Thursday, October 27, 2005

How do we select our Pastors?

The following is my response to a letter I received expressing concern about some research that I am doing with my fellow intern. The premise is that we are going to look at the personality of the pastoral candidate and the expectations of the congregation to help the congregation make an informed choice when calling a new pastor. The objection related to the use of anything but scriptural guidelines in this venture.

Mr. (Name withheld),

Thank you for taking the time to express your misgivings about this research.

I agree that finding a Shepard who is willing to feed his flock from the bounty of the Gospel of Christ is the ultimate concern for any call to ministry. The scriptural guidelines about what kind of man should be called as a minister should be followed as divine imperative. I agree with you that many congregations are far too concerned about growth and looking to the world’s criteria for success (big buildings, broad reaching “ministries”, etc.) than looking for a faithful servant of the Word and sacraments.

Consider however what happens when a church is operating as it should, as a body of believers under a faithful Shepard and then the beloved minister decides to retire or dies. The congregation does not disperse, but as a body with affection for one another, tries to find someone else who can lead them. There are plenty of candidates with the proper credentials who profess the faith, who subscribe to our confessions, and who preach sermons full of the gospel. How then do you choose? Do we cast lots? Do we pray and wait for God to give us direct revelation for this choice? Do we ask for a sign? As a Lutheran influenced by Dr. Veith’s understanding of calling, I think that it is our duty to begin with the scriptures and also to apply whatever other tools we have available to make a wise choice. Some churches will look at a candidate’s financial records as an indicator of how faithful he is in his stewardship. Some do extensive psychological testing to see the pastor’s likelihood for extra-marital temptation, etc. When a congregation chooses to do an interview with a candidate, they are looking at personality variables, the research that we are doing is simply making these personality variables more quantifiable.

This study is based on a five-factor model of personality that measures the traits of Emotional stability (those low on emotional stability are more prone to anxiety and distress), Extraversion (an outgoing quality versus someone who needs more time alone and does not necessarily enjoy crowds), Openness to Experience (someone high on this factor would enjoy being widely read and intellectually oriented), Agreeableness (the tendency to trust versus a more skeptical approach, extremes in either direction can become problematic) and Conscientiousness (a quality of an individual in which a sense of duty is the driving motivator for their behavior). The five factors have been shown to be relatively stable over the life span, people do tend to become less Open to experience as they age for example, but not much.

Whether a pastor is high or low in Agreeableness (for example) probably wouldn’t affect his ability to preach the gospel and properly administer the sacraments, but it may affect how he gets along with the other leadership in the church. People who are extremely high in Agreeableness are trusting to a fault and are likely to be taken advantage of, whereas those who are very low on Agreeableness are stubborn and may insist on their own style rather than accommodating to the congregation’s expectations at all. People would be much more likely to approach the high Agreeable pastor in times of need and request visits. Those who have a pastor with low Agreeableness would have to learn how to ask for the care that they needed.

We can talk about what level of each of these factors is ideal, but I don’t think we will find a Biblical proposition about that. We know that Jesus did not trust people fully because he knew what was in the hearts of men. We also know that He is approachable and kind. We will not find pastors who are perfect. Our research will not be aimed at “trying to make Congregations feel good about their choices” but to look at pastor’s strengths and help congregations to make wiser choices.

I don’t have numbers for Lutherans, but one study showed that a full quarter of pastors have been forced to resign, fired or pressured to leave their congregation at some point in their ministry. We are thinking from a perspective of avoiding ‘burnout’ for pastors who are trying to accommodate congregations that they are not well suited to deal with. From a vocational psychology standpoint, a match between person and environment equates to job satisfaction and retention. In a church, the congregation largely constitutes this working environment.

Lutherans have historically been pretty open to science, being ‘earthy’ as we are. When we apply science technology to the church herself, we get nervous. I too struggle mightily about my calling as a scientist and a confessional Lutheran. I have set up a website on which I post thoughts about this. If you are interested, it can be found at

Your citation of Paul is interesting to me in that it seems that Paul had a completely different personality than did Peter and both were chosen for God’s work albeit in different settings. I think this is the question we are seeking to answer, “what setting is ideal for what pastor?”

Your comparison of Saul and David is also very powerful to me. One of my early Pastors would glory in his squeaky voice because to him it was an example of God using a weakness to display His Glory. I agree. God does use the weak things of this world to put to shame the strong. He was also a careful scholar and he preached in an exegetical style. He came to the ministry because these strengths could be used effectively. Should we as Christians choose vocations for which we are distinctly disadvantaged to do well in the name of God using our weakness? I think Dr. Veith talks about the chosen cross not being a cross at all. We are guaranteed to suffer in our vocations, but we should want to do well in them, to love and serve our neighbor in the way that we are best equipped to do so. I think this applies to ministers when they must choose how they will serve the people of God, wither it is as pastor, chaplain for the armed forces, missionary, etc.

