It is no secret to anyone with open eyes and ears that Lutherans have lost a shocking number of clergy over the past several years to the East or to Rome. Whenever another one leaves, we sometimes hear quite unrealistic opining over what led them to go. The silliest is that they liked fancy clothes and sweet smelling incense. Please.
The far deeper and harder thing for Lutherans to face is that so many of these pastors have left because they became convinced that Lutherans no longer wished nor intend to BE Lutheran. And so they were drawn to communions where the things that they valued (a stable liturgy, a life of prayer, the centering of the Church's life in the Holy Eucharist, active practice of confession and absolution) were in evidence. And gradually they became convinced by those communions that each one (respectively) WAS the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church of the Creed.
So when word comes that yet another has departed our ranks, I'd suggest that the wiser course is to admit up front that Lutheranism is in a world of hurt; that each departure move us to work all the harder toward the repair of what we can. A day ago or so, several Lutheran blogs posted the wise words of Neuhaus:
"If the Lutheran Church has a future, it will be as the Lutheran Church. It will not be as imitation Baptists, Presbyterians, or anything else. If people are to become, remain, and rejoice in being Lutheran, it is because they understand the distinctively Lutheran way of being Christian. Being Lutheran is an evangelical catholic and catholic evangelical way of being in unity with the entire Church of Christ. The present state of American Lutheranism is not just "not satisfactory." It is a sickness unto death. The alternative is not beating the drums to revive flagging spirits, nor is it to move evangelism a few notches up on the bureaucratic agenda. The alternative is renewal -- theological, pastoral, sacramental, catechetical. The alternative is to be something that others might have some reason to join." Richard John Neuhaus, 1986 (quoted in Forum Letter March 09)
These words need to be taken to heart. I don't know if Lutheranism in this country can be saved or not. But that's not ultimately my job or yours. My task as a Lutheran pastor is to seek to foster that renewal which Neuhaus described: a renewal in theology; a renewal in pastoral practice; a renewal in sacramental life; a renewal in catechesis. He left off what is perhaps the most important of all, for it is where all renewal begins: a renewal in the Word of God and in prayer. These will be LUTHERAN renewal if they are lived out from the joyous "aha" that is AC IV.
It is not ours to judge another Man's servant. Our Lord makes that clear and so does the Apostle. Our task is always to examine ourselves and look to our own repentance. Let us do so cheerfully and with hope. We are indeed sick unto death, but the Lord whose mercy we will be seeking is the Master of raising the dead and restoring hope to the hopeless. Ne desperemus, my brothers and sisters. Ne desperemus - for behold, by the Cross joy has come into all the world (and not merely the Roman or Orthodox corner of it)!
Wishing you each the joy of the Paschal Mystery as we enter into Holy Week!