Thursday, May 6, 2010

Update on Don't go the seminary: The Hard Numbers

Here are the official numbers of vacancies from the Synod.

You'll note that the most recent numbers are pre-Call Day. The raw vacancy number: 934. But we've got to subtract those from that number that are non-calling (342), "temporarily" non-calling (219), and those placed at Call Day (about 130). So there are about 243 actually calling vacancies right now. Or fewer than 7 per district.

I ask again: How many guys are on CRM? There are two in our circuit. . .

And how much "wiggle room" is good for a church body? That is, how many vacancies should we have to allow for pastors to move around as appropriate and healthy? More or less than 4%? Because, 243 is 4% of our 6,000 congregations.

What if US unemployment were 4%? Would you consider that a strong economy? Would you call it a "labor shortage"?

Oh, by the way. You can see here that we actually have 9,010 pastors. Of whom only 5,359 are serving parishes.

So....there are 243 real vacancies, an untold number of men on CRM, and 3,651 pastors who are not serving congregations. Now, of course that number includes synodocrats and retirees. But are 93.4% of them synodocrats and retirees? Because 243 is only 6.6% of 3,651.

There is no clergy shortage. There is a clergy glut.



  1. So what do you recommend for those of us who feel led to and have a personal passion to attend Seminary and serve the Lord in a parish?

  2. I say be ready to start a mission congregation, or be willing to take another job for a while until a Call opens up. One thing these guys should consider--teaching. They have a Masters in Theology, and one can find a lot of online teaching or community college teaching. It doesn't pay bad. I do it, along with being a Called pastor.

  3. Watcher,

    Have a back up plan. What if you don't get a call? What will you do? Have a plan. Learn a trade in case it all doesn't work just as you hoped. Be realistic. Be prepared to bear a cross. And for heaven's sake: question every work that comes out of bureaucrat's mouth.


  4. Pastor Curtis,

    I think that your conclusions are premature.

    1. You've equivocated congregational vacancies with unemployed pastors.
    2. 4-6% true unemployment is considered "normal."
    3. We are about to head into an unprecedented 30-year period of baby boomer retirement.

    I think the real issue is that we have 219 temporary non-calling congregations that, for whatever reason(s), did not call recent seminary graduates.

    Robert at

  5. When you graduated in 2004 the numbers were similar. Should you have gone to seminary? Based on this reasoning you would not be a pastor today.

  6. Fr. Beisel,

    I think you are very fortunate to have landed such a teaching spot. I've even got a spare master's degree besides an MDiv and have looked for part time teaching (history, Latin, Greek) in the St. Louis metro east and come up empty.

    The preparation of a solid back up plan should start in college. Today I would advise men looking to go into the ministry to learn a down to earth trade before or during their BA: electrician, plumber, stenographer, paralegal, nurse, carpenter, construction site manager, etc.


  7. CTS Student,

    No - based on my reasoning I would have had a better back up plan :)

    I've said it before and I'll say it again: If you meet the Biblical requirements for a pastor and your pastor thinks you should go to seminary, then go. Just not with rose colored glasses supplied by the bureaucracy and just not before you have a good back up plan.


  8. Fr. Baker,

    1. I don't understand your argument here. There are more pastors than vacancies. This seems to imply anything but a clergy shortage to me.

    2. Right. 4-6% of our parishes vacant provides some wiggle room. We should never want it to get lower. It's "normal." So again: no clergy shortage.

    3. I don't buy the boomer retirement scare. See the original post for why: we're actually closing parishes, shrinking in numbers overall, and the boomers will not really retire.


  9. What would be interesting to see are the number of folks who are on CRM and want to get back into the parish.

    Also, I think what this drives home is something that we should remember. Going to Seminary doesn't mean that you will be a pastor. I didn't know I was going to be one until I got my call. Period. I figured. I guessed. I expected - but I didn't know - and it could have gone another way.

    Now, I'm not going to say that you ought to have a trade - but at least be ready to get a teaching certificate and find a school that needs someone teaching if you are at the Sem.

  10. Fr. Brown,

    Next week I can talk about how many elementary schools we've closed in the past 10 years. . .

    Sad but true, brother; sad but true.


