Sledgehammers and Wish-dreams

By Paul Koch


As a pastor I often feel that I grate against my own profession. Don’t get me wrong I love my vocation, and I try to constantly better myself as a preacher and teacher but I always feel like I just don’t quite fit in among pastors. I have tried to fix this; I’ve talked to older and wiser pastors, I’ve gone to all the district pastor’s conferences and circuit meetings but it doesn’t seem to get any better. I fear there is a part of me that will never be comfortable among my fellow clergy.

I have found some solace in the idea that this may just be a generational issue. Being part of Generation X has certainly left its imprint. The Cantankerous Critic once wrote about generational distinctions saying, “Think of it this way: The Builders literally built the proverbial box, Baby Boomers thought outside the box, Generation X smashed the box with a sledge hammer and then stomped it into a million pieces with their combat boots to the tune of Punk Rock music, and Millennials don’t even realize there is or ever was a box.” While this certainly explains a lot I still find that many of my contemporary colleagues don’t seem to struggle with the issues I do. And so I have been left to my own devices to figure out the disconnect.


I have watched as my former classmates have stood at the podium and cast a vision of small group ministry that will grow and strengthen the church. I have sat there as my brothers in the ministry have argued eloquently for the enduring power of the ancient liturgy to recapture the youth that are leaving the church. I have even cheered on proposals of dramatic overhauls to church structure and governance. I have been at conferences featuring inter-generational ministry and cross-cultural ministry and confessional integrity and Lutheran identity, and on and on the list goes.

And yet each time I end up wishing I had a sledge hammer with me to shatter the visions and wish-dreams of the presenters.

And so this is what I’ve figured out. While I may now know why this bothers me more than others I do know what it is that troubles me. What makes me so uncomfortable is that such presentations and proposals send our preachers off begging for some magical answer to whatever struggles they are facing. Low Sunday School attendance, we’ve got a solution for that. Too many empty seats in the pews, we have a way to increase that. Losing the youth from your congregation? Why we have just the thing to bring them back in. Trust me there is a program or a service that will help with just about every aspect of church, from evangelism to bookkeeping.


The thing is; when preachers go begging, whether it is to the ancient liturgical forms or to the latest programs of social engagement, they leave behind the one thing that defined and instituted their calling – the Word.

“For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’” (Romans 10:13-15)

Now of course all these other things, from good business practices to the safety and blessings of the liturgy have their place. But that place is in support of the preaching of the Word. As soon as pastors begin to see in them the answer to whatever it is that currently plagues this or that congregation, why then they’ve gone begging. They’ve walked away from the power of the Word and begun to trust in some other shadow that promises God’s great working apart from proclamation. I fear to do this is to become like the servant who took the master’s talent and buried it in the ground instead of using it for its purpose.

Perhaps I just need a bigger sledge hammer!