Monday, October 4, 2010

Not a Lot of Movement...

From the News Service of the LCMS:

Update on Vacancies
COP Secretary Rev. William Klettke, president of the New Jersey District, reported that, as of September, 209 LCMS congregations were calling sole pastors; 33, senior pastors; and 33, associate or assistant pastors. He also reported 203 congregations with temporary non-calling vacancies and 395 with permanent non-calling vacancies.

As a frame of reference, Klettke also listed the numbers for September 2007: 349 congregations calling sole pastors; 58, senior pastors; and 83, associate or assistant pastors. That same month, there were also 418 congregations listing non-calling vacancies, compared to the total of 598 in September 2010.
In 2007, the report did not distinguish between temporary non-calling and permanent non-calling vacancies, Klettke said.

"There is not a lot of mobility these days," said LCMS First Vice-President Rev. Herbert C. Mueller Jr., referring to the report and the state of the economy. He also added, "This is the lowest number of calling congregations that I remember and the highest number of non-calling congregations."

And we answer with the Lutheran question:  What does this mean?

As one blogger put it, if you are planning to go to Seminary, better have a back up plan for employment.  As another commentator put it, "I hope you like where you are" (if you are a Pastor currently serving a Parish).  Or, as another Pastor ventured, "I feel like I am between a rock and a  hard place..."

The circumstances are clear.  Pastors are not moving around.  That is both a good thing and a bag thing.  It is good in the sense that we need to be encouraging longer pastorates and when Pastors are in short supply, the tendency is to shorter pastorates.  It is bad in the sense that there are congregations and Pastors needing a change and that change is probably not forthcoming -- not even for the next 18-24 months.  The bad news is that we have seminarians awaiting placement, expecting placement, and preparing for placement -- men and their families who will probably not find a place.  The bad news is that we are blowing out all stops trying to recruit men for first and second career shots at becoming Pastors and this recruitment effort is counter to the actual need of the Church at this point in time.  The bad news is that do not have a back up plan -- we do not know what to say to those who need to move, except you won't be moving, and to those seeking placement, except you might have to find another job at least short term.  The bad news is that the biggest growing sector of our congregational demographics are those congregations permanently vacant or non-calling -- those without the resources to support a Pastor full-time.  The bad news is that we have literally hundreds of CRM Pastors -- Pastors who resigned their calls and are eligible for a call but realistically will probably not get one.

We can talk economy or state of the Church issues but the most significant issue is that we need a jump start. While there are some rushing to try out new things, I would offer an old solution.  How about guaranteeing a Pastor half salary, housing, and health insurance and bringing back worker priests so that these marginal congregations can get a called Pastor who works part-time in the secular world and part-time at the Church.  Such an arrangement might mean that Districts will need to plug some bucks into the package with the congregation to come up with realistic amount for half-time pay, housing, and insurance but it would be money well spent in comparison to the options of embracing a non-Lutheran style transformational program designed to turn the church around by making it something other than Lutheran.  So if the District put up $10-12,000 per parish, the parish came up with $20,000 plus housing, and the Pastor worked part-time, it would give both the Pastor and the parish an opportunity.  The financial support need not be permanent -- we do not want to create congregations comfortable with being on the dole, so to speak.  We could limit the District support to 3 years or at the outside 5 years.  But, the congregation would have incentive to work toward this goal, they would have the benefit of a well-training Pastor to help them toward this goal, and the Pastor (candidate or seminarian awaiting placement) would have the opportunity to be ordained and to get to work.  Since Pastors awaiting calls are often enthusiastic and energetic about getting to work in the vocation for which the Church has prepared them, I believe that we would see some of these congregations move from marginal to solid.  And I believe that those who became secure and grew to support a Pastor would be grateful and generous in their mission support back to the District which gave them this chance...

What do you think?


Rev. Eric J Brown said...

That, or we just get rid of the category of "vacant, non-calling." The Synod has no right to tell a congregation to close, but if a congregation does not wish to have a Pastor of the LCMS, that congregation has no need to remain in the LCMS. I think this would spur some moves towards needed dual parishes that have been resisted due to pride, and it would encourage some people to go not to their own little club, but to a church where the Work of the Church can be properly supported.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Also, if Africa is begging us for teachers - lets send some teachers. Take the guys who have some good parish experience, send them over to teach and be theological teachers in Africa - and that would clear up some mobility here in the states. No reason why we couldn't get 50 or so guys to head overseas and teach - that's 50 more calls here to be filled.

