Saturday, 16 January 2010

Pastoral Leadership

Click on the post title to read the first of a promised and promising series on what makes a pastor. This reflection is written by an Orthodox priest, Fr Basil Biberdorf, but contains eminently sound counsel and, mutatis mutandis, applies equally well to the Lutheran scene and indeed most other mainstream Christian confessions.

The basic point Fr Basil makes here is that prospective clergy should not be self-selected, but identified and encouraged towards the pastoral vocation by the local congregation. Seminaries, he argues, tend to operate too independently of the church bodies they serve in recruiting students. This is especially so, it seems to me, when they become fee-charging institutions which are no longer supported or financially underwritten by the church. I'm not just thinking of our own LCA seminary either, as they have attempted to address this issue over the years and tend to recruit through local pastors, but more in light of my experience a couple of years ago with a prominent American Lutheran seminary to which a parishioner went for study.

That's not to say that one should be automatically suspicious of someone who feels they have been called to ministry, but only to suggest that that feeling needs to be tested, and the local congregation is the first place where that should happen, not the seminary.

Broadening this reflection a bit, from looking around Fr Basil's blog and a bit further afield, I can discern some specific background to his reflection and his purpose for blogging on this topic, namely that his own denomination and the Orthodox in America generally have recently been plagued by financial and moral scandals that have their origins in poor pastoral and archpastoral leadership, and in some cases the scandals have clearly been caused by pathological personalities who have sought the power and authority that comes with the pastoral office for what are...well, let's not beat about the bush here, demonic purposes (for background on the recent financial scandals in American Orthodoxy see and and for a disturbing litany of sexual and psychological abuse by Orthodox clergy in the US see

These problems can occur in any denomination or confession, but Orthodoxy, as far as I can see, has a very weak doctrine of original sin, a very high doctrine of priestly power and authority, and a very low doctrine of congregational authority, and out of that nexus problems are bound to arise. It seems obvious to me that a church that addresses its archpastors as 'My Lord...' and vests them in the clothing and regalia of the Byzantine emperors is just asking for trouble [tongue only partly in cheek]. As Montaigne once remarked, there are two things that more often than not in human experience seem to go together: supercelestial thoughts and subterranean conduct. I don't think Montaigne was being impious when he wrote these words, just frankly acknowledging that priestly piety can sometimes cloak raw, unredeemed ego and a desire to lord it over the Lord's people.

(No, the pic is not the view of one of my congregations from the pulpit, although some of those faces almost look familiar, it is St Mary's C of E in Westmoors, UK.)

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