God works through means. He has promised to send the Spirit to bless His church in a specific way: Through the preaching of the Gospel and the Administration of the Sacraments.(AC V) He has NOT promised to bless the church through administrative functionaries, no matter how likable they may be. An analogy could be drawn to ancient Israel: God promised to bless the people if they were faithful to Him. Sounds simple, right? Except it wasn’t. The pressure to conform to the pattern of the surrounding cultures was immense. Time after time, the people went after the Baals and Asherahs of the Canaanites. Why? Because it was simply good manners. It was what everyone else was doing. And if they didn’t, then they would be seen as outsiders who could not play well with others. With Assyria to the north and Egypt to the south, they kingdom of Israel needed allies close to home. But I’m not recommending that the COP study ancient Israel.
Right now, they are working on studying (and of course, preparing some sort of policy/procedure/document/whatever) on The Ministry. The pressure to conform to the surrounding culture, alas, has been too great for the synod. Scripture is clear as to the means God uses to bring blessing to his church. Our confessions summarize it so neatly in Augustana V, that you would think there would be no controversy. And yet, such is the nature of Satan that he can cause confusion in even the simplest things. This is all the more tragic when you consider that Luther himself explained AC V in explicit detail regarding the office of the ministry and the supervision of the same:
If the bishops would be true bishops, and would devote themselves to the Church and the Gospel, it might be granted to them for the sake of love and unity, but not from necessity, to ordain and confirm us and our preachers…. But because they neither are, nor wish to be, true bishops, but worldly lords and princes, who will neither preach, nor teach, nor baptize, nor administer the Lord’s Supper, nor perform any work or office of the Church, and, moreover, persecute and condemn those who discharge these functions, having been called to do so, the Church ought not on their account to remain without ministers. (Taken from bookofconcord.org)
Specifically, I would think it would be helpful to the church if they would study the phrase, “But because they neither are, nor wish to be, true bishops, but worldly lords and princes, who will neither preach, nor teach, nor baptize, nor administer the Lord’s Supper…” And while it is true that they will occasionally go here and there to preach at anniversaries or installations, that does not mean that they are pastors. They have no pulpit, no altar. They do not baptize, except perhaps their own grandchildren. They do NOT serve a congregation. They serve in an office building. They do not bring the gospel to troubled consciences, they bring bylaw compliance by having pastors fill out PIF and SET forms.
So, while it is certainly nice to have business administrators with theological education and training, men who theoretically know the ins-and-outs of parish life by having once served in The Office of the Holy Ministry, they no longer do so. We are taking men out of the divinely given office to serve as mid-level managers at LCMS-Inc. There is no promise from God to bless such things. And while there may be worldly fringe benefits to doing so, it is not faithful to our confession. Pastors must pastor. The Augustana refers to it as the Predigtamt – the Preaching Office. While a man may occasionally preach at foreign pulpits while serving as District President, he does not hold the preaching office, any more than my shooting a gun at the local rifle range makes me an Army Sniper. Every District President I know has a few stock sermons that are revised and reused for congregational use – no point in writing a whole new installation sermon each week, I suppose.
But for the parish pastor, the weekly sermon is the focus of everything I do. It is in my head from the moment I step out of the pulpit the previous week. I am writing and re-writing it in my head or on paper for seven days. When I visit shut-ins, when I prepare and teach bible classes, when I am with my family, when I go to sleep at night and wake up in the morning, when I eat meals, it is in my head that I will be preaching in 7… 6… 5… days, and I need to have something to say to people that is worth their having driven across town to receive. (And while it is true that on occasion, a pastor comes up empty, and may reuse or borrow a sermon, this happens after a week of struggle. It’s actually more taxing in many ways than actually preaching a fresh sermon.)
This never goes away. The preacher’s life is consumed by it. We used to take vacations mid-week, with me coming home in time to preach on Sunday. We don’t do that anymore, because my wife knows I’m not “all there” on vacation. I’m thinking about the sermon. Now, we end on Sunday or Monday so I can have a clean “week off”. Preaching is the thing that pastors do. District Presidents do not. And they can argue all they want about supporting the work of pastors and congregations, but my people do that as well. They don’t hold the Predigtamt either. Congregants may occasionally teach a Sunday School or Bible class, but that does not make them preachers. They may witness to their friends in the course of their jobs, but that does not make them pastors. They may even work for the church as an accountant or CPH sales rep, but that does not make them holders of the Divinely given Office of the Holy Ministry. And all the fancy titles, and collars, and vestments, and deference, and obeisance can not do that for District Presidents, either.
Would it be an adjustment to put District Presidents back in the parish? Sure it would. Would it cause hardship for LCMS Inc to do so? For a time, I suppose it might. But we would be returning from the worldly conception of business to a scriptural understanding of office. And yet, for some reason, I suspect that this won’t be covered in the current COP study of the Ministry. But if they did, it could only lead to blessings untold.