Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The price of notoriety...

Under the title Megadeth bassist studying for Lutheran ordination at Concordia, we read in the St. Louis papers of the former bass player for Megadeth now studying for the Pastoral Ministry of the LCMS through the SMP program.  You can read the story in the paper by clicking here. 

I am not so much interested in this story, but in the way the SMP program is now being used.  Besides, with a name like David Ellefson, you'd think he would already have been a Lutheran Pastor (former pipe smoking and lutefisk eating kind of Lutheran Pastor who feels right at home in Cosby sweaters and clerical shirts in all the latest colors).

When the LCMS adopted this short cut to spending three years at the Sem and a vicarage, the reasons seemed salutary and urgent enough -- minorities who could not be uprooted from their home but needed to be trained to work among ethnic groups requiring intimate knowledge of the culture and language. Sure, this wasn't the only thing mentioned but it figured prominently in the decision to combine other short circuit paths into one more uniform way to ordination. It even offered the hope of cleaning up the mess of those non-ordained already serving in justified arrangements (lay ministers, deacons, etc., doing Word AND Sacrament ministry supposedly contrary to our Confessions and our own polity). But, in the interest of finding say, a Korean or Sudanese to serve their own population, even some who had reservations thought that a more churchly program that shortened the coursework was not a terrible thing. So the thing got passed.

Now, the bassist from Megadeth (his name is actually David Ellefson) is neither Korean nor Sudanese and, to my knowledge, is a member of no ethnic minority (except the aging population of former heavy metal band members), yet, he is part of the SMP program  -  one of more than 100 students enrolled in the program, which is limited to students who have been sponsored by someone already working in the ministry.

Combining his musical abilities and his faith led Ellefson to a deeper exploration of Christianity, he said. And it led him to start a new music ministry within the walls of Shepherd of the Desert Lutheran Church.  He called it MEGA Life, partially a play on Megadeth and an oblique reference to the Gospel of John: "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly."  MEGA Life became so popular in Scottsdale that Shepherd of the Desert Lutheran Church bought a new space for the ministry.

Last year, their Pastor Jon Bjorgaard asked Ellefson and MEGA Life director Jeremy DaPena to enroll in Concordia's Specific Ministry Program.  So in this case, the SMP program is being used to legitimate the Christian rock music which this parish is using to springboard a new "ministry."

Now, I have no bone to pick with any former metal band member or groupie who finds Jesus and wants to be Lutheran (at least I will admit to none) but it seems that this program was not tailor made for this circumstance.  In fact, it sounds as if the program is being used because somebody does not want to go to seminary (who does).  Even more so, it sounds to me that one of the reasons both sponsor and praise band leader do not want to go the seminary route is to keep the guy from becoming too Lutheran (hanging around with the likes of church musician Henry Gerike at St. Louis or talking liturgy with Art Just at Fort Wayne).

We in Missouri have many messes in our house and the SMP program appears to be one of them.  According to the paper, more than 100 are enrolled currently (and this compares with 400-500 regular sem students).  So 1 of 4 or 5 of our PITs (Pastors in Training -- dontcha just love acronyms) is an SMP PIT.  That represents a pretty healthy segment -- even somewhat a revolution for this staid mostly Midwestern church body with its all Midwestern seminaries.

As I have complained so often, the biggest changes often come to the church through the back door -- without formal adoption of that which we know up front.  The short changed course work might be forgiven if it were temporary but, in the end, the SMP people will become Pastors just like me (well, probably not as old, cantankerous and curmudgeonly as me).  Or, will they....   Will we end up with two classes of clergy (not by design but by default)?  Will we end up with more and more of that which is non-Lutheran becoming mainstream in our church body because our clergy are less and less equipped to judge what is of the faith and faithful and what is not?

It makes for a great story -- at least it did until somebody checked out the communion policy of the sponsoring congregation and found out it was a "Come to Jesus" congregation in which, it seems, anyone and everyone is welcome (with or without Lutheran faith, much less membership).

Well, there you have it... my own complaints about somebody who gets to wear the same collar I wear (though who probably would never wear it) sans the seminary formation with all of its extra baggage of doctrine and practice.  So in the end you see my concern is really about somebody who got a clerical collar at a discount and my fear that such discounts have the potential to turn the LCMS into the BigLots of Lutheran Churches -- all that is church but without the big price tag, oh yes, and the quality of confession.  What the world does not need is a Filene's Basement of Lutheran Churches... nor does it need any Wal-Mart LCMS franchises.  We need most of all authenticity and honesty of who we are and why we do what we do, how we do it.... Lutherans in doctrine and practice.


