How I Spent 9-11-2011

The weather itself, the beautiful bright sun and warm temperatures, indicated that it would be a spectacular day.  Much like the weather ten years earlier.

It turned out to be exactly that.  It was a spectacular day to have a Divine Service, receive Christ in His Body and Blood, enjoy each other’s friendship/fellowship at the annual church picnic, go home and watch football, and relax.

In short, it was a spectacular day to live normally.

It seems nothing was normal ten years earlier.  My phone rang about 8:30am.  It was my friend, Pastor Dave Groth, of Good Shepherd in Watertown.  He was installed as the new pastor there only two days earlier.  “Have you seen the news?”  “No.”  “A commercial jetliner crashed into the World Trade Center.”  I hung up the phone and turned on the radio.  (I was installed only three weeks earlier and we still hadn’t hooked up cable TV).  WPR in Madison was still playing classical music…for about one more minute as it turned out.

And nothing was normal for a quite a long time after that.  Some would argue it’s still not normal.

I recall Pres. Bush telling Americans that the best thing they could do in the wake of the attacks was live normally.  I believed it then.  I believe it now.  This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t commemorate those who died.  (We did so in the liturgy at St. John’s Sunday).  Still, no greater tribute could be paid, I believe, than to live as we always have.

For me, although Matt. 18:21-35 gave an extraordinary opportunity to talk about forgiving also as a nation, I chose not to apply the text to the anniversary.  Forgiving those who have sinned against us is our task every day as Christians.  I don’t mind that many pastors did apply it to the anniversary.  I am not saying, in any way, that this was somehow wrong.  This was more my conscientious decision not to connect Matt. 18 to a certain day by words, but to encourage Christians to live forgiveness every day.  As if it was normal, what was expected of Christ’s people every day.

Forgiven at God’s altar, it seemed marvelously fitting that all of us should have had such a good time together at the picnic.  We ate, drank, visited, raised money for a new discretionary fund.  It really was a wonderful day.

And I think it was the best remembrance of all, in my opinion.  God gives us this life not to be lived in fear, but faith.  We Christians can rejoice in the normal…every day.

This is the day the Lord has made.  Let us rejoice and be glad in it.  Psalm 118:24

God bless America and keep her safe.

Sincerely in Christ,

Pastor Torkelson

Leadership Or Pastoral Care Follow Up


I am humbled by the sheer number of replies I received from so many of my brothers in the ministry, either to the blogsite or privately.  I’ve even had invitations to publish.  None of this I expected when I posted this piece.

I feel compelled also to clarify a few things in light of a good conversation with a dear friend yesterday evening.  Permit me to do so as an addendum.

  • By “pastoral care,” I mean the traditional Lutheran seelsorger understanding, rooted in AC V and Word and Sacrament.  The center of this pastoral care is the Divine Service, but extends to all Word-centered pastoral activities (catechesis, visitation, counseling, everything).  The ultimate example may very well be Private Confession and Absolution, sadly lost in our modern context.
  • I do not mean to suggest that any pastors who serve, for instance, in larger congregations do not, (because of the increased administrative burden), engage in pastoral care.
  • From my vantage point in assisting call processes, I see that the use of the term “leadership” in church circles has no qualitative difference from the secular understanding of the term.  Heb. 13:7 gives a Biblical understanding of the term (centered on pastors and their care), but I feel that the term’s usage in most places in the church is not necessarily congruent with this passage of Scripture.
  • My point in the piece was not to dichotomize the terms “leadership” and “pastoral care,” but to prioritize the two terms, placing leadership as a subset of pastoral care.
  • Yes, it is my opinion that in many cases this prioritization does not happen.  This does not mean that the pastor doesn’t care (in an attitudinal sense).  It may mean that he has placed a higher priority on leadership, a priority I question.  I’ve also seen this do damage to congregations.
  • Although there was some critique in the piece, I really do write from a perspective of having sinned in this area as much as anyone else.  I feel Doxology got me back in touch with my own need for pastoral care and, I believe, all pastors need this to happen for them.  On the understanding that I myself require the care of a brother pastor, it is only natural that I should feel that way for all people, including my brothers.  I highly recommend attending Doxology for the sake of the enrichment of my brothers in the ministry and their people.  It definitely opened my eyes to the truth about myself and the pressures I (we all) face in the ministry.
  • Lastly, I have come to see over the years what a privilege it is merely to be counted as a pastor alongside the brothers I serve with in the LCMS.  Regardless of our senseless politics at times, I have found more to admire in all of my brothers than to disregard.  If you are a brother LCMS pastor, know that you have my admiration.  I sometimes feel unworthy to be counted as part of this crowd.

