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A blog of the Evangelical Lutheran Liturgy

Don't go to the seminary

Three men from St. Louis and 21 from Fort Wayne are without calls. Ever since 2004 there have been "left-over" seminarians each year (with the possible exception of last year - but then look at the shortage this year: seems they beat the bushes extra hard last time). And these numbers do not count the number of calls that were finagled and are doomed from the start because the placement director is trying to put a square peg in a round hole. "You practice open communion, have women distribute the Supper, and make up your own liturgy each week? Would you like an assistant pastor?"

There is no clergy shortage. There will not be a clergy shortage. There is a clergy glut and will be for the foreseeable future.

* The LCMS has been on a downward demographic trend for thirty years for various reasons we don't need to argue about (among them: the decline of rural America and the Rust Belt, a failure to accept children as a blessing from God instead of as a commodity-liability to be limited to two or three, goofy non-Lutheran practices that have driven many away, insert your reason here ___________).

* Small congregations struggling in the sticks or the city are closing and the members are being absorbed by suburban and exurban parishes. This translates into fewer pastors needed.

* The Boomers are not going to retire. They will work part time as assistant pastors forever. When you hear about our huge need that is just around the corner because of retirement - go out and find a 60 year old pastor and ask him what he wants to do in five years.

* Small, rural congregations in NE, KS, the Northwest and elsewhere have been taught for over 20 years now that they don't need to pay a pastor. They can just get Bobby McFarmerguy to become a licensed lay deacon and get by for free.

* Large, hip congregations who model themselves on the Saddlebacks of the world are sick of having to retrain seminary graduates to fit their MO. This is the real push behind SMP. They are already hand picking men from their midst to form them into their assistant pastors and have them become so through SMP.

* Do you know how many men are on CRM status already? That is - how many men are eligible for calls but not serving a parish and looking for calls? I don't know either. It's so high that they won't tell anybody what the number is.

In short: we need fewer sole pastors and fewer assistance/associate pastors. Wish it weren't so. All those bullet points are bad and should not be true. But they are all true. They are not changing anytime soon.

Why do you keep hearing about a clergy shortage and the need to train more men? Because the seminaries want to both stay open. It is fun to work there. They are institutions and institutions don't like to die. They need tuition paying students to stay open. They need men to pick up and move there and keep it all going. So they have convinced themselves of the need. But it just isn't so.

[By the bye - this is why the deaconess program exists, too. It's certainly not because of a hue and cry from congregations for this service. It's just another revenue stream for the seminaries. ]

So don't go to the seminary. There is no guarantee you will get a call. You'll go into massive debt to pay some professor's salary and then just might find yourself unemployed (and if you were pre-sem and majored in theology: unemployable) and very unhappy.

If you read all this and are still not deterred, you still want to be a Lutheran pastor, you fulfill the Biblical mandates for what a pastor should be, you have the blessing of your own pastor, your wife is OK with all this, and you still want to pack up and move to St. Louis or Fort Wayne: then have a back up plan. If you are single and celibate, knock yourself out. You'll hurt no one but yourself, and that harm will amount to nothing more than a couple of interesting years before you head off to the next thing. But if God has given you a wife and children, your first call and duty is to be husband and father and provide for them. Make sure that you can earn a paycheck if you don't end up with a call or get kicked out of the seminary or your first call for being Lutheran.

And for the rest of us who are so blessed beyond what we could ever deserve so as to be actually preaching the Gospel and making our living therefrom as the Lord ordained: let us be thankful, let us not sit around daydreaming of a "better call," and let us be honest with young men on the cusp of this very important decision.

Pr. H. R.42 Comments