a very intentional record of Jesus encountering evil spirits and demons that ruthlessly afflict people. Often times our tendency might be to dismiss this as no longer applicable to today, that demons and evil spirits are no longer present and no longer afflict us like this.

This delights the devil. He doesn’t care if people believe in him or not. He doesn’t care if you think his demons and evil spirits are real or not. He’s going to send them to tempt you and afflict you just the same.

They may not be able to “possess” you (like Hollywood often portrays it) because you have been baptized, but they can certainly assail you and assault you, mislead you and deceive you. They’ll seek to divide friendships, divide marriages, and divides churches. They afflict parents and yes, they assail pastors. They are active and real, even if you can’t see them or believe in them.

But the solution to them remains the same today, as it was when Jesus walked this earth.

In the case of the young boy, the disciples couldn’t drive out the evil spirit. What gives? Perhaps that was because they, too, had yet to learn the true nature of faith. They needed to know that faith was not to be about their strength, but the strength found in Jesus:

19And he answered them, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.” 20And they brought the boy to him. And when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. 21And Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. 22And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”

Anyone who’s had a sick or chronically afflicted child can relate with this father. His child, his beloved son, had been afflicted by this demon since he was a little boy.

The normal impulse of every parent is to protect and comfort your child, especially when your child is hurting or sick. And the desire of every child is to have your father and your mother protect you, keep you safe, and hold you secure, especially when you are frightened and in pain. But this evil spirit kept that from happening.

The father had become desperate. We can’t overlook how desperate he was. Since the boy’s childhood, this father has come running out of his house to pull him out of the fire. He’s had to sooth burns, calm screams, and comfort his little boy in the midst of all the pain and all the confusion his little mind and his little body were experiencing.

Can you see his face? What if it was your boy? This father was desperate. Countless times he’s had to dive into deep waters to pull his son, his precious little boy, out of the waters that would seek to drown his body.

How many times did he see his son’s terrified eyes? How many times did this father hear his water filled lungs? How many times did he experience his fear filled cries? Can you hear them? What if they were your cries?

The father loves his boy. He wants him to live. He wants him healed. He wants him to be safe. He wants to hug him another day.

Can you hear the desperation in his voice? “But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” Maybe that’s your voice today?

At our very core, if we’re being honest, that’s what each of us want—compassion. Young or old, we desire compassion.

If you’re full of anger and rage, beneath it all there is a desperate desire for compassion. If you are overwhelmed or overworked, you desire compassion. If you are hurting or scared, you long for compassion.

How many times did that little boy feel the compassion of his father? How many times did that boy experience the love of his father? He loved his boy. And he went through fire and water to prove it.

But how does a father comfort such an afflicted boy? How does he answer his questions? How does he give him hope? Perhaps you’ve been there? Maybe you are there right now?

Every one of us can find ourselves in that boy. Every one of us can find ourselves in the desperation of the father:

But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” 23And Jesus said to him, “If you can! All things are possible for one who believes.” 24Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”

Jesus hears the man’s plea for compassion and He answers. Some might hear this as Jesus chastising the man for his lack of faith. However, it’s quite the opposite.

To the father full of desperation, to the child afflicted by an evil spirit, to you longing for hope, and to you looking for healing, Jesus brings a word of comfort. As He told the Father, Jesus CAN do something!

Jesus was not scolding him for his lack of faith, but pointing him to the object of his faith. All things are possible for the one who believes, because all things are possible for Jesus Christ.

You see, the father was not without faith. The father was pressed down by life. He was full of worry, overwhelmed by anxiety, living in fear, and wanting someone to help, wanting someone to have compassion. Yet, faith was not absent. Rather life had become difficult, and so faith had become difficult.

However, he recognizes his condition, even admits it, and then does what comes natural to faith no matter how big or small it is. He cries out to the author of faith. He cries out to Jesus: “I believe; help my unbelief!” It’s a prayer—one you and I are invited to pray it as well.

In the midst of life’s circumstances, in the midst of our heartache, in the midst of our struggles with sin, you can pray, “Lord I believe, help my unbelief.” It doesn’t mean you are without faith, it means you need compassion. And Jesus is happy to give it, just like he did for that father and boy.

25And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” 26And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” 27But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose.

The compassion of Jesus covers you. How many times has he seen your terrified eyes? How many times has heard your sin filled lungs? How many times has He experienced your fear filled cries?

The compassion of Jesus pulls you from the depths of sin and from the fires of Hell. His compassion is so great that he dives with you into the depths of baptismal waters and pulls you out as a new man and new woman drenched with His compassion.

He loves you. And He went through torture and death to prove it. He wants you to live. He wants you to be forgiven. He wants you to be safe. He fights for you, no matter how big or small you think your faith.

