My rants about self-promoting pastors, the comments that flowed from them, my own vocational discernment, and a conversation with Derek the Ænglican on Sunday afternoon have inspired me to further explore a Lutheran understanding of the Office of Ordained Ministry.
To be a pastor is to exercise the Office of Ordained Ministry to which one has been properly called, a ministry our tradition understands as the proclamation of the Word and administration of the Sacraments. I emphasize the words to exercise the Office because being a pastor is about doing the tasks of the Pastoral Office – proclaiming the Word and administering the Sacraments. In essence, pastor is not a noun or title, but a verb. Someone is not a pastor (noun); rather, they pastor (verb).
Furthermore, fulfilling the Pastoral Office does not confer any permanent title, indelible character or ontological change on the ordained person, nor is it an entitlement to anyone who has completed three years of seminary and some field education. There is nothing particularly unique about the pastor as a person vis-a-vis the laity.
Drawing largely on Martin Luther’s essay on ordination in The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, Leif Grane writes,
"[Luther] rejects the idea that a priest is different from other Christians in any way except his ministry (i.e., the service he performs). No one is a priest or bishop unless he preaches the Word, having been called to do so by the church. . . . Here it is emphasized that to be a priest is not to be a member of an estate, but to exercise an office."
[Please excuse masculine language. Quote from The Augsburg Confession: A Commentary, pgs. 154-155. 1987, Augsburg Publishing House. For the essay on ordination in The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, see pgs. 237-250 in Three Treatises, 1970, Fortress Press.]
Our own ELCA Constitution (section 7.31.12) has something to say about the vocation of an ordained minister:
"Every ordained minister shall:
1) preach the Word
2) administer the sacraments
3) conduct public worship
. . ."
To be a pastor means to do the things a pastor does – preach, administer, conduct. "The duty of a priest is to preach, and if he does not preach he is as much a priest as a picture of a man is a man" (pg. 247, Three Treatises). It’s a very down-to-earth, functional, non-glamorous understanding of ministry. Those who are pastors – and those who seek to become pastors – are in no way more special or holy than anyone else. The only difference is the work to which we are called.
Finally, some advice from Martin Luther for those of us who are preparing for ministry:
"Flee, young men, and do not enter upon this holy estate, unless you are determined to preach the gospel, and can believe that you are not made one whit better than the laity through this "sacrament" of ordination!"
[The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, in Three Treatises, pg. 248]
Ah, now let me run off and write my Endorsement Essay, due September 1 . . .