What is the Divine Call?

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What is the Divine Call?

In my consideration of the call to the congregation in New Mexico (which I declined), I had the opportunity to review another set of “call documents.” This is a packet of standardized informations and forms received by every pastor in the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. It includes all the sort of things you’d expect: salary, medical coverage, mileage, continuing education, housing, moving expenses. It includes some general survey questions about the congregation including demographics, income, liturgical customs, and spiritual well-being. And it also includes a boilerplate page of authorizations and obligations called the “Supplement to the Diploma of Vocation.”

When I arrived in 2010, I relied upon this call document to know what I should expect from the congregation and what the congregation desired of me. I was mistaken. It were completed by a few lay leaders, who undoubtedly had both the congregation’s and the future pastor’s best interests in mind. But these documents were not read and approved by the congregation. I was wrong in assuming that the congregation has agreed to the obligations set forward in these documents. I was wrong is assuming the represented the desires of the congregation collectively or its individuals. I should have reviewed them with the elders and shared them with the whole congregation.

This does not mean the “call documents” were in error. The error was in assuming that there was a general knowledge of what was contained, assent to the duties and responsibilities set forward, and an agreement in the material terms of the call. The error is not in the content itself or this would bring into question every pastoral call in our church body. Rather their content is not well known nor are they regularly considered by the congregation.

In particular, the “Supplement” page drives at this question: “Who is the pastor and what is his authority?” Or we might ask it this way: “What is a divine call?” This question challenges the preconception of our American religious context. Pr. Matt Richard says it this way:

My friends, we live in a time where the role/vocation of the pastor is greatly misunderstood. Commercialism, consumerism, corporate ethos, and therapeutic hopes are powerful ideologies within our culture that often subtly shape and form a congregation’s expectations and understandings of the pastor role. Thus, when a pastor receives a divine call through a congregation, I believe that there are often unspoken or simply assumed congregational expectations of what the divine call is ‘to’ and ‘for.’ This can also be the case with the pastor as well. Thus, I believe that it is not enough merely to say that one is ‘called’ for there are a plethora of correct and incorrect presuppositions and expectations of what the pastor is called ‘to’ and ‘for.’

As I paged through the documents from NM, one page in particular struck me as helpful in clarifying my role as pastor. It is titled, “Supplement to the Diploma of Vocation.” It precedes the compensation pages and congregational self-study. It is endorsed with the signatures of the Congregational President, Elder, and Secretary. It helpfully summarizes our confession of the Office of the Holy Ministry as given by the Scriptures and Lutheran Confessions. It establishes what the pastor has been authorized and obligated to do. It also establishes what the congregation has been obligated to do. It defines what is a faithful pastoral ministry and congregational life. But in order for it to be useful to our life together, we need to know what it contains. The text of my Supplement to the Diploma of Vocation is as follows:

To Christopher Robert Gillespie who is herewith called to the position of Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church at Dyer, Indiana:

In the name of the Triune God and by His authority, in order that we might carry out His mission to the world, we hereby authorize and obligate you:

  • To administer to us the Word of God in its full truth and purity as contained in the Sacred Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments and as set forth in the confessional writings of the Evangelical Lutheran Church as found in the Book of Concord;
  • To administer the holy sacraments in accordance with their divine institution;
  • To demonstrate the mind and spirit of Christ as you serve the members of the congregation and equip them for Christ’s mission to seek and save the lost;
  • To equip and enable the members of the congregation to serve one another and those outside the fellowship of the congregation;
  • To perform the functions of a pastor in an evangelical manner; to aid, counsel, and guide members of all ages and social conditions;
  • to visit the sick and the dying; to admonish the indifferent and the erring; to support the members of the congregation as they extend that evangelical ministry to others;
  • To guard and promote faithfully the spiritual welfare of the members of this congregation, in particular to see to the instruction of the catechumens, both children and adults, in the Word and thus prepare them for communicant membership in the church;
  • To guide the congregation in applying the divinely ordained discipline of the church according to the Word of God and to assist and lead the members of the congregation in practicing the forgiven life with one another;
  • To promote and guide the mission activity of the congregation as it is related to the local community and to endeavors of the Synod and its Districts, in particular to train workers and guide them in evangelism and to enlist the support of the congregation for mission work;
  • To serve as a resource and guide for members of the congregation as they participate in the ministry of Christian education, and to train parents to teach the Christian faith to their children;
  • To assist the congregation in adopting administrative policies and procedures that will help it carry out the mission of a Christian congregation;
  • To serve the congregation as an example of Christian conduct; to endeavor earnestly to live in Christian unity with the members of the congregation, fellow workers, and sister congregations in the Synod; and by the grace of God to do everything possible for the edification of the congregation and the upbuilding of the church in Christ.

As the baptized people of God we partner with you to accomplish i His mission to the world, and we hereby obligate ourselves:

  • To receive you as a servant of Jesus Christ, to give you the honor and love and obedience that the Word prescribes, to aid you by word and deed, and to support you with our diligent, faithful assistance and prayers;
  • To make faithful and regular use of the means of grace;
  • To work with you to equip God’s people to glorify Him and extend His kingdom by living out our baptism;
  • To make appropriate arrangements for your continuing education as a professional person in the ministry of the Gospel;
  • To provide for your proper maintenance according to our ability and to review your salary, housing arrangements, and all allowances periodically, beginning with the following arrangements:

Why does this matter? Again from Pr. Richard:

This document is of utmost importance for it is a document that defines the role and vocation of the pastor in the midst of other ideologies that subtly attempt to define the role of the pastor.  This document hedges out the pressures that congregations may feel to make pastors into CEOs, Therapists, Salesmen, and Marketers. Think of all the meaningless debate, hurt feelings, broken expectations, and chaos that come forth when foreign ideologies improperly define and collide with the proper role of the pastor. Furthermore, this document also guards the congregation by showing the limitations of the pastoral office, for as soon as a pastor goes beyond his calling in the public ministry towards the teachings and laws of men, he has drifted into areas that to do not have authority over God’s flock. Think of all the abuse, confusion, and broken trust that occurs when pastors stray from their calling into the teachings and laws of men.

My friends, as Missouri Synod Lutherans, we have tremendous theology and wonderful gifts, like the Diploma of Vocation, embedded in our polity. This Diploma of Vocation is such a gift to pastors and churches, for it prevents  the church and pastor from confusion, misunderstandings, false expectations, and so forth.  It defines the blessed relationship between the pastor and the congregation, and it helps define what the Divine Call is to.

As always, I welcome your comments and I hope this post has been helpful to you.

+Pastor Gillespie

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