Recently, I put forth a proposal calling for congregations calling sole pastors to be given priority in receiving Seminary candidates as opposed to those calling assistant or associate pastors from the Seminary. One of the major objections to this proposal is that some of those receiving first calls still need some refining and mentoring before entering a congregation to serve as sole pastors.
My retort to this objection is that there is already a mentoring system in place throughout the entire Synod for pastors of all ages and graduating classes: the Circuit Winkel, a monthly gathering of local pastors for the purpose of fellowship, prayer and study, with the added bonus of a time of casuistry, in which pastors can discuss with other pastors particular matters that they are struggling with.
And of course this solution is met with the cry that so many circuits are broken, that pastors don’t attend, there is no fellowship, and the whole ordeal is nothing but a waste of time.
I would tell you that I have not actually spoken with anyone in a so called broken circuit, although I have certainly talked to people who find themselves in better circuits than others. Now to be honest, as soon as you read the previous sentence, I imagine my comment section will be flooded with people telling me that their circuit is the 3rd level of Hell in Dante’s Inferno, and their Circuit Visitor is a literal incarnation of the antichrist.
So let’s just go with that assumption that circuits are broken, and that relying on the circuit to mentor and develop new pastors is an effort in futility.
What needs to be done about it?
The answer is actually not that difficult. And no, I have not attached an overture for you to submit to your District Convention calling on circuits to behave because they have the job of mentoring young pastors.
The answer is simple: pastors need to demand better. Stop settling for a dysfunctional, broken circuit that refuses to meet, and when it does meet ends up in a food fight. Demand better.
Start by showing up. The biggest problem in all circuits is pastors who refuse to show up, who constantly manage to find some pathetic excuse about their wife needing them, or how it is Advent or Lent, or how they need to get ready for some big event; or even how they are just need a break, or just plain forgot. Winkels are not a surprise, they happen every month, the same time every month. Put it on your calendar and show up.
Next, once you arrive, participate. Text study works best when the group is actively involved. Put your phone on silent and turn off the wifi on your computer. Engage the group, be in the room physically and mentally. The group needs to hear your words on a text, or on any matter that is being discussed by the group. The group works best when everyone is involved in the discussion and shares their ideas. No one is going to change their mind and come over to your side, or you to theirs, if you do not open your mouth and share your ideas.
Finally, if all else fails, run for Circuit Visitor. If your circuit is a broken mess and everyone refuses to acknowledge it but you, run for Circuit Visitor. And when elected, demand better from the group. Encourage pastors to attend, remind them that their insights and opinions and views are needed, and that they should come.
And above all else: do not stop attending. Get up early, show up, and stay late and visit with others.
And if there is a new pastor in your midst, make sure to make him feel welcome, alert him to the value of the Winkel, and encourage him to be relaxed and open with the group.
And if you still don’t attend winkel, then look in the mirror, because you are the problem, not your circuit. You are the one who is broken, you are the one who needs to repent and hear the words of absolution.
Each and every circuit in the LCMS contains a variety of pastors with a variety of experiences and a variety of strengths and weaknesses, and they gather together once a month in the best possible forum to encourage one another. Young pastors remind the older ones of their passion for theology; older ones remind younger ones of what it means to be a servant of the Church.
Circuit winkels are not the problem, instead they are the solution.