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The Glorious and Not so Glorious Office

August 22, 2016 No Comment

by Nolan Astley

Rev. Nolan Astley.

Rev. Nolan Astley.

Way back in 1960, Rev. Dr. A. H. Schwermann, then President of Concordia College in Edmonton, wrote a chapter in a book called The Pastor at Work. His focus was on the doctrine of the call, but early in his chapter Schwermann, in reference to the parish pastor says, “all concerned should bear in mind that the office of the ministry is a glorious office.”

Over the past year, as I have travelled back and forth between various points in the ABC District and my home in Kitchener, I have reflected on his words many times. And now at the end of my time as Lutheran Church–Canada’s Pastoral Leader for Alberta and British Columbia, I can’t help but agree with our sainted forefather, Dr. Schwermann. C.F.W. Walther in his Theses on the Ministry taught that “the ministry is the highest office in the Church, from which, as its stem, all other offices of the Church issue”—but the most glorious part of that office is the work of the parish pastor!

In the parish, God’s Word and the needs of His people come together. In the parish, sinners are forgiven, the Gospel is proclaimed week by week, children are baptised and brought up in the nurture of the Lord, the erring are admonished, the sick and dying are consoled, couples are married, people are educated in God’s word, and on and on the list goes. Over the past year one of the greatest joys has been to come back to the congregation I serve here in Kitchener and engage again with the people through whom God has called me to be a parish pastor. This is where the action is, so to speak: this is the front line of the battle against the evil one and this is where, day by day, you see God’s Holy Spirit at work in the lives of His people.

The parish is where the action is, so to speak: this is the front line of the battle against the evil one and this is where, day by day, you see God’s Holy Spirit at work in the lives of His people.

Over the past year I have often reminded people who have been caught up in the crisis surrounding the Church Extension Fund in the ABC District of the importance of remaining involved in their congregations, even if they have been deeply wounded in this whole mess. The real glory of God isn’t found in our humanly devised Synods and Districts and their plans and dreams. The glory of God is more often found in the faithful preaching of the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ, which happens week by week in the congregations of our church body. At the Diet of Worms in 1521 Luther said Popes and councils will err and have erred. We might recast that for our day and say synods and districts have erred and will err. However, God’s Word continues to grow in that Divine union of pastor and people which a child can recognize as, “holy believers and ‘the little sheep who hear the voice of their shepherd’” (Smalcald Articles 12).

As my time serving as an ecclesiastical supervisor comes to its close, I am grateful beyond words to be going back to the parish, back to where Word and Sacrament come to God’s people. But I am also more keenly aware than I ever have been of the burden born by those who have been called out of the parish to serve full-time as our ecclesiastical supervisors: our District and Synodical Presidents, past, present and future. Each of them was or will be called away from the glories of the parish to serve the church at large. Even though they are all still members of congregations, they do not get to see what I see on a day to day basis. Their lives quickly become a litany of meetings, administrative headaches, and problem solving.

When I get frustrated as a parish pastor, I can head out and commune some shut-ins and be reassured of God’s work in our lives. By and large, they don’t have that opportunity—at least not first-hand. So as I leave the ecclesiastical supervision behind, I am determined to be more faithful in prayer for the men God has called to supervisory positions in our little Synod. I will try to remember to put the best construction on the things I hear from them, even if I don’t happen to like what they said. And I will redouble my efforts to speak well of them and care for them as best I am able.

In the weeks leading up to my graduation from seminary, Dr. Karl Barth (then President of Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri) led a seminar for graduates heading out to their first calls. I remember him telling us there would be occasionally huge struggles in the parish and that we would at times be angry and hurt by what our own people do and say about their pastor. But then he told us to pray, to pray particularly for those people, because it’s hard to stay angry with those for whom you pray.

In this time where cynicism and anger at leaders in the church is a very real part of our lives, I encourage you to pray again and again for those who serve in supervisory offices. Who knows? You might even find yourself less angry. And don’t forget to pray for your pastor. Even though he has the “glorious” office, he’s apt to forget from time to time!

“Remember your leaders, who spoke the Word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:7-8).

To God be the Glory!


Rev. Nolan Astley is soon to conclude his service as Lutheran Church–Canada’s Interim Pastoral Leader for Alberta and British Columbia.

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