Thursday, March 24, 2011

What to Do About the Seminaries?

Some time ago, Rev. Curtis asked us what we thought the seminaries should do in light of the current glut of pastors in the LC-MS and financial difficulties. Living in the shadow of Kramer Chapel, it is hard not to have a few opinions about the fate and purpose of our seminaries, even though they haven’t asked. No doubt there are things I don’t know and don’t understand. I don’t have much of a feel for CS-StL, nor do I love that school the way I love CTS-FW. But I do love CTS-FW deeply. I send them money. I pray for them. I recruit for them. I defend them. I love them. I hope that love will be understood and soften these remarks, and I apologize in advance for any ignorance I here display. We must surely all agree that changes have to be made and there needs to a plan. Here is my thinking.

CTS should reduce the wages of everyone who isn’t making minimum wage across the board by a small percentage. Everyone should share the burden equally, unless the president’s council or the deans wanted to all take an extra percent as a show of support and leadership. Even if the gesture is mainly symbolic, and is no more than .5% I think it is important. The student workers, custodians, maintenance personal, and faculty all need to know how serious this is and that there will be changes. They need to be involved and cutting their salaries gets their attention. It will save money but it will also set a tone. By sharing the burden this way, they might also save their jobs.

A meeting should be called of every employee, even student employees, where the situation is explained. The goal is to protect the jobs and livelihoods of the employees and to continue to serve the synod. CTS has a sacred mission. They aren’t just working for a paycheck. If they are, they are in the wrong place. The goal is to work together to save the institution for the sake of the Church. Time should be given to discussing and brain-storming cost-saving measures. Are there ways that the institution could save electricity or cut down on paper? Could the offices only turn on half the lights or could the offices be only open 4 days a week instead of 5? Could they ban small refrigerators and microwaves? The seminary needs the support of its employees to make these cuts. It will hurt, but it needs to be done in hard times. Pennies must be pinched.

But that is the small stuff. In my mind, CTS needs to respond to the new economy within the synod. We don’t need many new pastors. CTS can’t expect a freshman class of 60-70 students these days. It can’t place that many graduates anyway and they don’t’ have enough financial aid to make it affordable. What the synod does need is continuing education and professional theologians and it would be very nice to have a flexible institution ready if the baby boomers do ever start retiring and/or dying.

The seminaries could be funded, in part, by given them the CTCR budget and duties. That, it seems to me, is unlikely. Once a kingdom (aka a budget) has been built, no matter how useless it is, men will fight to defend it, It is also the old synod economy. The seminaries have already made this shift anyway: they have to raise their own funding. The good news is that they are more independent. They should build on that. Because CTS simply can’t rely on money from the synod. We can decry that all we want, but I think it is simply part of the reality we now live in. I don’t think we can turn it back. President Harrison promised budget monies. I don’t know if he can keep the promise. Even if he does, there is no real guarantee of how long it would last. But even without synodical funding, we need the CTS faculty to do the work that has been given to the CTCR. They should “sell” themselves to donors as think tanks independent of the synodical bureaucracy. This is very appealing to the CTS constituency and it is true and necessary work. I think, maybe naively, that there are donors who would be attracted to it. I think CTS could make a direct appeal to the sons of Robert Preus to aid them in this effort and might even name an actual think tank “The Robert Preus Institute.” The Quarterly could transform. It could grow and be marketed. CTS could stop giving it way and stop addressing obscure theological subject. It could be the front man for the Institute and directly addressing, in a theological way, the issues of the Missouri-Synod. The Institute could nold more conferences, retreats, elder-hostels, youth gatherings, and do more to promote the faculty as speakers-for-hire. In fact, I would make honorariums payable to the seminary not to the men who speak. It would be part of the faculty duties to go and speak and promote the seminary and work for the Institute. It would not be a way for under-paid faculty to make extra money. I know this will be tough on the faculty, even as a cut in pay will be, but times are tough, and it could pay off by saving the seminary and posturing it well for the future.

The other thing CTS could do in the current synodical economy is beef up continuing ed. CTS could become a theological center for laity and clergy. They could offer certificates and degrees. People want to earn some recognition. R.C. Sproul was very successful in this kind of endeavor and did a great service to his church body. Issues, Etc has proven that there is a real lay desire for theological discourse and training. They are willing to pay for it. LC-MS day-school teachers are all required to get masters degrees by the State. Most of them go to local universities and obtain mainly worthless masters’ degrees in Education. Most of them love Theology, that is why they aren’t teaching in public schools, yet most of them are woefully under-trained in Theology. The seminary could tap into that market. It could offer a special program for teachers that could be complete in a few summers and on-line. They could offer similar programs for other professional church workers, including all the pastors on the roster who didn’t go through a regular seminary program. Pastors are also looking for degrees and prestige. The D-Min program is fairly accessible and practical. It could be expanded and different versions of it, for musicians or those with special interests, could be developed and offered.

