Our seminaries are not graduating enough new pastors. This shortage is serious. Last April more than 60 congregations received the sad news on Call Day that there would be no graduate coming to their church.
Some people come to worship rain or shine; almost nothing keeps them away. Others, sadly, have walked away from worship and don’t readily return. In the middle, between the always-come and never-come, are those who come but could drift away. “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it; prone to leave the God I love,” as the hymn puts it (Lutheran Service Book, 686, 3). Drifting away from the discipline of regular worship, they could lose their salvation. How many people in those 60-plus congregations will wander away from Jesus because they don’t have a pastor seeking them?
A unique strength of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) is that we are closely knit. We tend to think alike, to believe alike, and even if we’re no longer on Page 5, our worship styles are still much alike, centered in the Word of God and Sacraments, practicing confession, rejoicing in the creeds and our Lutheran heritage. Personally we probably know one another or about one another more than people in most denominations. When it comes to seminaries, few denominations have the tight relationships between congregations and seminaries that bless us. Most American seminaries serve multiple denominations but ours serve only the LCMS. Because we are so closely knit, we can meet the enrollment challenge.
This is not just an LCMS problem. Of some 270 accredited seminaries in North America, 55 percent are facing low enrollments in their Master of Divinity programs. As much as I’d like to be a pastor, I can’t go deeper into debt! I’m married; uproot my family? American seminaries have responded in many ways, like online and contextual programs. We have as well, but our main program continues to be residential formation through the Master of Divinity program. It especially produces the pastors, scholars and church leaders for the future of your church. We’ve revamped our recruitment efforts. Your continuing donations are making Seminary education very affordable. In your circles of family, friends and congregation, please encourage young people to set their sights on ministry, to become “helpers of joy” (2 Cor. 1:24).
Imagine the future with increased enrollments. Mission starts that would have languished for lack of a pastor will thrive and grow. Traditional congregations will be revitalized as new shepherds, millennials formed in the Word and confessions, lead old congregations into 21st century ministry. Parish education programs will increase a laity learned in God’s truth for the challenges of discipleship in today’s culture. Whole life Christian stewardship will make our congregations more responsive to opportunities than ever before. And most personally, your grandchildren, great-grandchildren and their generations will be served and brought into the arms of the Good Shepherd. They will sing in their day, as you and I do now before Jesus takes us home, “Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for Thy courts above.”