This article is written for my pastoral peers as well as for continuing support for Lutheran CORE.
This has been a phrase I have meditated on for quite some time. From the beginning of my seminary journey to now coming from my initial steps into pastoral ministry. Why would this phrase have such a profound impact on my conscience? What was it that drove its conception in the first place?
A couple of years back was the last time I shared on here as an anonymous, frightened seminarian compelled to share what I felt was profoundly in error with the direction and intentions of liberal, intellectually-progressive Lutheran education… In short it became a definitive article on what I saw developing as Lutheran “Unitarianism” that has systemically gone out of its way to polarize & to a lesser extent, persecute people of true faith essentially over the concept of: whom do you serve?
Chaplaincy is a noble career, and is truly a significant aspect of the large skill set the post-modern Lutheran church pastor must incorporate to an extent in order to fully serve. The pastor is to be the nurturing guide, the discipleship coach, the catechist instructor, the counselor, the comforter, the steward, the administrator, the gardener, the house cleaner…. Ad infinitum! Things they never taught you in seminary & much more~
Speaking for myself, I have been tremendously blessed with having the experience of assisting to plant two unaffiliated Lutheran churches as well as recently have planted a small house church ministry which will shift to being a continuing online ministry once my husband & I move out west. Being bi-vocational is what is needed these days since the church is changing… BUT returning to the need to compose this article, to whom do you truly serve? Are you a pastor for Christ or are you a chaplain to culture?
As a former artist and poet, I love culture! Culture however holds a Pandora’s box of meanings, purpose and agenda. How you perceive and receive culture is the defining context here. Just this past weekend, I was privileged to attend an extended Lutheran CORE sponsored conference on Hispanic ministry. Topics ranged from Radical Hospitality (genuine pastoral care and implementation) to a Cursillo-like retreat to implement teaching discipleship principles through the Apostles Creed & Small Catechism known as Kogudus.
There were many other wonderful talks as well at the conference which what all talks had in common was addressing contexts. This address included the cultural context, ethnographic, economic and sociological scope of who you serve as a pastor for Christ, not as a chaplain to culture. Catering from Christ to serve others includes the concept and practice of altruism and accountability grounded in Grace through faith.
Catering to the self includes consumerism and political idealism. Both of these concepts cannot truthfully include Christ Jesus as the center and motivation to be guiding principles of discipleship yet alone genuinely reflect a call to accountability to both God and neighbor through TRUE Grace. Cheap Grace or works righteousness under the label of social justice seems to be a convenient label to make their efforts sound much more noble than they actually are.
Compassion has been made a political two-way street painted by designer self-oriented cherry-picked hermeneutics of Biblical truth! Showmanship and the ugliness of politicized doctrinal battle have tried to replace and divide the Gospel imperative of Christ, plain and simple. This Gospel imperative is the foundation to our gracious response: “29 Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30 you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
In essence, if you operate from a Grace-given, genuinely spiritually-transformed heart: you will be doing ministry in, with and through Christ—It’s NOT about you! & frankly it was never to be about “you.” Again, let this haunt you: To whom do YOU serve? This is the question I wish would haunt those who refuse to come to the table yet alone allow voice to Orthodox Lutherans. What this behavior of exclusion represents for me is graceless behavior. This ironically is what they condemn the Orthodox for is being exclusive…
This goes way beyond synod assemblies, politically driven seminaries and forums to be where and when we gracelessly label people as anti-gay, misogynists to Republicans or democrats, etcetera. It’s when we are profoundly and intentionally indifferent to whom we ARE to truly serve!
Championing the world of the self and all its needs, wants, decadence is only completing Satan’s goal for the church. Satan’s goal for the church is to serve the unholy trinity of I, Me, Mine—NOT the Holy Trinity of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. If we have to control God and His Spirit through consumerist ideologies and politics, we glorify the empty promises of a world devoid of genuine being and purpose. The ruler of this world would love to see us further divide over BAD theology…
It’s a rather sad and humorous fact according to wikipedia that there are something like 440 different Lutheran bodies in the world today. Can’t we all just get along? Becomes a lovely note of sarcasm to a sad truth. Underneath all the layers of it’s about this or that doctrinally, socio-politically, BAD theologies and whatnot… the profound truth we’re avoiding here boils down to that haunting statement: To whom do you serve?
Being and becoming a Pastor for Christ is a lifetime’s spiritual formation journey. The first church is the heart—it’s is here we develop heart knowledge that is to be obediently and intentionally—prayerfully shaped by Grace through faith—Holy Spirit’s work. It is one grounded firmly in Biblical Truth incorporating a living “hermeneutic of faith” over a doctrinal, politically motivated agenda of the self over and above God AND neighbor! Maybe being in supportive communities such as Lutheran CORE, (if you’re still in the ELCA that is), is like trying to hold the Vietnamese borderline… OR maybe there is still genuine hope, enough grace and initiative to come to the table and ask, pray with one another: WHOM DO YOU SERVE?
Like many who have traversed the Lutheran alphabet soup groups just to get their toe into the door of pastoral ministry… I am done with crying my bitter tears and other Old Natured temptations to vent against the ELCA for I am serving my Lord and my neighbor…. My Lord Jesus and my neighbor go over and above denominations, socio-political BS and serving the world of the self! There’s a lot of work to be done people… I have no regrets that I am no longer ELCA, that’s for sure. What I do regret is that we’re still engaged in these graceless battles. The only person we’re serving with great success beyond the self is Satan. Again in closing may this NOT bind your conscience but free it: Whom Do you truly, faithfully and graciously serve?
Reverend Nicole A.M. Collins was ordained January 17th, 2015 in Chicago & currently serves as the Spiritual Formation Pastor at an unaffiliated Lutheran church plant—The Gathering North in suburban Chicagoland, Glenview, Illinois. She and her husband Phil live in Mundelein Illinois. She is currently awaiting a call for her first solo pastorate in the state of Oregon. Her then anonymous article here was: http://www.exposingtheelca.com/exposed-blog/a-seminarians-journey-exposing-the-teaching-of-an-elca-seminary