By Paul Koch –
Right before I left the seminary for the parish, I was happy that I was able to spend some time with Dr. Feuerhahn before hitting the road. I remember being in his study and he was generously unloading some of his excess library on me. We were there because I had mentioned to him that one of the great fears I had about leaving the seminary, was leaving behind it’s incredible library.
I loved the library (I still like to wander through it when I get a chance to go back). The library held the promise of answers and guidance for my vocation as a pastor.
I loved the smell of the old books and marveled at the massive collection of great theologians, past and present. I could get lost in the stacks below for hours and be quite happy. From ancient texts to contemporary journal articles, the library was a powerful tool to any who sought to be a preacher of the Word. Leaving such a treasure trove behind was a bit scary; it was like taking off the training wheels the day before a big race. The tools of the library would surely aid me in being a better preacher, so I was shaky about leaving it behind.
Dr. Feuerhahn told me that when he visited a pastor in the parish, often he could immediately tell what year this man graduated simply by looking at his library. His point being that there were no new books purchased since he had graduated. The personal library of the pastor looked like a snapshot of the curriculum’s required reading for whatever period of time he was at the seminary.
Now with the accessibility of the internet and the great amount of quality material in digital form, his point may seem a little dated but his sentiment is quite true. At least when it comes to the task of striving to be better preachers; most pastors’ libraries haven’t changed much. A great danger facing many of us, pastors, is that we are lazy. Now please understand, I’m not saying that they are not busy; most pastors are swamped, but they tend to be lazy with regard to trying to better themselves in their task as preachers.
The vast majority of conversations I have ever had with my colleagues in the pastoral ministry deal with very practical things. Our discussions deal with stewardship, youth ministry, confirmation, evangelism, mission strategy and the like. More often they deal with particular issues with particular members. Sometimes we will even argue doctrinal distinctions and exegetical struggles in a particular text. But it is rare when the discussion turns to the task of preaching. The quest to be a better preacher seems to be low on the agenda. This point is proven by the schedule for almost every pastor’s conference I’ve ever been to.
It’s time for preachers to dust off the old books and buy some new ones. It’s time to reclaim the craft of preaching. It’s time for preaching to move to the top of our agendas!
I leave you with this quote from C.F.W. Walther:
“How pitiful is the young pastor who enters this office thinking: ‘Hooray, the time of hard work and drudgery is over. Now I have come to the haven of rest and peace! I will enjoy that! I am my own boss and need not take orders from any person in the world!’ This is just as pitiful s the pastor who looks upon his office as his craft, or trade, and thinks: ‘Now all I have to do is to set up for myself a nice, comfortable parish! I will be really careful not to make enemies and do everything to make everyone my friend.”’ Oh, what a pitiful man! These pastors plan to use their spiritual assets for worldly gain. They are not true ministers of Christ, and on the Last Day He will say to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness’ (Matt 7:23).
“But blessed is the pastor who starts his official work on the very first day, determined to do everything that the grace of God will enable him to do, so that not one soul in his congregation would be lost on account of him. A pastor like this would resolve that by the grace of God he would do all he can, so that, when the day comes for him to lay down his shepherd’s staff, he may be able to say what Christ said to His Father, “Here I am. Of those You gave me, not one is lost.’”
-Law & Gospel, Twentieth Evening Lecture