Friday, April 30, 2010

Don't go to the seminary

Three men from St. Louis and 21 from Fort Wayne are without calls. Ever since 2004 there have been "left-over" seminarians each year (with the possible exception of last year - but then look at the shortage this year: seems they beat the bushes extra hard last time). And these numbers do not count the number of calls that were finagled and are doomed from the start because the placement director is trying to put a square peg in a round hole. "You practice open communion, have women distribute the Supper, and make up your own liturgy each week? Would you like an assistant pastor?"

There is no clergy shortage. There will not be a clergy shortage. There is a clergy glut and will be for the foreseeable future.

* The LCMS has been on a downward demographic trend for thirty years for various reasons we don't need to argue about (among them: the decline of rural America and the Rust Belt, a failure to accept children as a blessing from God instead of as a commodity-liability to be limited to two or three, goofy non-Lutheran practices that have driven many away, insert your reason here ___________).

* Small congregations struggling in the sticks or the city are closing and the members are being absorbed by suburban and exurban parishes. This translates into fewer pastors needed.

* The Boomers are not going to retire. They will work part time as assistant pastors forever. When you hear about our huge need that is just around the corner because of retirement - go out and find a 60 year old pastor and ask him what he wants to do in five years.

* Small, rural congregations in NE, KS, the Northwest and elsewhere have been taught for over 20 years now that they don't need to pay a pastor. They can just get Bobby McFarmerguy to become a licensed lay deacon and get by for free.

* Large, hip congregations who model themselves on the Saddlebacks of the world are sick of having to retrain seminary graduates to fit their MO. This is the real push behind SMP. They are already hand picking men from their midst to form them into their assistant pastors and have them become so through SMP.

* Do you know how many men are on CRM status already? That is - how many men are eligible for calls but not serving a parish and looking for calls? I don't know either. It's so high that they won't tell anybody what the number is.

In short: we need fewer sole pastors and fewer assistance/associate pastors. Wish it weren't so. All those bullet points are bad and should not be true. But they are all true. They are not changing anytime soon.

Why do you keep hearing about a clergy shortage and the need to train more men? Because the seminaries want to both stay open. It is fun to work there. They are institutions and institutions don't like to die. They need tuition paying students to stay open. They need men to pick up and move there and keep it all going. So they have convinced themselves of the need. But it just isn't so.

[By the bye - this is why the deaconess program exists, too. It's certainly not because of a hue and cry from congregations for this service. It's just another revenue stream for the seminaries. ]

So don't go to the seminary. There is no guarantee you will get a call. You'll go into massive debt to pay some professor's salary and then just might find yourself unemployed (and if you were pre-sem and majored in theology: unemployable) and very unhappy.

If you read all this and are still not deterred, you still want to be a Lutheran pastor, you fulfill the Biblical mandates for what a pastor should be, you have the blessing of your own pastor, your wife is OK with all this, and you still want to pack up and move to St. Louis or Fort Wayne: then have a back up plan. If you are single and celibate, knock yourself out. You'll hurt no one but yourself, and that harm will amount to nothing more than a couple of interesting years before you head off to the next thing. But if God has given you a wife and children, your first call and duty is to be husband and father and provide for them. Make sure that you can earn a paycheck if you don't end up with a call or get kicked out of the seminary or your first call for being Lutheran.

And for the rest of us who are so blessed beyond what we could ever deserve so as to be actually preaching the Gospel and making our living therefrom as the Lord ordained: let us be thankful, let us not sit around daydreaming of a "better call," and let us be honest with young men on the cusp of this very important decision.



  1. Thanks for the interesting points. What about the continual need for missionary pastors to begin confessional mission congregations? There seems to be the need to reestablish the church in certain areas where congregations have essentially voted to stop being part of the church, and to stop receiving Word and Sacrament ministry from a rite vocatus pastor. Perhaps the seminaries could adjust their approach in this regard? Since men and the world are sinful, and since the synod, being a ministerial body, does not have the power to require a congregation to adhere to the Confession and so remain in synod, it seems such missionary work would be continually needed.

  2. In the olden days, this situation would just mean we'd send around 20 folks overseas and say, "You, go preach about God to these folks here." Okay, so maybe we'd tell a few "here, you start a church in this suburb". But these cost money, instead of providing money for the district or synod coffers, so it doesn't happen.

    I don't know who better to encourage - the single guy who will be cheap and attractive, or the guy who has an employable skill already, so that way he can be underpaid as a "worker-priest" somewhere guilt free. And of course, if the wife can earn some money, that's just the bees-knees, because as we all know, the good, God-given order to society is to have the wife work so that the man can not be paid well for preaching. . . Thus is life in a sinful world.

    Maybe an exodus would do well again for another century...Ireland anyone?

  3. Husbands should support their wives and children. The Church should lead this by the example of Her clergy. A pastor whose wife must work to support him is an affront to Biblical manhood and womanhood and a symptom of a Church that does not want to hear God's Word.

    Similarly with intentionally creating "worker priests." The Bible says that the Lord hath ordained it that preachers of the Gospel make their living by the Gospel. This is what the Church should do. If a place *won't* pay for a preacher, they don't get one. If they *can't* pay for a preacher, then a preacher needs to be sent to them and paid for by another part of the Church until they can stand on their own. This is what districts and synods are supposed to be for.

