Q: What is the Lutheran teaching concerning the responsibility of the pastor to make the church grow?
A: In today’s religious climate which promotes all different kinds of “church growth” techniques, there is a tendency for people to forget what makes the TRUE CHURCH grow in the way GOD speaks of growth. We look down the street and see people flocking to a non-denominational church as a result of a personality-plus preacher, and we may feel like saying, “Our pastor isn’t doing enough to make our church grow!”
If your pastor, however, is diligently preaching and teaching the true Word of God and is faithfully administering the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, do not forget that this is the way the Holy Spirit brings people’s souls into the Holy Christian Church. Pastors are not the cause of people believing. That is only in the Holy Spirit’s realm as the Means of Grace are used. The Apostle Paul informed the Corinthian congregation, a congregation prone to “pick the popular preacher:” “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who makes things grow” (I Cor. 3:6, 7).
The responsibility and privilege of reaching out to the unchurched with the Gospel is one assigned to all Christians, pastors and parishioners alike. It should go without saying that the pastor naturally will seek to encourage evangelism efforts and seek to exemplify for his flock the excitement of bringing the Gospel to mission prospects. But Lutheran doctrine has always carefully upheld that the pastor’s major role in evangelism is to “equip the saints” (Eph. 4:12) so that the members (all—including the pastor) are trained in building up the “body of Christ.” But this training is not to adopt “whatever works” to bring bodies into the sanctuary. It is to direct everyone to Word and Sacrament for here is where Christ’s forgiveness is offered to sinners so that faith may be initiated and strengthened. “To obtain such faith God instituted the office of the ministry, that is, provided the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit, who works faith, when and where He pleases, in those who hear the Gospel. . . Condemned are the Anabaptists and others who teach that the Holy Spirit comes to us through our own preparations, thoughts, and works without the external word of the Gospel” (Augsburg Confession, Art. V). Dr. Luther once said: “The Word is the only bridge and path by which the Holy Spirit comes to us.”
Pastors and parishioners will want to try to avoid putting barriers in the way of the dissemination of the Gospel (II Cor. 6:3). And in this regard, Christians will strive to approach people “with gentleness and respect” (I Peter ~:15), becoming all things to them under Christian liberty (I Cor. 9:22), so that both God’s Law and Gospel may go to work on their hearts.
Thank God when pastors present the fullness of God’s Word, even when many in society do not want to hear it. “We for our part preach the foolishness of the Gospel. . . We know how repulsive this teaching is to the judgment of reason and law and that the teaching of the law about love is more plausible; for this is human wisdom. But we are not ashamed of the foolishness of the Gospel. Because of Christ’s glory we defend it and we ask Christ for the help of His Holy Spirit to make it clear and distinct” (Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Art. IV).