Thursday, November 7, 2013

Making sense of it all. . .

I have had a dozen or more people email me or even phone me about what is happening in our LCMS Seminaries.  The questions are usually about the SMP program but not only.  There are folks who have as their pastor someone who is currently enrolled in the SMP program and they have written me because they still do not get how you can be a Pastor while still not a Pastor or how their pastor is in training for a purely local situation (their parish).  There are folks who have come to believe that seminary is just too dang expensive for both church and student and how we need to close them all and provide an alternative on-line only path, including some local mentoring under a successful shepherd.  There are folks who have written because they are in fear of the residential seminary becoming optional and the non-residential SMP becoming the norm (I initially said I did not think this would happen but I was proven wrong again).  There are folks who complain that I did not figure out how to get the Convention to shut it down right away and those who insist that the seminaries can handle the problem and the Convention should have kept its nose out of the SMP program.

And then a wise Pastor of our Synod, whose opinions I respect greatly, sent me this link, where I found:
Enrollment statistics for the seminaries individually are as follows:
  • Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, reported a total enrollment of 633 students (30 more than last year), with 485 enrolled in programs leading to ordination, the same as in 2012.
Its ordination-track student body includes 267 M.Div. students, 16 residential alternate-route students and 202 nonresidential students.
  •  Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Ind., reported a total enrollment of 301 (7 more than last year), with 198 enrolled in programs leading to ordination (down 16).
Its ordination-track student body includes 162 M.Div. students, 12 residential alternate-route students and 24 nonresidential students.

I am going to skip commenting on Concordia Theological Seminary, Ft. Wayne, because its statistics indicate that the number of of SMP (read that non-residential) students is a very small percentage of the total.   What I want to note is the nearly equivalent number of residential and non-residential students at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.  It seems like a robust enrollment except that the total is the same as last year while the numbers of non-residential students has increased to 42% of that 485 total. 

My concern is real and basic.  Concordia Seminary has always been the flagship seminary of our Synod, the favorite child of a church with two seminaries.  Its campus is rooted in our history and, even with the blotch on history of the walk out and seminary in exile, it remains the child who can do no wrong in Missouri.  Let me note up front I am a Ft. Wayne graduate, one of those who had to choose a seminary when St. Louis was still largely empty of faculty and students after the walk out era.  Some will surely say that my comments are colored by my loyalty to the wicked step-child seminary.  Maybe so.  But the point is clearly about the financial viability of sustaining such an expensive campus (annual budget of what, $30? Million) when so many are non-residential track... OR the identity of a seminary whose graduates over time will have hardly set foot on the campus where the people are who must attest to the academic qualifications of that student, his pastoral formation, and his eligibility for call and roster status... OR the inevitable pressure such numbers will place on the other seminary (my alma mater) where the students are still fully tilted toward residential enrollment...  Just to name a few areas of concern...

So for these reasons and many others, those in our Synod who will sort this thing out and make recommendation to the large church have their work cut out for them.  By the way, I fear no competition between the schools and believe that we need not choose between them.  That said I do believe that both need to represent the mind of the church and faithfulness to doctrine and practice with equal enthusiasm and credibility.  I hope for both to be places of robust and confident Lutheranism and for an academic, devotional, liturgical, and vocational life to be thoroughly in tune with and reflective of our Confessions -- in word and practice.

But I am worried about this trend and I would expect that you should be as well....


Dr.D said...

The past homogeneity of the LCMS is largely due to the requirement that all pastors pass through one of the two seminaries. It appears to me that the problem is already upon the LCMS as more and more parishes opt for the modern (entertainment) worship styles, something that would have been unthinkable in an earlier era. Having an ever increasing number of non-seminary graduates in the pulpit can only increase this "diversity" and disintegration of the LCMS. Pastor Peters' concerns are certainly correct, but it appears to be too late to do much about it within the polity of the LCMS.

Fr. D+
Anglican Priest

Anonymous said...

Would this be a matter of "priorities?" Instead of raising the bar and caliber of pastors, it seems the LCMS is lowering it to meet "needs" of those who'd like to attend but can't afford it. It would be nice if the LCMS envisioned having THE BEST trained pastors on the planet for the sake of the Word. I consider this as another way the church is being dumbed down. And financially, I realize it costs a large amount to keep both seminaries open. However, it seems as though the LCMS manages to fund all kinds of things that don't seem as important as training those who are to preach. What's the priority here???? If it's highly educated pastors, then figure out a way to continue to accomplish this best.

I went to an organist workshop at the Ft. Wayne Seminary and I was blown away by the instructors and how much I learned. A price tag cannot be put on the value of the education that is being taught.

Unknown said...

My wife and I attended the Good Shepherd Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Sunday through Tuesday this week. Very good, but that's not why I'm commenting.
During the Morning Office on Tuesday, the second cohort (from Fort Wayne) of Specific Ministry Pastors (SMP) received their certificates. I guess that means their names will appear in the Lutheran Annual. Dr Fickenscher announced (also in the Reporter article, one of the SMP graduates will be coming to the Seminary to complete the traditional Master of Divinity program. That's good news!!
But I couldn't help but wonder how many of the students, especially older ones (I was 48 when I first stepped foot on campus), might have thought, "Why I am doing this, when I could be out there preaching and completing the course?" Of course, they would be a different type of pastor then.

Anonymous said...

Any dope can obtain a bachelors degree. Having a minimum of a masters degree is a good thing. Every LCMS pastor should have an M.Div. They should be scholars and theologians. They are expected to know much more than the laymen they serve.

The residential seminaries have priced themselves out of the market. Does the LCMS really need two (2!) seminaries. It would make more sense for Fort Wayne to relocate to either Paraguay, Kenya, or Novosibirsk. The need for trained pastors is much greater there.

If I wanted to become a pastor and go the traditional route, I would attend a Lutheran seminary in either central or south America and graduate with a 2nd language and almost no debt. Student loan debt of the pastors is crippling the congregations such pastors serve.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Daniel said...

Fr. D, I have a friend who is an Anglican Priest (not Episcopal, but conservative Anglican). It seems your small, various jurisdictions are having the same problem with "contemporary worship" complete with polo shirts, praise bands, etc. that the LCMS is struggling with. Yet you do have bishops, who have the authority to correct these anomalies; we will see how well they do with this.