Saturday, October 30, 2010

Seminary Numbers and An Alternative Vision

This month's Reporter has some interesting statistics on current seminary and "ordination-track" education programs.

Total Seminary ordination-track students: 767
Number of those students in residential seminary program: 545
Number of students in distance education ordination track programs overseen by the seminaries: 222 (127 SMP, 95 ??).

In other words, we are getting to the point where nearly one out of every three new pastors will not be receiving a standard 3 year + vicarage, MDiv education, with day in day out interaction with other students and faculty. Neither Q Party nor Isolation Party will mean anything to these gents. Hebrew and Greek will be hobbies they will have to pick up in their spare time.

In 2007, the SMP program was approved with a vast majority of the votes. Both seminaries sent faculty-administrators to give their imprimatur. Hope was held out that SMP would be used to rein in "lay ministry" and centralize all programs leading to ordination under seminary supervision and control. We were assured that this program would not harm the seminaries' future enrollment. We were assured that this would not become an alternative path to ordination for someone who just didn't want to pack up and move to seminary and pay the large tuition fees.

Well, that was 2007. The subsequent shortage of calls on Call Day, the economic straits hitting parishes and parishioners, the continuance of "lay ministry" programs (though three districts, at least, sent in resolutions to the 2010 convention to stop that), and plummeting seminary enrollment tell another story. (I know a man in the St. Louis metro area who graduated three years ahead of me at Seward - so he is not yet 40. He is smart, capable, as "ethnic" as I am, and currently attends a large suburban church. He is also enrolled in the SMP program. Huh?)

Questions to ask at this point:

1. What would seminary enrollment be if the SMP program and other non-residential and district "ordination-tracks" did not exist?

2. What will a clergy roster of 1/3 distance educated pastors without an MDiv look like? What will that composition mean for the quality of parish education, scholarly output, and denominational reputation? What will it mean for clergy pay?

3. How many more calls would be available if all "lay ministers" had their "licenses" revoked, and district presidents insisted that financially struggling parishes band together in 5-, 6-, 7-, or 12-point parish associations to call a real pastor? Wouldn't this be better than telling men in the seminary that they will need to be "worker priests"? If a congregation can't pay you a full salary and you will thus need a part-time job - shouldn't the first part time job to be considered be another part-time parish? Roman Catholic parishes in this area do just fine with this priest-sharing program.

An alternative vision for pastoral preparation in the LCMS

* End all anti-AC XIV "lay ministry" (see below for details on how). Also end all non-residential ordination track programs and tell the current enrollees that whatever classes they have already taken will be to their credit in the seminary residential program. This will be an easier pill to swallow once you...

* ...commit to once again make seminary cost-free for ordination-track students (You can get $780,000 to spend on this just by ending the CTCR and telling the seminary faculties to perform its functions - one of which is evidently to tell us all to plant gardens. Give me the Synod budget and the cost of making seminary tuition free and I'll find you the rest of the cuts) - this would allow the Synod to....

* ....cap enrollment at the seminaries based on an estimate of the number of calls needed four years in the future provided by the DPs plus 10%. This would allow only the top student candidates to be brought into the program and give graduates a more sure chance at receiving a call on Call Day four years hence. Drop-outs could be replaced from names on a waiting list.

(An aside: * Follow the SELK model of three years of class, ordination, one year of service as a curate, evaluation, and first permanent call.) Update: I have it on good authority in my inbox that this is not a fair representation of the SELK system.

These points would also have the happy consequence of encouraging forthright, realistic, and honest appraisals of future pastoral needs uninfluenced by the desire of the two seminaries to keep enrollment up in order to keep the doors open.

The current Reporter also tells us that, once again, baptized and confirmed membership in the LCMS is down for the umpteenth straight year. How on earth are more pastors the solution to a problem of falling membership? This is a demographic problem that will require a demographic solution (i.e., Lutherans need to trust God to plan their families instead of writing off "Be fruitful and multiply" as an artifact of a bygone era). There's simply never been a Christian denomination that was able to turn around a demographic decline via evangelism. It just ain't gonna happen, friends: ask the Shakers. If you want the LCMS to grow, or just plain exist in 50 years, then start preaching on Psalm 127:3-5.

How to end the current "lay ministry" situations

* Invite all congregations who are happy with their current lay ministers to call those men to the Office of the Ministry. If they will not call a man, then his "license" is revoked. If they continue to employ him without calling him to the Office of the Ministry, they should be disciplined just like any other congregation who seeks ministerial services outside the LCMS clergy roster.