Anonymous said...

In my community there are two ELCA congregations and one LCMS which was started as a mission congregation by a young man who went through the SMP program. Unfortunately their worship and ethos is highly structured around American evangelical paradigms and their Lutheran identity downplayed.

This pastor feels that liturgy can get in the way of attracting people to Jesus (I know because I had a conversation with him about why his congregation prefers "modern" worship (their own self-description).

Sad that the only LCMS entity in this community feels no affinity for its Confessional roots.


Anonymous said...

The quality of online versus residential education is a hot debate in universities across the country. Why should the LCMS be any different? Those who choose to fight online education should remember the attitudes of many buggy repairmen when the automobile first hit the streets: Adapt to the new technology or go out of business.



The LCMS should hire a consulting firm that specializes in online education. Have the firm build an online learning system from scratch using open source software: http://sakaiproject.org/

Make the online classes as academically rigorous as the traditional classes.

Expenses for an online university student should be the same as a traditional student, minus room and board. If the SMP program is preferred because it is cheaper for the student and for the sponsoring congregation, then it is time to either drastically reduce tuition or eliminate tuition altogether.

If there were a way for the LCMS to fund the salaries of seminary faculty/staff, there would be no need to charge students tens of thousands of dollars a year in tuition. Unless the LCMS thinks that saddling new pastors with $50,000 in student loans with no promise of a call and a $35,000 a year salary is good stewardship……

I would hope that news of a celebrity entering the SMP program is enough to get the LCMS to come to a resolution of the SMP versus Seminary issue. Will this still be an issue within the LCMS ten years from now? Why can’t the LCMS ever seem to get its act together?

What is the alternative to seminary education? Having an easy degree in “Religious Studies” from an unknown, overpriced, crappy liberal arts college is enough to qualify you as a “preacher” for a non-denominational shopping mall church. Such a pastor preaches sermons based on emotion.

I would prefer a pastor who has a masters degree. Such a person is a scholar and a theologian. I would rather hear a sermon from him. The promoters of SMP should leave the anti-intellectualism with the Evangelicals, where it belongs.

Has anyone noticed that many of the ongoing problems in the LCMS can be traced back to the districts. The willful destruction of confessional Lutheran Campus ministries, the unwavering support for the SMP program, and the promotion of the Willow Creek Association can be attributed to the districts.

The “pastor shortage” is a myth invented by the COP to justify substandard qualifications for the pulpit. Compared to seminary graduates, graduates of the SMP program would be more likely to promote the principles of the Church Growth Movement. Lutheran in name only: Is this what we want the LCMS to become?

The LCMS is a sick organization. Sadly, since I believe in confessional Lutheranism, there is nowhere for me to go. The WELS definition of fellowship is too strange for me, while the NALC and the LCMC are (still) too liberal. I guess I am stuck.

Will someone please reign in the power of the LCMS districts. I thought that the only job of the districts was to place pastors. How could this mission creep have happened. What can be done to fix it? I suspect that no matter what the LCMS as a church decides, the districts will be there with an opposing program to commit sabotage.

Anonymous said...

The LCMS needs to support our two
seminaries by giving at least 25
percent to their total budgets. The
funding of our seminaries currently
is only 1 to 2 percent by the LCMS.

We need to eliminate the need for
a cheap route like SMP for our future
pastors. Residential Seminary
education is the hallmark of a Synod
truly interested in producing good
theologians and not former Thrivent
agents who are second career men.

Lee said...

Pastor Peters, let's be fair. We in the ELCA have clearly earned the title of "The Walmart of Lutheranism" (without the financial success of Walmart of course). At best, the LCMS is "Target".

Terry Maher said...

Our new pastor is a product of the Alternate Route Program. He was a Lutheran day school teacher and principal for years before that. To my understanding, the ARP differs from the SMP in that it is residential and not sponsorship based, and unlike the MDiv does not require Hebrew and no degree is granted.

The SMP is a curious animal indeed. For one thing, we have fully trained graduates who cannot find a call -- so we need more pastors? For another, how different a story when a man hears the call to the ordained ministry later in life and leaves his previous life to follow it, from when a man hears a call later in life and the church leaves its previous life to follow him.

Anonymous said...

