Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Economics in One Lesson -or- My Plan to Save the Seminaries

When I received my Concordia Seminary-St. Louis 2011 calendar, included with it was a letter from the seminary president aimed at laymen. It is composed of three large paragraphs - the first centers around the beauty of the CSL campus, the second tells of the successes of the How Will They Hear? campaign, and the third paragraph is about gaining students for CSL:

"One additional thing. We need more students on this campus. Over the years, the numbers of entering students have declined drastically. We beg your help in identifying young men and women who show people skills and academic ability to become the pastors and teachers who will serve our children, grandchildren and coming generations. Talk with your pastor about promising young people and let us know their names. . . . While you're speaking with your pastor and other clergy you know, encourage them to consider advanced studies at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. With a little incentive from the congregation, your church workers can keep their skills sharp for the demands of ministry as it challenges us all in today's real world."

First off, I find the rhetoric of this letter very refreshing. There is no talk of a "coming pastor shortage" or "coming church worker shortage." The focus is very much on the health of CSL. And we should be concerned for the health of both of our seminaries. To be a strong, thriving, Confessional Synod, we need strong, thriving, Confessional seminaries - and the reason for this is twofold. First, we need well trained pastors. But what ranks above even that, in my mind, is the fact that we need professional theologians. We need to pay the Nagels and the Scaers of the world to work at theology full time.

Gottesdienst has received some attention in high places of late for encouraging young men to think about the realities of going to seminary today. But let's not inflate our influence. Gottesdienst's hard look at the facts and advice to have a back up plan before entering seminary is not the reason why the number of students at both seminaries has "declined drastically." The cause of this phenomenon at both CSL and CTSFW is, I think, rather clear: the economics of the free market.

Market Forces

The Missouri Synod has chosen to have a more or less free market in pastoral education and preparation - not as free a market as some church bodies, but much more so than others. Some churches choose to have a highly socialized education economy: students are identified and sent to prep school and seminary for free. That is, free to the students: somebody is paying for it, of course, and that is usually the church at large, though as in all higher education, private donors are very important. If a student washes out, that economic sunk cost is absorbed by the socialized system as a whole.

In the LCMS, there are a lot of scholarships, a lot of private donors, a lot of individual parishes that generously support local students. My parishes, for example, are very generous toward the food bank at CSL and individual students at both seminaries. But in our system, the seminaries do charge tuition. And that tuition is by no means cheap. When you consider that for the normal seminarian a four year bachelor's degree is required before you set foot on campus, it comes as no surprise that the topic of "church worker indebtedness" has been all the rage at COP meetings and district pastors' conferences.

And then consider the pastoral labor market - and make no mistake, it is a market: the free market is a "first article gift," if you will, and you cannot banish it from the church by fond wishing. This market is tight. Recently, the First VP of the Synod said that the current number of vacancies in the Missouri Synod is the smallest he has ever known in his 30-some years of service in the church. Three out of the past four Aprils have found more seminarians than calls. Eventually they have "all" been placed - but that "all" does not include those who decide to stay for an STM, or go on a mission trip, or landed a stop-gap CPE deal with a local hospital, or what have you. Thus, some of those who did not seek calls last spring will be seeking calls this spring. We'll see how it goes when May rolls around.

The Economics of Deciding to Go to Seminary

But why is the market so tight? From the perspective of a 22 year old college grad who is looking at seminary, it doesn't really matter. It's simply an economic fact that must be included in his consideration. And here's another iron clad law of that first article gift the free market: increase the supply of something relative to demand and you lessen its economic worth. That is to say, so long as there is a tight pastoral labor market, there will be downward pressure on pastoral pay. This is not such a big deal for those jurisdictions that insist on a celibate clergy. For us, however, we've got more first article gifts to consider: wife, children, and all I have. "Young man, how are you going to support my little girl?" is not a question lightly or rightly ignored by young men in debt in their early to mid 20's.

So, our potential seminarian looks at the current situation and thinks: "Well, my current debt from undergrad is $XX,XXX. If I go to the seminary, I figure on getting, say, 40% of my tuition, books, and living expenses covered by scholarships and a part-time job. So, I'm looking at an additional $YY,YYY in loans. But I see that the past few Aprils guys haven't gotten calls. And I know pastors don't get paid that much, say $zz,zzz per year. I want to get married and have kids. I'll be looking at a monthly loan payment of $AAA or $A,AAA for B number of years just as we are starting out...."

At this point, depending on the young man and his specific situation, his thoughts might turn in any of the following directions...

* And I can certainly serve the church in other ways than being a pastor. Didn't Luther say that God was just as pleased with the scullery maid at her washing as with a pastor poring over his Greek?

* My fiancée can probably get a pretty good job in St. Louis/Ft. Wayne....

* The Lord will provide!

* I wonder if there is another way to become a pastor?