* The men thus called should be examined and, if qualified, certified by the district in which they serve and then be ordained. Since they have not been certified by the Synod at large, they are not eligible for service in the Synod at large but will serve out their ministries in the district that certified and ordained them. Of course, they will be welcomed at the new tuition-free seminaries if they want to be on the Synod wide clergy roster.

* It should be made clear that the above district-certification process is a one time affair undertaken to correct a problem 21 years in the making and will not be repeated.

If not this plan, then what? Can we continue to consider ourselves the world leader in confessional leadership when we have thrown out one article of the Augsburg Confession? Can we expect to be the same church body with 1/3 of our new pastors lacking a formal education worthy of an accredited graduate degree? Can we expect a healthy and dedicated ministerium when each man comes out of the seminary with crippling debt?

One anecdote on that last point. When I was looking at getting an MA in classics at Washington University I first expressed my concern over cost to the department chair. His response: "Oh, well, we know we can't charge tuition for the program - because, I mean, what kind of money are you going to make with a master's degree in classics?"

Verily, the sons of this age are wiser. . .



  1. This needs to be circulated to as many pastors and seminary professors as possible.

  2. I've linked over to ALPB - it touches rather directly on a discussion there on concerns regarding SMP.

  3. Some great stuff here. Of course, the devil is in the details. It costs about $25 million dollars a year to run our two seminaries right now. Tuition free is appealing, but how? And tuition is only one part of the expense. Room and board is no small piece either. Where will the funding come from? The $780,000 we'd save by eliminating the CTCR is just a drop in the bucket. Personally, I don't think it can be done. More feasible would be to combine one or both seminaries with our undergraduate campuses.

    Do we really want DPs who can insist that congregations share a pastor? While I agree 100% that that is a sound solution, I don't know if we really want presidents with that kind of authority over congregations, telling them that they must share a pastor with someone.

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  5. This helps with the crippling student debt if you have enough kids and not enough money. However, if you subscribe to the "have kids when you are financially stable" philosophy, you are out of luck.

  6. We also have districts certifying women as "deacons." Can't say that I am in favor of that move either, but it does happen.

    Any suggestions on dealing with that? Perhaps the same system can be applied to the synod's deaconess program?

  7. The online M.Div program is a train wreck that has already run off the rails in the Army Chaplaincy. Seventy-five percent of the most recent Chaplain Basic Course of 180 graduates are online seminary students who can't preach or teach and affiliate Greek with a fraternity.

  8. Fr. Stiegemeyer,

    Yes, I really do want DPs who will tell congregations to follow the Bible and the Confessions and discipline them if they don't. And, in fact, our DPs do have this authority already: it's just that it is so little used. DPs rarely discipline and remove congregations, but it is certainly within their authority.

    This is not a case of a DP telling a congregation: I want you to call this man, not that man. That's a degree of authority MO has never been comfortable with. I'm not arguing for that. I'm just arguing that DPs do their job: tell a congregation to have a pastor, aid and assist struggling congregations to get a pastor, and discipline congregations who refuse to have a pastor.

    Seminary was once tuition free, so it can be done. See also the Roman Catholic system. Even if the cost is $25 million a year, the Synod budget is north of $85 million a year. The three purposes of Synod are to foster unity of doctrine, train church workers, and send missionaries. $25 million dollars is less than a third of $85 million....


  9. It seems as though the SMP has gotten well off track by the practice of letting individuals claim for themselves a "specific" ministry. While a few districts are refusing to send folks into the program unless there is a "specific" context (language, culture, etc), it seems that many people who say, "Oh, I'd like to do that" are being let into the program. SMP candidates were not supposed to self-identify and volunteer - but that has by the board.

    Also, I would put the admissions in your plan at expected calls +25% - simply because the M. Div programs have a high dropout rate. This is also part of the reason why I think the 3rd year vicarage is a good thing - it is a dropout barrier. We should have that drop out barrier before we make folks bishops. I'd be all for dropping the term vicar and ordaining 3rd year seminarians as deacons, and even then having the first call out of the Sem be as curates as well (an M. Div does not make one ready to be a bishop and on one's own) -- Get rid of associate pastors, only allow "assistants", and only let assistants be called from the Seminaries.

  10. Iggy,

    I remain rather skeptical about several aspects of the current deaconess programs - chief among my skepticisms is the need of a graduate degree for this work.

    If we as a Synod actually committed to support our seminaries - do you think they would have created the deaconess grad program?


  11. Other than the fact that I'm going to hell because I don't have 13 children--*wink*--there's a lot here that makes sense.