    Obviously, if a pastor is stuck in a bad spot, he should work to keep his family fed. But woe to the Church who gets used to this as a norm. What part of "the Lord hath ordained" don't we understand?

    As for sending these twenty-some guys out into the world to start new congregations - fine by me. But where is the call for it? We don't need another Lutheran congregation in the St. Louis metro area. How many places are actually "underserved" in the US? How many countries don't have a local Lutheran church that is handling mission work just find, thank you very much? How man men are qualified to go to places that don't have Lutheran churches at all?

    Gents, the truth is that we need fewer pastors.


  4. Fr. C.,

    Could you describe your vision or model of a viable system of seminarial education and certification that would take into account and respond appropriately to such vacillations of need as you describe?

  5. This is what happens when your fundraising appeal talking about a "shortage" backfires. Instead of the congregations sending fat checks to the seminaries, they sent men to become pastors. Oops.

    Sometimes its just easier to be honest and say, "Send us the cash."

    Speaking about money. Does anyone know if the Ft. Wayne sem is still paying Dr. Weinrich as a deployed faculty member? I know that Rev. Evanson, who is serving as deployed CTS faculty to Lithuania, got notfied by CTS that as of January 1, 2010, they would no longer be paying him since they are no longer any funds available.

    Well done CTS! Not only have they ruined the lves of guys who wanted to be pastors, they stranded one of their "faculty" members in Lithuania!

  6. This is why I could never understand, nor hardly approve, why the seminary was so willing to adopt SMPP. Yeah, yeah, I know . . . "they were going to do it anyway so we had to get on board . . ." -- NUTS! Everything we were taught about standing up for the right thing was pitched out the window.

    SMPP will bite and chew the hand that brought it home. The effects are only just beginning -- both at the sem and in the parishes.

    It was, is, and ever will be a bad idea. Seems like we're floating in them any more.

  7. Actually, it used to be that guys would be sent to be teachers in a school for a while until there was a Call available. There are a lot of guys who taught in the classroom before they were sent to a pulpit. This wouldn't be entirely bad I suppose. Bring more orthodoxy into the classroom.

  8. The teachers wouldn't stand for it. The "orthodoxy thing" would be the problem.

  9. Matthew wrote, "Could you describe your vision or model of a viable system of seminarial education and certification that would take into account and respond appropriately to such vacillations of need as you describe?"

    Well, in a way we already have it. It's the clergy labor market. This year 24 grads don't have calls. Next year, the classes will be smaller as other guys learn of this and say, "Hmmm. Maybe the seminary isn't for me."

    This is already happening. When I went through the sem - not very long ago, I'm StL '04 - there was no way you could get campus housing unless you had three or more kids. There were 144 in my first year class. Now, they are renting out apartments to Fontbonne students and sem couples with no kids. Class sizes are way down. So the message is getting out and the market is doing its work. Just not fast enough for these unfortunate score and four.

    What would be an even better system look like? Each year we cap enrollment based upon realistic estimates of the need provided by the districts.

    But while we're daydreaming about better systems. . . why not end SMP and lay ministry, kick out all the guys who are openly hostile to Lutheranism, sell off both seminary properties and make a new one in the middle of an Iowa cornfield dedicated to actually forming men by praying the daily office and learning actual Lutheran doctrine and good pastoral practice instead of offering classes called "The Emerging Church" and "Jesus in the Movies" etc.

    Since none of that is going to happen: if you are thinking about seminary, make sure you have a back up plan.


  10. I have to agree with you, there is a glut. But the solution is not necessarily "don't go to seminary." It's "Who should the seminaries admit?" Limit seminary admission to young, single graduates of a Pre-Sem program at a Concordia College whose parents can afford to have their son graduate debt-free.

    As it stands right now, the culture of massive student debt starts when a perspective student gets interviewed by the college/seminary Financial Aid Officer. Are any told: "You have no resources beyond Pell Grants and Loans. You are going to graduate too far in debt if we let you in. You will never make enough of a salary as a pastor to pay these loans. Sorry, please look into another vocation."

    Of course, we all know what this means - we won't need two seminaries. Frankly I think this is where we are headed anyway, regardless of who is SP.

  11. Fr. Kozak,

    Yup: two seminaries keeps looking less and less likely to be our future. That ought to be a bloodbath.

    But the seminaries don't care about student debt. They just want the students and the money. The closest they come to counseling students to avoid debt is to tell them to use contraception and not have kids and make their wives work. I am not making that up. That is the advice given at pre-vicarage meetings. I will be happy to provide witnesses who can attest to this.

    God's mill of justice grinds slowly and fine. Lord have mercy on us all.


  12. I should say that advice to contracept is given at St. Louis and I can provide witnesses for that. I don't know what they say to students about debt at Ft. Wayne.


  13. The bloodbath is coming, that's for sure. I don't see us having 2 seminaries by the end of this decade.

    Better to do away with SMP type programs if that's the price we have to pay to keep both open.

