Pastor to Whom?

pastorAs a pastor, it is important to know who are the people entrusted into your spiritual care.  But it seems to me that the question once easy to answer has become more complex.  In order to spark discussion let me suggest two understandings (admittedly oversimplified) most often guiding our thoughts on  this important question.

  1. Each pastor is pastor only to those who are part of the congregation or community they are called by God to serve in. 
  2. Each pastor is pastor to anyone within the reach of their voice.

I, along with the majority of LCMS pastors, have generally operated with the first  understanding.  We are pastors only to the congregations and communities that called us.  Therefore, each laymen has only one pastor (or set of pastors) given to them for their care. This understanding guides my practice.  If someone comes to me who has a question of a spiritual nature, I am going to direct them to their pastor to answer the question.   If someone I know to be a member of another church finds their way into my pews, a phone call will be made.  If someone communes with us, I will let their pastor know.

Conversely, I would be alarmed to find out that one of my members was regularly receiving pastoral care from another pastor.  Every once and a while you will have a pastor in an area who simply offers pastoral care to whoever he has contact with regardless of where they might be members.  Needless to say, they are not well regarded by their peers.

But we live in a new world.  It used to be the only other LCMS pastor one’s members might have contact would be a pastor in a neighboring community.  That is no longer true.  They may regularly see another pastor who has a congregation on the other side of town.  They have access to pastors and their teaching on the radio or television.  If they are on the internet, there are  blogs to read, videos to watch, and email links to click.

Let me break down the question more practically.  If I heard that a member had a question about the texts for the week and went to the other pastor in town each week to get the answer, I would be concerned.  Does it change anything if they go and listen to Worldview Everlasting each week?  Should I not be concerned?  If I found out my member wanted to talk about the latest new story from a theological perceptive and went to the pastor in the next town over, I would be bothered.  Does it change anything if they instead listen to Issues etc.?  If my people were raving about the preaching at a nearby congregation they had been attending on Saturday night, I would wonder what was going on. Does it change anything if the preaching they heard was the Lutheran Hour Speaker?    Does it change anything if your people are learning about liturgy from Weedon or Cwirla instead of the retired pastor in town?

I say all this as one who put out morning devotion for about 120 days and invited the world to see them.  One of my questions was always, should I be leading devotions in people’s homes where I am not their pastor?  I wanted others to watch but was never sure it was right.  I ask this as one even now writing a blog that I suppose will be read by more non-members than members of my church.  Should I be teaching those outside my pews regardless of how wise I think my idea for the post was?

This I know: in our day, many LCMS members, particularly the more conservative ones, spend more time with Fisk and Wilken than they do their own pastor.  They get more theological teaching from blogs than they do from bible study with their pastor.  Is that proper?  Do Fisk or Wilken or Hoppe have any right to teach people who are not their members?

Bill Cwirla always says on God Whisperers that the LCMS is not good with celebrity pastors.  But I would suggest that we have for a while become much more comfortable with them.  We might not call them celebrities.  We might use terms like expert.  But more and more, people are receiving spiritual care from all sorts of pastors not necessarily called by them to do so. 

My question is this:  But should those us offering opportunities that for that kind of spiritual care stop?  Yes, we are pastors.  But pastors to whom?

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This entry was posted on Saturday, February 23rd, 2013 at 3:45 pm and is filed under Theology and Practice. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

8 Responses to “Pastor to Whom?”

  1. Weedon Says:

    Pr. Hoppe,

    An excellent inquiry. I think that we might want to make a distinction between “listening to” and “receiving pastoral care from.” Yes, the lines can at times get blurry. One thing I’ve become convinced of, though, is that it is absolutely impossible to actually provide pastoral care short of “in the flesh.” So while folks may learn from another person over the net (or through other mediums), they finally cannot receive pastoral care from pixels or digitized sound. They need flesh and blood person. FWIW.

  2. Mark Says:

    I don’t think those types of media are the same as pastoral care. Otherwise reading Luther, Sasse or Walther would be out of bounds as well. Your pastor can’t be the only one you are allowed to learn from.

  3. revschmidt Says:

    Pastor Weedon I believe you are correct, but while what you said is true, I am not sure everyone is going to come to that conclusion. I think the modern age of technology has led many young people to seek answers from the internet where it is easier to type in your question then to go to a pastor and verbalize your question; and therefore whatever the internet says is what they go with as opposed to the answer they never get because they did not seek out the flesh and blood pastor.

  4. Weedon Says:

    Pr. Schmidt,

    I can definitely attest that you are correct: people will not all come to the same conclusion. But as one who has been in the forefront of the odd phenomenon of the new media, *I* can attest as a pastor that it cannot be done. I’ve been tempted, but each time common sense won the day and I realized I could NOT provide what a flesh and blood pastor could provide. FWIW, all need to encourage folks who are hurting to seek out the man who can lay on his hands, speak the personal word of absolution, and put into their mouths the body and blood of Christ. All else is supplement…it cannot supplant.

  5. Chris Says:


    What to your mind exactly constitutes pastoral care?

    From what you describe hear it seems that pastoral care involves every possible theological and practical application of the spiritual life under the sun. I would definitely regard reception of the sacraments and personal confession as something that is strictly entrusted to you, but, why for a moment would you feel that it is inappropriate or wrong for a person to simply ask an opinion of another pastor on a theological question?

