A recent issue of the Living Lutheran took the state of the seminaries in the Evangelical Lutheran Church (a topic visited from time on this blog). It picked up the urgent issues of cost, diversity, cost, practicality, cost, declining enrollment, cost, and, well, cost. This is a conversation not isolated to the ELCA and many in Missouri are also talking about cost, the time it takes to train a pastor in the current structure of classes and vicarage (internship), and the ups and downs of our largely academic model. We are all talking.
One part of the article, whether by the author or inserted as a graphic by the editor, addressed the issue of a new kind of pastor. It is the realization that how we train pastors and the kind of pastors we end up with are interrelated. The president of Wartburg Theological Seminary has suggested that one of the issues is "We are not growing." One suggested that in the past 60 years Lutherans (and their pastors) have too narrowly focused on meeting the needs of their members instead of serving the community and the world. "We need [pastors/leaders] who can "cast a vision and help people own and live it." New pastors need to be trained for this kind of role and to handle the opposition from those who are not supportive of the shifting shape of the pastor and pastoral ministry. "I believe we are being called to find new ways to create genuine community."
While none of the speakers in this article were LCMS, I am confident that some, perhaps many, in the LCMS would echo these concerns. We are bleeding off members at a slower rate than the ELCA but that is hardly a definition of robust health and we face the same kind of gut wrenching issues in our church as the ELCA -- though with other answers. I would not be surprised if many in my own church body would not wonder about, if not thoroughly agree to, the need for a new kind of pastor. There are not a few who suggest that this is perhaps the biggest difference between our St. Louis and Fort Wayne seminaries.
Let me first admit that I am not at all suggesting the we have mined all the depths of pastoral education and training and that what we are doing now is sacred, good, and the ultimate end of all things. That said, I am concerned about the idea that the training of pastors is the equipping of them as leaders to deal with the problem of church growth. I can think of highly effective ways to pack the pews that would violate every canon and confession of our faith. What works to pad the numbers is not necessarily what God would define as faithful.
What pastors are called and ordained and installed to do is pretty well spelled out in the call documents. They have everything to do with Word and Sacrament and the care of the people with the means of grace. While we might want to train pastors to be leaders of men, the Scriptures are pretty clear that they are set apart as agents and instruments of God, specifically through the ministry of Word and Sacrament. In addition, if the world is becoming a more complex place and the state of the faith is being challenged more and more, it appears to me that we just might want to consider more training than less, a better education more than a more narrowly focused practical one. In the end the issues facing our people remain the same -- sin, death, doubt, and desire. The answers to our needs have not changed -- the Law to draw us out of the darkness of sin and its dominion to desire and the Gospel to forgive us by the mercy of God. The means is likewise consistent -- the Word and the Sacraments. The greater threat to Lutherans is not that we are not growing but that we may not know who we are anymore. This threat cannot be countered by a more practical education, by the training of leaders over pastors, or by adopting what appears to work among those who think numbers is goal.
A major factor is the failure of Lutherans to believe God when He says that children are a blessing. They are a blessing, not a burden which means fewer vacations and fewer toys. And Lutherans should return to their pre-1930s understanding of contraception and agree with Luther that it is a terrible thing.
Who spreads the faith to the community?
"Vocation" is a good start: each Lutheran taking his/her vocation seriously by making such your close friends, your co-workers, your neighbors and most importantly your family and children, know "the reason for the hope that is in you". It is true that the Pastor's primary task is to preach the Gospel and administer the Sacraments and to know and care for the flock: but he is one person. The congregation is many people and they all have many contacts with the world. We Lutherans have the task in our vocation of telling people, (especially those close to us or who are our friends), about our thirst and where we get water every Sunday through Liturgy/Bread/Wine and when we "Remember Our Baptism Daily" and tell people about what is in The Small Catechism.
I agree with "Anonymous." For the LCMS to grow, both pastor and congregation must be visible to the community, engaging people on a personal basis and often one on one, one soul at a time. The mission field consists of neighbors and friends, relatives and co-workers, strangers we meet along the way. Some of the places where we can labor include soup kitchens and food banks, where volunteers are always in short supply. We can do visitations at nursing homes once in awhile, and we can even bring tracts to the local jail. There is no shortage of needs in our community. Attending to the needs of the poor gives them confidence and hope, and in the face of the Lutheran volunteer, they will experience the love of Jesus. People come to Jesus as the Spirit uses caring Christians to meet them in their distress. The LCMS will grow if the church renews its commitment seriously to serving God. Synod meetings which address issues of theology and church music are fine, but the real work of conversion requires one to go into the highways and byways of this fallen world. I think that is what Jesus wants and expects of each of us.
More outreach to the community -- Great! Pastors can't handle it all alone, even with all the training. A lot of this needs to be delegated to the staff and the congregation.
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