  14. Pr. HRC:
    This is all pretty pessimistic, understandably so given the context of what has happened this week.

    You are right when you say, "why not end SMP and lay ministry, kick out all the guys who are openly hostile to Lutheranism"... of course, this would be a fine start. It would mean a whole new church body. We'd have a lot of hornets' nests stirred up!

    And the other ideas - to be more stringent on entrance requirements, including potential indebtedness, would be excellent if carried out. The Lord blessed us to have many kind donors lined up, and we were fortunate never to take out a loan the entire time. Other brothers were not so fortunate, did not work as hard in some cases, to avoid debt.

    More stringent theological questioning before and during the process would also be helpful! It would be great if new students would not come to the Seminary only having been "Lutheran" for less than a year, or two, or three. I think men should live life in a Lutheran congregation as a layperson for some time before coming to seminary. Too many are unprepared for the culture of most of our congregations.

    But you lost me on selling Seminary properties and forming a new one in Iowa. I don't know about your seminary, but at mine in Fort Wayne, we did not have "Emerging Church" or "Jesus in Movies" classes - so don't lump both together. Of course, this may be why more from FW were not placed then the StL guys, but I digress.

    I was taught to pray the daily office at my seminary, and to preside at the Divine Service, and to preach and to teach the Gospel, and to go and care for souls with the Gospel. I'm sorry, that only happens and is the direction of the faculty - albeit by no means perfectly in any utopian sense - at only one of our seminaries, the one in FW.

    If it happens at the StL sem, it is due to the dedication of a faithful remnant and minority on that campus, as I see it, the majority of students from that institution are interested in the latest Emerging/Growth paradigm methods more than they are Evangelical Lutheran theology and practice. They speak an entirely different theological language than I do, having many of them around me in the area in which I am placed.

    When our Synod devotes its monies to the Seminaries and insists on their theological clarity in Word and Practice for the sake of the Gospel - and so then becomes more selective and careful about who is admitted for study, then we will have something. Since we spend all on bureaucracy and silly programs in Synod and District offices, Seminaries are forced to hound after money. Oh, and our missionaries have to raise their own funds too to even be out in the field.

    Wouldn't it be nice if our Synod spent all its monies on the Seminaries and our Missionaries? We'd be a lot different as a church body. There would not be all the hand-ringing going on over this "clergy shorrage", that's for sure.

    + Rev. Jacob Sutton
    Plano, TX

  15. I was single at Fort Wayne, so I can't speak to that specifically, but I never heard that. I did have a friend who was advised to go work for a year to clear up some student loan debt - of course, that was in the Halcyon days of "guaranteed tuition".

    One thing to Fr. Kozak - I would wager that I had a better "pre-sem" education at OU under a good campus ministry and as a Classics/History major than any of my classmates from a Concordia. At least I knew any religious stuff I heard on campus was going to be dubious. Also, I had a better grounding in not only the biblical languages but also in terms of Philosophy (I think Philosophy should be a requirement - how can folks who have never studied Plato or Aristotle make heads or tails of the first 1500 years of Church History).

    More over, I came out of OU debt free - if I had gone to Seward or River Forest, I wouldn't have been. State schools are cheaper, and the "theology" one gets at a Concordia probably isn't worth it.

    Also, it's not bad, especially for the single guys, to pick up some student loan debt. $8500K a year can be subsidized as the Sem is graduation, so interest doesn't kick in until after graduation. 3 full years of that works out to roughly $250-300 a month when you get out -- not nothing, but doable if planned for. So yes, I'm still paying for the hyper-inflated room and board that helped pay for other things too, but having been a Sem-brat while my dad went through, I'd rather myself as a then single guy get hit than someone with a family.

  16. Also - we need 2 seminaries. Competition is good. It helps keep each other in line and doesn't put everything in one basket. However, we probably need to lower the pretensions of our seminaries. Both of them. There is the idea that these are high, sincere locales of academic study -- and to some extent they are, but their primary purpose is to train pastors.

    You don't need to be huge for that - you can be quite small and still be a seminary. Canada can have two, we can down here as well. They just probably ought to be. . . smaller in terms of staff and in terms of "vision".

  17. Fr. Sutton,

    As an alum of St. Louis who still keeps in contact with current students I can say that you are right. Lutheranism, traditionally understood, is a minority report at St. Louis, sad to say. There are many good professors, many good classes, and if you are a Lutheran with a little street smarts and know how to lay low at the right times, you'll make it through.

    From my friends who are alumni of Ft Wayne and who likewise keep in touch with what's going on currently. . . I hear mixed things. The consensus seems to be: still better than St. Louis overall, but things are going sideways. And now this: 21 not placed?

    The hostility to Fort Wayne is pretty intense on the COP. How long can they endure? How deep are the pockets of those faithful donors? Will it matter if the COP keeps not placing a third of their classes year to year?

    So, yes, I'm pessimistic on the future of theological education in the LCMS. Wish it weren't so, but there it is.


  18. Fr. Brown,

    I was pre-sem/theology major through Seward and then went on to do an MA in classics at WashU while at the sem. And I think you are right. I would have been just as well off doing classics as a BA at UNL and reading theology in my spare time. Though you couldn't pick up Hebrew at UNL...

    But then again...I met my wife at Seward. This is the last best thing about the Concordias: Lutherans finding Lutheran spouses. I think HT campus programs at midwestern schools can answer this need, however.