Maybe Ellefson is getting poor advice. Why not suggest he study Church Music. Seems he would benefit from growing in vocation he already has rather than trying to do something completely different.

SKPeterson said...

On-line education can work - church history and systematic theology are two course streams that could lend themselves to this sort of technology. The problem comes in the study of homiletics, where rapport and feedback from instructors and fellow students can help shape the important pastoral vocation of proclamation in a positive manner. Also, the friendships formed in seminary provide a good grounding and anchor for the seminarian; isolated on-line learning might, and I emphasize might, lead to isolated pastors who are too often islands unto themselves and disconnected from the broader church. Yet, they also become isolated from and less affected by the more pernicious elements of church growth in St. Louis. A mixed bag for sure.

Anonymous said...

"Those who choose to fight online education should remember the attitudes of many buggy repairmen when the automobile first hit the streets: Adapt to the new technology or go out of business."


No one is against online ed per se. In fact those SMP guys could sign up for online Greek and Hebrew right now and demonstrate their proficiency and ability and commitment before being allowed to apply for SMP. While that may be fair for Ellefson, is it fair for a recent immigrant who really needs to learn some more English and work full time just to make ends meet?


Anonymous said...

from your blog post:"Now, I have no bone to pick with any former metal band member or groupie who finds Jesus and wants to be Lutheran"
Read the story again. Mr Ellefson is still touring with Megadeath. Looks like he plans on staying with the group after he is "ordained". He hasn't left his former life behind. Will he be able to serve both masters?


Janis Williams said...

I think Mr. Ellefson DOES work with a minority group: those who like that type music. There aren't as many as we might think. Remember popularity is very much media driven.

Anonymous said...

@ T (anonymous)

If you have been following the arguments all over the Lutheran blogs, opponents of SMP are taking a "residential education or nothing" stance. My point is that distance-based education is at every university, and it would be foolish for certain people within the LCMS to wish it away.

Regarding waiving the language requirement - once you make an exception for one person, then the door is wide open for abuse.

Anonymous said...

"Regarding waiving the language requirement - once you make an exception for one person, then the door is wide open for abuse."

No, it isn't. Lots of colleges have lots of programs and they have different, distinct and narrow requirements. One exception does not lead to another, unless of course, you want it to. The seminary can say that it made an exception for Mr. Mbuto to serve his small church that would otherwise have no service in a language they understand. That doesn't obligate them to make exceptions for heavy metal musicians who don't want to take off from their busy lives to study in residence. There is no congregation being deprived of the opportunity to hear the Word because Mr. Ellefson is not available.

BrotherBoris said...

Pastor Peters, you have simply outdone yourself today. I love your phrase that you don't want to see the LCMS turned into the "BigLots of Lutheran churches". Priceless.

Anonymous said...

Pastoral preparation at our Sems in
the LCMS is an absolute mess. The
sems are trying to get warm bodied
seminarians to fill "pastoral
shortage" myth. Until we realize
there is no pastoral shortage we
will have the chaos currently in
our sems. Sems need students to pay
their overhead. Seminarians need
calls to pay their student debt.
Parishes need more members to afford
a full-time pastor. MERRY-GO-ROUIND

Jerry R said...

The SMP does have a place but it is being abused both by individuals and by congregations. I have a good friend who completed the DELTO program and is now an ordained pastor in a rural parish that could in no way afford a full time pastor. besides his vocation of "pastor" he also owns and operates his own sheep ranch.

In another familiar instance a church in our area decided they needed an assistant pastor and one of their members wanted to go in to full time church work. They hired him as a lay worker and he recently completed the SMP and was ordained. This congregation would have been better served by sending him to seminary for 4 years or calling a candidate. Our Seminaries are cheating the church and the LCMS is cheating the congregations by allowing this scenario to happen.

Anonymous said...

David Ellefson admits to having Lutheran faith from a very early age, as opposed to being some "groupie who found Jesus." I think the blog post is simply prejudice toward him and his profession and is masked in a complaint about regulations with the online program he is in.
The article is written in a sarcastic and negative tone, with no lack of derision.
I am christian, recently having found my way back to God, through His grace and mercy. I find this article offensive and an exemplification of exactly what is wrong with organized religion--bickering, prejudice, malice, hatred, anger, resentment....to name a few.
I read and reread the blog and failed to find a pure expression of the love Christ professed we as christians exhibit toward one another.
I doubt that dubbing someone a "groupie who just found Jesus" qualifies and taking extra care and giving extra love to anyone.
I have been considering joining Shepherd of the Desert Lutheran Church, and no, I'm not a fan boy of David. I was just drawn to the church and Pastor Jon.
But after being exposed to all of the uproar over this, I would not ever consider joining. I will continue my morning meditation and prayer with bible reading, and continue to ask God to guide me to a body of christians that may serve as a support group and example of how to live the way Christ taught. This "heathen drug addict who just found Jesus" has enough street smarts to spot hypocrisy when it rears its ugly head.

