Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Looking ahead to Call Day

With a very late Easter, this year's Call Day, or really, Call Days, are scheduled at the Missouri Synod's two seminaries for May 3 and 4. For the past several years the number of congregations willing to call graduates as full-time pastors has been smaller than the number of graduates put forward by the seminaries for such calls. I have already given my own analysis of this problem as well as proposed solutions.

But what will this Call Day show us about the clerical labor market in the Missouri Synod? I've been following the issues about the lack of placements for a few years and these are my educated guesses of what is to come.

1. The trend of falling demand for full-time pastoral work will continue. There will not be enough full-time, 1 Cor. 9:14 calls to give one to each graduate seeking such a call. This trend began, at the very latest, with the class of 2004. Expect an announcement from one or both seminaries that several candidates are awaiting calls. Further, several of the calls that will be handed out in May will not be full-pay pastoral calls. It may be difficult to assess just how many of the calls will fall into this latter category since the seminaries are not required to make such details public knowledge (although especially St. Louis has taken some pains in actually announcing which calls are intentionally "worker-priest" situations at the Call Day service). However, I expect the total number of graduates not receiving a full-time call (that is, those receiving no call at all and those receiving a "worker-priest" call) to be in the 5%-10% range. For the purposes of this calculation, we leave aside those going on to graduate work, even though some of them surely would seek calls if they thought they could get them.

2. We will not see a repeat of last year where a vastly disproportional majority of the unplaced men were from CTS. I know some will disagree with me, but I do not believe that the COP as a whole "has it in" for Ft. Wayne. The testimony of more than two or three witnesses that certain District Presidents simply will not take CTS graduates is too overwhelming to be doubted, but I do not believe that this represents a majority of the Council. While we may well suspect that such biases among some members of the COP contributed to last year's imbalance, another factor that must be reckoned with is the traditionally high (and equally disproportional) number of students from CSL who take assistant/associate positions. As I narrated in a previous post, the greatest loss in demand for pastoral work is in small, semi-rural Midwestern parishes: this is going to hit CTS harder than CSL based on the historical trend of CTS placements to sole pastor positions in just these sorts of parishes.

However, last year was a frankly embarrassing breakdown in one of the material principles of the Missouri Synod: Synodical bonhomie. Look for the COP to bend over backwards to make sure that the number of unplaced graduates from each institution is in proportion to the size of their graduating classes. And yes, the district elections of 2009 and the Synodical elections of 2010 will only help this situation.

3. The big question: will all the men who don't receive calls in the first week of May receive them before the start of the next academic year? Or before next Call Day? Or ever? In one sense, probably - in a more significant sense: no. Yes, fields of service will probably be found for them in one way or another - some part-time, some full-time, some worker-priest.

However, it is an open secret that there is a large number of men on Candidate Status (once called "CRM") who are ready, willing, and able to serve but for whom no call can be found. Exactly what this number is can be difficult to determine; the best information that I can get seems to indicate that the total number of men on "candidate status" and "non-candidate status" is somewhere around 250. What proportion of those men are ready, willing, and able and what proportion are on "non-candidate status"? It seems that such numbers are not publicly available - but if we suppose that each district contains three men of the "candidate status," ready, willing, and able sort, we are already running over 100. At any rate, there is no doubt that it is greater than nil. Thus, any way you slice it, we have persistent clerical unemployment and underemployment in the LCMS - either because we have a shortage of congregations willing to issue I Cor 9:14 calls or because we have a glut of clergy: you can choose your own characterization.

I know that these issues are being debated in the highest offices of the Synod and I pray that God would grant our Synodical officials wisdom in addressing them. But this is all the more reason why these issues should also be discussed at the circuit, parish, and free conference level. Our Synodical polity, to say nothing of Christian charity, demands considered thought from all corners, for we currently have both a great number of sheep without undershepherds (permanently non-calling congregations, congregations served by "lay ministers," etc.) and a great number of undershepherds without flocks. It is a complicated problem - I have put forward my ideas in these pages before: if you have good ideas, you should discuss them here, in your Winkels, at your General Pastors' Conferences, with your DP, etc. This problem affects the whole Synod, and the whole Synod should be dedicated to correcting it.



  1. A DP who refuses to even consider a properly trained and certified pastor candidate from one of the Synod's seminaries must be stripped of his position and asked to retire.

  2. I am looking forward to what call day brings as well. I know that the unholiness of it (the process) as I have experienced so far leaves me exhausted and anxious. I might be exhausted and anxious anyway, but perhaps I would be more prone to pray at this point. I am afraid of praying for a brother NOT to get a call so that I might. Sick Sinner that I am I always seem to drift there. I hate myself for it.

  3. Lutheran Jargon,

    As I said, I actually think this problem is much smaller than the LCMS rumor mill makes it out to be. For example, in 2009 and 2010 candidates from Fort Wayne were placed in 31 of the 35 districts. The four districts not receiving men from Fort Wayne in those two years were New Jersey, Pacific Southwest, SELC, and Wisconsin South.

    Calls are especially tight right now, after all. How man parishes are even in the NJ and SELC districts? So how many can go vacant each year, and of those, how many want a candidate? That leaves only two larger districts that have not taken a candidate from Fort Wayne in the past two years. And I don't know anyone who would claim that Wisconsin South has a bias against Fort Wayne - so even a two year gap is not out of the ordinary.

    I know that testimony abounds that some DPs have, shall we say, voiced their concerns about Fort Wayne in forums public and private. But let's wait and see what 2011 brings. I bet those four districts get candidates from Fort Wayne.


  4. When I did my district interview for seminary I was told that if I wanted to come back to the district after seminary that I should go to St. Louis and not Fort Wayne.

  5. Dazed,

    Yes, such testimony can be multiplied. Was that your DP who said it to you or someone on the interview committee?


  6. The DP was not present. I was interviewed by two men and they both made it clear that the DP didn't like to call guys from CTS. They said they liked me, but that it would be much harder to get a call if I didn't switch to St. Louis.

  7. My circuit is calling three Seminarians this year -- 2 full time, and one would be a "worker-priest" set up. There may be another congregation that might be ready to try to get one of the guys who is still awaiting on a call this summer... and with some health issues there might be one more that would be in need by next year.

    The things I hear in my district is that two things will need to be seen: either more "alternatives to full-time ministry" - whether that be Worker-priest from the Seminary or SMP in a part-time role - or the formation of more dual parishes. The later seems to be an actual need -- we have 10 independent parishes in my circuit right now -- but I expect that in 5 years there will be at least 2 dual parish pairs... if stubborness doesn't prevail.


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