  19. Fr Curtis,

    This is one thing that did annoy me about the Sem. Fort Wayne offers an MA in Religion. Every class required for that degree is taken by the Seminary student by the time they have qualified for vicarage. So. . . I don't have an accredited academic degree. . . why? It would be nice to be able to go the the local college and brandy about a non-professional masters.

    I did get Hebrew at OU. . . but it was Modern. I therefore scoff at the German-influenced pronunciations (It's Daveed, not Dawith) and prefer simply saying "HaShem" for the Divine Name (that or Jehovah -- this other stuff is just scholarly silliness propagated by Germans Higher Critics who probably didn't believe in the Scriptures anyway on the basis of anti-Christian pointings added a mere 1000 years ago - hmph!)

  20. My modest proposal:

    1) No more SMP program (pastors are formed by orare et laborare, not run through a few internet classes)
    2) No more deaconess program (it's a seminary, not a feminary)
    3) No more MA program (seminaries form pastors, not give "religion" diplomas)
    4) No more AR program (it should have been gotten rid of long ago - having them skip "History of the Early Church" was a scandal)
    5) Add a year of classes to the MDiv program (more sweat now, less blood later)
    6) Require either a year of pre-sem language study, or a BA in rigorous pre-seminary studies, or an option to test out of languages (Greek, Hebrew, German, and Latin at a minimum)
    7) Abolish vicarage (it would be replaced by #5)
    8) Make the classes more academically challenging and rigorous (weed out the lightweights)
    9) No more looking the other way while students play foosball while blowing off chapel (and missing daily prayer offices ought to be unthinkable)
    10) Unless waived for particular students, require a year of post-ordination curacy (this gets rid of the elephant in the parlor of "lay celebration" and "lay preaching" that plagues the vicarage program)
    11) Offer a rigorous *male* diaconate program as an alternative to pastoral study, and additionally, consecrate every seminarian to this diaconal office during his final year of study.

    Can you just imagine the transformation of our ministerium? If a guy thinks the ministry is a cake "job" and is okay with cutting corners at the sem, we want his sorry you-know-what out anyway. The days of admitting any male (and now, we would have to add "female" as well) with a pulse ought to be done away with. That would bring the supply more in line with demand, and would raise the level of competence in our graduates and ordinands, and would focus our resources on training men for ministry - diaconal and pastoral.

    Oh, and we should have so few seminarians that they should have a full scholarship from admission to graduation.

    Other than that, I wouldn't change a thing. :-)

  21. I don't know what ought to be done about the seminaries; but I don't believe that there is a clergy glut. There may be a glut of men with "the reverend" in front of their names who happen to be on the Synod roster; but there can never be too many faithful, orthodox priests. At least not until there is a thriving orthodox parish within a half-hour's drive of every home in the country.

    I live in a town of 35,000 souls, in which there are many churches, but none which any of us would regard as orthodox. The Roman parish at the center of town is the closest thing to it; the original white-steeple New England parish church is Unitarian now, and we have an ECUSA parish, a UMC parish, and an ELCA parish. There is plenty for an orthodox pastor to do in this town, if only someone would send him.

    And if our Synod is not set up so that established parishes can support missionary pastors to preach the Gospel through Word and Sacrament where it is not being preached, then what in heaven's name is a Synod for?

  22. I second Fr. Hollywood's proposals, as usual, and would add, no offense to the good men who have grsaduated in recent yrs, that the seminary does not deserve to be supported. Both in terms of the seminary per se, and of many profs and bureaucrats in particular, the Confessional Lutheranism breaks down when consistency is called for, when action is called for, it is only academic, only a theory. In the real world we all know what happens to the Confessions when they send guys out to vicarage, and some can tell you what Lutheranism means to the sem. when someone does not fit its image, its mould. This is neither a sudden knee jerk or a mere grinding of an axe, as most probably suppose.

    (Personal experiences play a part in our assessment of matters like this, but sometimes these can be truly revelatory, which is actualy the opposite of prejudice.)

    That is the one problem with Harrison's proposal for synod to get serious about supporting the seminaries. What it should do is offer such support to them on the condition of real change, such as what Fr. Hollywood proposes. I could add a few more to his list, like making chapel actually worth attending regularly, but why bring down the discussion with too much dreaming?

    If radical change toward genuine Lutheranism were to take place, by the way, I believe in fact that many individuals, groups, and parishes would themselves step up with support.

  23. Greetings,

    I must confess I was unaware of the discussion in LCMS regarding the struggle of having 2 seminaries. I find it most intriguing because we in Lutheran Church Canada are in the midst of this discussion as well (we have a seminary in Edmonton, AB and in St. Catherines, ON). Both seminaries are much smaller than either Ft Wayne or St L - but each seminary graduates a handful of guys each year (3-5ish). In my opinion we must close one - I am simply surprised to hear of this also being an issue in LCMS.

  24. I agree that there are enough ordained pastors to more than fill the needs of our congregations.

    This discussion reminds me of many others in academia. There are too many Ph.Ds in this or that field. There are definitely too many lawyers.