  12. Ain't no party like an Isolation Party, cuz an Isolation Party don't stop, especially Isolation Parties where kegs are removed from Oktoberfest after it is officially closed, or the Valentine Party. Sem wives throwing up in bathrooms, not because of morning sickness and all the rest. Oh, for the days of no responsibility - Seminary.

    But on to topic kind of-
    there is no doubt that we will suffer as a church if this trend continues, not only theologically, pastorally but fraternally. The fraternity is an important part of the office, we are brothers with men with a common confession and a common experience in training, even with those much older than us. I will never forget a early 1940's grad of St. Louis, who was as east coast liberal as you could get, encourage me when times were tough in the parish. Even though he disagreed with every position I took, he told me to hang in there and "don't let the ******** get you down." St. Louis, early 40's, St. Louis late 90's very similar story. I lived in Isolation well more than 50 years after he did, but there was the common life, the fraternity. There is much to be said about this that isn't said enough.

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  14. Fr. Ball,

    That's not off point at all - the brotherhood of the ministry is a real thing and these guys will simply not know what they are missing.

    I have heard many laud the quality of the distance education program in SMP. But I can't help but think that is actually damning with faint praise. If your doctor, lawyer, or pharmacist told you he went to a "top notch distance education" school to get his MD, JD, or DPharm, what would you think?

    Well, SMP does not even rise to that level: the seminaries are not trying to claim that this education is worth a graduate degree. The difference between a "top notch distance ed certificate program" and a top notch MDiv program is one not just of degree but of kind.

    I heard from another pastor recently who confronted his DP about this fact: Why are so many "normal" MO Synod pastoral students (white, middle class, suburban, young) going into SMP? I thought this was for special circumstances, ethnic enclaves, out of the way places?

    The DP answered: "They can't afford seminary."

    If that's the reason, then we are really in trouble, because here's a little secret: nobody can.


  15. IggyAntiochus reports: "We also have districts certifying women as "deacons.""

    Isn't that special? It makes sense of course. First the gals become 'seminarians', and now they are declared (or should I say "called") 'ministers'. I guess the logical result is that, presto, we now have a diaconate among us. WWLS-What would Loehe say?

  16. Rev. Deacon,

    There is no doubt what Loehe would say: that the vocation of wife and mother trumps the vocation of deaconess. Loehe's plan was very laudable - ours, wherein the church actually encourages women to work in a church office and leave their children in childcare is not.

    I have many parishioners who feel the pressure to have two incomes. I don't know any woman working thus who is not at the least conflicted and at the worst absolutely unhappy about her situation. Can you imagine the heart break of leaving a six week old with strangers and commuting back to the office?

    The decline of the one father, one income, one mom serving at home family is a tragedy to our culture. For that matter, the decline of the father also working in the home as farmer, small manufacturer, etc. is also outside the picture God paints for us in Genesis of the model human family. Dorothy Sayers, Albert Jay Nock, and GK Chesterton have many good thoughts on this topic.

    The world is fallen and all the things that should be are not. So we work within the fallen world. It is just very troubling to me when the Church goes from lamenting the fall and seeking to repair it to adopting the fallen mindset.


  17. Father Curtis,

    You say:

    How many more calls would be available if all "lay ministers" had their "licenses" revoked, and district presidents insisted that financially struggling parishes band together in 5-, 6-, 7-, or 12-point parish associations to call a real pastor?


    And I still do not see how this would not be anything other than a death knell for these congregation. I just do not see how you could think that this would not be saying "You are going to die out and we are just going to hold your hand on the way down."

    I'd rather roll the dice, and give them a undereducated full time/part time lay minister. Someone who will not just be passing through, but would be a part of the community and would bring the congregation to care for and love that same community.

    But seriously, Heath: give me the schedule on the 6 point and 12 point parish. What exactly does this look like? When is the pastor appearing at what time and at what congregations? Details. Give me details.

  18. From the large point though, I find that your post has snarkiness, wackiness, and lack-of-faithiness...

    But I do agree with your solution to end lay ministry. Seems fair and right. But I do think that there should be opportunity to for men to be educated and ordained on-site, as opposed to having to leave their community and go to Seminary. It is not just a matter of having Sem be free.

    What I am more curious about is what you actually think will happen...and what compromises would you be willing to work with on the issue... What do you think WILL happen over the next ten years?

  19. Fr. Louderback,

    We used to do the 6+ point parish thing in the Midwest during the great German immigration. Folks were spread out and it was hard for a given spot to support a pastor. At that time, the pastor would hit one or two parishes per Sunday. On the weeks when he wasn't there, the people would gather to hear Matins and a sermon from Luther read.

