Dr. C.F.W. Walther, the first president of the church body now know as The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, in an 1848 presidential address, addressed the synod in convention, which included these words concerning the relationship between pastor and congregation:
“Only such a preacher is a servant of men as does not serve Christ faithfully because of fear of men or because of desire to please men, departs from God’s Word in doctrine or practice, and preaches for the itching ears of his audience. But where the pastor is given only the power of the Word, but its full power, where the congregation, as often as it hears Chris’s Word from the mouth of the preacher, receives it as the Word of God, there the proper relationship between pastor and congregation exists; he stands in their midst not as a hired mercenary but as an ambassador of the Most High God; not as a servant of men but as a servant of Christ, who in Christ’s stead teaches, admonishes, and reproves…The more a congregation sees that he who has the rule over them in the Lord desires nothing but that the congregation be subject to Christ and His Word; the more it sees that he does not desire to dominate them, yes, indeed, that he himself with a jealous eye guards the liberty of the congregation, the more willing the congregation will become to hear his salutary recommendations also in matters which God has not prescribed; it will follow him in these matters not as a taskmaster because it must, but as their father in Christ, because they wish to do it for their own advantage.”
These words of Walther are nearly forgotten in many an LCMS congregation today, both by pastor and people. Pastors lord over the people, and people lord over the pastor, contrary to the words of our Lord where He admonishes His disciples, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave — just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25-28).
The rule or authority of the pastor is none other than the Word of God itself. In this way the pastor is to serve the congregation—preaching and teaching the very Word of Christ in all its truth and purity. Where a pastor neglects doing so, he is doing nothing but neglecting His calling by God through the congregation. The pastor is not to add to or subtract from the Word. Nor is he a people pleaser, compromising for the sake of peace. If he is to stand and remain a faithful preacher, he must “abide in Christ.”
All pastors who do not do this do not serve the Lord Jesus Christ, but another. These are false preachers and teachers, who teach what men want to hear or how men want to hear it. But to be a servant of God, the pastor preaches according to Holy Scripture—nothing more and nothing less. This is what God gives pastors to do. Therefore, the congregation is to help and support them in doing so, even encouraging them with the Word and by praying for them in their solemn servitude.
Whereas the responsibility of the pastor is to be a faithful servant of God and a faithful servant to God’s people, “rightly dividing the Word of truth,” (2 Timothy 2:15) the responsibility of the congregation is to hear the pastor and honor him as one whom God has sent, for so God has. Not doing so, that is, refusing to hear the pastor, is as not hearing God, just as Jesus says to His disciples, “He who hears you hears me” (Luke 10:16).
Far from this being a novel invention or “lifting up the pastor” to a godly like status, this is the way of God and His blessed Word for the sake of His beloved people. Remember, the authority of the pastor is not that of himself, all that he says, or all that he does. The authority of the pastor is that of the Word. Where he speaks beyond the Word, there ears can truly be shut. But as he proclaims and speaks the Word, there the ears are to be nothing but open—because it is not the pastor’s words, but God’s.
Thus does Holy Scripture in many places speak of the relationship, even the duty (and vocation) of pastors to their congregation and congregation to their pastor(s). The following words are found under “The Table of Duties” in The Small Catechism of sainted Dr. Martin Luther:
To Bishops, Pastors, and Preachers
The overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. 1 Tim. 3:2-4
He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. 1 Tim. 3:6
He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. Titus 1:9
What the Hearers Owe Their Pastors
The Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel. 1 Cor. 9:14
Anyone who receives instruction in the Word must share all good things with his instructor. Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Gal. 6:6-7
The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.” 1 Tim. 5:17-18.
We ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. 1 Thess. 5:12-13
Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you. Heb. 13:17
As you can see, neither pastor or hearer is free to forsake the Word or invent new ways of serving God. Rather, it is in doing what God has commanded, having faith in Christ, that we rightly please God and rightly serve Him. For Lutheran pastors and Lutheran congregations, the Word is front and center. The church is not centered on either pastor or people. It is centered on Christ. And where Christ is truly the center, both pastor and people rightly recognize their place and give glory, thanks, and praise to God. Pastors diligently serve God’s people; and God’s people readily hear the preached Word, and give thanks for it.
 Carl S. Meyer (ed.), Moving Frontiers: Readings in the History of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1964), 175-176.
 “Every word of God is pure; He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him. Do not add to His words, Lest He rebuke you, and you be found a liar” (Proverbs 30:5-6).
 “If you abide in My Word, you are truly My disciples. And you will know the truth and the truth will free you.” (John 8:31-32)
 Deuteronomy 18:20; Isaiah 5:20; Jeremiah 23:1; Matthew 7:15-23; 15:9; Romans 16:17-18; Colossians 2:6-9, 18-23; 1 Timothy 4:1-6; 2 Timothy 3:13-17; 4:1-4; Hebrews 13:9; 2 Peter 2:1-3; 1 John 4:1-6
Filed under: Bible-Holy Scripture, Christian Denominations & Fellowship, God-The Holy Trinity, History of the Church, Justification & Sanctification-The Christian Faith & Good Works, Law & Gospel-Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth, LCMS, Office of the Holy Ministry-Pastors, Salvation-Soteriology, Sermons, Son, Theology & Doctrine, Worship & Liturgy | Tagged: Bible, Christ, faithfulness, LCMS, preaching, Walther |