Puritan Board Freshman
Hi Alan!Brother Jason:
Your observation could lead us into a discussion of the office question and I am decidedly a three- (if not four-) office man. There are certainly elders who have clearly pastoral gifts (and, sadly, ministers who lack them), but such are not required in the same way in the office of governor, which is central to the task of ruling elder, as they are in the one who is a minister of Word and Sacrament. It's always great when an elder is pastoral but disastrous when a pastor is not. I've written about this here and there.
But even if one takes a principled two-office approach, I can assure you that no congregant would take it that way. Let me illustrate: If I were taking my wife out for a celebratory dinner and someone had a clear pastoral emergency (take Tyler's suicide example), my sending the whole session over to the folk's house would not be taken well if it's known that I'm in town but am at dinner with my wife (I agree with what Heidi said about this; my wife would, in fact, insist that I leave dinner and attend to the needs at hand).
If I were out of town and unreachable that would be one thing. If it were catastrophic, however, I would cut a vacation short to return to minister. Please note, I agree that others can step in in a measure and to a degree. There are times, however, when no one but the pastor will do and pastors who have the sheep at heart would not want to be elsewhere in the deepest time of suffering on the part of the sheep.
Those suffering sheep may be those of his own family and he needs to tend to them and not fail to do so. A pastor may need to step away from congregational duties to focus on acute family needs. But a dinner is not such an urgent need. Don't go into the ministry if you think so.
A pastor is something to the flock that an elder is not, all things being equal. I do not say this to offend anyone who may be differently convicted, but whatever your polity is, no hurting sheep is satisfied if his pastor can but doesn't attend to him. Such a pastor has every appearance of a hireling.
I definitely understand what you are getting at and it may have been my own comment that was too pithy. I'll make some clarifications to your points as I do not disagree with your post but I do not think my position is that far away from yours, either.
My goal was to help recognize that in most situations there can often be more than just a dichotomy of answers where I choose the wife and neglect the parishioner or vice-versa. I have seen cases where it was the wiser decision to have a RE take point on a situation even when the TE was available. Sometimes it may be that the RE may just need to get there first so the TE does not need to rush a different pastoral call. Sometimes it may be more prudent for the TE to come the next day after the situation has all calmed down while a deacon or RE handles logistical issues. I've seen all of that.
I agree with you that for most people they look at someone who is a "pastor" differently than someone who is an "elder" and that this may color how a situation is to be handled. It would be prudent for REs and TEs to determine how best to serve individual families and/or people based on preferences/proclivities/relationships to others. But I'm just trying to say that the situation needn't always be set in such a dichotomous way.