Monday, July 2, 2007

Language, culture, and identity

Pastoral ministry is about relationships, and that includes relationships with fellow pastors. At Martin Luther College, a person has the opportunity to build relationships that last a lifetime. Besides this, students at MLC have the opportunity not simply to learn subject matter, but to study with professors who are modelers and confessors of the faith they are teaching. Studying at a confessional residential college provides an opportunity to be imprinted by the character of godly men.


If you play a note on a trumpet pointing the trumpet at the strings of a piano with the piano's damper pedal pressed, the piano's strings will resonate sympathetically with the same note as the trumpet. The only strings that resonate in the piano are the strings that match the note played on the trumpet. The other strings remain silent. After the trumpet stops, the piano continues to emanate softly the note of the trumpet.

Likewise, a pastor's ability to communicate the Gospel message to a congregation is better when he is tuned to his congregation. There are three factors affecting how well a pastor is tuned to his congregation: language, culture, and identity. We can assess the tuning of each factor using an Apgar-like score ranging from 0 to 5 (5 is the best).

Language: We would not send a missionary to a foreign country unless he spoke the language. If he speaks the language fluently, he scores 4. If he has the same accent as the people he serves and understands their jokes then he scores 5. An upper Midwest accent spoken to a congregation in a district that borders an ocean scores only 4.

Culture: Does the pastor impose cultural celebrations (such as Oktoberfest) on a congregation in an outlying district? Score 0. Does he tell farm stories in every sermon to a city congregation? Score 0. In the Midwest, if he can list cultural events (such as hunting & fishing season dates) he scores 3. If he hunts and fishes he scores 4. If he cleans his own fish he scores 5. If he performs a Lutheran Quinceanera when requested he scores 5. If he wears a necktie in Hawaii he scores 0.

Identity: Does the pastor identify with the congregation, or is he just passing through? Does he care about his flock in a practical way or in a lofty theological way? Quick measures are if he owns the parsonage, if he is a fan of the local sports teams, and if he bought a burial plot in the community. Laypeople are intuitive and can sense when a pastor is not sincere. If he is not sincere in all matters, how do we know he's sincere with the Gospel?

Should a pastor care more about relationships with parishioners or with fellow pastors? Is it the purpose of ministerial education to build lasting bonds between pastors because pastors are set apart from laypeople and pastors should not get too close to laypeople? Can pastors really trust only other pastors? Is this why WELS needs prep schools?

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