  11. Are you sure that you want to know how many guys are on CRM? That seems to be very taboo in our LCMS culture. We always want to look for how it is the pastor's fault, what the pastor did wrong, and how the pastor is "damaged goods" somehow. To ask these guys to stand up and be counted is also an invite to criticism.

  12. Not to mention the fact that the very existence of CRM guys is *by nature* bad PR for the Seminaries. "Move three times in four years, go massively into debt, and you still may end up working at Walmart after a few years."

    I understand why the CRM problem is such a hidden thing, for both the reasons my wife pointed out (believe me, I've been on the receiving end of the sort of criticism she mentions) and for the reasons I mention (not being supported by the Synod, the Seminaries *need* tuition money, which they won't get if some of the dark underbelly of the LCMS ministerium is *too* visible to potential students).

    But that doesn't make it right.

  13. CAS, your point is proven quite well by the newest Reporter. Front page photo of Call Day, with no requests for prayers or offers of assistance to the men who did not receive calls. Inside insert which lays blame at the feet of pastors for disharmony in the church.
    Unless you know guys on CRM (or guys who now are being booted off CRM because they haven't served recently enough), you would never know such a creature exists. Thankfully there will be one less CRM guy as of May 16, when a nearby congregation receives him as their pastor.

  14. Who can say for sure if pastors will retire at age 65? President Kieschnick is 67 and wants another term. The first wave boomers are now on the cusp of their 65th birthdays - at a time of economic uncertainty, and the full implications of Obamacare still up in the air. If they are otherwise healthy, going on until age 70 or more is prudent.

    Again, I would advise sems limiting enrollment to only young single men whose parents can keep them out of debt.

  15. It seems to me that we don't have a shortage of pastors as much as we have a shortage of involved, well-catechized and generous laity.

    Perhaps our seminaries could focus a little more on apologetics, evangelism and mission work with the goal of leading the lost to Christ, leading legalistic Christians to the reformation and encouraging Lutherans to become productive, supporting members of congregations.

    Young seminary graduates could be put to good use on our campuses, going nose-to-nose with the objections and anti-Christian culture typically found there.

    Sometimes, I think our justifiable aversion to church growth tactics can lead us to neglect the goodly work of building up the church.

  16. Matt,

    The godly building up of the church we haven't been doing is having babies. 80,000 infant baptisms in 1964. 32,000 in 2004.

    But I think there might be another flaw in your reasoning. We believe that the Holy Spirit works through the Word "when and where he pleases." Evangelism, for us, is a Divine Mystery. We believe that we might just preach the Word won't "work." That is, we might preach and no converts will come.

    Arminians believe that if they try hard enough it will "work." It's up to them and their efforts.

    But it's not up to our efforts. They are not the effective thing. The Holy Spirit works when and where he pleases through the Word, not like we think he will work.

    We should preach and teach the Word because that is what God has given us to do. We do not do it so that pastors can be employed or churches full or for any other reason other than that we love the Word and our Lord.


  17. Fr. Curtis,

    While many schools are closing, I don't necessarily just mean being in an LCMS school. Public schools need teachers too. There rarely, rarely is a localized shortage of male teachers, especially at a junior high level. The idea is becoming popular, even amongst liberal thinkers, that actually having male role models in positions of authority, caring, and responsibility might actually be "important". It would at least be something, and it would be a good for society.


    It's a stupid and dangerous taboo, so yes, we should know. Seeing vacant congregations even consider in passing calling someone on CRM is lesson on fear and gossip - and our taboo status lets it remain that way.

  18. Pr. Brown,
    Take it from someone who has tried to go that route. All people wanted to know is what my dh did wrong. They wanted to play Monday morning quarterback and give *their* opinion, *their* feedback, and ultimately pass judgment on the pastor on whether or not they thought resigning was justified, because many believe that resigning is never justified and you must be forcefully removed for it to be legit. Yes, we are Christians, and this should be a lesson in gossip and how it is wrong, but that hasn't been my experience at all. Quite the opposite. A pastor who has already been quite hurt by the experience, a family who has stood by his side and watched helplessly and been affected themselves seems to be put on trial each time the story is put out there. And because pastors get their names out there by word of mouth, what others say about them could make or break their next potential call.