And with that last point we come back round to the question of how we got into this tight pastoral labor market. Part of the answer is certainly demographic change - both in a refusal of Lutherans to consider children as a blessing from God and in the phenomenon of rural population collapse leading to more market efficiency in the form of larger average parish size and a corresponding loss in the number of pastorates. It used to take three pastors to serve three small parishes - now perhaps they have combined to form one large parish with a senior pastor and an assistant pastor: market efficiency up, pastorates down.

Substitute Goods are Not Always Good

But another part of the explanation is the refusal of the Missouri Synod to insist that every man who acts like a pastor be a pastor. "Lay ministry" is what economists call a substitute good. In the past, pastors were a good without a nearly equivalent substitute. There are always substitute goods at the margin - even water has substitute goods at the margin: you can take a "bath" with baby wipes if you have to. Likewise, if your pastor is suddenly sick on Sunday, a layman leading Matins and reading a Luther sermon is an imperfect substitute good for that Sunday. But you can't drink anything but water. And, in the past, you couldn't have a congregation without a pastor.

But ever since 1989, the demand for pastors has achieved greater elasticity due to the introduction of a novel substitute good: the "lay minister."

Now, margarine is not butter. Butter is natural, delicious, and nutritious; margarine is synthetic, disgusting, and can give you unpleasant side effects. But it kind of looks like butter, is smooth and fatty like butter, can be flavored like butter, and, boy! is it a lot cheaper. Thus, the introduction of margarine, as hideous as it is, decreased the demand for butter.

Well, Pastors:Butter::"Lay minister":Margarine. So don't act surprised that the need for pastors has declined since 1989.

Demand for traditional pastors became more elastic yet in 2007 with the introduction of SMP. Now, the hope for SMP was that it would actually decrease elasticity by reining in the "lay ministers" and making them, at the very least, somewhat trained but at least called and ordained pastors. Instead, in many cases, SMP is being used as a way for men to get ordained who would otherwise have become seminary trained pastors.

But don't take my word for it: call your DP and ask him. Seriously. Tell him you heard that a bunch of young, white, suburban guys are being let into the SMP program from larger parishes so as to become assistant pastors in those larger parishes. Based on reports from more than one man in the field who has had this talk with his DP, I'm betting dollars to donuts that your conversation goes like this: You ask your DP, "Rt. Rev. Sir, what is up with these young, white, suburban guys from big parishes being let into SMP? I thought the idea for SMP was that this would be a way for hard to reach areas or small ethnic communities to get real live ordained pastors? I hoped that maybe these 'lay ministers' might use it to repent and become actual pastors. It's not supposed to cut into the seminaries' market!" The DP shall reply unto thee, "Forsooth, that guy is a great guy, he will be a great pastor!" You may say, "OK, great. But why isn't he in the normal seminary program?" And your DP will say, "He is in SMP because the seminary is too expensive."

And golly how things, when they go around, come around! First, a substitute good was found for pastors and now we have a substitute good for 4-year seminary education.

When a substitute good is introduced, the economic value of the original good decreases. Thus, the value of seminary education, from an economic point of view, has inescapably decreased due to the introduction of a substitute good. What have the seminaries done in the face of this reality? They are charging more tuition! What could that lead to?

"Over the years, the numbers of entering students have declined drastically."

A Plan for a Newly Regulated Market

If you're going to have something of a free market in pastoral education, then you're going to have to live with market forces. Of course, what we really have is a highly regulated market with the Synod convention, seminaries, COP, etc., as the regulators. We could change the way we do things. We could scrap what's not working and do something else. We could come up with a plan that will ensure the future of both seminaries. For your thought and consideration, here's my plan.

* 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.

These points would also have the happy consequence of encouraging forthright, realistic, and honest appraisals of future pastoral needs uninfluenced by the very real bottom line concerns of the seminaries.

The January 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 anything like the form it does today 50 years hence, then start preaching on Psalm 127:3-5.

But back to our plan. An important part of correcting the pastoral labor market will be dealing with the current "lay ministers." Here's how:

* 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 22 years in the making and will not be repeated. Further needs in rural or hard to reach communities will be met by the district and/or Synod making sure that an actual pastor cares for those people. And don't tell me it can't be done. Just north of me is the infamously rural and hard to reach Calhoun County, Illinois - stuck between the Mississippi and Illinois rivers. In its rural-ness and isolation it reminds me of the Western Nebraska in which I grew up. In this sizable county, there are five Roman Catholic parishes - and exactly one priest. It works.

What's Your Plan?

That's my take on this whole situation. I'm not out to get the seminaries - I want them to thrive. But I'm also not out to hurt young men who desire to serve the Church - I want them to thrive as well, and not end up in debt, without calls, and embittered. We in the Missouri Synod need to take a long and hard look at what's working and what's not when it comes to seminary education. You've seen my ideas for saving the seminaries - what are yours? Do they address the problems of demography, substitute goods, AC XIV, and an educational market? I don't think you can save the seminaries without addressing all of them.

