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Answering the call

‘Here am I! Send me.’

“Here am I! Send me.” Those words immediately take me back to more than 35 years ago, when I was a
seminarian. Recruiters from LCMS World Mission were on campus to talk to us about opportunities to serve overseas. My wife, Deborah, and I had barely discussed it, but one afternoon we found ourselves in a room with the mission department representatives, along with four or five other couples. Each couple was asked to introduce themselves and say a few words about their background. As soon as Deborah and I finished talking, the recruiter looked at us and asked us point blank: “Would you like to serve overseas?” We looked at each other, blinking our eyes in surprise, not knowing what to make of the question — as I said, we really had not talked about it. Then we turned to the recruiter and said, almost in unison, “Err. Sure. Yes, we would be.”

In retrospect, we didn’t have a clue what was ahead. We didn’t know where we would be sent (eventually we were sent to the urban center of Guatemala City, Central America), what it would be like, the challenges we would face, the joys we would experience, the way our lives would be changed forever and the blessing for us that it would be to have answered that call. Like the prophet Isaiah when he was called by God, we truly did not have a clear idea of what it would mean when we answered “Here am I! Send me.” Yet we never have regretted it.

The students at Concordia Seminary are men and women who courageously have made a commitment to allow themselves to be sent by God, even though most do not know yet what that is going to mean. Certainly, they know that ministry in today’s world comes with enormous challenges. A general distrust toward the institutional church, the breakdown of the basic family unit, the competing philosophies of modernism and post-modernism, the political polarization our nation is experiencing, the sometimes-unrealistic expectations placed upon our church workers today, along with a myriad of other factors, all combine to create a stressful and demanding context for ministry.

Thanks be to the Lord of the harvest that our students are willing to take on that challenge — to say, “Here am I!
Send me.” The men and women who make up the student population at Concordia Seminary know full well that ministry will not be easy. They know that it will be a challenge no matter where they eventually are called to serve, but they also know that the powerful Word of the Gospel is needed in our world more than ever. And so, they are willing to face the challenge of ministry in today’s world, to say, as the prophet Isaiah said millennia ago, “Here am I! Send me,” not knowing what that will mean or where God will lead. We rejoice over their love of their Savior and His Word, and we respect their desire to dedicate themselves to making the Gospel known near and far.

These faithful and committed students know that what Jesus said 2,000 years ago is no less true today: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matt. 9:37-38 ESV). And so, while we thank God for their dedication, we know also that the laborers are too few. More are needed.

“Thanks be to the Lord of the harvest that our students are willing to take on that challenge — to say, ‘Here am I! Send me.'”
— Dr. Douglas Rutt

In keeping with our theme for the current academic year, “Here am I! Send me,” we have established student enrollment as a No. 1 priority. In answer to Christ’s call for more laborers and in fulfillment of the mission of Concordia Seminary, we realize that we must prepare and send even more pastors, deaconesses and other church workers to serve our troubled world. However, it is not about having additional students for Concordia Seminary and it’s not merely about “filling the pulpits” of our churches (although that is important too, with more than 450 Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod congregations currently in search of a pastor). It is about the Gospel and taking that message of God’s love to all people everywhere.

This is something, in effect, that we pray for every time we pray the second petition of the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy kingdom come.” Martin Luther explains what that means in his Large Catechism: “We pray here at the outset that all this may be realized in us and that God’s name may be praised through his holy Word and our Christian lives. This we ask, both in order that we who have accepted it may remain faithful and grow daily in it and in order that it may gain recognition and followers among other people and advance with power throughout the world.” To which he added: “All this is nothing more than to say: ‘Dear Father, we ask you first to give us your Word, so that the gospel may be properly preached throughout the world and then that it may also be received in faith and may work and dwell in us. . . .'”

You see, God is a sending God. He sends workers into His harvest. Those workers are needed to teach and instruct us so that we remain faithful to the message He has graciously made known to us, but likewise, so that the Gospel will “advance with power throughout the world.” Despite all the objections and obstacles that sinful human beings put in the way, and the fact that mankind is constantly rebelling against God, out of His love, He continues to send. God the Father sent His Son. The Father and the Son send the Holy Spirit. And now, God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit sends the church into the world to bear witness to the mighty deeds, to His “saving health” among all nations (Ps. 67:2). But more laborers are needed — for the sake of the Gospel.

To make enrollment a top priority for Concordia Seminary we need to recognize that every aspect of what we do as a Seminary community, which includes you, our advocates and supporters, must take that priority into account. We have created a new position, the associate provost for enrollment management, who will help us build a culture of recruitment, not only at Concordia Seminary, but throughout our church. A part of what we have before us is the task of building a more ethnically diverse student population, who are more able to reach our ethnically diverse society. We need to remind young people, especially, that the calling to ministry is a high calling. They say that the millennials and Generation Xers want to make a difference in the world. What greater difference can someone make than to be ready to serve his or her fellow human beings with the life-giving message of a loving God who is there to forgive, to restore and to help people rebuild their lives in the challenging times in which we live?

It is imperative that the Concordia Seminary community be more intentional in challenging people to hear and answer the call of our God, who said to Isaiah: “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” It is a daunting challenge, to be sure, but we know that there are many who are up to it. In a sense, to challenge people to consider church worker vocations, as pastors, deaconesses and other roles, is to ask them to make a leap of faith; but God does not leave us without the resources to do it. He gives His Word of the Gospel, which is the power of God (Rom. 1:16), and He promises to be with those He sends always, even to the end of the age (Matt. 28:20). That is why our students, and many new students to come, can answer the call with a resounding, “Here am I! Send me.”

Dr. Douglas Rutt is provost and professor of Practical Theology at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.