Doctors, pilots, firefighters: these are highly skilled professionals we entrust with our lives. A good doctor has the opportunity to extend life and health. A pilot has a specialized skill to move someone a great distance. A firefighter enters a place of intense heat at personal risk for the sake of preserving life and property.
As Associate for Ministry Support, serving in the CLB Office of the President, my role in the care of our ministers and congregations reflects aspects of all three of these vocations. Without trivializing the specialized skills of physicians, pilots, or firefighters, their roles are analogous to the preservation of our CLB ministers and churches. The Lord is our great physician, our chief navigator, and the rescuer of our souls. My calling is to point our pastors to Christ in all of these areas of ministry support.
Providing Care: Ministers in Need
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
I don’t like to visit doctors and I don’t know many people who do. It usually means I’m not feeling well and I’m not too eager to hear hard news. The only reason I go is out of hope for good care, the prospect of returning to a place of health, and a desire to provide for my family. Good health means more than addressing problems. It’s about developing healthy habits and ongoing personal assessments that provide important feedback in my overall health.
Receiving care from a physician or a fellow pastor requires humility to confess our blind spots that prevent us from seeing areas of need in our lives. Good pastoral health, like our physical health, requires setting intentional appointments to receive regular check-ups, whether that is a self-diagnostic tool or the perspective of a fellow pastor who can ask the right questions.
As the Associate for Ministry Support, I am seeking to develop a suite of self-care resources, along with a network of pastoral care partners across North America. They will provide care, encouragement, and support to our Ministers of the Gospel in small clusters of 5-7 pastors. These pastor care partners may be retired or active pastors who have both a sense of calling and gifts to care for other pastors.
Providing care for Ministers of the Gospel benefits the whole Body of Christ. It affirms that every part of the Body has a distinct purpose and is necessary to the healthy functioning of the entire body. It affirms that when one part of the Body suffers, the whole Body suffers. The gospel is experienced through pastoral care in sharing the gift of Christ and his Word, along with the love of Jesus expressed through vocational callings of counselors and other soul-care providers.
Piloting: Churches and Pastors in Transition
Do you remember the first flight you ever took? Mine was over forty years ago, but I still remember the butterflies in my stomach. I remember the comfort of reciting the Lord’s Prayer as we prepared to land. Recognizing our complete powerlessness reminds us how the Lord can provide through the talents of others. Now after more flights than I can count as a Regional Pastor, I seldom even think about air travel other than in periods of extreme air turbulence.
A safe flight requires hundreds of methodical tasks completed by pilots, air traffic controllers, and ground support, all done with due diligence. Similarly, pastoral transitions require multiple groups working together such as call committees, the Office of the President, and the families who are in transition.
Ultimately, it is the Lord who calls and redirects our call. “[God] who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began” (2 Timothy 1:9, ESV). As pastors and servants of the Church, we seek discernment of our calling from the Lord through prayer, godly counsel, and understanding our gifts.
As the Associate for Ministry Support, I will serve as both an “air traffic controller” for congregations as well as a “flight instructor” for pastors embarking to a new ministry destination. I also look forward to coming alongside our seminarians and seminary professors to assist new pastors taking flight in ministry. Would you also pray that the Lord of the air, wind and sky would call new pastors to take flight?
Firefighting: Reconciling Conflict
Who in their right mind runs into a burning building? One who has received proper training and who knows that lives are precious and worth saving. Our natural inclination in the presence of flames is to run. However, some without training will run into the burning building only to become victims themselves.
Over the past four years the CLB has been cultivating a partnership of training and support from Ambassadors of Reconciliation (AOR), a Lutheran peacemaking organization. AOR teaches reconciliation from an understanding of God’s Law and Gospel, proclaiming Christ died to reconcile us to God and to our neighbor (2 Corinthians 5:11-21).
To be called and equipped in God’s Word as ambassadors of reconciliation is to enter the burning flames of conflict—conflict that is fueled by our own false gods (idols) of pride, fear of man, improper pleasures, and even wanting good things too much. It requires faith like that of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who allowed themselves to be cast into King Nebuchadnezzar’s fiery furnace for the sake of demonstrating the power of God.
My prayer and purpose is to develop a network of conflict coaches, mediators and trainers who are called and equipped to cultivate lifestyles of reconciliation in our congregations, regions, and synod.
As the Associate for Ministry Support, my calling—with the help of God—is to shepherd and lead our family of churches in continuing the good work of our former Regional Pastors. This will happen through facilitating a network of pastoral care relationships and self-care, to assist our congregations and pastors in the journeys of transition, and to lead the Church in glorifying God by proclaiming the gospel to those in conflict. If the Lord has stirred your heart to serve in any of these callings, I would welcome the opportunity to pray and dialogue with you!
Rev. Phil Heiser serves the Church of the Lutheran Brethren as Associate for Ministry Support.