We face a shortage of pastors. That is not soon. It is now. Vacancies are lasting longer. Pastors are serving well beyond what most consider retirement age. Small congregations are having to share pastors. Many congregations are interested in calling an additional pastor who is not readily available.
Don’t wait for a pastor.
This is not to speak against the great importance of the pastoral office in the life of a congregation. It is to acknowledge the legitimate purpose and ministry of the priesthood of all believers. As priests, laypeople are called to lives of sacrifice, prayer, and proclamation.
Perhaps the pastor shortage, of which God is not unaware, is His call to laypeople to become more demonstrative in their calling as priests. While there are things that only a properly called pastor should do, there are many things that laypeople can do without waiting for permission from their present pastor or, in a vacancy, direction from the one to be called. Consider the following items for which you do not need to wait for a pastor.
Read your Bible, all of it, every year. Martin Luther strove to put the Bible in the hands of the laity, both men and women. Yes, pastors are key resources for helping to understand the Scripture and are called to be the public proclaimers of it. However, each Christian is invited to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the Word of God. There is power in the Word. There is Jesus in the Word. Responding to the Gospel invitation to read the Word will move Christians and Christian ministry forward. Don’t wait for a pastor to open your Bible.
Build Christian community by opening your home to fellow believers. Build Christian outreach by opening your home to those who do not know Jesus. Not all Christian community and outreach are connected to a church building. As you know, the Church got its start in the homes of many. Don’t wait for a pastor to open your home.
Work with others in your congregation to build a ministry to your community. Feed the poor. Care for children. Bless the elderly. Befriend the lonely. Look at, study, and then act on community needs that you and others from your congregation can meet. Don’t wait for a pastor to open your eyes to opportunities in your community.
Spend time in prayer. Remember Anna from the birth narrative of Jesus? She was persistent in prayer. Persistent people of prayer have always characterized the Church in her faithfulness. While we look to pastors to lead public prayers on behalf of the congregation, congregants have the priestly opportunity to be vigilant in prayer. Read Luther’s introduction to the Lord’s Prayer in the Large Catechism. He affirms the great power in prayer. Don’t wait for a pastor to open your heart in prayer.
The heritage of the Lutheran Church includes the vigorous ministry of lay men and women. Our voting structure at conventions reflects this; each congregation gets two votes, one by a pastor and one by a lay person. Witness the contributions of the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League. Witness the contributions of the Lutheran Laymen’s League. I remember being taught at seminary, in a History of Missions class, that missionary movements are often driven by the laity.
Engage now, you and your fellow congregants, according to the various vocations and opportunities God has given. Jesus said, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). Jesus is not unaware of the pastors there aren’t. Dietrich Bonhoeffer in a sermon on July 23, 1933, reminds us, “But it is not we who build. He (Jesus) builds the church. No man builds the church but Christ alone.” While Jesus seems to tarry in sending us pastors, be certain that he is at work by his Spirit now, day by day, in and through the priesthood of all believers to build the church.
So, love your pastor. Respect your pastor. Learn from and serve with your pastor. Receive him when Jesus provides him as an undershepherd of the Good Shepherd. Pray for him to be sent if you are in a vacancy situation. But Jesus is at work now through his Spirit in your midst; don’t wait for a pastor.
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