By Paul Koch –
A few years back I had become worn down, more than a little, by my vocation. So much so that I began to question what in the hell I was doing.
I am a preacher, a pastor in the Lutheran Church that I love. I love the doctrine, the history and ethos of the whole thing. I have often imagined those images of Luther standing immovable before the Holy Roman Emperor, defying his authority to rule a conscience bound by the Word of God. I liked the grit and fight of such a vocation, but I had found that reality wasn’t quite what I had imagined. Oh I loved the people I was called to serve; I pushed myself to always improve my preaching and teaching but my thoughts began to wander from my task.
From circuit gatherings, to district pastors conferences, to the sheer volume of mail that came into my office I was always under the impression that I needed to do more. Every conference or convention I went to there was some other pastor paraded before the gathering as an example of good and faithful ministry. The real blow came when I began to see colleagues brought forward who had graduated at the same time as me. What were they doing so right? What had I failed to do?
The words of the Augustana began to fade from my working understanding of my vocation: “To obtain such faith God instituted the office of preaching, giving the gospel and the sacraments. Through these, as through means, he gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when he wills, in those who hear the gospel.” Well sure, but none of those presenters at any conference were brought out to highlight how faithfully or powerfully they preached. None of the mailers filling my inbox described how to excel in giving the sacraments. I began to look elsewhere. If I was to succeed at this vocation I needed something else, something more.
This is the point at which many a preacher begins to go begging. With open hands we begin to long for whatever will fill it. What will make our church grow? What will challenge and ignite my vocation? There is no shortage of things to fill our begging hands. On the one hand, there are an abundance of new and innovative programs out there. Then again, there are the ancient traditions and customs that will provide what is lacking. We look to the left and to the right; we are tempted to find a solution in something other than the office of preaching. We begin to care about what the “experts” have to say and even listen to church consultants about things like strategic plans.
A preacher who goes begging is a sad and dangerous creature. They timidly stand in the pulpit as if they had no right to be there. They look elsewhere, beyond proclamation, to move their congregation forward. The heart of the church, the doctrine of justification by faith alone, becomes an assumed teaching that sits on the shelf as a trump card to be slammed down when our motives or decisions are under scrutiny.
Which means that the Living Word itself is stifled as a pastor’s vocation becomes defined by many other things rather than the office of preaching.
But I am convinced that even when preachers go begging or have been begging for a long time, all is not lost. I was there; I was on the brink with my hand out ready to find some solution outside of the Word that I was called to preach. And to be honest, it didn’t take much to bring me back. I was simply reminded by several brothers whom I trusted that I just needed to do my damn job. In the course of that conversation I heard the proclamation of forgiveness from their mouths and was reminded what defines the vocation of a pastor.
So, it is my obsessive passion to make sure that all other preachers are reminded of this same thing. In the face of all the other things in which we are seduced to place our trust for success and growth and for whatever else you long, I say – do your damn job! Preach the Word. Proclaim that living, justifying, electing Word of God with all the passion and determination of Luther defying the Emperor. This you have been called and authorized to do. So, beg no more and do it!