    However, universities or seminaries or law schools have employees to pay. We can't just continually fire and re-hire staff and professors. They'd like a bit of stability in their lives too. Maybe we could be "worker-professors" a way adjuncts serve that role.

    As far as pre-sem programs: I still think one could currently get a very good experience at CUNE. The Greek and Hebrew programs are very demanding. We do lack Latin and German. Although a certain history professor does offer Latin as an independent study occasionally. I can't speak for any other programs. Honestly, would you get Spring Weekend at Univ of Neb? :)

    I promise you that a pre-sem history major (and there are many) at CUNE will get a solid dose of medieval and Reformation history from a Lutheran perspective.

    Having said all that, if I had a son I would not recommend that he become a pastor right now. Or I'd tell him to develop another marketable skill. Maybe, pastors on here should all develop some SMP guys that you know could do well.

  25. Fr. Holywood,

    Regarding point 11 of your Modest Proposal: when I was at St. Louis there was much discussion about eliminatiing vicarage and ordaining men to the deaconate after completing their third year of study. These men would then be given calls and placed in a parish to serve in this office (with all of the duties thereunto appertaining). Then, after a year in this capacity, they could be ordained to the priesthood or chose to remain, for a time, a deacon. The possibility of a permanent deaconate was also suggested. Sadly, nothing ever came from this; because shortly thereafter the Seminex exodus occurred.

    I agree with you that this might be the best thing to happen in the LCMS, and would place candidates in positions where they could serve in a valid ministry.

  26. Dear Deacon:

    I remember a discussion over the Internet in which my interlocutor vehemently opined: "WE DON'T HAVE DEACONS IN THE MISSOURI SYNOD!" I was a deacon (serving my vicarage) at the time. He either thought I was lying or he didn't think I actually existed. I'm not sure to this day which it was.

    The male diaconate makes so much sense on so many levels. I guess that's why it will either never gain traction synod-wide in the LCMS or it will be converted into some fly-by-night wham-bam-thank-you-sem alternative lifestyle to ministry (a backdoor way to get non-priests to "consecrate" and function as pastors without proper training and presbyterial ordination).

    But there is such wisdom in Christian tradition. And on a practical level, I can think of nothing that would be more helpful to my ministry than to have a deacon to assist me.

    I know there are a lot of pastors out there who are grateful for the work of our small corps of male deacons. We are blessed to have you men in the ranks.

  27. Fr. H.,

    Your use of the term male deacons seems to be bit out of context. Clerics serve in persona Christi, so they must be male. Any attempt to create lay ministers to perform the duties of priests is to be opposed at all times.

    Now, since I am growing tired of Indiana weather, if you need a deacon to assist you in your ministry, please let me know.

  28. Dear Deacon:

    I have to admit to placing my tongue in my cheek.

    As one of my classmates put it even more peevishly: "What the LCMS needs are male deaconesses." ;-)

    Yes, I know about the Hoosier weather. Come and see us in Gretna some time. :-)

  29. ....
    I am utterly struck to the core of my being.

    For years, it is been my desire to enter the Seminary and learn from those there. To learn from pastors, and to- by the grace of God- become one. And here I thought the Seminaries were one of the last bastions of orthodox theology.

    For some time now I have been aware that there has been a problem concerning calls. Especially when it comes to the Fort. You wouldn't believe some of the vehement things I heard about the Fort growing up (although, those people have softened their views). I knew there was an issue with not giving capable men calls- I know many. But to hear of this is shocking.

    ... But to be told that men should not go to the Seminary? That we do not need more priests and shepherds?

    I ask- if not the Seminary, then where? The LCMS has tied itself closely to the Sems- and at the time, rightly so. However, if things are as you say, then where should those who desire to become pastors go? No other Seminary (with the exception of the one(s) in Canada) are recognized. Even if they were to go to another Seminary, they would still have to take classes from the LCMS Sems to be "approved" or whatever.

    "We don't need more pastors." Pardon me? How many areas of the USA are without a Lutheran parish? Or for that matter, any real Christian presence? I can think of many areas.
    How many parts of the world are in desperate need of missionary priests? Many parts. How about the areas where Christianity is a crime? They are in desperate need of pastors- indeed, any Christian aid.

    As for being a "worker-priest": I agree that it is not the best situation. However to say that if a parish (or a small group of faithful) cannot pay the wage, they get no pastor, is absurd. What is worse: denying people the Gospel because there is no payment, or having to take on a side gig in order to prop one's self up? This is why a man who wishes to be a pastor should have a back-up: not only in case he doesn't get a call, but in case the parish cannot afford to pay him the fullest wages.

    And for pastor's wives having to earn income in order to support the family: I personally also agree that the man should be the primary bread winner. However, to say that a pastor's wife who works to supplement income is violating her "womanhood" I think goes a little too far. You may very well be right on the issue. However, we must take into view that this is a sinful, broken world. Man and wife are to take care of the family. If that means the wife has to work, so be it. It may not be the best situation, but we must be compassionate.

    I freely admit to you that I speak as an outsider on these issues. I speak in many parts with naivety and youthful optimism. I have spoken in rashness and have caused offense, please correct me where I am wrong and forgive my outburst.

