By Paul Koch – *Originally published 3-14-2014*
(The Jagged Word authors at the seminary)
A friend of mine was trying to explain to a district official (whom I had recently offended) what my problem was. Now admittedly, this is not an easy task for my problems are numerous and constantly shifting. But being my friend and trusted colleague he was trying to put the best construction on my actions. As he retold the story, he said that he ended up muttering something along the lines of, “Well, Paul just doesn’t care that much for bureaucracy.”
I must tell you, that is a true statement if I ever heard one. Part of my personal mission statement is to make sure the bureaucracy is always worried. I find a great amount of pleasure in reminding the bureaucracy of our church body that they don’t really hold any power. Sure, I appreciate them when they can be of service to the work of the local church. Otherwise, I operate under the suspicion that they are just a vacuum of resources and a constant distraction to the real work we have been called to do. I know this is not fair; like an abusive boyfriend, I use the bureaucrats when they serve my purposes and discard them when they bother me.
I’ve had this problem for many years. From my earliest memories of elementary school to the present I’ve always resisted those in some sort of bureaucratic “authority” over me. Lately, I am worried that this problem of mine seems to be getting worse. The longer I’m a pastor the more I realize that the central element of my vocation is preaching. The more I focus on proclamation of the Word, the actual binding and loosing of sins, the more the bureaucracy becomes irrelevant.
I think I like my synod. I’m pretty sure I enjoy my district. I want to love the brothers in my circuit whom I actually see regularly. In our circuit we actually have discussions on the preaching of the Word. We challenge and encourage one another in the task of proclamation and in this I find great comfort and strength. At the district level, we might engage in such a discussion though I fear it would be because someone wasn’t paying attention and it slipped through the conference planners’ agenda. At the synodical level – well, I don’t really know what they do but I’m sure it’s all very important.
The point is, the more we focus on the task of preaching the less use the bureaucracy seems to be. That is, I think, how it should be. The problem with bureaucracy in the church is that those furthest from the preaching task want to consume the church’s time and energy. From the church mailbox, to my personal e-mail to any conference on any level there is a constant flow of distractions. They would rather have me focusing on just about anything and everything but the essential task of my calling.
The Word must be central; the electing and living Word is the creator and upholder of the congregation, not the Synod or district or even circuit. This makes me wonder, what would happen if preaching did become the focus of the bureaucracy? Would it look different or can that just never be its purpose?
To be honest, I probably still wouldn’t like them. But like I said I have a lot of problems.