Pastor Peters said...

This was not about Dave Ellefson or about his faith and I apologize for any confusion. The point here is the SMP program to bypass seminary and give certain individuals a short cut to being a Pastor. If Mr. Ellefson can find time to travel with his band, do his praise band stuff at his church, and otherwise have a life, could he not go to seminary? This is not about making it easier for those whose lives would be more messy by the uplift and move to seminary, but about unique and urgent circumstances which make seminary nearly impossible... That is all...

Anonymous said...

Well, again, after reading your post which was not about David Ellefson and only about the SMP program, I found it to be negative and have denegrating remarks and language. We never know who is watching and for this christian being new in my faith and path, negativity really stands out.
I feel your message would have been better if you discussed the SMP program only and refrained from saying some of the things you did. It left me with a very poor impression.
I do appreciate the fact you are a pastor and though I don't know you I get the feeling you do care, so thank you for the work you do.
I guess I'm saying that a message of love goes so much further than one rife with phrases such as "groupies who just found Jesus." I've been to churches where almost no one can attend because of the standards that are set.
And in closing, it seems that if Paul was good enough to carry the word of God, David Ellefson certainly is. Who better to reach the young, and his profession which is full of people who would benefit by hearing the word. Somehow when church politics get involved the trees get lost in the forest.

Pastor Peters said...

To be fair, Anonymous, the original story WAS about Ellefson (those parts in italic) and maybe it was a low blow to call him a minority of aging metal band members but I can see in no other place that my words were about him -- about his Pastor who has used Ellefson to start a music ministry and who sought the SMP program so Ellefson could run it as a Pastor, yes. About the fact that the SMP was sold to us primarily as a means for essential ethnic ministry could continue while the one serving them got ordained but Ellefson is not a member of any such minority, yes. I am happy whenever a former Lutheran or former nothing has a come to Jesus moment but I do raise legitimate questions about this man and this SMP program and about the many others who are enrolled but seem to fit none of the selling PR by which our church body sanctioned this short cut to a clerical collar.

This is NOT about church politics or anyone's love or lack of love for heavy metal music or any other kind of music. This is not about Ellefson or any one member of the SMP program but the big PR moment that his role in this SMP program provided has raised many honest questions.

That is all.

BTW when I was young I had very long hair and sang in a Christian music ministry group that did not sing hymnal music. We all come from somewhere. So do not infer that my comments (lodged toward the PR story that occasioned this article) were directed to a man I have never met and can only assume has good and honest intentions about serving the Lord. He was the star of the article and I reacted. If I offended you, I do apologize. I was offended that the article seemed to say that the LCMS to which I am member created a short circuit to ordination just for folks like him. That was not what we were sold when the program was conceived.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the clarifications. I was remiss in not knowing about or recognizing the article you refer to. I appreciate your open dialogue.
The love I mention I guess is more about interpersonal relations. I don't think love of music of any kind is at play here. I just picked up on the tone of the blog and again, was not aware of the preceding comments. I apologize for my part and again thank you for the discussion. I hope your ministry thrives.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if Jesus and His disciples spent as much time 'meandering' in their thoughts about who was fit to wear the starched white collar under their vestments how much work would have been done. Oh, none. They got their hands dirty and loved the loveless and served the undeserving. Perhaps the time devoted to meanderings could be better spent
Serving. I would think that's how many of the SMP students spend their time. And I'm sure many of them don't worry whether they Wear a white collar as they are serving. "if I speak with a silver
Tongue and convince the crowds but don't have love I leave a bitter taste with every word I speak" God is love and this is the greatest of His commands. ( how disappointing to see yet another 'good' Lutheran pastor the reason that people won't come to a church. This must have been what Jesus

Anonymous said...

So I take it that you have no hobbies and devote your full energy and every waking minute to the cause for which you accuse Pr Peters of being remiss???