With all the press that comes with being a pastor, it can be hard to focus on your ultimate calling: proclaiming the Word of God. That’s why Martin Luther’s “Sacristy Prayer” has been encouraging your brothers in the ministry for generations—both as you prepare to write sermons and as you stand to deliver those sermons.
Luther’s Sacristy Prayer
O Lord God, dear Father in heaven, I am indeed unworthy of the office and ministry in which I am to make known Your glory and to nurture and to serve this congregation.
But since You have appointed me to be a pastor and teacher, and the people are in need of the teaching and the instruction, be my helper and let Your holy angels attend to me.
Then if You are pleased to accomplish anything through me, to Your glory and not to mine or to the praise of men, grant me, out of Your pure grace and mercy, a right understanding of Your Word and that I may also diligently perform it.
O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, shepherd and bishop of our souls, send Your Holy Spirit that He may work with me to will and to do through Your divine strength according to Your good pleasure. Amen.1
Unworthy. The word can hang like a dark cloud even over a called and ordained servant of the Word. We usually know our own sins all too well. Calling others to repentance and absolving those who repent of their sins keeps our sins before our eyes. We need the same repentance, confession, absolution, consolation, and renewed faith. We pastors are unworthy servants, poor and miserable sinners.
Ordination did not give us an indelible character. Wearing vestments for Divine Service and the Daily Office do not make us more holy or closer to God. They do set us apart for His use of us as His instruments in His service.
Qualifications for Pastors
The qualifications for the noble task of pastor are found in 1 Timothy 3:1–7:
The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.
Our own sins and their guilt distract us from the ministry that we have been given to do. We benefit greatly from confessing those sins “we know and feel in our hearts” to a brother pastor and receiving Christ’s absolution personally from him, “not doubting, but firmly believing that by it our sins are forgiven before God in heaven.” We ourselves need the Gospel we proclaim to others.
In the installation rite of a pastor of a congregation, the pastor to be installed is asked:
“Will you honor and adorn the Office of the Holy Ministry with a holy life? Will you be diligent in the study of the Holy Scripture and the Confessions? And will you be constant in prayer for those under your pastoral care?”
“I will, the Lord helping me through the power and grace of His Holy Spirit.”
It is the Holy Spirit, God Himself, that “calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies” us, delivering in Word and Sacrament the fruits of Jesus’ sacrificial Good Friday death on the cross of Calvary and His victorious Easter Resurrection from the dead and an empty tomb. Jesus declares you worthy to make known His glory and to nurture and serve all under your care.
Who receives the Sacrament of the Altar worthily? We confess that a person is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words: “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” Dear Amtsbruder, my Brother-in-Office, have faith in these same words as you both receive and administer the Holy Absolution, Holy Baptism, His Holy Word, and Holy Communion. When we read the Table of Duties in Luther’s Small Catechism, we sometimes need to be reminded that we are given to heed both the “To Bishops, Pastors, and Preachers” section as well as the one that says “What the Hearers Owe Their Pastors.” We pastors are both hearers and pastors. The Gospel of Christ is for your comfort as well!
C.F.W. Walther on Pastors
C. F. W. Walther speaks to the office and ministry in which we serve our congregations:
When a Lutheran candidate of theology is assigned to a parish where he is to discharge the office of a Lutheran preacher, for him that place ought to be to the dearest, most beautiful, and most precious spot on earth. He should be unwilling to exchange it for a kingdom. Whether it is in a metropolis or in a small town, on a bleak prairie or in a clearing in the forest, in a flourishing settlement or in a desert—for him that place should be a miniature paradise. Do not the blessed angels descend from heaven with great joy whenever the Father in heaven sends them to minister to those who are to be heirs of salvation? Why, then, should we poor sinners be unwilling to hurry after them with great joy to a place where we can lead other people—fellow sinners—to salvation? 2
In Christ’s redemption you are counted as worthy not only of service in God’s Kingdom, but of a place as a child in God’s family. Our Father in heaven tenderly invites you to believe that He is your true Father and that you are His true child, so that you may be bold and confident in your praying, preaching, teaching, leading, and administering of the Sacraments for the sake of Jesus Christ, His Son, our Lord.
Dear Father, You have placed me here
As pastor for Your people dear.
I am not worthy for this task;
Help me to do all that You ask.
1 Text from Lutheran Service Book: Pastoral Care Companion, copyright © 2007 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.
2 Law and Gospel: How to Read and Apply the Bible (St. Louis: Concordia, 2010), p. 225.
Find more resources for Pastoral ministry in the Pastoral Care Companion.