As we look at the shape of pastoral formation now well into the 21st century, it would seem that the great temptation is to make it easier, faster, and cheaper. We in our church body already have multiple routes to ordination and some of them are pretty easy, fast, and cheap. I am not here demeaning those who take advantage of the options offered to them by our church body -- only suggesting that the answer to our need and to the challenges we face as a church in challenging times will not be fixed by easy, fast, and cheap. We need to sharpen the axe.
The reality is that the demands placed upon pastors today and the pressures and stresses of those within the congregations where they serve are increasing and not decreasing. We need better trained minds and better formed pastors for these days. The temptation may be to find a way to pare down what is required or to speed up the process but that is not the path we should take. I will agree that we need to make it cheaper -- not to the church but to the man being formed as pastor. We do need to endow and support our seminaries so that they can focus not on the bottom line but on the best we can do for the best men among us who will serve us in Christ's name.
It would seem that we have two basic choices. We can adjust downward both the expectation and the equipping of those trained up to be our pastors or we can adjust upward both the calling and our esteem of that calling. If we give into the idea that the decline facing us will temper the need for new and better pastors, then by all means, easy, fast, and cheap will do to form them for the office and for the church. But if we hope to reverse the decline, easy, fast, and cheap will not work.
It is more challenging to preach the Word with the distractions of the internet and the presumption that truth is one person wide and deep than it was in my parents generation. We must raise up better preachers. It is more challenging to preside faithfully at the Divine Service in an age of option, preference, and freedom that seems to know no bounds than it was in my parents generation. We must train up pastors to know the liturgy, lectionaries, and liturgical year so that they live in this sphere (and so that they can train the people of God to find a home there as well). It is more challenging to sift through the abundance of words to find the genuine Word, the half-truths and falsehoods to know the truth that sets you free, and to evaluate content and not just style. We must raise up better catechists. We cannot afford to let our people become the victims of the internet or the celebrity talking head or the prevailing mood of culture and have a duty to instruct them in the Scriptures, the creed, and the catechism. It is more challenging now to find lay leaders who will stand firm in Christ and offer to the churches their time and energy as well as their duties to spouse and children and home and work. We must raise up better lay leaders who will be proactive and not simply reactive to the trend and fad and issues and problems every congregation faces.
We need to spend more time sharpening the axe -- in the church, in the schools of the church, in the homes where our people live, and in our vocations as the baptized people of God. We have been hacking away at some of these issues with a dull axe and all it has done is left us tired, weary, quiet, and defeated. Now is not the time to explore easy, fast, and cheap ways to raise up pastors who will serve us in the ever changing shape of the next decade or two OR we will put our energies into making sure that the pastors we form are ready to meet those challenges. And, for what it is worth, it is not necessarily a choice between fewer but more well prepared pastors and more but less well trained. It can be both. It used to be. It could be again.