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.