Anonymous said...

Currently 38%of LC-MS congregations
have fewer than 200 members. This
type of parish strains to support
a full-time pastor financially.
Iowa District East this year made a
dual parish situation in Davenport.
A pastor was called to small Immanuel
Lutheran Church and to serve as a
chaplain at the Davenport Lutheran
Nursing Home. No full-time pastor
had been at Immanuel for at least
4 to 5 years.

Chris said...

Seriously, how can you be a congregation without a pastor/priest? Laymen cannot distribute the Eucharist, the living body and blood of Christ, cannot proclaim the Word, cannot grant absolution. How can these congregations honestly think that they can still be congregations without a priest? And why would they want to be? It doesn't make sense.

P said...

I think Eric is on to something when he suggests African missionary/teaching work. I'm from Australia, and here the shortage of pastors has meant we've had to pull out of a lot of missionary work, army chaplaincy etc., and focus only on serving the parishes. But in history, when the Church has had an oversupply of pastors, it hasn't treated this as a problem but an opportunity to send out workers into new fields.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Thomas - maybe you guys should raid the LCMS too... I'm sure there are a few guys who would be interested in heading down under. Invoke Sasse and you will draw some really good ones.

Anonymous said...

Prs. Peters & Brown,

Thank you for both of your insights and ideas here. Getting men into the churches by way of a worker-priest situation is a fine idea. As is an intentional effort to send well-trained pastors to Africa or other areas of the world where help is needed in training other pastors. Unfortunately, both situations involve money, which our Synod, districts, and even parishes have declared to have less of as of late. If parishes cannot support their districts like they used to (or should), how is the district to come up the $10-12K to supplement the parishes in need? And what do we do about the numerous other parishes that currently are trying to support a full-time pastor but are barely making it or are depleting their savings so quickly to try to make it work? The number of parishes that may need help from districts could realistically double. I think that until we get a handle on the stewardship of our fiscal blessings as a church body, this idea may not work long-term. However, by encouraging ideas like the worker-priest and overseas educators, perhaps congregations would be more willing to support the work of their districts. I do like your ideas gentlemen - certainly something to work toward, and quickly!

Mark said...

I'm a second career relatively recent seminary grad serving a church NY looking forward to staying for a good long time. We have to realize that it is a time for sowing. Nobody has done it for so long.

I'm the famous focus group of one, but I've been LCMS from the cradle and had a job that moved me a bunch before heading to the sem. I can barely contain on two hands the number of congregations I know of destroyed or almost destroyed (including the one I now serve) by the minister. (I won't get into the list of reasons, but you can probably tick them off.) When you start to add the number of congregations that are narcissistic admiration societies of a minister who should have retired instead of just retiring on the job you can explain numbers real fast. Calling a new pastor is like a 50/50 lottery. Often the pious local elder you know looks much better and he gives what's left of the congregation time to heal or at least get out of shock.

I don't know how to say this nicely, so I probably shouldn't say anything. But instead of crippling the new guys who haven't shown their fruits yet, why should we not prune the pastorate at a different age group that has a track record to look at? I know our theology and polity work against that. And it would require leadership and hard choices by DPs. It is much easier abusing the weakest members. Here is you M.Div, your $70K in loans starts repayment in 6 months, we'll be in touch when something comes up - stay flexible. Would you consider Target part-time, I can get you into a congregation of 20 if you can move yourself there.

Pr. Chris Hinkle said...

I am presently serving as worker-priest without district subsidy. I am fortunate enough to have a part-time secular employer who will let me be a pastor first. That helps to mitigate some of the potential problems that cause Walther and Fritz to warn against such arrangements. You should know that problems they warn about are real.

Dual and triple parrishes are a time-honored solution. New plants are great too. Our congregation was planted by a man who was called with a minimal stipend as a missionary at large. He could not afford to marry and start a family until he had established three congregations. One failed completely, one became a normal sized congregation, and the very first never passed 80 in attendance. Curiously, 20 years later that little congregation was later yoked to another new congregation that is also now thriving. So 0 positions became 2 1/2.

"The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few, pray the Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers."