14 November 2006

The Struggles of Going to a Lutheran Seminary

So I am a bit torn with how to share this - it is an online discussion with a to remain anonymous classmate, in my applied ethics class. We are supposed to respond to a case study - then every one comments on each others original post, and then the original poster is to reflect what on the comments that were made. This is a little long - so don't say I didn't warn you.

Here is a summary of the case study:
Pastor Harold is pastor at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, a church whose membership is mainly middle class with few large donors if any. The church’s pipe organ is worn out and a proposal has been made, to be voted upon at a specially called meeting of the congregation, to form a committee to raise money for a new pipe organ. Partly out of necessity, and partly out of principle, this fund raising campaign would be broadly based, focusing upon small and medium size contributions. Pastor Harold has promoted this effort because of its importance to the worship life of the congregation, something that has been considered a priority and special calling of this congregation for several decades. Considerable conflict has arisen in the congregation, however, because a vocal faction of the congregation opposes this project on the ground that it would impede fundraising for another proposal promoted by Pastor Harold, a “What is God up to in Our Congregation, Community, and World” campaign that would raise money for staff, equipment, and space for a sustained program of mission and outreach. It has become clear to all (and you should assume that this is the case) that the congregation cannot do both projects, that one of them would have to be indefinitely deferred in favor of the other, and that the congregants are treating this as a moral issue having to do with the stewardship of the congregation’s ministry and funds. Pastor Harold has decided to take no public position one way or the other and to remain neutral, preaching “reconciliation, brotherly love, and forgiveness.” Is Pastor Harold taking the right approach? Why or why not? If not, what should he be doing instead? Do you find yourself answering principally as a deontologist, teleologist, situationst, or character/virtue ethicist?

Bob's Response:
I would not say that Harold is taking the wrong approach, because he is taking the right approach to get the result that he is looking for. Whether or not we realize it, our choices and actions usually feed into our expectation. If Harold wants to create and nurture a congregation that is afraid to discuss difficult issues, then he is taking the right approach. I also don’t think either of the options that are before the congregation are productive in sharing the Good News of God’s reconciliation. I think in this way I would betray myself as a generally deontological thinker. I like to believe that some how – if we work hard enough - we will be able to grasp rules that would encompass all our difficult situations, and I just don’t think that Harold or the congregation have thought long enough about the universal concept of the Church’s purpose. Though I desire that ideal, I also know that we must deal with the situation that we have, which is never as clean as we want to be. I believe strongly that we must focus on the purpose or intent of our group or organization and see how this is fitting into it and it is not clear how either of these actions fit into that.

I do feel that preaching “reconciliation, brotherly love, and forgiveness” is a very good thing, and is always the right thing to do. I also feel that in many ways a Pastor taking a stance on a church issue is not always a helpful thing – it stops people from thinking on their own, and coming to the right conclusion through there own reasoning and understanding. On the other hand, I think that a pastor directing conversation and bringing issues to light is a necessary function. That is the unknown of this case-study: we don’t know if the pastor is just not giving an opinion or if the pastor is avoiding the topic altogether. Avoiding a sensitive topic for me is very rarely a good idea for a pastor. Exactly because this is a moral issue for the congregation – as a leader and professional moral teacher the pastor needs to take this opportunity to point out the implications of the decision that the congregation is making. There are ramifications and also a level of precedent to be set. Pastors need to be there to guide, shape and teach, and if he is not speaking or preaching about moral dilemmas – or even acting as an advocate for both issues then he is leaving his congregation with out the opportunity to discuss the issue. There might be a great opportunity for the pastor to speak to both sides of the debate – to highlight the advantages and statements of both options and show that there can be peace and understanding found.

The last paragraph talked about the pastor as a facilitator. I also feel that in this discussion the pastor can act as a prophet – or a master/teacher. In this way the pastor can set an example of how to discuss issues of moral significance, and how to respectfully talk with each other and consider both sides of a conversation, even when you have personal stake in the issue.