To the demons that afflict you and the spirits that assail you, the blood of Jesus protects you and the compassion of Jesus covers you. For, it was his compassion that compelled him to walk through death back to life, in order to give you life.

He knows the heartaches that can leave you like a corpse. He knows the sins that can leave you for dead. Jesus was resurrected so that he could take you by the hand, lift you up, and give you life.

His forgiveness fills you. His life leads you. His compassion covers you. Amen.

Vocation and Temptation: Acedia, Anfechtung and Me

I know I have been absent from this blog for some time. My apologies for this. Initially my absence was due to some planned vacation and travel. But then other elements began influencing it—Acedia (spiritual apathy) and Anfecthung (affliction). This post will speak a little bit about these challenges, which may just resonate with a number of you as well.

I’ve written much about the importance of every Christian’s daily vocation—our daily stations of life as a spouse, parent, son, daughter, worker, Christian neighbor, and congregational member, and how they function to serve our neighbor and be the places where we can witness to others. However, it is also precisely in these vocations that Satan begins his attacks on us. His aim is to get us to abandon each of these vocations. And he will do so by afflicting us in any number of ways.

Spiritual warfare is a sinister and tumultuous battle all Christians endure, but fewer and fewer are recognizing how it works, myself included. John Kleinig has written wonderfully on this in his book Grace Upon Grace, and insightfully unpacks the nature of Satan’s attacks: In short he says, “The German word Anfechtung describes Satan’s attack upon our faith in Christ and God’s condemnation of us as sinners” (p.22).

But it is also helpful for us to understand that this Anfechtung has multiple dimensions to it. Luther himself used it in three different ways. David Scaer unpacks the word and the toll each dimension brings upon the human soul:

The American Translation of Luther’s Works uses all three [translation of the word Anechtung], “temptation,” “trial,” and “affliction,” plus “tribulation.” Each of these English words develops one facet of Luther’s Anfecthung and related words. “Temptation” points to the Christian’s life as a period of testing by Satan. In this temptation the Christian is given the opportunity by God to overcome Satan personally, but there can be no suggestion that God is the origin of sin or provokes the Christian to sin. “Trial” suggests a probationary period before God’s bestowing a great good. Through the trial, God puts the Christian to the test to measure the depth and sincerity of faith and to bring it to a higher level. Thus, trial points to God’s control over the Christian’s suffering during the Anfechtung. Suffering does not happen through chance. “Affliction” reflects the real suffering and pain the Christian endures during the Anfechtung. The Christian does not necessarily experience physical pain, but real agony in his soul about his personal salvation. “Tribulation” also refers to the Christian’s suffering during the Anfechtung but suggests the wider dimension as affliction suffered by all Christians. (“The Concept of Anfechtung in Luther’s Thought,” Concordia Theological Quarterly, January 1983, p.15).

There are other elements that can be added to this affliction. For me, it is not Anfechtung alone that’s been plaguing my soul. It’s been combined with what is seen as a debilitating form of spiritual apathy that is known by the ancients as Acedia (a-kah-dee-ah). (Presently, very few would be able to observe these things about me, as I’m guessing is true for many of you out there as well. But, it is an intense internal spiritual battle that, if left unchecked and untreated, can certainly begin to manifest itself in spiritually unhealthy and observable ways. Thus, at this point, other than my wife and Father Confessor, few would know that I have been wrestling with this.)

In any case, the notion of Acedia is probably best unearthed by others more well-versed in it than I. As such, Kathleen Norris in her 2008 work Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer’s Life vividly opens up the depth of this affliction by drawing on her own experience, and even more aptly, by engaging in the insights of one of the ancient monastic Desert Fathers:

“Acedia” may be an unfamiliar term to those not well versed in monastic history or medieval literature. But that does not mean it has no relevance for contemporary readers. The word has a peculiar history, and as timelines on the Oxford English Dictionary website reveal, it has gone in and out of favor over the years…

At its Greek root, the word acedia means the absence of care. The person afflicted by acedia refuses to care or is incapable of doing so. When life becomes too challenging and engagement with others too demanding, acedia offers a kind of spiritual morphine: you know the pain is there, yet can’t rouse yourself to give a damn. That it hurts to care is borne out in etymology, for care derives from an Indo-European word meaning “to cry out,” as in a lament. Caring is not passive, but an assertion that no matter how strained and messy our relationships can be, it is worth something to be present, with others, doing our small part. Care is also required for the daily routines that acedia would have us suppress or deny as meaningless repetition or too much bother.

