Part Four: The Father and His Pastor
The partnership between parents and pastors is vital to the raising of children in the faith.
Christians go to church. Churches have pastors. Christians have pastors. But our topic is
not the Christian and his pastor. It is the father and his pastor. So we will talk specifically
about the relationship between a Christian father and his pastor.
Jesus asked Peter to feed his lambs and his sheep. (John 21:15-17) This is Christ’s
instruction to all pastors in his church. God commands fathers to feed the lambs under
their fatherly care. This means that fathers and pastors have overlapping responsibilities.
They are both called by God to feed the same children.
The office of pastor is similar to that of father. St. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 4:15,
For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have
many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.
While it isn’t common for Lutheran pastors to be addressed as father, our doctrine of the
ministry certainly allows for it. We believe that the gospel preached and the sacraments
administered by the called and ordained pastor are means of grace by which the Holy Spirit
calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies his church. In the Large Catechism, Luther speaks
of this church saying:
He has a peculiar congregation in the world, which is the mother that begets and
bears every Christian through the Word of God, which He reveals and preaches . . .
The church is our mother. God is our Father. He who speaks for God is our spiritual father.
It was about thirty years ago, when a young parishioner, I would guess he was about four
years old, came up to me and said, “Say God, I have a question.” I replied, “Casey, I’m not
God. I say what God says, but I am not God.” Casey replied, “You say what God says?” I
said, “Yes.” He considered that for a moment, and then replied, “Well, anyway, this is my
He was a very practically minded little boy. He wanted to know what God had to say about
a particular topic. He asked the one he thought would know. That’s what a pastor is for.
And that’s what a father is for. So the pastor and the father have the same purpose.
Their call is different because their offices, while overlapping, are not the same. The pastor
isn’t responsible for bodily discipline. The father is. The father isn’t responsible for
preaching the gospel to the congregation. The pastor is. But as far as divinely established
duties are concerned, these offices share much in common.
When we Lutherans talk about doctrine, we keep it in the singular. Doctrines are false.
Doctrine is pure. Similarly, when you hear about ministries, your antennae should spring
up and take note. What ministries? There is but one ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is
the ministry of reconciliation. I don’t have mine while Pastor Jones has his and Pastor
Smith has his. It is Christ’s ministry and we all share the same thing. That’s why there can
be no ranks among us, except by human agreement and in a purely advisory capacity.
When it comes to speaking authoritatively for Christ to Christ’s church, all ministers are
equal. They all share the same ministry.
This means that an attack on a minister is an attack on the ministry. Not literally. Not even
theoretically. But, for all practical purposes, it is. Believe me. I know that there are many
incompetent pastors out there. There are men serving in the ministry who never should
have gone to the seminary. There are men who have lost the right to preach by scandalous
living, by persistence in false doctrine, or by a refusal or inability to do what God calls the
pastor to do. By all means, remove unfaithful pastors from office. Do so according to the
due process prescribed in the word of God. But fathers, don’t make it a habit of trashing
your pastor. What you say to your children about a specific pastor just might color what
your children think of the ministry and what they think of the ministry may color what they
think of what is being administered, namely, the pure and saving doctrine of the gospel.
If fathers want their pastors to provide good Christian instruction for their children, they
must see to it that they honor the pastoral office. And if pastors want the support of the
parents of the children entrusted to them, they must see to it that they honor the parental
estate. When teaching other people’s children, it is my duty to demonstrate the respect for
them that their children owe them. This can be a challenge when it falls upon me to teach
the children of their duty to attend divine services and their parents don’t attend.
If a father shows respect to his pastor he teaches his children to respect, not just a man, but
what that man’s office represents. It is Christ the Savior who has established this office and
he established it that we may obtain the faith through which God justifies us. The
preaching of the gospel is how Christ, the Good Shepherd, feeds his church today. The Bible
uses any number of words to refer to a pastor – a minister, a bishop, an elder, a teacher, a
preacher – and they all refer to the same office, the office of teaching the gospel and
administering the sacraments. These activities are the work of the Holy Spirit, the Lord and
giver of life. God calls unworthy and sinful men to take on these duties. The best a loving
Christian father can do for his children with respect to their pastor is to support him,
encourage him, and call on him to do his duty.
If he won’t or if he can’t and if the church cannot deal with his refusal or inability to carry
out the essential duties of his office, it would be far better for the Christian father to find
another church that is served by a faithful pastor than to subject his family to ongoing
criticism of a pastor who falls short. Here let us consider our duties as God has revealed
them to us. The Christian father’s duty to his children far outweighs his duty to the
congregation to which he belongs. You cannot be a faithful parishioner unless you are a
faithful husband and father. The church doesn’t need you. It doesn’t need your service. It
doesn’t even need your money. Your children do. Your wife does. Your family does. Put
their needs first.