Finally, I thank God that you have a Pastor who teaches the scriptures faithfully. Perhaps it is my ecclesiology that needs to be refined, but I feel that a congregations should grow together to love and serve one another and develop as a family. I do not think that a Church family should be abandoned if a pastor whom we select begins to appear a bit too….legalistic, pietistic, “relevant”, etc., but that it is our duty to encourage him to preach the gospel. This is another area of great blessing that God has given the Lutheran church, that we know the Pastor to hold a divine office, but to struggle in his vocation as we all do. He is pressured on every hand, from the synod, from well-meaning factions in the congregation, from the world at large, to sacrifice the gospel in the name of other values. The danger for any individual who is looking for perfection is that he or she could end up constantly in search of the perfect Pastor rather than being led by an imperfect Pastor on this side of eternity to know the One who is our true Sheppard.

Again, thank you for taking the time to write to me. I have appreciated the opportunity to wrestle with legitimate concerns and clarify my own thinking.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Hymns, Bad poetry and Counseling

Today is the commeration day of Philipp Nicolai, Johann Heermann and Paul Gerhardt, hymnwriters of the Church. Songs and poetry are a wonderful gift from God. Songs can express what we feel in a much more visceral way than a tretise or argument can. There must, however, be a balance between the outpouring of emotion and the craft of writing poetry and lyrics. The Psalms are crafted, not vomited out.

People have always felt compelled to show me their poetry, good and bad. You can tell if you are called to a a "helping profession" by the following test.

1.) Do people feel compelled to show you their poetry or lyrics? If so, you are probably emitting the vibe necessary for one of the "helping professions"

2.) When presented with someones personal poetry do you try to find something in it which resonates with you and respond by saying how you appreciate this metaphor, etc. Or, do you say, "Dude, what is this crap" - the latter is a sure sign that you calling lies in Accounting.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Lutheran Carnival IX

Lutheran Carnival IX is up at Be Strong in the Grace. Wow, did she ever put some work into this one. Click the title above to go there.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Vain is the help of Me

I just got a call from one half of a marital couple with whom I am working. I had little hope for their marriage. She told me that they reached a level of reconciliation had used some of our test results for fruitful conversation. After we hung up I dropped to my knees in thanksgiving that I am not in charge of deciding when a cause is lost. I had felt terrible about the two sessions we have had thus far. So had they, but they turned it into a long conversation at home. I had turned it into crappy feelings about their resiliency and my competency.

I am a worthless servant.

I opened by Brotherhood Prayer Book to look for an appropriate Psalm to sing in my joy. I sang Psalm 108, not realizing that it would include the line: "Give us help from trouble: for vain is the help of man." Now, I don't do the whole, I'll-open-my-Bible-and-point-and-that's-the-Word-God-has-for-me method of Bible interpretation, but this what this verse means to me: Give us help from trouble: for vain is the help of man.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Row, row, row your boat

Propel, propel, propel your craft,
Gently down the tributary,
Emphatically, emphatically, emphatically, emphatically,
Existence is but an illusion.
- trans. Fred Rogers
(sung by Mr. Rogers on an early version of Mr. Roger's Neighborhood)

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Excuses for Sin

One of my goals for my internship year is to try to spell out what a confessional Lutheran psychologist would look like in practice. I've been troubled at the following thought, "Is what I am doing as a counselor merely helping clients make excuses for sin?" And, indeed, this is where many streams of thought in psychology would lead because the greatest good is widely believed to be personal happiness. I reject this premise. Popular psychology and self-help are built on this foundation of sand. Unfortunately, so is much preaching.
Realizing one's own culpability and asking for forgiveness is hard. So is extending forgiveness to others. Forgiveness, not excuses lies at the heart of the issue. One of the most obnoxious things I hear is that people must learn to "forgive themselves." First of all, rarely do people come down too hard on themselves. Most of the time people are experts at explaining away their behavior in terms of circumstances or necessity (hence there are very few people in prison who profess guilt even in the face of overwhelming evidence). Secondly, from a theological standpoint, what people need is not to forgive themselves but to be forgiven by God in Christ. But first, one must see their culpability, even if genetics, environment and social pressure were all shoving in that direction. Psychology explains behavior in terms of probabilities, how likely a person is to behave a certain way based on a number of variables. Even if we could predict with extremely high accuracy who would and who would not beat their spouse (for example) it would not remove the person's guilt for this behavior. The world doesn't get this. The world hears "sin" as something like "naughtiness" and as Christians we hear "sin" as much more like "humanness".