…I first encountered the word acedia in The Praktikos, a book by the fourth-century Christian monk Evagrius Ponticus. Across a distance of sixteen hundred years he spoke clearly of the inner devastation caused by the demon of acedia when it “[made] it seem that the sun barely moves, if at all, and that the day is fifty hours long.” Boredom tempts him “to look constantly out the windows, to walk outside the cell, to gaze carefully at the sun to determine [the lunch hour].” But Evagrius soon discovers that this seemingly innocuous activity has an alarming and ugly effect, for having stirred up a restlessness that he is unable to shake, the demon taunts him with the thought that his efforts at prayer and contemplation are futile. Life then looms like a prison sentence, day after day of nothingness.

As I read this I felt a weight lift from my soul, for I had just discovered an accurate description of something that had plagued me for years but that I had never been able to name. As any reader of fairy tales can tell you, not knowing the true name of your enemy, be it a troll, a demon, or an “issue,” puts you at a great disadvantage, and learning the name can help to set you free. “He’s describing half my life,” I thought to myself. To discover an ancient monk’s account of acedia that so closely matched an experience I’d had at the age of fifteen did seem a fairy-tale moment. To find my deliverer not a knight in shining armor but a gnarled desert dweller, as stern as they come, only bolstered my conviction that God is a true comedian…

The desert monks termed acedia “the noonday demon” because the temptation usually struck during the heat of the day, when the monk was hungry and fatigued, and susceptible to the suggestion that his commitment to a life of prayer was not worth the effort. Acedia has long been considered a peculiarly monastic affliction, and for good reason. It is risky business to train oneself (“training” being a root meaning of asceticism) to embrace a daily routine that mirrors eternity in its changelessness, deliberately removing distractions from one’s life in order to enter into a deeper relationship with God. Under these circumstances acedia’s assault is not merely an occupational hazard—it is a given.

We might well ask if these crazy monks don’t have it coming: if your goal is to “pray without ceasing,” aren’t you asking for trouble? Is this a reasonable goal, or even a good one? Henri Nouwen tells us that “the literal translation of the words ‘pray always’ is ‘come to rest.’ The Greek word for rest,” he adds, “is ‘hesychia,’ and ‘hesychasm’ is a term which refers to the spirituality of the desert.” The “rest” that the monk is seeking is not an easy one, and as Nouwen writes, it “has little to do with the absence of conflict or pain. It is a rest in God in the midst of a very intense daily struggle.” Acedia is the monk’s temptation because, in a demanding life of prayer, it offers the ease of indifference. Yet I have come to believe that acedia can strike anyone whose work requires self-motivation and solitude, anyone who remains married “for better for worse,” anyone who is determined to stay true to a commitment that is sorely tested in everyday life. When I complained to a Benedictine friend that for me, acedia was no longer a noontime demon but seemed like a twenty-four-hour proposition, he replied, “Well, we are speaking of cosmic time. And it is always noon somewhere.”

Yes, I will attest that it is always noon somewhere. Much more could be said. But the means of this spiritual warfare are clear. Affliction and the apathy have been diagnosed. And Satan is relentless with them. Others who have experienced the depths of these afflictions are no doubt nodding their heads. The Apostle Paul is quick to remind us of the vastness of this war: For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12).

He is also quick to give us the remedy: Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. (Ephesians 6:10-11).

Kleinig summarizes the battle like this: When Satan attacks us, we experience the righteousness and truth of God’s Word with our whole being, rather than just with the intellect; we experience the sweetness and loveliness of God’s Word with our whole being, rather than just with the emotions; we experience the power and strength of God’s Word with our whole being, rather than just with the body. Temptation is therefore the touchstone that God uses to assess our spirituality. Temptation reveals what is otherwise hidden from us. Just as a pawnbroker uses a touchstone to test the presence and purity of gold in a coin or a piece of jewelry, temptation also tests the authenticity of our faith and proves our spiritual health. (Grace Upon Grace, p.21)

However, speaking in all honesty, the attacks are painful and debilitating, and the “experience” Kleinig speaks of, at least for me, is seemingly fleeting. But perhaps that simply describes my own ongoing wrestling. After all, Satan’s desire for all of us is to give up and let him win. But here’s the thing. Jesus has already won. He is the victor! The defeated one is Satan, and as my Father Confessor reminds me, the Lord Jesus fights for me (and for you dear reader.) It remains something I have to constantly remind myself to “rest in.” Yes pastors, especially pastors, suffer from such spiritual maladies and desperately need the Gospel like everyone else.

May the words of the hymn below be for you as they are for me; solace in the midst of all my vocations:

Lord Jesus, since You love me, Now spread Your wings above me And shield me from alarm. Though Satan would devour me, Let angel guards sing o’er me: This child of God shall meet no harm. “Now Rest Beneath Night’s Shadow,” Lutheran Service Book, 880.

Until next time,

Rev. Woodford