    And yet- and yet, I cannot but hope. The Church will always find itself in a crux. She, like Her Lord, shall suffer. But our Lord promised that the Gates of Hades would not prevail over us. Where there is a sea that stretches beyond the horizon, He shall part it and make a way.

    What that means, I don't know. I would pray that we would be renewed by the Holy Spirit and return to our purpose: to proclaim Christ Incarnate, Crucified, and Risen- for the salvation of the world. Who knows- maybe these troubles are meant to purify the LCMS and its entities.
    At the same time, maybe there will be the creation of a new body or an exodus to one that already exists.

    I have faith that God's Will will be accomplished. I, for one, shall continue to prepare for Seminary, and encourage others who desire to become pastors to do so as well.

    Again, if my comment (more like rant) was offensive, pardon me. I mean to single no one hear out. It is just that when I hear these things, I am compelled to write.

  30. Tim,

    No need to apologize. It's an emotional and tricky issue.

    My advice to you is found in the last paragraph of the original post. If you still feel that you want to try to be a pastor - great. But have a back up plan. Be able to support your family (if you have one) if there is no call.

    Some other specific points to consider:

    Yes, there are many areas where faithful pastors could be sent to start mission congregations where there are few Lutheran options. But there are also many men on CRM and now 24 recent grads who could do that. Those going to sem next fall are getting in at the back of the line.

    But there is another hurdle to that plan. Who is going to send those pastors to those mission places? There is no going without sending. And who is sending? Not the MO Synod. Not the districts. Again - that's not good. But it is true.

    So I offer this advice to "shock you to the core of your being." Take off the rose colored glasses. Realize that the sem recruiters are just that. Realize that you will go into debt and may not end up with a call.

    That is not good. But it is true. I'm sorry that it is true, but it is. We can say how these guys should be utilized around the world - but the Synod will not utilize them.

    So be realistic for the sake of your own sanity and the health and well being of your family: Have a back up plan if you end up being like these 24 men without calls.


  31. Tim,

    One more thing. I didn't say that folks who *can't* pay a pastor shouldn't get one. In those situations, the people of God should work together. Congregations should share a pastor, or in truly remote areas, we should have circuit riders or district support.

    But congregations that *won't* pay a pastor - yes, they should go without until they repent. But instead the LCMS has created these non-entities - "lay ministers" - to serve them.


  32. Good discussion. Being toward the end of my vicarage, as I read these thoughts and knowing them to be true; I despair. I am truly afraid of next year. I fear because of the district I am in for my vicarage and the positions I hold concerning the Office of the Ministry, worship, and the like. Nevertheless, I will press on. I am resolved on account of the men I have served under this year to date. If anything, I will work with my hands and serve as an elder in church if there is no call for me.
    I hit some members with this information in the face. We are working through 1 Corinthians chapter 3 where Paul discusses the quality of the materials a minister builds with. I described some of the "teachings" taking place through the seminary. They were shocked, much like Tim seems to be. But, as the information spreads the numbers at the Seminaries will continue to decrease, and we as a church body will continue to find our pastors and people in ignorance of even the simplest of our confessions. Then, perhaps, like a drug addict who "hits-bottom" we may be able to enter into a phase of detoxification and healing.

  33. Pr. H. R.-

    Thank you for your kind response. There was some misunderstanding on your part, and you have for the most part cleared it up.

    I understand what you mean about having a back-up plan. That has been the idea I've had ever since 8th grade, when I decided this was the vocation I wanted to pursue. Every person I talked to- pastor, layman, even Seminary recruiters- gave me this advice.

    As for the debt- I plan on avoiding as much debt as I can in college (ending my freshman year right now), so that I won't have AS MUCH debt. I'll still have some, but not as much. Hopefully, anyways.

    As for the issue of sending- I am still a little confused by the whole issue. I know that congregations are not calling, and that there are some that are not being allowed to be put on lists (whether rightly or wrongly). However, I am still not understanding- why isn't the Synod/District/whoever NOT sending? Isn't that kind of the point of forming church workers- to be sent? But, I digress.

    And thank you for clearing up the whole "can't pay for it" issue. That was a misunderstanding on my part. I suppose that is what happens when you read things like this at 12 AM when you're tired and after you've studied for finals XD.

    Again, thank you for your honesty. I am still in shock- I knew things weren't perfect, but I didn't realize it was this bad. It'll probably take me several weeks to come out of shock- I see many talks with my pastors in my near future. Maybe a little correspondence with the Seminaries as well.

    All this just adds more stuff to my prayer list. God have mercy on us all.

  34. Tim,

    I'm glad I could clear some stuff up.

    Why aren't the Synod and Districts sending? Good question. How it is supposed to work is that congregations send in mission funds to district and that gets spent on, well, missions. But these days the Synod defines every college student looking to avoid the real world by teaching English for a year at a Lutheran high school in Kerplackastan a "missionary." We only have around 40 foreign missionary pastors. Yup: 40ish. (at least we did in spring 2009 when I called LCMS World Mission to verify that, it may be up or down in the past year for all I know).

    Why don't we plant more churches locally, that is, in the US? Well, that takes money and a special skill set for the pastor. Both are in short supply (at least, the Synod and districts find other things to spend money on). Oh, the Synod will give Ablaze! (TM) money to churches planting "satellite campuses" within five blocks of another LCMS church (I am not making this up. This just happened in our backyard.) but sending a guy to the middle of, say, Maine where we only have three parishes: not happening, not going to happen.