    I have had more pastors hurt me than even the parishioners did initially because they wanted to pass judgment on the fitness of my dh to continue to be a pastor. They don't just stay with the pastor's office specifically either- they will go after personality quirks, preaching style, personal hobbies, the financial fitness of the family (including debt, don't get me started on that one) and who knows what else under the guise that they are trying to help "fix" the pastor so that they can get a call again. Even if they mean well, it burns like salt on a wound. To ask these men to stand up and be counted without fear is like getting on a roller coaster with no restraints. Before you can ask them to stand up and be counted they need to be taken care of like the sheep that they are and stop seeing them as a "broken" "damaged goods" "less than perfect" pastor.

  19. CAS (Just figured out who you were - say hi to your brother for me),

    I understand entirely. My dad preached for a year with no pay while I was on vicarage -- that was a fun year. After the district "helped" he would have been CRM except for the fact that the DP wouldn't give a call list to a small congregation nearby so they decide to call my dad as a worker-priest before he could get the paper work filled out. (If you want to, we can trade stories sometime - my family is still reeling over 8 years later - it doesn't go away easily)

    But the thing is - the guys on the list don't need to stand up. . . they've already been counted. They are just hid away -- and the attitude is that anyone who is on that list must have something. . . wrong. . . (where the idea of trying to be faithful to the Confessions might be included in that list of things that are "wrong").

    We do not have "bishops" assigning folks to parishes - in which case the care of the pastor would be specific the bishops' purview. However, once one gets put on CRM, you almost need a DP fawning over you repeatedly... which isn't going to happen.

    But then there is this truth - to be a pastor, and to seek a call is to invite criticism. Prophets get stoned sometimes. . . but the Seminary recruiters never bring that up.

  20. Fr. Curtis,

    You have referred to there being a "clergy glut" as if this were a bad thing. I say, thanks be to God that he has blessed his Church with the many pastors we have.

    I am with you that seminarians ought to be aware before attending the seminary that they may not be placed in a church with full compensation right away, and that they should perhaps have a backup plan in mind. However, I think the focus of our energies amid the current problem should be on finding places for these young men to serve, not on discouraging men to go into the field.

    Do not the words of Christ in Matt. 9:37-38 still hold true today? "Then he saith unto his disciples, The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few; Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest."

    I don't know what the solution to our problem is, but I don't think it is that there is a "glut" of pastors. The world is teeming with people who are "scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd." Perhaps part of our solution will come from sending more ordained men abroad into the missionary field.

  21. Rev. Jack A. Kozak,
    You said:
    "Again, I would advise sems limiting enrollment to only young single men whose parents can keep them out of debt."

    I'm not sure if you realize... but that's a pretty tall order. After Seminary grant/scholarships, the average Sem student still has to come up with about $30,000 a year for tuition, books, room & board, and living expenses. Not to mention this comes on the heels of an undergraduate degree where the average student is now graduating with about $25,000 in debt. We might as well close the Seminaries, because I can think of maybe 1 or 2 of my classmates (I graduated in 09) who would have fit your bill.

    For new pastors (especially single and young), not only will they have $50-$100k in debt, they will not have had the benefit of having a spouse working while going to Seminary, nor will they have had equity in a house to use for a down-payment. They will likely receive a call to a congregation which does not have a parsonage, who called a guy right from the Sem because they are cheap (which means don't even think about a raise for 5 years/your next call (isn't that like saying wait for your next marriage?)), and who really has not considered the fact that they won't be able to pay their pastor enough to purchase a house since he already has essentially a mortgage payment sized student loan bill every month. That's the reality of most of the graduates who are still single by graduation.

    Pr. Curtis is right. If you go, you should have a decent skill/trade to fall back on. Because if it is tough for guys that actually do get a call... the guys without one, I can't imagine their difficulty.

  22. There are many similarities with this situation and graduate schools in general. In fact, your placement rate to the employment as a pastor far exceeds the placement of most Ph.D. recipients in history or English into full-time positions.

    Colleges need a continuous flow of income like any other business. Seminaries will not be able to remain in business unless they have strong financial backing or a steady stream of students (or both). Professors, librarians, and administrators need some stability too. It's shame that we don't raise 100 million $ to create endowments instead of for some 'evangelism' program.


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