Recently, a relatively well known LCMS pastor took a call from the congregation he was serving to work for the LCMS International Center. The response to this was two-fold: he received many comments congratulating him on his new call; and he also received many comments, some serious, others not so much, offering condolences as if he were being demoted.
The question is then what is the proper response of fellow pastors and lay people when a pastor announces that he is departing one call for another, wherever that new call may be.
I do not really think offering congratulations is truly the best response because it does imply that one is being freed from the prison of one congregation to go and serve a better one, or as if the work of a pastor in a congregation is less than that of a professor or chair of a committee. Many of the comments reflect the sense that one is being promoted.
Truly this may be a result from the sinful nature of all people, because to receive a call in the LCMS is to have one’s work and abilities recognized by someone else; and the fact that someone not only recognizes one’s work and abilities, but desires that you come and do that work and perform those talents at another locale where they will be appreciated.
The same is true of the reverse: to offer condolences because one is leaving a congregation and going to serve at a college or seminary or even Synodical offices.
This one is slightly tricky because our doctrine of the call and the Office of the Keys says that one only has a call when they are called to a congregation, and that those who are not called to congregations are not truly pastors. But the twist comes in that those who serve as professors, counselors, chaplains, etc. are still ordained, they are still pastors and are still eligible to serve in congregations.
Unfortunately in trying to protect the doctrine of the call, many who hold office or serve at seminaries and colleges take calls to local congregations where they will serve, but in a capacity so minor that one is left to ask why they are even there or even if they are ever there.
Now for many this is a major issue; but let us take a step back for a moment. Which pastors do you want teaching in the seminaries? Or in the colleges? Which pastors do you want serving on boards and commissions in the International Center? You want the people who are the most qualified; and sometimes that means that they are going to have to leave a call in the congregation to go and serve in these other positions. In these cases they are not just serving however many members there are in a congregation, rather they are serving the whole Synod, indeed the whole Christian Church.
This is no reason for condolences. They are not taking a step down, nor are they taking a step up. They are serving Christ’s Church, whether it be in a congregation or in the Synodical offices.
So if one should not offer congratulations, nor should they offer condolences; what should one say to the pastor who accepts a call to serve, whether it be to a congregation or to a Synodical office?
The best answer may be to say ‘May you continue to faithfully serve the Lord and His Church, wherever He has called you to be.’
Because this is not about the ego of the pastor; or the size of the salary; or even the number of people which one serves. This is solely about the proclamation of the Gospel and the calling of all to faith, and where one can best do that.