There is also a continuing interest in languages that CTS is uniquely posed to offer. Pastors need refresher courses in the Biblical languages. Lay people are interested in this also and there is a constant need for research languages. Concordia Language Villages, run by Concordia College Moorhead, Minnesota, is multi-million dollar outfit. Why doesn’t CTS create an immersion German program? What about Latin, Greek, and Hebrew? Could Japanese be taught? Nearly every pastor in the United States could use Spanish!

As radical as it might sound, the other thing that CTS should do is raise their admission standards for the M-Div program and turn students away. That just can’t be the bread and butter anymore. The students who come ought to be the cream of the crop. In this vein, CTS should get out of the alternative programs. Let CS-StL specialize in lay ministry, DELTO, SMMP, and the many other quick and non-academic routes onto the LC-MS roster. CTS should focus on academic theology and music. That is where they are strong. That is what their constituency and donors want. That is what they are good at. Besides that, they need to demonstrate why there should be two seminaries. Right now there is little to distinguish one seminary from the other since they offer virtually identical programs.

Sadly, all I have are ideas. I don’t have money and I am no expert in these things. The ideas probably have some holes. But I love CTS and I pray for her, her faculty, staff, and students daily. That library needs to be finished. CTS needs to remain in our synod as an institution that trains pastors and theologians. The synod needs her. I pray she remains and I pledge my support, meager as it is.


  1. Pastor,
    There's another article over on BJS addressing this. I think you have some good ideas about diversity yet keeping the Seminary strong.

    I like the idea of online courses for lay folks. I'm pursuing an online MAR through Concordia Chicago; it wasn't offered at CTSFW, I looked. My profs at CUC are great because they're all Bible Faculty, if you keep looking at BJS you'll see some other significant problems CUC is having because they aren't listening to their Bible Faculty. Maybe we should streamline for more reasons that what you have listed.

    Steve Foxx

  2. I think these are all good ideas. The only question is whether they are too little, too late. The assumption of Fr. Petersen's post, it seems to me, is that things are not fundamentally, radically wrong. Some tweaking around the edges will do: some cut salaries here, saving on utilities there, a few extra lines of revenue.

    I hope he is right; I fear he isn't. I am afraid that the problem is more radical and thus calls for more radical solutions.

    I also think this is an opportunity for the Synod to get back to basics. The seminaries are in trouble. But isn't this one of the three reasons we say the Synod exists? For the sake of unity in pure doctrine, for the sake of training men to serve the church, and for the sake of sending men to find his elect among the nations. Doctrine, seminaries and universities, and missions. That's what we exist for.

    The seminaries are (I fear) is serious trouble. This should be a wake up call to the Synod to get back to basics. Fr. Petersen doubts that the Synod will listen, and is thus a pessimist in that regard. I doubt that a couple of percentage points off the salaries and a few more donors or grad programs will fill the hole in the bottom of the boat, and am thus a pessimist in that regard.

    What Petersen and I agree on is what should grab everybody's attention: there will be no return to the enrollment of the '90s and early 2000's.


  3. Further - May should tell us a lot about how radical the problem is. One year of being 20 or so calls short is an aberration, a bottleneck in the market. Two years in a row, though, is a side of a "new normal."


  4. I think there may be an elephant in the room we are ignoring.

    Specifically, I'm wondering what the Council of Presidents thinks of the seminaries, particularly of Fort Wayne. I'm wondering why, for instance, President Saunders was able to generate so many calls into his district, but there is no evidence of similar success in any other district. We gave him the Sabre of Boldness largely because of his efforts in this regard; the unspoken part was that his efforts were rare. Why is that?

    I certainly hope I am wrong about this, but I think it's quite possible the anti-seminary, anti-Fort Wayne sentiments expressed openly by some Synodical bureaucrats some 20 years ago are now bearing some fruits we don't like seeing.

    I just heard, for instance, of yet another situation in which a congregation was encouraged to call a retired man to be their assistant, rather than to go to the seminary. How many such situations are there? How much of this glut is manufactured?

    And what can be done about that, if my suspicions are confirmed?

  5. Fr. Eckardt,

    I can name several other DPs who were likewise trying to gin up some calls over the past four or five years - which is not to say that Saunders did not deserve the Sabre last year. He came through during an expressly hard time for an unprecedented number of men from Ft Wayne. But that is a trick a DP can pull only so often - you can't come up with 10 or 12 calls every year and over the course of the past four or five years several other DPs - some neutral to both sems, and particular fans of one or the other - had already done the ginning. As a newly elected DP, last year was Saunders' chance to look over his district and come through: and he did, marvelously. This year, however, I know that Pres. Saunders' well in Iowa East is pretty much dry.