I believe that Harold must address the issue for the congregation in this situation. While his opinion may not be helpful to the growth of the community, his direction, love and example can serve to grow the congregation in meaningful and relational ways. He cannot sweep it under the rug, and must act to guide the congregation. If Harold belives that one is far more in line with God’s dreams for the church, then Harold has every right, and Miles would say even a responsibility, to act as a moral guide and help them understand how we are called by God.

This is where I run into my struggle with this case-study: in my opinion it is not clear that either plan would serve to develop congregation in any meaningful way – but that is based in my understanding of the church’s purpose. If one thinks that adding staff and equipment are the best way to minister to the world outside of the church – then this would be a great program. I myself see this program as an overly inwardly focused program that will leave the church with more expenditures than they currently have no interest in supporting. It reflects very much the concept of the pastor as a sort of entrepreneur – as opposed to some one really concerned with caring for the congregation and the world around it. Now more money has gone into the church and no ministry has actually happened. Why wouldn’t people from with in the church volunteer to do the world that they think God is calling them to be a part of? The second plan, as a non-traditional person, seems like it is hardly even an option. The organ for me shows up as a sentimentality that Jesus and Paul had no room for in their ministries.

Now I will admit that in hindsight, I could have written this better, and there were some clarity errors, but here is the response from my class mate:
I am wholeheartedly for preaching "reconciliation, brotherly love, and forgiveness" but I believe that there is a time and place for that and a time and place for healthy conflict. Jesus was not always about peace and reconciliation but at times named things for what they were. He told the rich how hard it would be for them to get into heaven on their own accord and threw the money changers out of the temple. Jesus was pretty good about agitating the most pious. If was not always right for Jesus, how can it always be right for us too? I struggle with understanding out preaching this message of love and forgiveness and avoiding the issue at hand is going to create the result he is looking for. It seems to me that Pastor Harold no longer knows what he wants and is just avoiding the real issue and thus allowing the conflict to begin to esculate.

I agree with much of what you said at the end and am curious about a few things. First, as a situationalist with some deontology guiding those situations, I would love to hear more thoughts on the rules that would apply to this situation and how we go about determining them. It seems to me that Pastor Harold does not really know what the purpose of the church is, what do you think? It seems to me that the organ and worship are key to the identity and purpose of the church, what do you think? I am really curious to know what third alternative you would suggest to develop the congregation in a meaningful way. I agree with you that neither plan currently seems to fit but I am not sure what I think should be done besides music is integral to it (part of their identity) and that Lutherans tend to not evangelize.

And My Final Response:
I am a bit confused, maybe my writing wasn’t clear, but I believe I already stated what you stated about a wishy washy message being a bad thing. I was trying to state that “reconciliation, brotherly love and forgiveness” are always a great topic, but if the pastor is avoiding the conflict on the spending of the money, he is modeling a very unhealthy way to discuss difficult issues in the church. Sorry if it wasn’t clear in my original post.

The flip side of this is preaching from the pulpit about topical issues and minimizing the ability of the “Word of God” to come through in the sermon, while the pastor uses a sacred time to address housekeeping issues or advance his/her own agenda.

Harold should preach the Gospel, and he should have conversations with the congregations at a separate time – maybe even during the church bulletin time, or at a specific meeting to discuss budget issues – not during the sermon. I know that the “Preached Word” is a sacrament to the Lutheran church, and it seems dirty to pollute a sacrament with what ever issues have come up in the last few weeks for a small population of the church community.

You suggest that Harold is out of touch with the purpose of the church, I think that the majority of most churches are out of touch with the reason that the church exists. Many people think that the existence of the church is a necessary thing – so that we must make sure to keep the church alive. The Church – the universal and apostolic Church is necessary, but that Church will go on past the Lutheran Church, past the Roman Catholics and most certainly beyond Solomon’s Porch (my faith community). If we lose sight of the reason the Church exists (the Great Commission, the building and nurturing of souls, the care and support of the underprivileged…) then we are not operating under the care and guiding of God, but only for our own preservation.

