Among the many issues that I have heard our Synod President address, the lack of good preaching hits closest to home for many pastors. At least, it does for me. Despite years of preaching, I find that I am only beginning to understand the challenges a preacher faces. It will take many more lifetimes to find the solution to those challenges.
Pastor Harrison’s comment, however, reveals a challenge and burden that goes an entirely different direction, but is worth examining. His complaint is that too often, pastors preach a generic law. A symptom of this, he says, is the constant talk of we: “We sin,” “We need forgiveness, etc.” Instead, he says, the pastor is to speak the Word of God to the people. That is: “You sin,” “you need forgiveness,” etc. An excellent point, to be sure. This brings me to the burden of the Holy Ministry. Pastors speak the Word of God to their people. When they are doing it right, they are bringing both the law and Gospel to them. That is, “You are a sinner. God forgives you.”
But even more than just saying, “God forgives you”, the pastor stands in Christ’s stead and says, ‘’I forgive you.” He does this in Holy Absolution to be sure, but he also does it in his preaching. He does it as he administers the sacrament. It is what the pastor does. But what is missing from this is the “For me.” The pastor can not continually give forgiveness, without at some point receiving it. Or, put another way, the pastor has no pastor. Pastors are somewhat on their own. In the average parish, the pastor serves alone at altar and pulpit. Monthly pastor’s conferences are not the same thing. There is no “Here is my pastor” for the pastor. It is the burden of the office.
This is not intended as a complaint. Just as observation. How do pastors deal with this? In this age of easily printed books and electronic gadgetry, there are any number of devotional works a pastor can use to help himself. There are apps for that. There are all sorts of things. I read a great deal. I study and write. I make sure the sermons apply to me too. And yet…
If I were giving advice to a young pastor, fresh out of the seminary, it would be this: Find a Father Confessor. We can debate endlessly about whether pastors should go to their circuit visitor or district president for confession, or whether they should find someone else. But do whatever it takes to find someone to whom you can confess and from whom you can receive the absolution. You need it. You need to be told that your sins are damnable, and that you are forgiven those very sins. And you need to hear it from a mouth not your own. Not a rotation of pastors who serve as preacher at pastor’s conferences. You need to hear from A mouth. Someone who knows your sin, and forgives you anyway, just as you do for your people. (Do not pick your best friend. The relationship between pastor and penitent is different. As a penitent, it will change your relationship to your friend.) Find someone and do it.
It is the best defense (next to the Lord’s Prayer) against the attacks of Satan.
Oh, yes, and pray the Lord’s Prayer, as well. Pray it often.