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Great post

I just discovered this person's blog, but judging by his/her humor links, I'm certain I'll be back.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The Prayer of a 2-year-old

My daughter is learning so many songs and other things at the same time that she sometimes gets things confused. She bowed her head and folder her hands (more like fists together) and said, "God is Great, Bakers Man..."
I am a terrible psychologist because I immediately rewarded this prayer with a mighty guffaw, thereby guaranteeing that it will remain in its present form forever. Have you ever seen the Far Side cartoon where God is wearing oven mitts and taking the Earth out of the oven? For the life of me I can't remember the caption. Anyway, I don't think my daughter is on her way to being featured in the antibreviary as a heresiarch just yet.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Lutheran Carnival

Lutheran Carnival VIII is now up. Link above.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Developmental Psychology

I'm not a developmental psychologist. When I taught Intro to psychology, I liked some developmental stuff, but I've never really got down with the content seriously. My daughter is 2 years and nearly three months old. Today, she told her mother that "Daddy is Michael." She knows that Mommy sometimes calls me Michael, but she's never said anything so tautological before. Same evening she points at me and says, "You're a boy." Makes me want to do some serious reading in developmental psych. Something tells me that this is a little early for a little person to make such a connection.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Forgiveness Seminar

Last week (my blogging is a little behind) I went to a seminar entitled The Healing Power of Forgiveness by a Christian Science practitioner. It was hosted by the Spiritual Care Department of Akron General Medical Center and it cost $25 to attend. The seminar was approved for continuing education credits for counselors, social workers and marriage and family therapists as well as for chaplains and nurses. The problem was that it was an hour and a half of Christian Science proselytizing which had almost no practical application for any of the aforementioned groups, UNLESS you chose to accept the premise that we have a divine "core of core, heart of heart". The presenter was billed as a licensed marriage and family therapist, a certified independent social worker AND a Christian Science practitioner. However in the first couple of minutes of the presentation, I found out that she was no longer working under the auspices of marriage and family therapy or social work but only as a healing prayer practitioner. Her presentation boiled down to the following: forgiveness comes through realizing your own divine nature, thereby transcending the hurt. This presenter did talk a lot about Jesus, which I think was the most insidious element of her presentation – that it sounded to theindiscretiong ear like a Christian denomination that she was talking about rather than a completely different religion. Beyond the notion that if you pray hard enough you will get better and the lack of meaning in any suffering (indeed in the meaninglessness of all matter) was the fact that the cross is entirely ignored. She quoted Jesus as a moral philosopher in that he was forgiving but did not talk about the cross, or its necessity. Her God is pure Love. This sounds great. She says that if we look to this love we will realize that evil is a misperception of the divine nature. I however, serve a God who requires holiness and is just, therefore requiring atonement of sin (the lack of conformity to God’s law). The cross is where Justice and Mercy kissed. Usually justice requires less mercy and vice versa, but on the Cross, God was fully Just to our Sins and also fully merciful to every sinner.

Needless to say, my feedback sheet was full. I let them know that whenever they would like me to come and try to convince people of the truth of orthodox Christianity, hand out copies of my literature (she provided free copies of Mary Baker Eddy's Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures - which I took and placed in my heresy box), and grant continuing education credits for it all, I'm ready. I guess I can't fault a hospital's spiritual care department for hosting such a thing, it just makes me angry that it she was billed as a mental health professional when she had renounced her training for her prayer 'ministry'. It also astounded me how many heads were nodding in approval, including nuns and other 'religious' who should have known better. After the presentation I asked her how she gets paid - she is covered by some insurance companies, but not most managed care. In this instance I'm glad for managed care.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Opera is catechising me

The Opera browser includes an accessibility feature that will read web pages to you. I used audiacity to record the output then burned a CD. So I drive to work listening to the Large Catechism being read by a supprisingly good computer voice. You can give Opera navigation commands too. It'll even let you call it Hal if you so desire. I have a very intellectual and nearly blind client who I plan to introduce to the program. Opera and the voice module are free.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005


You might notice that I have gone incognito. Been thinking about the wisdom of sharing thoughts online and having a client "accidentally" happen upon something that I have written...not that I talk about clients per se, but finding out that I don't like cats could be counter-therapeutic in some instances. So just call me Kletos. If my attempt at being clever is accurate, I have called myself "Called to be a Counselor/Advisor" a phrase which occurs absolutely nowhere in the scriptures.