‘Apollos and I are merely servants who helped you to have faith. It was the Lord who made it all happen.’ (1 Co 3:5 CEV)
‘And the Gospel teaches that we have a gracious God…’ (Augsburg Confession Article 5 – The office of the ministry)
The work of a modern pastor is the same work Jesus gave to his disciples: to spread the good news of God’s kingdom. Jesus himself founded the ministry into which today’s pastors are called and ordained.
That means a pastor has a very specific ‘toolkit’. We call it the ‘means of grace, that is, the preaching of the Gospel and the administering of the Sacraments…’ (Theses of Agreement 6.1) The touchstones of the New Testament ministry are God’s word (gospel), holy baptism, and holy communion. These remain constant among the trends and desires of the spirit of the age, the defining features of how and why we are still God’s people today. A pastor’s role is to use the means of grace as God intends them to be used, with grace, love, and inclusion.
Jesus himself founded the MINISTRY into which today’s pastors are called and ORDAINED.
Why should that be so? Why not pursue other dreams, other paths of salvation, and other ministries that seem more appealing and effective? The reason is simple yet profound. God graciously promises to create saving faith through these means – faith that is not reliant on our performance, personal holiness, or spiritual power; faith that isn’t victim to our failures and personal highs and lows. It is faith that believes in God’s constant saving work through Jesus Christ. As certain as gravity will pull you down to earth when you get out of bed in the morning, this faith will keep you grounded in God.
These days, unlike the days of Jesus, this ministry of the New Testament has become encased in an institution we call ‘church’, and along with that go certain structures, conditions, and cultural baggage. It is sensible to order the ministry, but we need to recognise these structures as the ‘extras’ they are. They are not the essence, the core of what makes us God’s church. They do not create the ministry, they only support it.
In many ways today’s office of the ministry is completely counter cultural. It is in the world, but not of the world. Pastors won’t pick up their toolkit from the self-help shelf of a bookshop, following the latest spiritual expert, or running a google search. The pastoral toolkit is gifted directly by the Lord of the church, who makes sure all who work for him have what they need for ministry. That’s what we mean when we say that the word and sacraments are the ‘means of grace’. They are the Holy Spirit’s own tools for us to use. They promise the presence of the living Jesus. He has never left his people. He is here among us.
The ministry of the New Testament doesn’t come from us or the church, but from Christ. He calls his ministers. They serve him by bearing his gifts for the world, inviting sinners into the mystery of the crucified and risen Lord, wrapping them in the unexpected embrace of our loving Father (Luke 15:20). By his love he rescues us(eg Rom 10:8-17). The tools of the Spirit, faithfully administered, set us free to live once more.
And that’s why the LCA has pastors.