    As for your more general point about the COP and the seminaries: there is no doubt some DPs favor one sem over the other - if you ask, many will tell you plainly why they favor one over the other.

    But do the majority of DPs not care for Ft Wayne? I don't know. While some DPs have been very up front with their preferences, others have not, and in those cases all one has to go on is anecdotal evidence which is usually little more than hearsay. In such cases, we all usually just believe what we want to believe.

    Again, this May will tell us a lot. Last year, Fort Wayne bore a disproportional amount of the burden. At least part of this was indeed due to the fact that a larger percentage of Ft Wayne graduates have traditionally been called as sole pastors, while usually around half of the St. Louis grads end up as assistants/associates (I did the math on this a few years ago - it's really a striking difference between the two sems). However, the imbalance was VERY disproportional (4 or so short at CSL, 20 or so short for a much smaller graduating class at CTS).

    On this first call day under Pres. Harrison's watch, will the shortage (for all the information leaking out of both seminaries is that there will again be a shortage of calls) be more proportionally borne? We'll see. I know that the expectation among students at CSL is that it will be. There, the scuttlebutt is, "Fort Wayne took a punch in the gut last year, and this year it's our turn." Make of that what you will - campus rumors are either spectacularly wrong or amazingly prescient. We won't know until we know.


  6. Oh - and on the retired pastors taking the assistant pastor spots, or not retiring into their 70s, etc. No, there is nothing you can do about that. As I mentioned before, that is economics. As long as the Synod does not have union-type rules against working while drawing a pension, that will no go away.

    And the reasons for this, as I mentioned in a previous post, are purely economic. If a church can pay an experienced pastor, a known quantity, less than a brand new pastor, an unknown quantity, and expect roughly equal service - well, that's a no brainer.

    I don't see us getting those union-style rules. A more pressing concern would be getting rid of "lay ministry." That is the (unbiblical, anti-confessional) phenomenon that is sucking up the area where we are really seeing a shortage: sole pastor parishes. On that, we should all be praying and acting.

    And, if I might interject another uncomfortable aspect: stewardship. Many of our "permanently non-calling" congregations - number in the hundreds - could use a good Law-Gospel talking to from the DP about faithful, sacrificial giving.

    If you ask me, there are two concrete things a DP could do to improve this situation: 1. End lay ministry in his district (several districts have) and 2. Teach "permanently non-calling" congregations about Biblical, sacrificial giving for the sake of having Word and Sacrament ministry in their midst. If a DP did those two things, it would matter if he hated one seminary or the other, it would generate so many calls that he would just have to end up taking guys form each.


  7. As a pastor in Chicago and as a member of the NID Board of Directors I am very close to the problem of "non-calling" vacancies. In Chicago, there are many - very many - of them. There is absolutely no reason these churches cannot come together and work out some arrangement in which they can Call a candidate to serve them except parochialism. They don't want to work together. They want things to be the way they used to be. I do believe that our DP is trying. But there is only so much he can do. The problem in the large suburban churches is different. They are "raising up" their own pastors through SMMP and feel more comfortable doing that than calling a candidate, for obvious reasons.

  8. I heard just today that there are something like, oh, what was it, 28? calls going out to seminarians at St. Louis and Fort Wayne combined. Now I forget, it was either 28 or 38, a very low number either way.

    But get this: of all of them, exactly one is going to Fort Wayne. One. That's more like a one-two punch.

  9. Why not assess a per capita annual fee per LCMS member? $20/member/year should pay for all the seminaries and then some. I believe the European seminaries operated this way.
    Money problem solved.
    My $20's in the mail.....

  10. Fr. Eckardt,

    That sounds a little too low and unbalanced even to my pessimistic ears. We'll see - but I don't think it will be that bad.

    Mr. Veenman,

    That would be against one of the great strengths of the Synod's original founding: congregations support the Synod out of love, not our of force or fear. We (rightly) recoil at Synodical taxation.


  11. I understand that the American church recoils at a per capita assessment. Each congregation could, of course, refuse the suggested amount. And since when has this been considered a "great strength of the Synod"? It is, rather, an extreme weakness, because without proper funding for the seminary the entire synod is undermined and its ministry of the gospel in Word and Sacrament. A certain (named) amount can be encouraged without being coerced.
    +layman Veenman

  12. Also - get rid of the basketball teams. I believe Ft. Wayne has something like $20,000 budgeted for the basketball team...


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