I wonder if the crisis of vocations for our church is not more self-inflicted than imposed upon us by cultural, economic, and social changes. Yes, we live in a different world. I know that. But the factors which have contributed to the decline are not all external. Some of them are internal. Many of them. So what has changed?
- We no longer esteem the pastoral office as highly as we once did. We are quick to criticize pastors and complain about them. Such conversations make a big impact upon a young man who may feel God's call but hears all around him negative talk about his pastor that he knows could all too soon be said about him. Pastors are drains on church budgets and people are saying all over our Synod how we cannot afford them anymore. Pastors need to be more than pastors but visionary leaders and agents of dynamic change to rescue a moribund church from itself. It can be daunting to think that being a pastor means emceeing a religious variety show every week to entertain people into giving their money and making a return visit.
- We are confused about what it means to be a pastor. A young man may not be sure he can live up to a modern day job description. We are surrounded by conflicting ideas of what pastors are supposed to do and be. Does he equip and delegate or do what is to be done? Must he save the congregation, be solely responsible for making it grow, find a way to appeal to those not in the congregation on Sunday morning, and make the faith winsome to people spiritual but not religious? He may not even realize that none of this is in the call -- which is about preaching, teaching, administering sacraments, visiting sick, shut-in, fallen away, sinners secure in their sins, burying the dead, praying, etc. . .
- We have decided to finance the ministry on the backs of those who desire to be pastors. Yes, our seminaries are offering free tuition right now but there are still costs involved. The undergraduate cost of a church college pre-sem program alone are daunting and have priced most out of the market (allowing our church schools to largely ignore what was once their core mission). Then when they come out of seminary with debt, we pay them as if they were supposed to work for free. Pastors have become budget busters for small congregations who either cannot or refuse to find ways to support the office. Everyone else looks forward to retirement but we expect pastor's retirement to mean serving full-time for part-time pay in a congregation that cannot afford to pay them what they are worth.
- We don't think as much about education and training as we once did. We have invented programs to churn out people who are just as good (perhaps better) but without residential seminary education. Online programs that reduce the coursework to a minimum have become the drumbeat of our people and our leaders. What that says to a young man considering the ministry is that it is no big deal, anybody can do it, it is not worth investing yourself into something as demanding as three years of classroom work and one year of internship. Unless you have extra money and want to, this is an optional extra no longer esteemed as valuable except by old foggies like me and the seminaries themselves.
- We do not catechize at home like we once did. Ask any confirmation class how many of their families even eat together much less pray before meals. Our busy lives and filled schedules have spilled over onto our children's lives and we have squeezed out any room for a prayer life or devotional life as a family or as an example to our children. Sure, this is not true of all but it is more true of most than it once was. Time is our most valuable commodity and we show what is valuable by how we spend our time. Work and pleasure come first for most of us. God and church compete for the leftovers. Plus we have set a poor example by attending church every other week or once a month and calling it faithful. Even if our family does not do this, it does not take much for a young man to look around and see who is missing from the pews or Sunday school classes half the time or more (assuming they still attend Sunday school).
- We don't know our church music and we are too cheap to pay a decent organist so music is no longer the faithful handmaiden of the Word in many congregations. We press the play button and music flows from speakers. Or we have a praise band and a playlist drawn not from the sturdy hymns of old or the solid hymns of more recent vintage but the pop gospel hits of the latest contemporary music station that come and go with the style. So we carry around in our minds and ears little of the hymns that actually teach the faith. Instead church music has fallen victim to personal preference and become like muzak playing behind the scenes of our lives.