    Don't get down about how messed up the Synod is. Real Galatians. The Church is always messed up.

    But don't bother corresponding with the seminaries, please, if you want to actually make it through. Study hard, don't stick out, get with the right group of guys and professors and do what you can to avoid the professors who are rather hostile to....Lutheranism.

    I can't point you in the direction of good guys who have recently graduated from either seminary who can be of more help than I can in navigating the seminaries as they are today. I can't believe how quickly things have changed in the six years since I graduated.


  35. Well, that was thoroughly negative and depressing. I think you might be the first openly honest person I've either read or spoken with about going to the seminary. Your post certainly covered all fears about coming in the first place with a new wife and child.

    Seriously, thank you for your honesty. You just might have saved me years of undue hardship.

  36. Typo in my last comment (May 4, 5:51 pm): should say, "I *can* point you. . . " not "I *can't*..."



  37. Timothy,

    Well, I don't mean to be depressing. But I do mean to point out the negatives as they exist. I don't think it does anyone any good to put on rose colored glasses. Crosses are part of our life in Christ. Sin will always exist in the Church because the Church is made up of saved sinners.

    I just want men like you to be fully informed. I'm sick of meeting heartbroken men and their embittered wives who feel lied to and betrayed by the bureaucracy.

    If your pastor is all for you training for the pastorate, then you probably should. But you should go into it fully informed of the challenges you'll face. And you should not start until you have your particular back up plan in place, just in case it doesn't work out. There is no rush. Save up money so you can avoid paying interest on loans. Learn a trade so you can support your family if you don't get a call. That's my advice - to take or leave.


  38. I second Fr. Heath's advice.

    The church will always need pastors. If a man is called to serve, he should serve, and he should have faith that the Lord will provide - but that provision may come in an unexpected form - such as a second job or other marketable skill. But he should also understand that we live in a time and age in which it may well be that pastors will be increasingly "tent makers" and worker-priests.

    And men really do need to think of their spouses. They are often not even brought up in these discussions. Even at the seminary, I see their role being eclipsed by female professional church workers. But sem-wives and later pastors'-wives are heroic helpmeets in the endeavor of shaping men for the holy ministry and in living out the pastoral life.

    If possible, I would recommend doing whatever it takes for wives to be stay-at-home wives and mothers and not be forced into money-making. Pastors' wives have enough to do supporting their husbands.

    Pastors' wives are placed in a crucible - without exception. Having one's economic house in order is one less stress on the pastor's family - especially on the wife who often must bear the brunt.

    In an ideal world, the church would pay 100% of the costs of seminary, would pay pastors well, and would not train more seminarians than the church really needs. But it is a fallen and broken world, and in fairness, it is hard to project how many pastors the church will need, want, or be willing to support at any given time.

    Our Lord told us to be innocent as doves and wise as serpents. Being frugal with one's finances, being prepared with a "Plan B", and going into seminary with eyes wide open qualifies as serpentine wisdom.

    I believe it was St. John Chrysostom who wrote at great length trying to discourage a man from entering the priesthood. I see the point of his approach. The ministry is (for both pastor and family) both fulfilling and joyful, but also brutally hard and lonely.

  39. (Pt 1 of 2)

    As one of those recent graduates (in my case of CTSFW), I'll say this. Honesty is good and right, but hope is better. There is much to grieve and wring our hands about, which I won't get into here. But we grieve not as those who have no hope. The ministry of our Lord Jesus is taken up in the confidence of the Resurrection or not, in truth, at all. Take heart, for he has overcome the world. And we, by faith in him. But in this world we still have trouble.

    Our Lord looked out and saw sheep wandering as without shepherds, and he sent some--as sheep among the wolves. It wasn’t a “real shepherd shortage.”
    There were many bad among the good, and of the good, one was mocked, another beaten, a third killed. On these sheep's hands was the blood of all the prophets from Abel to Zechariah, and our Lord’s own. He knew those he sent would be chewed up and spit out. He sent them among a hard-headed people, who would cling to the Law and persecute the preachers of the Gospel. He sent them to be stretched out and led where they did not want to go.

    But still he sent them, for the word he implanted into them, poured into their fragile vessels of clay, would not return to him empty, but would accomplish that for which he sent it. And in so doing, even if their ministry was consummated in death, they would be saved, living by faith in Jesus. There are worse things than wondering where a paycheck is going to come from. Even hunger is to be preferred to a famine of the Word. There will be a cross, to be sure, but it is not unto death but unto life. God sent them, and it was good. Their cross was good for their hearers, good for them, good for their families. Good not as the world reckons goodness, but good because God, who is good, gave it.

    He sent them to proclaim openly about himself and about the Father, not with figurative speech or even clear speech only, but the way he did, with innocent suffering and death. They would take up their crosses and follow him. They would bear in their bodies the marks of Jesus, that none should question their apostleship, who sent them or to what end. In this they would be glorified, for in this they lived by faith in the Crucified and Risen one.