The clock is ticking - if my plan is so bad, let's see yours.



  1. Amen!

    Layperson, Trinity Edwardsville

  2. Excellent. Full of common-sense. Churchly too! Homerun!

  3. I have to say, I love the economic analysis!

  4. The old world is gone, a new one is here and evolving. It won't be like anything the baby boomers grew up with, or maybe even their children grew up with. It would not be at all recognizable by the parents of the baby boomers.

    These are noble thoughts our blogster has, but they will not work because the LCMS is irreparable, and all lare entities (church, business, gov. etc.) will cease to be. They will all balkanize into smaller units connected either by geography, necessity, interest or the internet.

    The church will change drastically on the face of it, though the reality of it will not because the gates of hell cannot prevail against it. The Word will still be preached, the liturgy prayed, the sacraments administered.

    The luxury of costly sanctuaries and full time pastors is over, at least for the forseeable future. There will be no more seminaries as we know them now. Yet God will train and provide pastors in a way we can't see now. I regret all this because we had a good thing going, i.e. many good gifts given us by God, which we squandered to gain the adulation of the world.

    I cannot recommend the ministry to anyone as a career unless he has a flexible way to make a living such as do computer guru's, accountants, attorneys, sales professionals or people with flexible schedules like firemen. The pastor of the future will have to mostly support himself. He must be paid by his flock, but it won't be a living wage. Even now very few churches that can afford full time pastors will tolerate orthodox ones. They are consigned to small parishes but they should not whine, nor should any of us.

    A worker-priest (as we sometimes call him) has always been looked at with some suspicion, as less than a real pastor. That's because of what people are used to. But it won't be that way for long.

    All things revert to the mean they say in economics. So will our nation. It won't be any better, or any worse. It will just be different. There is no such thing as "progress." Every advance we hail, is countered by at least as many declines, probably more. The world is dying. Entropy is the rule. But Christ has redeemed all things, the visible and the invisible.

  5. Pr. Curtis,

    Your plan makes sense, is economically feasible & would save money, & it tackles the problems we've faced in regard to the Office of the Ministry vis a vis lay ministry.

    Therefore, it has no chance at being adopted in any shape or fashion. :) Or should that be :(

  6. Addendum: It is my studied opinion that a greatly reduced living standard awaits the western world as wealth (and with it, liberty) drifts inexorably eastward. That will include the luxury of full time pastors who can regularly visit sick and shut ins, or drop what he is doing to respond to a crisis. Let us start thinking ahead and try to remain flexible, because we never know which way things will turn. But Jesus is still Lord.

  7. Chaplain7904,

    Meh. Could be. But one thing I know for certain: "Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel."

    St. Paul did not avail himself of this Dominical means of support for reasons of his own that you can read about in the rest of I Cor 9. And in all sorts of places in the world, the Church is persecuted, poor, and unable to support her pastors in a way that allow them to work at nothing but the ministry.

    But it is a completely 'nother ball of wax when a church body decides that it is going to do away with a Dominical command because it is inconvenient. It is downright shameful to do so in such an affluent society.

    And I have said as much to DPs when they start talking this way. Shame on anyone who collects a full-time pastoral salary in the USofA today who starts talking about how guys are just going to have to get used to being worker-priests (and God's blessings and mercy to those who must struggle as the latter!). How about such senior clergymen start getting used to preaching to their sees about the need for sacrificial giving to support the Lord's Church instead?


  8. Chaplain7904,

    In re: your addendum. Well, yeah, you and me both - but I just gave Ron Paul $20.12 in the hopes of slowing the mad rush toward bankruptcy, decay, and destruction.

    But in the meantime - until we arrive at what pessimistic libertarians from Lysander Spooner to Murray Rothbard have been seeing coming a long way off - let's strive to keep the Lord's arrangement for the Church.


  9. Adam,

    Nice to have a local reading the blog! Well met.


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  11. Excellent suggestions. I've seen at least two relatively large LCMS congregations in suburban Detroit using the SMP program when they could certainly afford to employ men who graduated from one of our seminaries.

  12. Mr. Lambert,

    Yes - I believe this is a real scandal in our church body today. These do not seem to be isolated instances at all. And this is very bad news for our seminaries just when they need our support the most.


  13. Your proposal should go to the COP and the seminaries.

  14. Mr. Lambert,
    I believe I served one of those congregations in suburban Detroit of which you speak. To say one could 'certainly afford' is not a simple overstatement - it is uninformed. Speaking so certainly of that which isn't certainly known is not helpful to the climate of you synod.

    As usual Curtis - sharp and well written!

  15. and by 'you synod' I mean of course mean 'our synod.' That's how say it down here in Iowa...

  16. Hey Luke,

    Good to hear from you!

