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One of the joys of pastoral ministry is the privilege of meeting with a couple preparing for a life together in marriage. Spending time with a couple in pre-marriage sessions, it is usually apparent that “love is in the air.” By all means, this is a great thing! But what happens in marriage when the balloon has deflated and love is not in the air? Is there still love in the relationship? Has the couple stopped loving each other? The necessity to talk about what real love is and, of course, about unrealistic expectations in marriage, is paramount.

Every couple has, to some extent, unrealistic expectations of how their marriage will function. Such expectations include how each will meet the other's needs, roles in marriage, being the perfect match, changing the other person after marriage, how marriage may “fix” the problems in the relationship and happiness in marriage. These unrealistic expectations can be pitfalls in a marriage, so how do couples combat them? With honesty, openness and, most importantly, love and forgiveness grounded in Christ.

Much like engaged couples or newlyweds, a congregation and its pastor can both have "unrealistic expectations" of each other. A Lutheran theologian once noted that a pastor should in his inaugural sermon articulate what the congregation should expect from him and what the pastor should expect from the congregation. So what you should you expect from me, your pastor?

You can expect your pastor to be faithful to the Holy Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions, faithfully preach both God's law and God's gospel, teach and administer God's gifts, visit the sick and the homebound, and be present with and accessible to you. The Office of the Ministry is not one of power, but one of service. Just as our Lord came not to be served, but to serve, you can expect your pastor to attempt to always follow his example of service. Finally, you can expect your pastor, at some point, to fail at all of these things. Just as in marriage, a congregation and its pastor will eventually let each other down, fail the other, sin against the other and, yes, need the other's forgiveness in Christ.

I've heard it said that no one wants to hear about sin or “bad things” in a wedding homily, because it puts a damper on such a beautiful and joyous occasion. I would argue, however, that a wedding homily that does not mention the reality of two sinners living together and their need for forgiveness in Jesus Christ “misses the boat” and fails to get at the heart of Christian marriage.

It is a privilege to be called by the Lord to serve you, the people of God at Saint John's. It is a privilege to serve in the Office of the Ministry, to bring God's Word and administer God's gifts to His people. I am truly humbled and excited to lead and serve you in Christ, to walk together in Christ and this life which He has given to us! I know that our Lord has many wonderful and exciting things in store for us! And yet, I know that in the midst of our walk together, I will at times need your forgiveness in Christ and you mine. This is no license to sin or “get out jail free card,” but simply the reality of saint-sinner people tying to follow Jesus.

Like Jesus' mother, Mary, and John, the beloved disciple, we stand together at the foot of the cross, united by the words of Christ. There at the cross, and only there, forgiveness, life, and salvation are given to poor miserable sinners like us! As we walk together in Christ, we follow the one who is head of His body, the Church. He is the Shepherd who leads—and, at times, carries—His people (Psalm 28), and He will not fail us or let us down!

Rev. Shawn Nettleton is Senior Pastor at Saint John’s Lutheran Church. You can reach him in the church office, by email at or at 970-305-2420.