Pastoral Anxiety

When I go to a Pastor’s Conference I usually try and share a few things. Not a travelogue; Nobody wants to see your vacation pictures. An attempt to extract some wisdom.

All pastor’s conferences have two expressions.  There are the “right hand kingdom” issues.  These are the anxieties and efforts to rule, govern and guide the church in the world, to make decisions and address problems.  There are also the “left hand kingdom” issues.  These are the worship, prayer, study and consolation of the brethren. Depending upon the group you are in, networking can be in the right or the left. Using right and left is theological language for those things which are of power and the law and those things which are of grace.  The right, the power-hand (sorry lefties), is the straight ahead law, commands, hierarchies and governance. “Do this, and you will live.”  The left, the sinister sneaky hand (sorry lefties), is the one that you don’t see coming. We never expect grace.  “Believe this, and you are already good.”

In that right hand kingdom stuff I had three observations.  And I don’t mean any of these observations to be positive or negative.  Most things in the right hand kingdom simply are.  Being humans we are all struggling toward the best outcomes we can imagine.  Sometimes there is a lack of imagination, sometimes too much.  But we tend to fall in predictable paths. First observation, The Eastern District is probably the poorest one in the LCMS which colors my visions, but man there was a lot of money floating around the PSD.  Having money allows for less anxiety and more imagination of what we might do.  Lacking money, a certain fatalism sets in. The hopefulness of the PSD was refreshing.  Second observation, the political reality of the district is that CA drives everything.  The money and the weight of congregations is Southern Cal.  The third observation is that the pastors of the PSD clearly see themselves apart from the larger Synod. Not that they would separate, but the anxieties are different. And they believe the anxieties of the rest of Synod are misdirected.  There are deeper conversations that could be had around each of those, but that is enough for this space.

Because as much head space that we give to the anxieties and expressions of the right hand kingdom, the church is ultimately about the left.  How do we proclaim the grace of Jesus Christ and him crucified for our salvation? One of the biggest anxieties of the conference is the current state of the pastorate.  The two expressions of this anxiety being a perceived shortage of pastors and specific to CA congregations a shortage of pastors willing to move to CA.  And this is not a small issue for a Lutheran Church body that confesses “so that we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted. (Augsburg Confession Article 5).”  The primary study of the conference lead by Dr. Leopoldo Sanchez I felt was spot on.  Dr. Sanchez, who I had for a couple of classes back in Seminary, is “Mr. Holy Spirit.”  And you could summarize his study as “It is OK to Pray to the Holy Spirit.”

An older book was titled “The Half Remembered God” and the Holy Spirit is often that, half-remembered. But it is the Spirit that works in the life of the church.  The Spirit is half-remembered because He is always testifying to Jesus, also because He works through means – Word and Sacrament. We see the effects of the Spirit, like the wind in the trees, but often miss Him.  What Dr. Sanchez shares was a summary of his book “Sculptor Spirit”.  And in that work he outlines five different models of sanctification, five different biblical ways the Spirit works. And the two that address the expressed anxiety I felt were what he labels renewal and dramatic.  Renewal is the fact that “The Holy Spirit works through death and resurrection.” Dramatic is that the life of the church is one in the wilderness.  We learn to trust God and prayer as the Spirit leads us through trail and temptation.  Wherever we find ourselves, we have been lead there by the Spirit. And it is for our good that we might know God more fully.  It is only in God that we find our true rest from all our anxieties. 

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