How is it possible that thousands upon thousands of people are bored with the church and pass it by? Why did it come about that the cinema really is often more interesting, more exciting, more human and gripping than the church? Can that really be only the fault of others and not ours as well? The church was different once. It used to be that the questions of life and death were resolved and decided here. Why is this no longer so?
It is because we ourselves have made the church, and keep on making it, into something which it is not. It is because we talk too much about false, trivial human things and ideas in the church and too little about God. It is because we make the church into a playground for all sorts of feelings of ours, instead of a place where God’s Word is obediently received and believed. It is because we prefer quiet and edification to the holy restlessness of the powerful Lord God, because we keep thinking we have God in our power instead of allowing God to have power over us, instead of recognizing that God is truth and that over against God the whole world is in the wrong. It is because we like too much to talk and think about a cozy, comfortable God instead of letting ourselves be disturbed and disquieted by the presence of God – because in the end we ourselves do not want to believe that God is really here among us, right now, demanding that we hand ourselves over, in life and death, in heart and soul and body. And finally, it is because we pastors keep talking too much about passing things, perhaps about whatever we ourselves have thought out or experienced, instead of knowing that we are no more than messengers of the great truth of the eternal Christ.
Every empire in this world sends out its ambassadors. Their job is to give visible expression throughout the world t0 the will and the might of their empire. They are not meant to be anything other than representatives, in this way, of their home empire and their ruler. The German ambassador or the French ambassador is supposed to be the quintessential German or French person. This has nothing to do with him or her as a person, but concerns only the person’s mission. And in order to carry out their mission, ambassadors are vested with all the authority of their empire. They speak and act on behalf of their ruler.
And so the unseen Lord of the eternal kingdom and the church sends out ambassadors into this world, giving them a mission that is greater than that of any other, just as heaven is greater than earth, and eternity is greater than time. And the authority that this Lord gives these ambassadors is that much greater than all the authorities in this world. God’s eternal Word, God’s eternal judgment, God’s justice and God’s grace, God’s anger and God’s mercy, salvation and damnation, reconciliation through Christ – these words are placed in the hands of the ambassadors of Christ as the most sacred and precious of goods, which they are called to administer through the grace of God. They will be required to give a full account to Christ the Lord, the Shepherd of shepherds, for every word they have spoken in his name in his church; as the shepherds of the flock, they will have to carry the blame and the responsibility. This is the ultimate meaning of the pastoral ministry!
– Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Summer 1933