Thursday, April 28, 2011

Whither the future of the pastorate in the LCMS?

Rev. Harrison, president of the Missouri Synod, here lays out the best possible case for packing up and going to the seminary. In this article, Rev. Harrison responds to many of the points I have raised before. One of the best aspects of Rev. Harrison's character is his optimism and love for the Church of Christ and our little Synod within the Church. If you are considering the seminary, you should read his article and think it over.

It will come as no surprise to readers of this blog that I disagree with Rev. Harrison when it comes to the outlook for the future need of clergy in the Missouri Synod. I do not think we will need to replace "300 retiring pastors each year" - and Rev. Harrison admits in his article that that number is indeed probably too high. And while Rev. Harrison is more sanguine on the prospects for the US economy, I think this is rather a red herring. An economic recovery will not, I think, translate directly into a need for more pastors (although it may translate into many of the part-time calls going full-time, which is not nothing). In his article Rev. Harrison also did not directly address the issues of "lay ministry," rural population collapse, and the birth rate among LCMS membership - all of which must be factored into the equation for our future need (and, of course, the latter two are closely related). I know that President Harrison would like to be doing more to deal with the "lay ministry" problem, and I look forward to seeing what actions end up being taken over the course of his tenure.

Our differing viewpoints no doubt come from our differing experiences (mine by necessity much more limited than his), personalities, and the vantages from which we are viewing the problem. But there are two things that I think we both, the optimist and the pessimist, agree on:

1. If you wish to put yourself forward as a candidate for the ministry of Christ's Church, there is no better way to do it than by attending one of our seminaries in the residential MDiv program.

2. The future is unknown. So while some (pace James) say, "Next year I will go to this or that city and study and be ordained," a wise man will know that he does not know the future, and so before he heads off to CSL or CTS he will have a back up plan to feed and clothe his family just in case the Lord has other plans for him than the ones he has made for himself.



  1. I am new to the Lutheran church (and specifically the LCMS), so my question will undoubtedly demonstrate my ignorance:

    What do you (and those who post to such other sites as Steadfast Lutherans) mean when you refer to "lay ministry" (particularly since the term is usually written using ironic quotation marks)?

    What is the difference between legitimate lay ministry and illegitimate "lay ministry?"

  2. Mr. Simms,

    The word "ministry" is used in many ways in the various parts of Christendom today - it may refer to the youth group washing cars or to the pastor's preaching of the Gospel and administration of the Sacraments. It is in this latter sense that the term has historically been used in the Lutheran Church.

    In our Augsburg Confession's fourteenth article, we confess that no one may preach or administer the Sacraments unless publicly and "ritely called" (rite vocatus, ordentliche Beruff). Only those called to the Office of the Ministry (pastors) may preach and administer the Sacraments.

    Alas, since 1989 the LCMS has been in clear violation of this article of faith - and has instead been allowing laymen to go around preaching and administering the Sacraments specifically without being called to the Office of the Ministry. This is a scandal and a breach of the orthodox Lutheran faith. Thus, the scare quotes: because I, for one, believe that such "ministry" does not have the blessing of God.


  3. Thank you, Pastor.

    If I may ask a followup question, while I assume preaching means giving the sermon during the Divine Service, does it also entail such things as teaching adult classes, writing about the faith, etc?

    In other words, is any kind of religious teaching (beyond perhaps teaching children's Sunday School classes) restricted to those who have been called to the Office of the Ministry?

  4. The preaching and teaching that is reserved for those called to and placed in the Office of the Ministry is that sort of speech that speaks "by the command and in the stead of Christ." Another way to look at it, would be to say someone who speaks in such a way that it is clear that he is claiming to speak for the Church and for her Lord.

    Obviously, preaching from the pulpit on Sunday morning is the chief example of this sort of speech.

    There is a flip side to this restriction: it is a reminder to the preachers that in their calling to preach and teach the faith, they are not to go out on any limbs of their own whim. The pulpit is not the time for personal reminiscence or theological speculation - a man is called to the pulpit to preach what he knows to be Christ's Word with Christ's own authority.

    This does not preclude laymen from being good historians and theologians. It precludes them from proclaiming their researches "by the command and in the stead of Christ" from the Church's pulpits.



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