    The thing is - no church can afford to send somebody to seminary. No student can afford to go. Nobody can uproot their family and move down there; etc., etc. If there are cheaper substitutes for a 4-year seminary education - then we as a church, but especially the seminaries, will reap the whirlwind.

    You and I were very blessed to get through seminary in the Golden Window. Unless and until we figure out a way as a church to make that happen again, it's going to be an upstream rowing expedition in St. Louis and Fort Wayne.


  17. To complicate things a bit, the government now allows us to not pay back our entire loans. If you are working for a non-profit, your loans can be forgiven after ten years of repayment. This helps those of us who are already out, but it also might mess things up at the seminaries. If they know that you don't actually have to pay back all of your loans, why would they try to keep costs down?


  18. Notice I didn't exactly disagree with you! You did an excellent job of outlining an issue - but I had a very different experience in MI. That situation, however, was unique and certainly not the issue at hand. It was not not a full time position, there were three pastors on staff plus another deaconess to boot, blah blah blah.

    In THAT scenario the paid position of a lay minister was brilliant.

    I understand your position and believe I recall the two of us lamenting the 'pastor shortage' at the circulation desk YEARS ago. We're still not exactly on the same page - but we're in the same chapter of the same book.

    I still, of course, have all the answers. I just don't have a fancy blog...

  19. I have an SMP vicar. Nice guy.

    Ordination makes a pastor - ordentlische Beruf. Not a seminary education. We have to say that...

    This is a fact confessed by the various Deacons around who have been ordained. What group is doing that? SSP? I don't care.

    Rite Vocatus. Placed. Put. Hands laid on and prayer. Booyah - there's a Pastor.

    If we accept these deacons, we need to accept the SMP guys. They are just as much as pastor as I am. Called, Ordained, and in the Office of the Holy Ministry.

    And thus the fear. I share your concerns, Pastor Curtis. If you saw what my vicar was learning, you'd be even more concerned. Words like "meta-narative" which are foreign to the church's history and practice. He doesn't know what the word "eucharist" means but he has to study about the divine meta-narrative. WOW!

    I'm pouring into my future brother all I can when we meet. When his classes on meta-naratives are done, I'll teach him Greek. I help him with his sermons - reading the texts with him. I'm teaching him everything that I can for the sake of the Gospel.

    To whom much is given, much is expected. At the end of my SMP Vicar's education he'll have less than a year of the studying that I had at the seminary. It scares me that we are responsible as "Mentors" (their word, not mine) to put this much Gospel and instruction into a candidate.

    I'm really concerned about this... really concerned..

  20. Fr. Borghardt,

    Spot on. I was there in 2007 and voted for SMP in the hope that it would fix the lay ministry scandal/false doctrine/bad practice/just-asking for-God's-punishment thing. Alas, that isn't in the cards.

    Keep up the good work with your vicar.


  21. "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."

    Should we keep graduate programs (MA and PhD) and deaconess programs?

    Do you want to constantly shift the number of faculty at the seminaries?

  22. The epoch may be shifting, but nothing is new under the sun.

    Ordination/sending makes the booyah.

    Is long distance meta-narrative with a careful mentor better or worse than full immersion in the meta-narrative with small group break outs and a chapel band, including field ed in Ellisville?

    Politicians are in the business of not fixing anything.

    I tell young men: "Right now, the Church needs faithful laymen." My alma matter can wax about the buildings in Clayton all they want. I won't sell a young man the false bill I was sold.

    Honesty is the best place to start reform.

    Rock on.

  23. "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."

    You make very good points, but this part isn't feasible. Ensuring a number of openings near the number of seminary graduates is a nice idea, but it won't work. In business there are two ways to make accurate projections: lie or cheat. Even if the DP's had the business training to make projections about the number of pastors needed down the road, they would only be making poor guesses. When, just like in business, the guesses turn out to be wrong we'll be back with the same problems we have now. We can't very well lie about how many pastors we employ, so we'll have to cheat. We'll either have a shortage and hear about how we need SMP/ lay ministry to fix this problem. Or we'll have too many and have to have the extra pastors "stay for an STM, or go on a mission trip, or landed a stop-gap CPE deal with a local hospital, or what have you," just like we have now.

    If it's possible and appropriate, by all means raise the qualifications for seminarians, but claims this will give them a more sure chance of a call on call day will only lead to disappointment and cries for change when it doesn't happen. Even if the early projections for the number of pastors needed happen to be close, eventually they won't be. This will give ammunition for misguided people to demand to bring the "good ole days" of SMP/ lay ministry back.

  24. Flacius,

    The grad programs can become self sustaining, or they can go away. But I think if you fix the main program - MDiv - there will be plenty of room for reasonably priced grad programs.

    As to the size of the faculties at the seminaries - does anyone think that they can be sustained at current levels? A plan along my lines, where the Synod at large decides to go back to basics and fund seminary ed as one of its main missions, has a better chance than any other sort of plan for keeping a steady faculty roster.


