Every now and then I get myself in trouble for agitating against the short cut paths to ordination created by my own church body and for sticking up for first career clergy as what should be the norm and second career the exception. I will admit I sometimes sound resentful and curmudgeonly about the subtle shift in our Synod where the single, first career seminarian is the oddball in the sea of diverse people who are anything but young and single. According to Synod's Reporter, 40 percent are over the age of 30, 47 percent are from an LCMS Concordia University, 60 percent are married, and the age range is from 21 to 69 years old with an average age just under 30. I am happy for every one of them. Don't take my comments in the wrong way. But I still wonder why nearly half our guys studying for ordination are over 30 and coming to the Sem from other careers. Why was this not their first choice? If it was their first choice, why did it have to be deferred?
According to Synod's own figures, one fifth of our active Pastors are in MY age group -- 55-59! The next biggest segment are those aged 50-54. Combine the two and nearly 40% of our Pastors are age 50-59. Now another shocking number. The next biggest category are those 60-64. If we add up those 50-64, the total is 54% of the entire ministerium of the LCMS. Those under 40 constitute but 19% of the total active Pastors in our church body!
My point is this. There is something wrong when the ministry is not the first choice of our best and brightest. As I look back upon those who entered St. John's College in Winfield as pre-sems with me, I recall some of the brightest and most gifted young men I have ever known. Certainly that was true at Concordia Senior College as well. Those were troubled times for our Synod and still the classrooms were filled with bright, dedicated, and gifted young men seeking ordination. My constant worry then was whether or not I was smart enough or gifted enough to serve the Lord in His Church -- especially when I compared myself to my peers!
What is wrong today? Could it be that we are not paying enough to attract them? Some of the cynics may think this but I don't. Student debt and low entry salaries are real enough factors but they are not the primary ones, I believe. Could it be that there are more options available today? It is true enough that the career choices are exploding but it has been more than four years since hiring was up and people in college had a real expectation of a great job at a good salary at the end of that college career. But I don't think this is the reason either. Could it be our culture no longer values the religious vocation in the ways it once did? Heck, I was inspired by Bing Crosby and those priest movies back then but neither the high esteem of religious vocations nor the lack thereof contributed much to my decision. I don't think that this is a primary reason for the situation today.
I will be blunt. I think that too many Pastors (sometimes me included) speak of the Ministry as if it were a burden we are not sure is worth the effort or the energy. We talk about the church structure as if all the folks in St. Louis were idiots and all our elected leaders were clowns. We talk about the work of the kingdom as if it were a losing battle to the forces of darkness and the weapons of the Gospel were useless against the enemy. We discourage men from considering the pastoral vocation either by overt words or by the attitude we bring to what we do as Pastors. We talk about the Synod as if the glory days were in our past and about the need to break up church into little bits of people who like each other and get along theologically and in terms of personality.
Now don't get me wrong -- I don't think we should gloss over the errors or minimize the problems before us. But is it not important for us to exhibit the confidence in the Lord of the Church as much as we discuss the errors and debate the problems? I was told once that in politics and religion, the conservatives tend to eat their young. In other words, we sometimes place the bar so high that in order to be happy, hopeful and healthy we must be in heaven (or, perhaps, commiserating and complaining since we do seem to enjoy that).
If we are to prepare young men to take our places, if we are to equip the Church to do Christ's bidding, if we are to meet some of those problems with solutions, and if we to do the work of the Kingdom faithfully, we need to exhibit the hope we have in Christ to the world. We need to be positively Lutheran and positive about the Lord's work. You cannot simply be against things and, thankfully, our confessions are not simply bullet points of condemnations. They speak positively of who we are, what we believe, what we confess, and what we teach.
- I spend a week at the Concordia Theological Seminary each year and am energized and encouraged by both the faculty and the students -- especially by the worship life of that community.
- I am constantly amazed at the quality and quantity of deeply profound, very accessible, and faithful books published by Concordia Publishing House each year.
- I have grown to know and to be encourage by more and more faithful men whose confident ministry of the Word and Sacraments provides a wonderful face to Lutheran identity -- especially some of those here in the South.
- I have become acquainted with overseas partners and other Lutherans interested in a partnership with our Synod and have found these earnest and solid Lutheran folks from a huge variety of cultures (I am happy to accent Siberia, the Baltic states, Africa, and Southeast Asia, here).
- I have grown to know and am regularly impressed by the faithful leadership, theological integrity, and personal dedication of our Synodical leaders (both elected and appointed).
- I listen to Issues, Etc. and Worldview Everlasting, and a host of other exceptional media.
- I appreciate the good work of Higher Things and a ministry to youth that does not talk down to them or seek simply to entertain them as is the norm throughout the Christian world today.
- I read regularly some of the theological journals that both impress and challenge me as a Lutheran thinker and Lutheran Pastor (Logia, Gottesdienst, For the Sake of the World among them).
Remember Dickens Tale of Two Cities? It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way- in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
Could that be us? Do we speak this way? There is something wrong when the Church is no longer the vocational choice of the brightest and best. . . when we no longer inspire youth by our words and example. . . when we discourage the dreamers from joining the journey with old men. . .