Lutheran Zephyr rightly takes on a situation in which a Lutheran pastor is touted, in the recent issue of The Lutheran, as the tour leader for a pilgrimage to Las Vegas. You can find his comments here.
This issue of Lutheran pastors' remaining on the clergy roster even though they are working at jobs or in positions that have nothing to do with word-and-sacrament ministry seems to need attention. According to the Augsburg Confession -- that quaint little document that doesn't have much to say to the modern church's structure, I guess -- the Lutheran Church ordains pastors to the ministry of and to word and sacrament. That is, the sole distinguishing mark of pastors vis-a-vis "the laity" is that pastors preach the orthodox faith and minister the sacraments in a accord with the orthodox faith. And as I understand matters, this was in response to a theology of ministry that placed those who were ordained on an ontological plane higher that a mere layperson. While we do not hold a merely "functional" understanding of ministry, neither do we subscribe to any notion that work done by a pastor is holier, more professional, or any other -er than the same work performed by a layperson.
I have found that the Confession is observed as much in the breach as in the observance. We all know all kinds of people working in secular positions, who are not serving ministries of word and sacrament in any sense that makes any sense, who are nevertheless carried on the clergy roster of the ELCA as "pastors." (Note: I don't have any problem with various kinds of lay people's being including under pension plan. It's a matter of the doctrine of ordination.) We have editors at publishing houses, teachers in colleges (I guess it's OK if it's a Lutheran school, but not OK if it's a state university?), "counselors" in social service agencies, various kinds of tent-making "ministries" where there is no congregation in the worker's line of service.
So my question is what is up with that?
The Lutheran Church has never had a very clearly defined doctrine of the ministry (even aside from whether ordination is properly confirmed without a bishop's hands). But I have understood that there is, in Lutheran theology, no provision for the "indelible mark" of ordination: Once one is not preaching and presiding, one is not a pastor. (In my own case, I specifically correct anyone who says that I'm a pastor who works as a lawyer or the like. I was a pastor; I am no longer a pastor. On the other hand, I do not believe that my "derostered" status relieves me of the my ordination vows -- and this is contrary to what some say. Thus, I feel that I must be careful not to teach anything that is at odds with the dogmatic heritage of the Church. If I get to the margins, I have to acknowledge where I'm getting on thin ice.) It is no disgrace to be a "former pastor." But, to the contrary, I think there is something unseemly in (whether literally or figuratively) continuing to wear a collar when one is not ministering to a congregation by preaching and presiding (and more than once or twice a year!).
Implicated here are all those synod and Chicago bureaucrats who maintain the title "pastor" but couldn't preach their way out of a simple Gnostic trap and who wouldn't know an anaphora from a spittoon; "youth" or "associate pastors" whose job is scheduling youth events and hosting overnights or programming hook-up events for young marrieds; congregational "administrators" and "visitation pastors" whose call does not involve preaching and presiding full time. All of this causes me to laugh derisively whenever I read old Lutheran attacks on the Roman priesthood: There was nothing in the pre-Reformation Roman Catholic clergy pool that has not been taken up by the post-Reformation Lutheran corps.
Heck, Lutheran pastors' lending their names -- on an occasional basis -- to treks to Las Vegas seems small change compared to all the collars I see running around -- full time -- doing things just as secular.
Still to come: My take on the failure of Lutheran ecclesiology. (I just have to reduce the manuscript from 50 pages!)