  25. Phillip,

    I couldn't disagree more. The scandal is that this is so easy and yet we don't do it. We're not asking for prophecy, just a little basic planning only four years out. It's as easy as making phone calls to all the guys who are near retirement age and asking, "Hey, Pastor Schickelgrüber, what are your plans for retirement?"

    Really - that easy. Right now every single DP has a gut feeling about what needs will be in his district that is pretty close to the truth - much closer to the truth that claiming there is a clergy shortage for a decade or more when there really was no such thing.

    If you hold to our doctrine, "lay ministry" is unthinkable. So if we repent, we won't do it no matter what.

    And if you fix the sems and make them free, you won't need SMP either.


  26. Fr. Curtis,

    Retirements may be easy to account for, but what about burn-out, unexpected death, disease, leaving the LCMS, or other things that would remove a pastor from the ministry? Is an extra ten percent above projections really going to accurately account for these and any growth in the LCMS? It's all the extra factors besides retirements that will skew the projections. That's why I think the projections will be off.

    I hold to Augsburg XIV and want to get rid of "lay ministry". My concern is the people in the Synod who don't will use any problems that occur as an excuse to fight to bring back "lay ministry"

    I don't want to sound cynical, but there's a difference between eliminating the "need" for SMP and getting rid of the Baptist urge for seminary-lite or no real seminary training at all. Free sems will eliminate the financial excuse for SMP but not the, "he's a good Christian guy, so he'll be a good pastor regardless of actual training" mentality. It will take decades to get rid of the "lay ministry" and "pastors don't need rigorous academic training" mentalities held by Synod liberals.

  27. Phillip,

    That's why you build in a certain percentage over the DP's estimates. It's also why you tell guys up front that there is no guarantee of a call when they graduate.

    The perfect is the enemy of the good. We'll never have a perfect system - but we cansure have a better one.

    Likewise with lay ministry: you will always have some folks in the LCMS who will argue for it, I suppose. We should not wait for every individual to get on board before we start keeping our confessions. Same with SMP.


  28. At first I wondered how I could have had such a different experience with the program than all of ya'll - but then it occurred to me, maybe none of you have had any hands on experience with the program!

    I've worked closely with three guys in the program. I was their pastor and occasional tutor for their coursework. I proofread countless papers and essays. I helped when and where I could.

    Of the three, two had no inclining of doing any type of ministry - much less of being a pastor or doing pastor stuff. Why were they in the program? Because they had maxed out all of the Bible studies and discipleship curriculum we could offer. They just wanted opportunity to study more and the online deacon classes and regional get togethers were very good for them.

    There was one bloke who loved his hom class beyond compare. He said it helped him understand in a whole new light what I was doing with a message on Sunday. To stay in the class, he had to write a sermon. This annoyed him greatly, as he would never deliver the sermon - but being the guy he was he wanted to knock it out of the park. We would have lunch two or three times a week pouring over it and fine tuning it. It was maybe the most carefully crafted sermon in LCMS history. And there it sits - in a file somewhere!

    The third guy, in my opinion, should be a pastor. He did part time ministry at our church - some stuff the faithful followers of this blog would eschew - but if we might set that aside for a moment (though I know we won't) I might just say: you had to be there.

    He was in process of learning Greek when I left. When I performed his son's wedding this summer he excitedly told me about some youtube chump named Fisk that was such a help in his understanding the language. He had more deeply investigated the BoC than most of my sem classmates and will have put in more class time at the end of the day than most as well.

    When, in total jest, I chased him down with a fellow pastor in the desert of Mexico on a mission trip to tackle him and lay 'forceful' hands on him - he delivered an excellent articulation of rite vocatus and how being 'pinned down' might not exactly qualify.

    He'd be the first to tell you that he's not a pastor. He didn't ever want to be. He didn't start the program to become one or to play on on tv.

    And yet, because of the program he is better trained to be one the half the guys on Call Day each spring.

    But yeah, I agree - he's not rightly called to be a pastor. But maybe the question here should rather be about being rightly trained.

    Why did I have to move to a crappy city with a crappy NL team to be trained? Why is a sem the only way to train people? Why is, as phillip said, sem training the only kind of 'actual' training?

    Have at me boys - I don't mind the abuse. Curtis owes me actually from all the beatings I gave him at Horse in the library...

  29. Confirmation kids are still kicking my rear in horse. . .

    The Church has always had a multiplicity of ways of forming men for the ministry. So I don't disagree with any of that. And I also see the need for very well trained laymen.

    But the Bible is the Bible, and the Confessions are the Confessions. No one can preach, teach (apostolically), or administer the Sacraments unless he is placed in the Office of the Ministry.

    If we stick to that, most everything else would come together.

    Have you read the systematics faculties' statement from 2007 on the ministry? It's in the July 2007 issue of CJ and available online. Seriously, check it out. It clears up all these issues and we would all do well to listen.