    For me, breaking the Scriptures and the Confessions by asking a man to preach, teach, and administer the sacraments without being called and placed into the office of the ministry is simply not an option. Frankly, I can't see how it is for anyone who swore the same ordination vow that I swore. There is no way I would consent to my wife and children, for example, receiving the Sacrament from a man who was not called to and placed in the office of the ministry as Christ gave it.


    Why should some guys not have to "leave their community" to get trained to be a pastor? I had to leave mine... But in my suggestions above, I did indeed leave that an option for our current "lay ministers."

    What do I think will happen? What does it matter what I think will happen? I'm a terrible prognosticator. I pray for repentance: that is always best when sin is in the mix.


  20. I agree that the practice of having "lay ministers" should end immediately.

    I just don't see why we would insist on having 6,7, 12 point parish associations. It seems that logistically, it makes more sense to have those parishes combine into one or two point parish associations closing the others. It of course depends on distance in some respect, but I don't get having the pastor drive all over creation on Sunday. Why not have the people drive to the church instead? There could be multiple services on Sunday and during the week to accommodate people who have to drive further to get there. (Right now, i drive 30 minutes to get to church.) For those people who can't make it during Sunday and desire Communion, the Pastor(s) can travel to them during the week.

    As far as distance education goes, the Antiochian Orthodox have a great distance education program. We could also have a great distance program if we wanted it. One where Greek and Hebrew are requirements, and access is restricted, but we have sadly not decided to this.

    If my doctor or lawyer are legally practicing medicine or law, and they are good at it. I don't care where they got their degree. I feel the same about pastors. The most learned pastor I have ever had only had a BA. He also was the best preacher I have heard.(Obviously this was not in an LCMS church.) I have met some articulate and intelligent men who were trained in the Sems as well, but I just don't buy into the idea that only way to be a good preacher is to be trained at the Sems. In fact it seems that in my experience, the Sems seem to excel in putting out mediocre pastors. I think this is reflected also in the distance education program that they helped put together.

  21. I hate to say it (being a tad luddite, yes I'm using a computer and understand the irony - I just think technology should be approached and evaluated very critically)... A multi-point parish is not entirely out of the focus, the Evangelicals do it all the time and call it 'satellite' churches and do very well with it. Hit a few parishes each Sunday for Holy Communion and do the Matins thing with on site elders and broadcast the sermon... I can't believe I'm saying it but this may be a proper use for a screen in church. You could even run a Bible study that way.

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  23. Steven,

    I don't know if you have spent much time in rural American or not - but from my lifelong experience, people like to attend church in their own town, in their own church. A trip of 8 miles, when I lived in Chicago, was a run for milk - where I live know it's an unthinkable distance to go for church.

    And I think there is something true and right about this rural outlook: churches are local, communal things. I'm glad each little town around here has a Lutheran Church and I'm happy to drive around on Sunday morning to serve a couple of them.


  24. Fathers and Brothers, (proofreading is wonderful)
    I know it's late in the comment game and I haven't slugged through all of the comments but to a layman, the difference between a seminary trained man and someone not so is made so critically obvious by their handling of the Word. I just viewed a video by a seminary trained pastor. His message on Christ's teaching in the beatitudes was truly exegetical; so much so that I don't think someone not trained residentially at one of our seminaries would be able to accomplish the same craftsmanship. If you're so inclined please view Fr. Fisk's attached Worldview Everlasting video. I believe it will be easy to see what I mean.

    God bless and I'm completely in agreement; one has no right to fill the Holy Office without both the call and the residential education to properly execute the call.

    Steve Foxx

  25. Mr. Foxx,

    Your comments, from the perspective of a layman, remind me of another aspect of this "lay ministry" nonsense that I've always found troubling: basically, the MO Synod has been saying to rural laymen, "You guys just aren't worth a real pastor's time. Nobody wants to come serve you guys, so just grab somebody from around there and he can act like a pastor."


  26. One of the few times I have spoken harshly with folks here was when they were speaking of a former pastor who, "moved on to better things." I admonished them for besmirching their own church -- but many of the smaller, rural churches have been told that because they aren't _______ they just aren't really worth much.

    If we were to have "lay" ministers (if they are a minister, they are no longer lay -- we mean under-trained), they should be in the larger congregations where they can have someone fully trained overseeing them.

  27. Just a note on the numbers. It's not a four year program, so the 127 will be circulating in and out very quickly. If the number enrolled is consistently 1/3 of the regular seminary enrollment, we will soon have half or more of our pastors without a proper seminary education.

  28. Forest Boar,

    Good point!



    Fr. Brown,

    The problems is that they are lay and thus not ministers.



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