(A Facebook Message Regarding Moving a Congregation toward Better Practices.)
First, Saint Paul instructs by way of Colossians 3:1-4, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”
With this, there is a very real sense that as our minds are set on things above, so also we should be reaching higher. I know that as a pastor, I try never to settle my congregation in lesser pastures, but rather am doing what I can to lead them to the things above, to better things—practice, faithfulness, and the like.
But second, I recall a story that Rev. Dr. Rast told to me while I was a student at the seminary. It epitomizes the synergy of pastoral care and catechesis, and I’ll do my best to recall it accurately.
Essentially, he noted that in his first congregation, the baptismal font wasn’t exactly displayed with any level of prominence that taught the importance of the Sacrament, but rather it was put into a corner in the nave and relatively out of sight. He wanted to get it out of the corner and into the center of the nave between the pews and the chancel. He wanted it to be there, stunning as a visual, silently proclaiming who we are in Christ and the wonders of the immeasurably full access we have to the Lord’s presence by virtue of our Baptism.
Rast wanted something better for his people.
And yet to do this, he did not move the font from the corner to the center of the nave in that one singular moment, but rather moved it inches at a time over the course of several years, all the while making the extra effort to teach the people in his care the importance of Holy Baptism. At one point, if I recall correctly, he said that even after a year or so of moving the font ever-so-slowly, one of his elders moved it back to the corner.
Rast had to start all over again. Eventually, the font made it to the center of the nave. Equally important, for the people, that became the only acceptable location for the font, and not because it was thrust upon them, but rather because they’d been catechized by a loving pastor seeking to help them reach for something better.
I think Rev. Dr. Rast’s example is a good one. I’ve never forgotten it, and I certainly try to employ it.
Of course there will be those changes in a congregation that absolutely must occur immediately. Still, and for the most part, I would guess that any and all pastors seeking to be humble servants of Christ will do all that is humanly possible to approach such situations with the loving kindness that emulates the Savior to the people they are serving. They will know the people—their families, their lives, their secrets—and they’ll do all they can to shepherd them to better things, namely the forgiveness of sins on by Jesus and given so wonderfully through Word and Sacrament.
This is my practice. And for the most part (always by God’s grace, of course), it seems to work.