Tuesday, February 19, 2013


I remember, as if it were only yesterday, a visit made to a Lutheran pastor’s home just outside of Red Oak, Iowa.  It was in the fall of 1957 and it was still in my first year as an ordained clergy.  His home and the parish were on several acres – sort of carved out of a large farm.  In addition to a garage [attached to make it easier in stormy winters], a good size garden and an enclosure so as to keep a hog, he had a good sized room in the house that he specifically called his study!
In 1957 many clergy had begun the process of re-locating the parsonage away from the parish buildings – and, a few, had even begun the process of buying a home on their own.  And, in 1957, at least among Lutheran clergy, the majority still called the place where they prepared sermons a study.

How different from today!  Now they are called “offices”!  My recollection is that the switch began in the 1960’s – at least in Lutheran circles.  Our leaders were called Presidents; mergers were being consummated; and the “program” church was gaining dominance.  Clergy salaries were beginning to rise towards levels more in line with “top management” – and an “office” appeared to offer more in return than a “study”.
That “appearance” may even be justified if we look at how those words are defined!  The Random House Dictionary [Unabridged Edition] offers this definition for study – a room, in a house or other building, set aside for private study, reading, writing or the like.  Office, on the other hand, is defined as – a room, set of rooms or building where the business of a commercial or industrial organization or of a professional person is transacted.  An Ecclesiastic Office is – the prescribed order or form for a service prescribed; the services so prescribed; the prayers, readings from scripture, and psalms that must be recited every day by all who are in major orders; a ceremony or rite for the dead!  None of these words are listed as synonyms for each other.

How might this switch have impacted the work/role of clergy?  A study published in the 1960’s [I believe it was in The Minister’s Own Mental Health by Wayne Oates] did some rankings vis a vis the “functions” of ministry.  These were identified as: Preacher, Pastor, Priest, Teacher and Administrator.  The roles were defined thus:
·         Preacher – the efforts directed towards the full proclamation of the Word, including the prophetic and evangelical.
·         Pastor – time spent visiting the sick and in pastoral counseling [both areas in the 1960s were gaining importance]
·         Priest – time spent leading the varied services [weekly worship, sacramental, funerals, weddings]
·         Teacher – time to prepare and lead opportunities for laity to grow in their understanding of how their beliefs related to and/or were impacted by modernity
·         Administrator – either the CEO or COO of a business increasingly needing to meet the same demands of any other small business

Clergy were asked to rank them by Importance and by Personal Preference.    Protestant clergy tended to rank the Importance and Personal Preference re: these functions as such: Preacher-Pastor-Teacher-Priest-Administrator.  Roman Catholic and other more sacramental clergy had this ranking: Priest-Pastor-Preacher-Teacher-Administrator.  They then participated in a time study in which all their activities were categorized into one of those functions!  In both groups the rankings were inverted to:  Administrator-Pastor-Priest-Preacher-Teacher.  Functions seen as less important and less enjoyable consumed most of their time!
At the very least this inversion placed/places significant stress/pressure upon clergy.  First, “administration” is probably the topic least discussed in theological education – a real handicap if the pastor is to be the CEO of a small to mid-size business!  Second, “administration” will usually be the arena in which most conflicts arise [many congregations have real administrators from the business world as members] – since the pastor knows this is where s/he is least prepared!  Third, “administration” usually gives her/him the least satisfaction because few went into ministry to be an administrator!

The 21st century has brought with it many changes to the Church and her ministries.  Administratively we see declining membership and income.  Such have stark pressures on a program-church as well as maintenance of an aging physical plant.  The almost exponential advances in science/technology challenge many of the creedal statements that have been used for centuries in support of core beliefs.  Cultural changes challenge many of the major moral teachings developed over centuries. 
If we hope to address these changes then more time needs to be directed towards our roles as Preacher-Teacher-Priest leaving less time for Pastor-Administrator.

I believe it would be easier to make those directional changes if we renamed our “office” to be a “study”?
1.       We really could reduce the amount of time in our “Pastoral” role.  Visiting sick members in today’s hospitals can seldom be more than symbolic – and laity [such as Stephen ministers] are often able to do those visits as well.  Counseling has also become so much more complicated that clergy are best advised to identify counselors in their community to whom referrals can be made.  There are usually such resources available to serve all income levels.
2.       The “programs” of the parish need review!  How much time is directed towards “social” ministries such as food pantries or group meetings for this or that group struggling with this or that problem? How much time is given to “entertainment” ministries – trivia nites, date nites, youth activities?
3.       We need to assign at least 50% of our time weekly to study!  Time for reading. Time for contemplation. Time for serious writing.
4.       We need to be vocal in helping our denominations focus more on the deep theological issues of our age and less time on the pelvic issues?  Modern physics are challenging our world views as well as the way we live and relate daily to/with each other.  Perhaps denominations would spend more time at meetings on the those theological challenges.
5.       Much of the “Administrative” tasks can be referred to the talented laity.
6.       Perhaps we might re-claim our roles as the most theologically education persons in parish and Synods!  [Of course that would mean the 50% mentioned above in # 3 should be 60-75%].  What if we were seen as the Rebbe or Rabbi?

Welcome to my study – and I look forward to engaging you in yours!.