Lutheran Purgatory: A Review

Lutheran-Purgatory-cover-art-300x453There have already been numerous excellent reviews of this timely book. Pastor Kornacki has done a masterful job dealing with a difficult subject, and much deserved praise has already been given to him for this. So my review will be more of a personal reflection.

This book should not only be required reading for members of the synod’s candidate committee. It should be read and placed on the agenda of the Council of Presidents. Pastors should make sure their DP’s have a copy. Ask them to discuss it with other District Presidents. Then follow up after COP meetings and see if they did so.

Everything he says about what a pastor goes through is true.

One thing he does not mention is that those who may be abused by congregations, but not removed, can have these symptoms as well. They may not even realize they have them. They may not know that there are scars from the trauma. In the excitement of a new and faithful parish, they may just bury their feelings and try and forget and move on. But those problems can haunt years later, causing trouble for the pastor in the new parish.

Except that, instead of being able to step away from the church for a time to heal (how sad is it that this is even a thing?), the pastor becomes for a time a fraud. Preaching what he knows to be the words they want to hear, but they mean nothing to him. Not failing doctrinally, or even pastorally, but failing baptismally. That is, no longer seeing Baptism and the Word of God as a source of comfort, but as a duty to be filled, with no enthusiasm, with no drive, and in extreme cases with no faith behind it.

Pastor Todd Peperkorn courageously came “out of closet” about his own struggle with depression. Is it an isolated problem? No. Pastors don’t talk about it, even among themselves, because who wants to admit not having a strong enough faith to overcome such problems? (This is a lie of Satan, by the way. But a very effective one.)

However, at a pastor’s conference, I mentioned my own brief (by God’s grace) struggle with depression. I was far from alone. Some pastors compared medications. Others shared how long they had been in counseling, and whether they still were.

It’s a deep dark secret. But it needs to not be. People need to understand that pastors are people, too: that sometimes they are overwhelmed. that there are times when the problem is not just “You need more faith”. There are legitimate clinical problems that can be helped by modern psychological techniques. And PTSD can affect pastors as well. There is a place for proper medical diagnosis and treatment. Pastors are under great stress, and sometimes they need help, just like their members. Satan lies to Christians of all types: pastors congregants, it makes no difference: “You just need more faith. If you were a better Christian, you wouldn’t feel like this. ” It’s not true. And, left untreated, it can lead to loss of faith, or suicide. People have problems. Sometimes the answer is to seek spiritual counsel from a pastor. Situations involving sin and forgiveness are the most common reason someone should see a pastor. But sometimes, the mind is as broken as our bodies. Pastors are not equipped to handle these situations. They lack the proper training. But qualified medical professionals / licensed counselors can help. This is not a point of shame. No one says, “You went to the doctor for an antibiotic? Well, that’s just because you are too weak to fight off the infection.” We should not say this when it comes to a broken mind.

And pastors who have lost their ministry, had their family devastated, and then been mistreated by the synod that is supposed to care for them, are prime candidates for this.  Pastors who have been mistreated, but have not lost their ministry are also candidates for this. We need a program to make sure that pastors who go through this get the help they need. I was fortunate to have pastors who cared enough to check in with me, and bear with me. Circuit visitors need to assist in this. District Presidents need to be pastoral, not judgmental. They need to worry first about he spiritual condition of the pastor, and then worry about their statistics regarding number of angry parishes. (Obviously they need to provide care to parishes that have been abused by pastors. But the statistics are so lopsided in this regard at this point, that it is the exception that pastors are in trouble because they abused their position. )

Meanwhile, pastors who are active need to hold their district president’s feet to the fire on this issue. The synod said that Candidates should be used where applicable. So ask your District President, “Are you placing these men on call lists? Are they being considered fairly for pastoral vacancies? And are you supporting men who are having trouble with their congregations because of their own faithfulness, even when it may be accompanied by unwise zeal?” District Presidents who are doing this are rare. But they exist. And they are worth their weight in gold. (And pastors, on the whole, tend toward a more robust figure, if you know what I mean.)

When people recognize that their pastors are human, they understand how very great God’s mercy is. He choose an imperfect and foolish man to stand in Christ’s stead. And yet the gifts are still given. Faith is still created and grows. And, in the best of circumstances, the same thing happens for the pastor and his family. We need to pray that this becomes the norm in our synod, rather than the exception. Pray the Lord of the Harvest to send workers into the field. And then pray for those workers. And pray for them again. And again. Don’t stop. Keep praying.

Thank you, Pr. Kornacki, for this book.

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