    One of the problems, as I see it, in the LCMS and other Lutheran confessions is that the pastor/priest is no longer accorded a sacrosanct or even divine office. LEt us not forget that after the incarnation of Christ, the second greatest gift that God gave to man was the priesthood (St. John Chrysostom). The problem is that Lutherans have erased or just forgotten the sacramental nature of the priesthood. the priest is now just a regular person who has no more authority over anyone else in the congregation than another layperson. That’s why in Lutheran services, a “leader” or “president” may stand in for the pastor. Why bother even having them if there’s no sacred component to his position as a priest? A lot of Lutheran congregations are without full time pastors. Why pay for one when a layperson can do what he does?

    If you’re worried about the symptoms, you need to address the cause and the cause is one of your own making. Reestablish the sacred nature of the presbytery and the episcopacy; that’s going to take a long time, but if you do nothing, then you’re going to have to deal with this for a long time and you will still complain about it.

  6. SUSAN JAMES Says:

    Pr. Hoppe,
    I am sorry that you feel this way with regards to the videos that you did; I miss them. Let me say that I agree with the Pastors in the above comments regarding Pastoral Care in the ‘flesh’. You have to have a person to do the sacraments and the funerals, etc. These should be for the congregation to which he has been called. But then there are people like me.

    Since I am handicapped and deaf, I don’t fit in. We have no full-time pastor. We have a vacancy pastor who, until Jan of this year, just came on Sunday to do the service. Since then, he comes on Wed. and we can schedule an appt. to go and talk to him or have him come to our home.

    I’ll give you a perhaps poor example of what I mean by saying one type of ministry doesn’t cover all. They need not compete but compliment each other. I have an iPad which I purposely got for personal use. I have many books. magazines, games, and othe intersting things all in groups. The folder that I have for Church now has the CPH ESV Study Bible, CPH Lutheran comfessions, the book , “The Lutherans difference” , and the new app,”Pray Now!” All in electronic form. I can go to Youtube and see Pr. Fisk ( if I could hear), and especially great blogs like yours. I have learned so much .

    Now I have the Surface Pro and a new windows cell phone. They are not competative with the iPad at all. These have live apps, MS Office 365, and more of the business programs that I always use in Windows. I only have 2 games so I can do something while waiting for something else. This is all business and easy for me to have with me to update my website and add listings in my shops.

    Okay, you get the point, I think, that each type of thing serves to compliment the other and used to act supportive, or for a different reason. In my case , I can’t go to church often due to my health and I can’t hear the service. It’s hard for me to follow as I always used The Lutheran Hymnal. We have only 30-40 people now due to no full-time Pastor.

    I want to stay with the LCMS teachings and keep up, learning all that I can. BUT I have to see pastor here or get to church for communion. One doean’t replace the other. Now that I had the stroke, it is even more difficult. I may have to quit driving later, too, due to the spinal stenosis. Pastor will give me the Pastoral Care that I can’t get from your blog but the blog, iPad Bible, apps, etc. keep me in the faith. They help me ‘remain steadfast’.

    BYW- If you do the videos for your members online again, remember there are others who are using these, too. Some like me cannot get the studies and devotions anywhere else. I can’t hear the Lutheran Hour on the radio.

    Thank you pastors for enriching and deepening my faith in Jesus. Thank you all of you pastors for helping people like me stay with the correct doctrine of the LCMS.

  7. Nathan Grohn Says:

    Pr. Hoppe,
    Here’s the deal. My pastor at my congregation is my pastor. He consecrates the elements and administers communion to me. He hears my confession and forgives my sin. He is the pastor from whom I hear the Word preached every Sunday. He is my pastor assigned to me by place and time where I am and when I am.
    My pastor doesn’t give me a set of daily devotions. My pastor doesn’t take 10 hours a week to educate me in depth on various .. erm… issues. He doesn’t provide me with critical examination of sermons by different pastors (or so-called pastors). And I could go on, but the point is, those things aren’t what he is called to do, are they?
    If I use your daily devotions, does that make you my pastor? If I use Treasury of Daily Prayer, does TDP become my pastor? If I listen to Wilken and Co., does Wilken become my pastor? If I read the Lutheran Witness, does LW become my pastor? If I watch Fisk, maybe he is a sensei-of-sorts, but he isn’t my pastor. Listening to the myriad of programs on Pirate Christian Radio doesn’t make Chris or any of those hosts my pastor.
    Proper use of all the media channels we have these days is critical in spreading the Word, and education in the Lutheran Confessions. I am glad that you are on guard against misuse of these channels. As Pr. Wilken says frequently, he is only the pastor to those people in the specific congregation he is called to serve as pastor. But that doesn’t stop him from educating others, for which I a grateful. The reason is this: as nice as it would be for all pastors of a common confession to be completely interchangeable, they are not because they are not inerrant. A question asked to multiple pastors will get multiple responses. If all pastors gave the same response to every situation and every question, we would not have the sort of situation that has made us famous of late.
    My opinion is that channels for education and study materials should be used wherever possible; consumers of this education should use it as exactly that; where lines are crossed and these resources are misused corrections should be made as you do; those who mistake bloggers, celebrity pastors, radio hosts, etc, for their own pastor should repent; and we should understand mistakes will be made because we are sinners.
    Thank you for a great blog and being willing to put it out there.

  8. Paul Beisel Says:

    Pastor Hoppe, I think that what others have said is good. If, in making these online devotions, you were simply doing something to aid your congregation members, and you weren’t intentionally trying to be someone else’s pastor, I don’t see anything wrong with it. I put links to various speeches, sermons, and other things on our church’s Facebook page for my members’ edification. I want them to soak up as much as they can. They’ll still come to me as their pastor. However, if they are going to seek pastoral care (like counseling, absolution, the Sacrament, etc.) from another local pastor, then I would be concerned about that. I would also direct others to their pastor if they came to me for such things.

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