Dear Disciples of Jesus,
Over the past year, our staff has been working on a “Vision for a Pastor of the North American Lutheran Church.” Our purpose was to not only establish expectations for our candidates for ministry, but also to encourage all of our pastors to examine their own lives and ministries by seeking opportunities for renewal and transformation.
Lent is a great time for such self-examination, prayerful discernment and seeking opportunities for repentance and amendment of life. “Vision for a Pastor of the North American Lutheran Church” has been approved by NALC staff, Mission District Deans and the Executive Council. It was also presented at our Pastors Conference in San Antonio.
We are already beginning work on the next document, “A Vision for Congregations of the North American Lutheran Church.” It is not only pastors who need to engage in self-criticism, but each of our congregations as well. It is my prayer that this document will be helpful in guiding the Lenten discipline of pastors and all the baptized who are part of the Body of Christ in the North American Lutheran Church.
What follows is a summary of the presentation I made at the Pastors Conference.
Pastors cannot offer to others what they have not first received. It is critical that our pastors have a life-giving relationship with the living Lord Jesus Christ. A faith-filled life provides confidence in justification through faith in Christ, trusting in his forgiveness through his sacrificial death on the cross. Such faith is demonstrated in obedience to Jesus in daily decisions, consistent spiritual growth and a commitment to mature in the faith. Depending on the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit, pastors will intentionally engage others in conversation regarding their faith in Jesus Christ daily.
In addition to living faith-filled lives, pastors of the NALC live their lives in ways that express the treasure of relationships as the most prized possessions in life. They understand that it is only in the context of such relationships that they have the opportunity to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Not only do they seek to deepen relationships with individuals within the congregation, they are intentional in seeking out relationships with others in the culture with divergent views and lifestyles, following Christ’s example. On the other hand, it is also critical for pastors to develop relationships with other faithful Christians who are biblically and confessionally orthodox. Valuing others means appreciating their unique spiritual gifts and being open to learning from them. They are God’s gift to us. To love others with Christ-like love requires expectations of mutual accountability and responsibility.
Pastors of this church are committed to their own spiritual growth and maturation through daily reading, study, reflection and meditation on the Scriptures, permitting Christ to speak through his Word in ways that transform and renew. Their prayer life includes time for confession, thanksgiving, intercession, praying the Scriptures, listening to the Lord’s voice, and reflecting on both time in the Word and prayer through the discipline of journaling. Taking time for personal or family worship using a variety of forms and music is also critical for spiritual growth.
Another critical capacity for pastors of the NALC is their ability to teach the faith or engage in catechesis. This requires a thorough understanding of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic faith contained in Holy Scripture. We are not called to invent a new faith, but we are called to interpret the faith handed down to us through the faithful interpretation of the Word throughout the centuries inspired by the Holy Spirit. Such faithfulness is also expressed in our Lutheran confessional heritage and must be integrated into our preaching, teaching and living. Pastors preach and teach in ways that encourage and equip others to live the faith and share it with others. They are constantly seeking ways to assist others in living out their vocation, applying their faith to daily living. Preaching and teaching are always focused on knowing Jesus and transforming our worldview from this world to the Kingdom of Heaven Jesus proclaimed.
Our pastors are also expected to have a thorough understanding of worship, the liturgy in its various forms, as well as the capacity to design and lead others in worship focused on Jesus Christ. In preparation for preaching, pastors must also demonstrate their ability to engage in exegesis, utilizing the biblical Hebrew and Greek languages. Sermons must integrate both Law and Gospel, be Christ-centered, hope-filled, and express a pronounced passion for Christ in the proclamation.
Worship focused on both Word and Sacrament is a constant reminder of our baptismal identity as well as God’s promises to us in Baptism. The Eucharist is the central focus of Christian community as Christ comes to us through the bread and the wine. The power and mystery of his presence renews and transforms us as he invites us into his presence and then fills us with that same presence.
Pastors of the NALC are also responsible for developing and leading a community conducive to the mission of making disciples. This community must develop a reputation of loving others for the sake of Christ and sharing the truth of Christ with others so that they too might come to believe in him. The building blocks of this community are life-to-life relationships. Through Christian fellowship and shared experiences, we create opportunities to intentionally invest our lives in the lives of others, encouraging their spiritual growth and development.
This community acknowledges the spiritual gifts of others and encourages their use for building up the Body of Christ. Such a community promotes healthy stewardship in all areas of life, resolves conflict on the basis of biblical teaching, engages in healthy communication, supports and develops healthy leaders and infrastructure for fulfilling the mission Christ gave to his Church, “to make disciples of all nations.” This community is always looking beyond itself, participates in the larger and broader expressions of the NALC and is always willing to partner with other biblically and confessionally orthodox Christian churches, communities and individuals. This community is constantly modeling behaviors that reflect the nature of a disciplemaking community.
As a part of their commitment to the Great Commission of Christ in Matthew 28, pastors of the NALC are engaged in a coaching or mentoring relationship and actively engaged in coaching others. While using a variety of resource materials, disciple-making pastors maintain the true focus of discipleship as Jesus initiated and modeled it by using Scripture as the primary resource.
Pastors of the North American Lutheran Church are:
+ Faith filled.
+ Highly relational.
+ Engaged in personal spiritual growth.
+ Demonstrate their capacity for catechesis (teaching the faith).
+ Competent in leading worship.
+ Committed to developing a disciple-making community.
+ Models of discipleship both as one being discipled and one who is discipling others.
Preparing others to fulfill such a vision for pastoral leadership in the NALC will require the pursuit of outcome-based education in our seminary. It will necessitate the establishment of new measures by the Candidacy Committee and clear communication of these expectations among all who are involved in the process of preparation for Word and Sacrament ministry. For NALC pastors already serving, such a vision will provide direction for establishing meaningful courses in continuing education.
While this vision is primarily focused on pastors, there are implications and direct connections in every category for all the faithful. It is my prayer that it is a source of conversation, prayer, personal discernment, confession and transformation during your Lenten journey.