By Bob Hiller –
This has been an overwhelming week for the ol’ Haymaker. I have begun serving a new congregation in beautiful San Diego County (Community Lutheran Church). Though I’ve been a pastor for the better part of a decade, I have found myself completely overwhelmed. I know it’s a pious cliché for pastors to say that their calling is too big for them, and that they have to rely on the Lord. But dude, I am in over my head. I am thrilled that the Lord has placed me in this new place. And I am completely overwhelmed.
The “overwhelming” began on Sunday with my installation. If you’ve never seen a Lutheran pastor’s installation, it is something to behold. For those who love the pomp and circumstance, it is church at its finest: a packed church, the procession of a cross, loads of pastors in red stoles, church bureaucrats, and joyful singing. There was a chair set in front of the preacher (who in this instance was my father) for me to sit in so he could preach right to me. Before I felt too holy, and much to my joy-filled pride, my three-year-old son confiscated that chair during the recessional, basically mocking all the reverence. I’m proud to say he’s jagged material…but I digress. It was truly a wonderful day which I shared with my friends, family, and church.
It is completely terrifying.
See, during the service, I stood before God and His church, and I revisited my ordination vows. I stood and vowed, once again, that I believe, teach, and confess the Scriptures as the Word of God, that I would carry out my ministry in line with the Lutheran Confessions, that my life would be above reproach (I wasn’t the only pastor fidgeting at this point), that I would pray for my congregation, and deliver the gifts to them faithfully. I had pastors lay their hands on my head and speak words of exhortation and blessing. The weight of the ministry was once again placed on my shoulders as I realized I wasn’t fit for the task.
I’ve been working through those vows in my head this past week. Suddenly, it hit me. As intimidating as these vows are, they are utterly freeing for the pastor. In these vows, the pastor is given his overwhelming, but freeingly simple task: preach the Word, pray for the church, and tend to God’s flock with His Word. In other words, stick to the script that God himself has provided.
One of the things that drives the sports media nuts is how scripted athletes are in post-game interviews. No matter what the question is to a winning player, they find a way to respond by thanking God, crediting their team, and saying that, though they enjoy this win, they are ready to look to the next week, season, game, etc. Losing athletes typically take the blame, credit their opponent, and vow to work harder. It can be so lame and predictable. There is real excitement from the media when a losing athlete throws his coach under the bus or when the winning team gets too vocal. Creativity thrills the media but is typically found only in the most arrogant and self-righteous of players. Poor teammates make great headlines. Athletes who stick to the script, however, free themselves from the unnecessary media attention and distractions from the task at hand.
Much to the chagrin of a world that demands new and inventive ideas, the ordination vows free the pastor from having to produce headlines. They free the pastor to stick to the script. That is, no matter how familiar or unfamiliar my congregation is, the script is the same: I am to preach Christ crucified to sinners. Pastors don’t produce the goods; they simply deliver them. We are free from having to create new and exciting programs that will expand the kingdom’s borders (whose kingdom those programs expand is another conversation). Rather, we simply preach the one who already has been given the dominion to the glory of the Father. We give this crucified and risen One to the churches we’ve been called to serve and then invite them to bow and confess Him as Lord.
No matter how new the context, no matter how intimidating the changes, I can rest in this: the Lord, who purchased me with His precious blood, has given me a message to deliver. My job is to stick to the script and to deliver Christ in all His sin-killing, mercy-giving glory to His sheep. Christ has set me free to do this! Thank God for those blessed vows!