Give your time and effort to the public reading of the Scriptures and to preaching and teaching. Practice these things and devote yourself to them, in order that your progress may be seen by all.  Watch yourself and watch your teaching. Keep on doing these things, because if you do, you will save both yourself and those who hear you.

1 Timothy 4:13, 15-17 [Good News Translation]

The apostle Paul routinely began his letters with a greeting which included the words: “I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you.”

I, too, want to begin this post with a similar salutation.  I thank God through Jesus Christ for you, the 60,000-plus people of God who make up the congregations of the Northeastern Ohio Synod of the ELCA. The main reason for my thankfulness today is that many of our congregations allowed our pastors and rostered lay leaders to take a couple days off for rest and renewal.

Nearly 100 clergy, associates in ministry, and spouses traveled to Geneva-on-the-Lake for the annual Professional Leaders Retreat, which is held each year in the last week of January.

It’s a chance for clergy to get away from the daily demands of parish ministry, reconnect with other colleagues and engage with presenters who are invited to talk about a particular topic pertaining to ministry.

This year’s speaker was the Rev. Dr. Peter W. Marty, senior pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church, Davenport,

The Rev. Dr. Peter W. Marty
The Rev. Dr. Peter W. Marty

Iowa. He is a writer, speaker, and preacher. You may have noticed his monthly columns in The Lutheran Magazine. The theme for his presentations was, “What does a sermon do today?”

But rather than confine his remarks to preaching, Dr. Marty touched on all aspects of pastoral ministry. Using examples from his own personal life and from the myriad of books and articles he has either read or written, Marty encouraged and challenged all of us to become better at our vocation. He spoke for three 90-minute sessions, and entertained questions at each one.

And whereas other presenters would have most likely hidden in their room during breaks, Marty took the time to talk to individuals in the course of the social hours and mealtimes. He seemed genuinely interested in wanting to know who people were and what was on their minds. He even preached at the closing worship service. It was, for all of us in attendance, time exceedingly well spent.

The Rev. Karl Biermann (center) was installed as Assistant to the Bishop.
The Rev. Karl Biermann (center) was installed as Assistant to the Bishop.

So again, thank you, people of God! Thank you for your investment in the well-being of your pastor.  If you notice this Sunday that your pastor’s sermon sounds different; if you hear a freshness in his or her voice that you hadn’t previously noticed; if you detect an enthusiasm never felt in the past; chances are he or she was at the Professional Leaders Retreat.

We are blessed in this synod with many wonderful pastors. And by giving them the time and the opportunity to learn and improve, you and your congregations will reap great rewards. If your pastor didn’t attend this year’s retreat, encourage him or her to attend in 2016. (Take note of how Paul encouraged Timothy in the scripture passage quoted above.) It would be a wonderful gift to pastors and to their ministry. The benefits to the people in your parish will be immeasurable. But more importantly, God will be glorified!

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