Needed: Men Willing to Die
Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. (Matthew 9:35–38, ESV)
There will never be a time on this side of glory when the Lord’s command to pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest is rendered obsolete. The crowds are still harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. The harvest is still plentiful and the workers are few. Pray, therefore, that God send pastors to shepherd the scattered, harassed, and helpless. And not only pray, but also work. Ora et labora.
Christianity in America, including Lutheranism, is in decline. There are fewer congregational salaried clergy positions than there used to be. The positions remaining are often less than full time or at least less they do not have a full-time salary and benefits. Yet the need for pastors has never been greater. The Church has already entered into a period of soft persecution. The sheep need pastoral care that is more than hand-holding or “ministry of presence” to face this. They need the Ministry of the Word. They need sound theology, full of wisdom born in the fear of the Lord. They need liturgy and hymns that have seen persecution before and have stood the test of time. They need Absolution and the Sacrament of the Altar and rigorous preparation. They will need even more if the persecution ramps up. Pray that the Lord send laborers into His harvest.
When I entered into Seminary it was like joining the American Air Force in the 1980s. I knew that persecution had happened in the past. I knew it could happen again. I knew we had enemies. But I was joining during peacetime. It was possible to walk around town in a clerical collar and never have a single person get the idea that I was a child molester. The local hospital had special parking reserved for clergy right by the front door. They not only called me almost immediately when one of my members was hospitalized or asked for spiritual care but they gladly handed over the name of every patient in the hospital. The local golf course had a weekday set aside when clergy could play free. That is all gone.
Entering into the Seminary today is like joining the Marine Corps in 1942. Men didn’t join the Marine Corps in 1942 for an enlistment bonus or job training or the GI Bill. They joined because they believed in the cause and they were willing to die for it. Students who enroll in the Seminary today ought to know that we are at war and there won’t be any free golf and it is entirely possible that there won’t be any health insurance or a retirement plan.
If that deters men from enrolling, good. We don’t need men looking for a career. We need warriors who are willing and ready to suffer and sacrifice for the sake of the Church in love for Christ. We need men full of zeal and compassion who will give up the best years of their lives buried in books and deep thought, who will come to Seminary at great personal cost to do the hard work of readying themselves for even worse hardship.
In my estimation, the “job” has gotten progressively more difficult in the past 25 years, but it has also become more rewarding. My members today are more serious about the faith than they used to be. They have had to respond to the hostility all around them and the increasing evil of our culture and alienation in their families, workplaces, and communities. They are more eager than ever to dig deeply into the Scriptures, to study the history of the Church, to work at the nuances of a full confession of faith as expressed in the Book of Concord. They might be fewer of them but those that remain are more willing to make sacrifices of their own, to tithe, to volunteer, to attend, and they also recognize in this diaspora the blessings of pastoral care and goodness that God provides through the pastor and in the pastor by Word and Sacrament.
The Ministry has not gotten easier, but it is still a good life. It is real work. It has meaning and merit. It matters beyond this short life and into eternity. It is colored by heartache and disappointment, but it is filled with joy and peace. So what if we never retire? We get to read, to study, to teach, to pray, to be with God’s people, to be ourselves the beneficiaries of His grace in Word and Sacrament.
If you are a layman reading this, you must ask yourself why you haven’t pursued and prepared yourself for the Office. The level of interest required to read Gottesdienst is surely as strong an indicator that you might have the right sort of interests and aptitude for the Ministry as exists. Please think about it. Perhaps schedule a visit to the Ft. Wayne seminary and drop by Redeemer for a cup of coffee or a beer.
If you are a pastor, you need to recruit. You need to raise up men for this Office, colleagues who can stand with you in the trenches. If you are not willing to give your own sons, by blood or by confession, to the Ministry are you really committed to our cause? Consider having one of the Seminary recruiters come by on a Sunday or taking a young man to the Seminary yourself for a visit. If you do, please stop by Redeemer for a coffee or something stronger.
Besides Ft. Wayne, we also have a residential seminary in St. Catharine’s, Ontario and another in St. Louis. I know less about those but certainly, a clever fellow can figure out how to get a hold of those institutions and whether or not those places would be a good fit for him. Most of the Gottesdienst editors are Ft. Wayne alum and any Gottesdienst reader would be remiss if he didn’t consider Ft. Wayne as his most obvious starting point if he lives in the United States. Whatever affinity we enjoy with Ft. Wayne it is worth noting, however, that both Reverends Ball and Bussman are St. Louis grads and that Ball’s parish (St. Paul’s, Hamel) enjoys St. Louis field workers even as Redeemer does with Ft. Wayne. Editors-emeritus Reverends Berg and Berg are Mequon grads. Significant, as well, is the fact that the St. Catharine’s Academic Dean (himself a Ft. Wayne alum) is one of us: Dr. John Stephenson. St. Catharine’s gladly takes American students and places men into LCMS parishes as well as into the LCC.