“Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away.”
(1 Peter 5:2-4)
This summer, several CLC congregations will have ordination and installation services for their new pastors who have just graduated from Immanuel Lutheran Seminary in Eau Claire. These men will then begin a career of service to the Lord and His people. In each case, how these positions were filled is unlike any type of “job placement” in the usual sense of that phrase. None of the graduates sent in a résumé to apply for the position of pastor. The congregations conducted no interviews of prospective candidates; in fact, they asked to be assigned a graduate sight-unseen! There were no salary negotiations or contracts to sign. From the standpoint of normal business practices, the whole process appears to be fraught with uncertainty and the likelihood of failure—and yet both parishioners and pastors-elect expect the arrangement to work out superbly. The reason for this, simply put, is a matter of faith. It has to do with trust in the promises and directions that are found in the Word of God concerning the doctrine of the call.
The God-pleasing relationship of the pastor to his people is simply and warmly described in the passage cited above from 1 Peter 5. It is the Chief Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ, who wishes to bless His people with the life-giving Word of God. Because He has ascended to the right hand of the Father, He is not visibly present to personally comfort and guide us. He has therefore entrusted His believers in Christian congregations to the care of under-shepherds, that is, men to whom He has committed this work as His representatives. Because it is the Holy Spirit who has made them overseers (Acts 20:28), they have authority and responsibility for the care of Jesus’ sheep.
In spite of this God-given authority, however, their work is to be marked by humility. They are not to labor for personal advancement or worldly gain, but for God’s kingdom and the benefit of His believers.
In the same way, those who are called into the teaching ministry in our Lutheran schools are to be regarded as God’s gifts to His Church, in order to feed the Lord’s precious lambs with the Word of life.
The congregations’ part in this divine arrangement is to receive their called servants as representatives of God, to love them for the sake of their work with God’s Word, and to provide for their earthly needs so that they can devote their full-time work to the ministry, as God’s Word directs:
“And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake.” (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13)
“Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the
gospel.” (1 Corinthians 9:14)
Because of sin in this world, those who serve in the public ministry have foibles and flaws of one kind or another. Church members also often fail to do their part in appreciating and supporting the work of their called servants. But with the assurance of God’s forgiveness through Christ, and a humble spirit of loving forgiveness and service toward each other, the church family will prosper. It will receive the great blessing of the Good Shepherd, Who works through the under-shepherds to whom He entrusts the care of His flock.
Bruce Naumann is associate pastor of Messiah Lutheran Church in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.