Again, I was overwhelmed by the response of all the brothers.  Blessings to you all.  I count myself blessed to serve alongside you all.  Together, we make each other better.

Sincerely in Christ,


Leadership Or Pastoral Care?

In January of 2010, I started attending Doxology, a program for the pastoral care of pastors.  Coming face-to-face with my own need for pastoral care was strange.  I have always had a “father confessor” going back to my vicarage.  Nevertheless, one falls out of good habits and many times over the years I simply failed to see my own need for the care of a fellow pastor.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about whether or not we, in both the LCMS and American Christianity in general, are totally missing the value of pastoral care.  I was told recently that one of the mega-churches in our area openly admits that the pastors of said church do not have a strong personal relationship with their people.  (“Drive-thru” Christianity at its best, shallow and impersonal, uncommitted and convenient, an inch wide and deep).  They don’t make hospital visits.  They outsource a lot of the personal side of ministry.

(Don’t get me wrong.  Christians should visit each other and show mercy toward each other too.  Nevertheless, sometimes a person needs the care of a pastor.  If their pastor doesn’t visit them…or even if it’s just obvious that he values executive tasks over against pastoral care…)?

So if pastoral care isn’t the church’s main emphasis, what fills the void?  More often than not, the void gets filled with endless talk about “leadership.”  The line between secular leadership and Heb. 13:7 is pretty blurry in this situation.  As a former circuit counselor and current vice-president of an LCMS District, I know how easy it is to counsel call committees by totally emphasizing leadership (and secular notions of it at that).  (I’ve had the privilege of counseling a significant number of calls. That being said, I hate to think how much leadership trumps pastoral care in such meetings–both on the call committee and by the District representative).  Much leadership talk leads to much program talk leads to much failure, in my opinion.  Looking at the LCMS over the past almost 40 years, I would argue that too many of us have been suckers for the latest program.  “Sooner or later, one of these programs has to work” has been the thinking.  But they rarely do.  Maybe for a short while…if you’re one of those who is glued to numbers and statistics.  “Whatever works” has led to 40 years of failure.

People don’t need programs.  They need proclamation.  They don’t need many words about how to grow a church, structure an organization, or have a purpose-driven life.  They need a word of comfort, forgiveness, freedom, and strength.  They need a word of life.  They don’t need a quasi-religious, mostly secular “guru” telling them how to live (the pattern, by the way, of the non-denominational mega-churches is often driven by the personality of the “pastor” and not by Christ, witness Joel Osteen).  They need a real pastor, a servant (slave), nurturing them with a word not his own.  It’s all about Christ, not Pastor X’s personality, leadership skills, preaching style, or anything else.  People need pastoral care.  They need Word and Sacrament guiding them through a life of repentance and renewal.  They need new life, not principles for daily living.

Does this mean that a pastor does not lead?  Absolutely not.  Pastoral “leadership,” if one should call it that, is an extension of pastoral care.  It’s an extension of the primary tasks to which the pastor is called.  Can a pastor lead?  Sure.  But that question/answer needs tempering with the more critical question:  Should a pastor lead?  What’s best for the pastoral care of the congregation is the only barometer for answering that question well.  To put leadership above pastoral care, whether it’s done by a pastor, a call committee, a District official, a Synodical official, is to put the cart before the horse.  In many ways, it puts the Law before the Gospel.

To follow up my last point, the emphasis on “leadership,” because it often cannot be distinguished from secular notions of leadership, is centered de facto on the Law.  Systems are laws unto themselves.  One really has to stretch it to get a system to be rationalized in any way by the Gospel.

I still like to think of myself as a young pastor, (there are many pastors with much more experience than I), but I have been around long enough that I have seen countless examples now of how troubled congregations were strengthened through consistent pastoral care.  The pastor didn’t bring in program-after-program to fix things.  He simply shepherded them as a good and faithful undershepherd of Christ…which was what the congregation needed all along.

My encouragement to my brothers in the ministry is this.  Prioritize pastoral care.  In so doing, Christ comes first.  When you have to lead, then lead in Christ.  Understand that one (pastoral care) is definitely more important than the other (“leadership”).  A congregation as a group may require leadership.  But each of those individuals who make it up require pastoral care.  And if they get it, that pastoral care will make leadership a whole lot easier and more credible.

If any brothers in the ministry should happen to read this post, do know that you have my prayers for faithful ministry, thoughtful exercise of pastoral care, and wise (Scriptural) leadership.

Sincerely in Christ,

Pastor Torkelson