They need to be fed with the word of God. They don’t need to participate in this, that, or
the other special activity, club, or youth group. In listening to old folks complain about how
young folks have disappeared from church one hears a variety of interesting opinions. Go
to a call meeting sometime at a congregation of mostly older people and listen to them talk
about the need to get a pastor who will be able to reach out to the youth, about all the youth
activities they used to have, and how few youth there are in church these days. It’s a
common lament. The Christian father’s duty to his spiritual father is to do everything he
can do to ensure that his children seek out instruction in God’s word from the minister
Christ has sent to provide it.
Fathers, if you want your children to grow up in the faith and hold onto it when they are
old, you must treat the faith as something worth fighting for. You support your pastor, not
for his sake, but for your children’s sake. You support his ministry, not for his sake – the
ministry doesn’t belong to him – but for the sake of Christ whose ministry it is. What this
means is that you take your children to church and Bible class with you. Don’t let them skip
church for any reason. If they fight you on this you must fight back and you must win. You
must never give up and never let them have their way. Even when they are grown and live
somewhere else, it remains your duty as a father to tell your children that they need to be
in church on Sunday morning. Their relationship with you is contingent on listening to you
tell them their duty. Never cave in. Don’t let anyone psyche you out. God gave you your
children and God gives you the duty and that means the right to tell your children they
must be in church on a Sunday morning.
When a man who refuses to attend divine service tells you that he will not go because he
was required to go as a child, he is not telling you the truth. Perhaps he thinks he is, but he
isn’t. In many cases, he may well be rebelling against the rules imposed on him as a child.
But when Mom and Dad attend church every Sunday, attend Bible class when it is offered,
and do not permit their children to attend a sports event, a party, or remain in bed sleeping
when church is scheduled, their children will learn what normal is, and what is normal
experientially will become normal morally.
Legalism is a spiritual poison that infects us all. Legalism is a teaching of the devil
implanted in the flesh by the father of lies. Legalism is the notion that we gain eternal life
by means of obeying the law. The legalist thinks the law shows you how to get God to give
you what you want. Legalism calls for outward obedience to rules, but doesn’t do anything
to change a person’s heart. Only the gospel, that is, the forgiveness of all our sins freely
given to us for the sake of Christ’s vicarious obedience and suffering, can give us the desire
to do what God wants us to do.
Lutherans know that legalism is wrong. But they are easily confused about what it is. They
deduce that if we should want to do what the law requires, this means that we mustn’t obey
the law simply because God says so, if we don’t feel a desire to obey it. When they lose
their desire to attend church they assume that, without the desire to go, their going would
be a sham. So they skip church until the Spirit moves them to go. But the Spirit is at church
– the very place they are not going. They fall further and further into the futility of their
own imaginations and end up spiritually dead.
Of course, you should want to go to church. And you should want to be faithful to your
husband or wife. But if you don’t feel particularly faithful and notice someone very
attractive that you think might provide you with sexual excitement, should you perhaps,
since your heart really isn’t in it, set aside your devotion to your spouse and do what your
body is telling you to do?
Ask your husband or wife. Ask your children. Ask your parents. You get the idea. You do
your duty whether you feel like it or not. And it is your duty to go to church. It is your duty
to require your children to go to church. It is your duty to go to a church that teaches the
pure and wholesome word of God. God does not tell you to attend a heterodox church. It is
your duty to go to church where the word of God is preached in its truth and purity and to
listen to the gospel proclaimed there.
I have heard every argument for skipping church. When my children became old enough to
work for a paycheck they told their employers that they would not and could not work on
Sunday mornings or on Wednesday evenings during Advent and Lent. The employer knew
the rules at the outset. Most employers (they usually worked in some capacity at a
restaurant) would try at least once to get them to work on Sunday morning. You know how
it is. Somebody couldn’t make it to work and the boss was in a bind. The children would
agree to come to work after church, but they would never miss church or leave church
early in order to go to work. None of my children ever suffered a penalty from an employer
on that account. If anything, the employer gained confidence in their reliability. I don’t
share this with you because I like to talk about my kids (though I do like to talk about my
kids), but to encourage fathers to take a stand on this matter and don’t move from where
you stand. Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these
things shall be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:33)
The best way a father can support his pastor is to support the proclamation of the pure
gospel. I don’t know any pastor worth his salt who wouldn’t rather have parishioners
attending church and Bible class, discussing theology, and talking about it with their
children, than parishioners who shower them with gifts, praise, and attention. Speaking for
myself, as a pastor, I went into the ministry because I love the word of God. I love sound
Christian theology and I want to teach it to others because I believe it’s the most precious
thing you can have. When I see a father who agrees and wants his children to have this
treasure, it is the greatest gift that I as a pastor can receive from a parishioner.