A good blog post by my friend, Rev. David Petersen (Redeemer, Ft. Wayne), was chosen by Jeff Scwharz as "Issues, Etc. Blog of the Week" on Friday. You can click here to read the post and/or click below to listen to the segment on Issues.
This is very good advice. Pastors are not called to be successful, but faithful. In fact, if we believe our Lord, pastors should expect to suffer criticism and ridicule if they abide in the Word of God. To proclaim the Law in its full sternness will not make the pastor very popular with many, for they do not want to hear that they are sinners. But, proclaim the Law the pastor must. To preach the Gospel in it's full sweetness will not win many friends either, for many want to play some role, however small or large, in their salvation. But, to preach the Gospel the pastor must. It will not do to pander to "felt needs." That's not the pastor's job and it doesn't work anyway, since everyone has different "felt needs." The old adage, "you can't please everyone," is true. You can't. But, it doesn't matter. Pastors are not called to please people, but to be the Good Shepherd's undershepherd; to deliver Word and Sacrament to God's people in Christ's stead and by His command. That's all - nothing more, nothing less. It is not our ministry, but Christ's; not our office, but Christ's; not our Word, but Christ's. We have no right to do our own thing. We have taken vows, were called and ordained, to do Christ's thing, not our thing.
Of course, all of that is easier said than done. Much easier to go with the flow and not cause any waves. Much easier to preach positive, motivational messages. Much easier to compromise by having different kinds of worship "styles" available, so that people can pick and choose the "style" they like best. Which is to say, much easier to follow the advice of our current synodical leadership. But, as Pr. Petersen notes, the easier way requires the pastor to sell his soul. Shooting for success comes at a great price!
So, pastors must strive not for success, but faithfulness. Doing so will bring suffering, but the faithful pastor is willing to endure, knowing that his reward will come later. And, if the pastor is faithful, the Word will do its work. Faithful Christians will be created and sustained by that Word. The pastor will not be alone, even though he may feel like it from time to time. There will be some who will love and support the pastor on account of his faithfulness and because they love Jesus.
So, away with all the advice to "just love your people" and "tend to their felt needs." The people need to be slain by the Law and made alive by the Gospel. The pastor who is faithful to his charge to give the people what they need, rather than what they want, truly loves the people he serves.
Strive for success or remain faithful? There is no choice for the pastor who serves under Christ. Besides, the faithful pastor is a successful pastor, not according to the world's standards for success, but according to the Lord's standards.