    If the Seminary were a cakewalk, if placement were assured in congregations without sin, without error, without doubt, then I should say we would have a reason to discourage men from going to Seminary. Because it would lead them away from faith in Jesus into a comfortable life of academic speculations, perhaps. Or whatever other debauchery men can find when the cross is not taken up.

    But now is not the time to scare people away because the way is hard. Suffering is one of Luther's marks of the church, and tentatio a part of the work of God on us, that we might be saved. Who knows what God will do through these men and for these men and their families. It is not for us to say, “It is too hard; we are afraid to send you; you will surely perish.” For the Father does not save from crosses but through the cross. Our crosses and our families’ crosses keep us honest in this. They make us theologians of the cross, and not of glory that is fading away. This "crisis" is not unto death. It is that the glory of God may be revealed in it, in Christ placarded before the world as crucified, in those whom he sends to speak and to suffer in his stead.

  40. (Pt 2 of 2)

    All is not lost at our seminaries. Far from it. The Church is far better served to have them—two of them, because we know how institutions go when they get institution-headed. I know many faithful professors (in my experience at CTSFW) who are serious about being Lutheran and who are not there because "working at the sem is fun" but because they do not want Luther’s clear Gospel to perish from our land. They give their lives to this even as pastors do. Our cross is theirs, and theirs ours. If some have faltered in “institution-headedness,” or whatever else, as our fathers in Christ, it will not do to condemn the lot. The seminaries are very imperfect institutions. But one can still go there and hear the voice of Jesus, and be prepared to be called and ordained and to execute this high office faithfully. Even if the end of days is upon us, you can either throw up your hands or plant an apple tree in faith. [I know this is only dubiously Luther, but it fits.] The latter is not dead in our seminaries. There is hope. Pastoral heads are being formed to shape pastoral hearts, to preach the truth in love, but still in season and out of season. There is living and fruit-bearing wheat among the tares, and we should be careful not to rip it all out together.

    Fr. Curtis is right to encourage all sobriety in the making of decisions like going to the Sem. It is only fair to hold before those preparing for the ministry the likely cost. Jesus did as much. There is reality to it. It is true. We know and have seen what can happen. But both optimism and pessimism are wrong. The cross alone is right. Honesty is good but the Truth is bigger than the potential risks. For Christ, who was bloodied, scorned and dead, now is alive.

    So don’t be discouraged. We will have trouble in this life. Our Lord has foretold it. That is honesty. But the Truth is, he has overcome the world. There is nothing lost in the sending out of faithful Lutheran pastors, even into tough spots, or in the preparation of ranks of them for a day when almighty God will move his church to send and receive them with boldness, without fear of what God’s Word might do, or be able to accomplish, through them. This cross is not unto death, but unto life. And this cross we take up, like all good works, not because it looks easy or even possible, but because we believe that Jesus is raised, to die no more, and sits at the Father’s right hand. Honesty indeed is good, and necessary. But hope is better. Hope is the Truth.

  41. In light of the recent discussion about seminarians from CTS and CSL not receiving calls, this took me back in time to when I was a seminarian. I've witnessed a few of these services myself. I remember the number of men not getting calls to be much smaller. Most of the time, for those who did not get a call, the reasons were simple. The seminarian needed to work on skills that were not academic (i.e. working on their people skills), or he was being punished by the seminary for other reasons. Those reasons would include, but not be limited to, rocking the boat and either asking too many questions of their professors (e.g. questioning why the LCMS is really that screwed up), or the seminarian tried to put into practice what he was taught while on vicarage. (The nerve of someone actually believing what they were taught in the classroom!) Sometimes these seminarians stayed for an extra year. Sometimes more, most often times less. A select few got their call a week or two later. (Usually to teach that seminarian a lesson as to who was really in charge. Nothing beats a public shaming.)

    I think the "horse-trading" that goes on in the placement process is corrupt. Vacancies are filled based on the political winds blowing in the synod at large and in each district.

    If this church body still cannot figure out what to do with pastors on CRM and how to put them to use in the church, the seminarians will fare no better.

    If pastors and congregations are truly dedicated to sending men to the seminary, they need to support them financially. My home parish decided that there was no need to make even a small contribution to my education. (They were in the middle of a building program and expanding their "ministries.") I remember the Financial Aid officer at CTS trying to sell my wife and I the idea of going on public assistance as a part of a financial aid package. Wish I was kidding on that one.

    Until this church body can figure out how to pay for the education of her pastors, and how to pay those pastors once in a parish, its better to just stay home and be a faithful member of a parish.

  42. Dear John:

    The bottom line is that we need fewer pastors than we have seminarians. It would behoove everyone to face up to this reality.

    God provides for his people out of the fruits of the earth - but that doesn't mean the sea can't be over-fished, the earth over-mined, and seminaries over-recruited.

    Someone needs to think of the welfare of the men and their families who sacrificed for years and went into debt only to be left twisting in the wind because there are not enough calls. Many of them left good careers to come to the seminary and now have to undergo the expense of moving yet again to someplace where they can find work - and in some cases, do so after having lost four years of current skills.

    These are real families. Platitudes are not going to pay their bills or give these men skills they can market if no calls surface for them.

    It's time for the synod and the seminaries to drop this "clergy shortage" angle. It's just not true.


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