  30. Excellent article - and I find myself, again, in violent agreement with you. So it is with me, it seems. Your writings and the the content produced by others of, shall we say, your persuasion are a blessing to me. But then in implementation (for lack of a better term) we seem to be on different planets. From the introduction to that article: (and yes, I read the whole thing, not just the intro - I'm not a seminarian anymore)

    "For instance,it is one thing to confess, “no one should publicly teach, preach, or administer the sacraments without a proper [public] call” (AC XIV).
    But it is another thing to discern what courses of action properly embody this doctrine when no pastor is available for God’s people, or when considering how seminarians might acquire skill in preaching and teaching, or when a congregation has many shut-ins"

    The article well articulates the discontinuity we experience where it states:

    "We recognize that embodying a doctrine or a principle in our lives is much more difficult than merely stating it or agreeing with it."

    Yes I know - also from the intro - I PROMISE I read it all...

    We seem to agree on issues of 'clergy shortage' and rite vocatus - but when it comes to how we embody that we differ sharply.

    Much the same way we both enjoy the whitetail chase but embody different means of taking the game.

    Because God clearly intends for us to use rifles - a pox on your Mossberg 500.

  31. Luketim:
    I don't believe I've had the honor of meeting you or knowing what church you served in suburban Detroit. Before you assume that I'm making an "overstatement" or that I'm "uninformed," you might want to contact me personally to see if we're talking about the same church. I haven't hid my profile so it's very easy to contact me via email.

  32. Heath,

    Excellent... especially the part about disbanding the CtCR.

    Bring back AC XIV!


  33. Perhaps the biggest problem is that instead of maintaining the way we train pastors, we exploded into a multitude of ways, as districts started doing their own things (whether calling them deacons, or lay ministers), and then the Synod has spent 22 years trying to organize all this into a cohesive banner.

    The main problems that would have to be solved before something like Rev. Curtis' plan (which I mostly like) could be instituted are as follows:

    1. Uniformity of eligibility among the districts. As long as every district has its own pet programs and insist on holding on to them, confusion will continue to ensue.

    2. If a man is going to serve, let him be call and ordained. Period. "Ordination" is not meant to be the mark of completing a seminary program (that's your M. Div), it is the sight that the Church as a whole agrees that person X has been properly called as a Pastor and is fit for the office. If the Church (at large) is going to have them preach - ordain them. Don't pretend that they are being used as Pastors (and if you are alone at a spot and preaching and administering the Sacraments - you're being ask to be a Pastor).

    If we can agree to fixing these two issues - the other stuff will sort itself out (or at least be able to be sorted out) rather easily.

  34. Seminary ed as missions. What a novel concept.

    Likewise, disbanding the CTCR. What did the church ever do without them?

    As to not waiting "for every individual to get on board before we start keeping our confessions," I would modify it to read, "before we start confessing our confessions again." Practice is confession too.

  35. Heath,

    Your solution may not be perfect, but it’s the best I’ve heard. Bring it on and may it be done quickly!

    We need strong and confessional seminaries. If the staff is too large at our seminaries, then downsize.

    Past of the reorganization is to realize the functionality of what is taught. Why do we teach exegetical classes to write exegetical papers? Exegetical classes should be for teaching and preaching. Make that the goal of the class (and have one class for paper for future winkels for future pastors).

    Get rid of the Practical depts. They give lip service to ministerial use of 1st Article gifts etc, but in reality teach practices that do not spring forth from the worldview of our confessions, but teach practices that are alien to Lutheranism. The practical dept is the largest waste in our seminary. I learned better counseling skills in the commercial world (OK, I’m a “second career” pastor, so for guys straight out of University, they may need some equivalent classes.)

    And have a real study of our Confessions! Two classes do not a confessional pastor make! Teach the Confessions in a way that asserts what our Confessions assert and assume. We are so far from our Confessions that the perpetual Virginity of Mary is mocked. Our Confessions call the Apocrypha as “Scripture” but our curriculum ignores the Apocrypha and assumes a Protestant worldview. Need I even go on? And the response in these areas will show how far we’ve veered from what our Lutheran Fathers simply assumed that we don’t even have articles in these areas because they were universally held.

    This shows how far we’ve departed from our Confessions and how good we’ve become at explaining away our Confessions, not only in content, but also a proper, Confessional worldview.

    In short, it’s time to be Lutheran again. Otherwise, we’re just playing a game and lying to ourselves. We deal with eternal matters. It’s time we act like it. And let our seminaries help lead as they should.

    Pr Rich Futrell

  36. While I agree that the SMP is a situation that is watering down the LCMS seminary education and eating up places for seminary graduates to serve, I disagree with the assessment of growth for the LCMS. The problem is not that we simply are not having children and we need to get out there and procreate, the problems is that we are too concerned with internal matters. We are inward focused. The focus for all congregations must be "reaching in" to "reach out". It does not matter whether it is traditional, blended, high, or low church. We need to get the message we have out to the world.

