The Office Never Changes, Really

Ah, the pastor’s office: a bastion of erudition and genius; a place where books are read, sermons are written, and hurt souls are mended through the psychological mastermind of a Divinity student whose only class on counseling required him to draw a floor plan of the furniture placement to best facilitate a welcoming atmosphere.

(Hold for uncomfortably authentic laughter.)

The pastor’s “office” is traditionally called a “study” rather than an office. “Office” brings to mind images of paper, copy machines, stale coffee, and Michael Scott … none of which is off-point, really. “Study,” on the other hand, situates the room for what it should be—a place where pastors hunker down to study, write,and pray. It’s the traditional understanding that names the pastor’s “office” a “study.” Also, calling it a “study” makes it sound far more pretentious than reality dictates … so let’s go with study just to annoy people, because that amuses me.

I’ve been blessed to serve two different congregations, both named St. Paul. The first St. Paul I served enjoyed a beautiful pastor’s study with stained glass windows, a side door that connected to the main office, and more built-in shelving space than I needed. I furnished it with a small desk, two oversized chairs, and a coffee table that accentuated (I hope) a “come-in-and-stay-a-while” atmosphere. I loved it. It was my home away from home. It was comfortable, it was warm, and the coffee was always an arm’s length away. It also didn’t hurt that the parsonage was literally connected to the church, so I frequently worked late in my pajamas and bare feet.

The second St. Paul offered a pastor’s office. It is in the basement of the school, which is across the street from the church. That is good for the proximity I need with the staff, but not so welcoming for literally anything else. I has a little shelving, a couple of desks, and a sliver of natural light six feet up. I’ve done what I can, but it has always reminded me more of the study corral I had in the basement of the old library at Concordia Seminary—isolated and utilitarian. The copy machine is down the hall, and the secretary is upstairs. It’s functional, but not ideal.

“No big deal,” I said immediately upon accepting my call to the second St. Paul. “In my parsonage there is a study (‘Were it not so, would I not have told you I go to prepare a study for you?’).” Yes, my house itself was designed with a pastor’s input, which means there is a reasonably sized study between the basement and main house that houses all of my books. I furnished it with shelves I made myself, a brand new couch, and a small desk I made out of 2×4’s. Oh, and a TV with a Nintendo. I use that space whenever I need to do a deep dive of the myriad theological topics whose reference materials I can’t seem to be able to sell or recycle. And play Nintendo. My family also uses it for the main TV (we refuse to put a TV in the living room). It’s now become more of a den than a study, come to think of it. I also have a life-sized cardboard cutout of Donald Trump in the background just to smirk in lurking annoyance for people on zoom calls, which also amuses me. Still, that is my study, not my office.

But wait, there’s more! This year the second St. Paul finished a sizeable building project that included a fellowship hall, full kitchen, youth room, nursery, classrooms, and (you guessed it) a “Pastor’s Study.” Currently, said study is a work in progress, meaning I am working bit-by-bit on moving into it. There are no bookshelves (yet), so I set up what I call a “quick reference station” on the large desk: bibles in a couple languages, Lutheran confessions, and a hymnal. There are two guest chairs with an end-table betwixt, and the liturgical banner my aunt made me for my ordination that reads, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God. –Romans 1:16.”

I am flummoxed by my transition, and unwilling to accept any practical advice. (So don’t offer it.) Who in the heck can reach their potential with three different offices—er, studies? But somehow, someway, the ministry still gets done. How?

You see, in this chaos, it is important for me to remember—as I remind you today—that the pastor is not just a studier; he is the steward of an office.

I have studied in all four of my “offices.” I have prepared sermons in all four of my “offices.” I have prayed in all four of my current “offices.” I have listened to and counseled people in all four of my “offices.” Most importantly, I have shared the gospel—of which I am unashamed—with people in all four of my “offices.” Who’s to say what office, what study, is the best configuration for this vocation?

It depends on who you ask. Maybe you ask the neighbor who would come over late at night to play chess and ask stilted questions about his marriage. Study or office? Maybe you ask the school kids who tromped by the open door and yelled, “Hey, Pastor!” Study or office? Maybe you ask the broken-down pastor pulling book after book off the shelf trying to scrape together some semblance of a sermon. Study or office? Maybe you ask the hurt soul who reached for the box of tissue on the end table. Study or office? Maybe you stop caring where you study, and remember your office. Study or office?

Because in my office, wherever it may be, and whatever it may look like, I reside for the sake of the ministry of Jesus Christ, who is the power of God unto salvation. I study for that reason. I study in whatever office I can find so that people believe in him. And I nightly pray that my study benefits the office he has given me undeservedly.

Amen … now leave me alone so I can study.