You ask for a third alternative for the church to work on, and I think that I already proposed that in my original post as well. That is what I was trying to get at when I said: “Why wouldn’t people from with in the church volunteer to do the work that they think God is calling them to be a part of?” I don’t understand why so many churches feel that they have to spend money to do anything. Money is not love, love is priceless, love is what we are called to share with the world, not only our money. Paying people to do nice things is not the same as doing nice things. My guess is that there are enough people, passions and talents that already exist in the community to do some amazing ministry and out reach. There is no need to raise money and hire new staff. More staff is the last thing most churches need.

Your final point is this: “I agree with you that neither plan currently seems to fit but I am not sure what I think should be done besides music is integral to it (part of their identity) and that Lutherans tend to not evangelize.”
I am not clear why a community’s identity is something that can’t/shouldn’t be changed. If a man refused to tithe because he wants to spend that money on his BMW we would find that ridiculous. But for him, owning a BMW is part of his “identity”. He grew up driving BMW’s and has always had one. Every one knows him as a BMW driver, and recognizes his fancy new car. It is part of his identity.

I don’t know why spending tens of thousands dollars on an extravagant instrument is an allowable form of “Christian Identity”, while we would all frown on some one’s identity as a BMW owner if it were to interrupt his ability to contribute financially to the church. These are both extravagances that prevent us from serving the purpose of the universal Church.

The same goes for the comment of “Lutherans tend not to evangelize.” I am not a fan of traditional evangelical models, but identifying a church as unwilling to serve God if it is outside of their comfort zone doesn’t seem very productive and certainly isn’t prophetic.

-I don't know if they get it, but I just had to vent publicly about the strugle that it is to be at this seminary.


Anonymous said...

Keep up the good fight Bob. You're ideas are both clear and correct.

Drive-Thru Society said...

Bobby, were you drinking when you wrote this? Just kidding. It seems to me that this might be a golden cow issue. The organ is more important than anything else in the community. This is the reason why I can't be a pastor of a traditional church anymore. This shit drives me nuts. I know that we have own idenity issues as a community and no church is perfect, but this conversation is the same shit different day. I am so glad I am not is seminary anymore. Bless you. By the way we missed you at the Cohort yesterday.

bobbydale said...

As part of looking into this issue I realized that a real organ - new one - pipe style would cost about $100,000 - what would make any one think that is a good use of funds? Besides being tied up in human tradition...

Anonymous said...

What does any of what either of your wrote have to do with being at a Lutheran Seminary?

bobbydale said...

The case study that my professor proposes, and the responses by my class mates come from some of the common Lutheran understandings and assumptions about the function of Church in the world.

Anonymous said...

I still don't understand your main critique. Although I found case studies in general to be rough going in sem.

bobbydale said...

I now know why Doug doesn't respond to people on his blog - I have a person who won't even identify themselves asking me questions with no context to speak into.
Okay mystery person - I can now begin to piece together your profie: I know that you are a Seminary graduate - I am guessing that you are a Lutheran, maybe you even went to Luther Seminary. That is why you are so interested in this topic.

Based on that - the Lutheran issue is basic to the ELCA as a whole - to them the church is based mainly on a Sunday "service". There is no focus on spiritual formation, only on filling the seats. So my issue is based in the lack of insight shown by my classmates about the overal purpose and mission of the Universal Church. The ELCA is generally focused on the ELCA and the preservation of the ELCA traditions.

I hope that helps.

Anonymous said...

You are good. :) Part of the profile you listed is correct...your view of Lutheran is quite limited if that is all you think of Lutherans and the ELCA. Although, I hear and agree with parts of your critique. I found your blog via The Paris Project. I'll leave you alone now. :)

bobbydale said...

I know that this is an over generalization - but it comes from living with the Lutheran theological concept of the Preached word. This principle seems to cause an over emphasis on Sunday Service. I know wonderful ELCA members - there are threads with in the Lutheran Church looking to make a difference in peoples lives and grow them in their discipleship of Christ. However, I must say that my experience says that seems many with in the structure see no difference between a business model and a ministry model.
This doesn't begin to express my frustration with their "Salvation By Grace Alone" excuse for why they shouldn't have to serve their neighbor. It is like ignoring the second have of "The Freedom of a Christian" by Luther. I will stop - thanks for stopping by.