  37. Fr. Curtis,

    The Lord be with you. I must praise you for your thoughtfulness, completeness, accuracy, and problem-solving techniques. You hit the nail on the head with this post.

    However, in addressing the issue, I think you omitted an important part of the equation. I think you left out retired pastors preaching without the Call.

    As I continue to study AC XIV, I discover that these men who resigned their Call to preach and administer the sacraments when they chose to retire.

    If we, as the LCMS, are going to fix the entire problem, we, the Church, must stop this other abuse under the guise of retirement.

    The Church also needs more education on AC XIV and the importance of the Rite Vocatus. DP's are not to be preaching either unless they are Called by a congregation, like our dear President Harrison was recently.

    There is no excuse for men to be left sitting on the bench in April and May after studying, preparing, being tested and examined for the OHM when the Church has a multitude of pulpits available if we, the Church, can just stop the abuses in out beloved Synod.

    I also love your approach to the financial situation of seminarians. As a man suffering from large debt, pastors, and especially, younger men starting families, don't need that extra weight on their shoulders in the OHM.

    Again, thank you so much for laying the truth out there with possible solutions for consideration.

    Peace be with you.

  38. I find much merit in these suggestions, economically and theologically. As a newer second-career pastor who left a lucrative profession to attend seminary full-time, perhaps it's resentment that makes me recoil against SMP and lay ministry. To me, it seems these men want to exercise the duties of the pastoral ministry, yet are unwilling to put their hands to the plow and not look backwards. If it's sinfulness that causes my rejection of these approaches to Word and Sacrament ministry, then I must repent. However, if it is because I see the value of immersion in the theological training and culture of the seminaries, I'm comfortable in rejecting that which foists less-than-rigorously-prepared candidates upon Christ's flock.

    One statistic that gives a false impression that there is a "pastor shortage" (real or looming) in the LCMS is the number of vacant pulpits. Ironically, this widely-publicized "fact" was one of many things that led me to consider the ministry ("If not me, then who?" I thought). After arriving at seminary in 2002, I learned that the "open pulpits" statistic was largely smoke and mirrors.

    The fact is, many vacant congregations are too small to support even an unmarried, debt-free pastor, let alone one with a wife, children, and heavy student loans. Other congregations don't really WANT a pastor; a genuinely-trained, orthodox man might try to steer them away from what they're comfortable doing with the don't-make-waves retiree who is doing Sunday pulpit supply and little or no pastoral work beyond that. And, many congregations don't want to call a newbie right out of seminary and be patient through the steep part of his learning curve of pastor, husband, and father; they "seek to hire a young, dynamic spiritual leader, 20+ years experience," etc. This sort of congregation will entice a man away from his current call with more money, nicer location, fancier title, newer building, bigger parsonage, or other perks, leading to a game of musical chairs among experienced pastors which leaves new graduates without calls after all their seminary preparations.

    So, there is not really an excess of graduating pastoral candidates in relation to the number of places to serve, but a shortage of congregations both able and willing to call and support them, financially and lovingly. I understand the historical background and practical realities of LCMS polity that leans toward strong congregationalism, yet this also leads to those problems I outlined above: each congregation seeks its own best interests, sometimes to the detriment of the weaker (i.e., smaller, poorer) sister congregations.

    Were we truly concerned with good pastoral preparation, full placement of all graduating candidates, and proper delivery of Word and Sacrament in all our congregations (and in mission work, too), we would pool our pastoral education and compensation resources and ensure that all congregations were served by properly qualified, properly supported men. But we don't, because most LCMS congregations want to mimic the world and use the laws of supply and demand to govern the acquisition, compensation, retention, and mobility of pastors. Coming from the mouth of an Industrial Engineer and MBA, I know this sounds like communism...and it is--but with a small "c" like "catholic." The Bible does teach (non-Marxian) communism within the Church, even though we as Americans largely and rightly reject big-C Communism as both an inefficient and unfair secular economic model. Until we get the "in the world, but not of the world" idea pounded into our heads, I see little chance of genuinely healthy reform of the pastoral preparation, distribution, or compensation processes, though with God we always maintain hope and know that all things are possible with Him.

    I hope your ideas receive wide dissemination, and due consideration on their merits.

  39. My husband is just finishing his first year at the seminary. We are blessed to have a side business that pays the bills, which is the only way we could possibly afford to be here and also care for our six children under the age of seven. Other families at the seminary aren’t so lucky. They have to pay outrageous rent to live on campus (or in the surrounding area of Clayton) in addition to tuition and sky high health insurance costs to be part of the campus healthcare plan. (Of course, the seminary knows no one can afford their healthcare plan, so in the entering student welcome packet they’ve helpfully included information on signing your children up for Medicaid! – Because of course all tax payers should have to pay for the health insurance of seminary kids.)

