The purpose of this essay is to consider the main aspects of the pastoral ministry and pastoral care in the Lutheran church today. What is the responsibility of the Lutheran pastor and what is the responsibility of his congregation?
Every orthodox Lutheran pastor confesses that the Holy Scriptures are God’s errorless inspired Word, the only source of faith, doctrine, and life. He accepts all the Lutheran Confessions because they are a correct exposition of the Bible. At the same time, the pastor will always desire to live a Christ-like life as an example to the congregation.
The Shepherd Nourishes the Flock
One of the primary ways that the pastor nourishes his congregation is through preaching. Martin Luther said, “There is nothing that so attaches people to the church as good preaching.” Since the preaching of the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16), the pastor will devote much time to the careful preparation of his sermons. He will administer the Sacraments in accord with Christ’s institution. In Baptism, trust in the Savior is worked and new spiritual life is received. In the Lord’s Supper, the new spiritual life of the Christian is nourished and strengthened through Christ’s body and blood.
Education and servant leadership are a vital part of the pastor’s calling. He educates and leads through the sermon, but he also trains and educates in other ways, such as Confirmation class, Sunday school, and Bible studies.
The Shepherd Tends the Flock
In times of sickness, burden, and approaching death, there is a temptation to doubt God’s love, to murmur, and to despair. At such times, the Christian especially needs Gospel comfort from his pastor. Therefore, the pastor will want to visit his people as they face various difficulties to strengthen them with the Gospel of forgiveness and the Sacrament as is seen in James 5:14.
The Shepherd Searches for the Lost
The pastor and his congregation will not only look inward, but they will also seek the lost. The pastor is continually looking for opportunities to share the Gospel of salvation with those who do not know the Savior. He wants his entire congregation to be equipped to present the way of salvation in their vocation. If a Christian in his vocation can discuss world events and the political situation, then he should also be able to discuss the most important thing: Jesus and His cross for our salvation.
The Responsibility of the Flock to the Shepherd
The first responsibility of a congregation is to judge if the preaching and teaching that they hear is from God as St. John tells us (1 John 4:1). This judgment is not based on what it wants to hear, but alone on the Holy Scripture. If the pastor is teaching the Word in its purity, then it is not man’s words, but God Himself speaking and it should be accepted as such. The congregation will receive its pastor with all the compassion of the Savior.
The members of the congregation will participate in the work of the church according to their ability. There are many opportunities for members to serve in leadership, education, evangelism, stewardship, and general maintenance.
Both the pastor and congregation have to admit that they have failed many times in their responsibilities to each other and to the Lord. Neither pastor nor congregation can fully emulate the love of Christ. Yet thanks be to God that our gracious Savior is always present in need. He gives full forgiveness and strengthens both the pastor and congregation to better carry out the work of the kingdom so that more and more know the joy of salvation.
Rev. Gaylin Schmeling