    Pastors have always had larger-than-average families. Historically, pastor’s kids have been abundant, well-catechized, and loyal to the church body. Today, how can seminary families have large families? To make it through the seminary, the wives must work. I am all for women working if they want to, but I’ve noticed that almost all the women are teachers, nannies, or nurses. It is too bad we’ve structured our seminaries so that women have to teach and care for other people’s children rather than teaching and caring for more of their own children – the children who, had they been born, would have been the core of the future church.

    P.S. If you cut the practical department you could save a whole year off the program.

  40. Fr. Wurst,

    I agree that retired/semi-retired pastors are part of the problem in some ways. My parishioners who are retired from the electricians' union, for example, cannot work as electricians as long as they are drawing a pension. That seems like a pretty fair work rule: if you are going to draw a pension which is funded by men working in your profession, then you don't get to also grab a paycheck and take up a place where one of these younger men could be serving.

    However, I think there is some daylight between our positions on the call. I believe that the history of 16th century Lutheranism will bear me out when I say that rite vocatus in AC XIV is not the same thing as call papers from a congregation. That is a confusion that exists only in American Lutheranism. DPs are still in the ministry - as are retired men. That is, de jure divino, they are still pastors.

    However, I agree that for the sake of good order, de jure humano, no man should exercise the Office he holds unless he is accountable to a specific pulpit and altar.

    But I can see no Biblical or Confessional problem with "retired" pastors and DPs preaching at installations, festivals, or when the home pastor is on vacation when they have been so invited by the home pastor and congregation. They are still in the Office of the Ministry.


  41. I should make myself a bit more clear - rite vocatus means the process the culminates in a man being placed in the Office of the Ministry: training, examination, election, and ordination. See Chemnitz' Enchirdion for more on this.


  42. Fr. Curtis,

    I reviewed the Enchirdion. I hear Chemnitz talking about congregations, pastors, preaching and teaching the Word, administering the sacraments rightly.

    I also reviewed the LCMS website. I searched for "divine call" as this is what the Rite Vocatus is referring to in the Augustana...

    Please review the following and let's discuss this for a moment...

    "Q. Please explain "divine call" to me. Is there a biblical reference, or is it a manmade concept?

    A. Article 14 of the Augsburg Confession (one of the formal Lutheran confessional writings) says, "It is taught among us that no one should publicly teach or preach or administer the sacraments in the church without a regular call." Traditionally in the Lutheran church this has been described as a "divine call" because:

    It is God who has instituted the pastoral office in order that the Word might be preached and the sacraments instituted in an orderly way (Luke 10:16; Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:1-2; Timothy 3; Titus 1; Eph: 4:11, 14; Col. 4:17; 1 Cor. 4:1; 1 Cor. 14:40; 2 Cor. 2:17);
    It is God who has given congregations the right to call a pastor to carry out this work in their midst and on their behalf (Matt. 28:18-20; Matt. 16:13-19; 18: 17-20, John 20:22, 23; 1 John 4:1; 1 Peter 2:5- 6; 4:11; Acts 6:6; 1 Tim. 3:10; 4:14; 5:17; Titus 1:5; Acts 1:23; Heb.13:17; 1 Thess. 5:12).
    The specific process by which a congregation extends a call to a pastor is not set forth in the Scriptures, and so this process may vary from time to time and place to place. In the interest of doing things "decently and in order" (1 Cor. 14:40), however, the various districts of the Synod have established a set of procedures which is intended to help congregations: 1) identify potential candidates for a call, and 2) follow the steps by which the congregation may extend a call to the individual whom they believe would be best suited to ministry at that place."

    The LCMS speaks of the "divine call" as a congregation calling a man to serve them as he preaches and teaches the Word of God and administers the sacraments rightly.

    The District Presidents are not pastors. This I will disagree with you on. Can they be? Yes, if they are called to serve a congregation along with their administrative duties as DP. Should the DPs be pastors? Absolutely!

    Currently, the position of the District President is an elected official serving in an administrative capacity. He is not elected for the purpose of preaching and teaching the Word of God. Nor is he elected to administer the sacraments. He is hired to administer.

    I agree that DPs are trained theologically. They were examined sometime ago. They were once called to serve in the OHM and were ordained. However, the de jure humano (law of man) has confused the OHM and the Administrative Office of the DP. They are not the same thing.

    We must get back to the Confessional meaning of AC XIV.

    If we say that DPs and retirees (who resigned their call when they retired) are pastors who are called to preach and teach teh Word of God and administer the sacraments rightly, then we have a long way to go in discussing "Lay Ministry," SMP, DELTO, and the like.

    The Holy Scripture is clear. AC XIV is clear. We must hear them and hold fast to them.

    + Fr. Wurst

  43. As a former economics teacher, I applaud your excellent use of economic concepts.


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