Thank you for your support of our Seminary! Several years ago we started this newsletter to strengthen the ties between us by sharing news and stories about the Sem as it is today. About “the Sem as it is today,” let me share a few thoughts.
We are grieved by the announced closing of Concordia University, Portland, Ore., and the grief felt by their alums, students, faculty, staff and area pastors is obviously great. From this sad news, are there some learnings for us alums of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis (CSL)? Yes.
Late last year Forbes magazine published “Dawn of the Dead: For Hundreds of the Nation’s Private Colleges, It’s Merge or Perish.” You can read that in light of Concordia Portland or Concordia College Alabama, Selma, but my perspective is from our Seminary. The article “analyzed the finances of 933 private not-for-profit colleges with enrollments greater than 500. The wealthiest, elite schools are getting richer, and most of the rest, poorer.” They gave grades to colleges, A to F. “Most Cs and Ds, a total of 675 private colleges, are so-called tuition-dependent schools — meaning they squeak by year-after-year, often losing money or eating into their dwindling endowments.” Here’s a major contrast, why your seminaries are different from Concordia University System (CUS) schools. Concordia Seminary, St. Louis and Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Ind., are not “tuition-dependent schools.”
Ninety percent of our needed annual revenue comes from donations. That 90% breaks down to gifts we receive from you, your parishioners and your congregations. Some gifts are given annually. Others are deferred because people remember the Seminary in their wills. Endowments are usually established during a donor’s life and often supplemented when the donor goes to be with our Lord.
Over the decades the people of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) have not failed to support their seminaries, but almost all today’s needed support comes directly from donors to each seminary. Subsidy from the budget of the LCMS has declined to less than 1% of our budgeted income. The Joint Seminary Fund at the LCMS International Center serves as a portal through which gifts and bequests from donors are routed to the seminaries. This is about 4% of our needed annual revenue. Concordia Seminary endowments are managed by the LCMS Foundation, and our faculty, staff and students benefit from our partnership with Concordia Plan Services. Casual observers might think it economically more efficient to combine our seminaries, but that argument falls down on the fact that 90% of support to each school comes from its donors, who tend to be committed to their seminary of choice.
The seminaries’ different funding model, donations — not tuition support — has direct impact on why we recruit. We recruit workers so that congregations will flourish in the mission of our Lord Jesus. We do not recruit because we live or die by tuition money! Remember, 90% of our income is from donations. Now is the critical time to recruit. “The population of high school graduates will drop by 9% between 2025 and 2031.” So we need to keep recruitment for pastoral ministry in the forefront of Seminary and congregational life, to reduce the growing number of vacancies and have students in preparation for ministry when the number of high school graduates declines. Together our efforts are being blessed. We’re pleased by a significant increase in applications for next year for our residential programs. Today is the time to prepare the workers for coming mission opportunities. Thank you for helping recruit!
Your seminaries are in good shape. There are some 270 accredited seminaries in the Association of Theological Schools (ATS). Your two seminaries are larger than most of those 270 schools. Some ATS schools are free-standing, serving dozens and dozens of denominations. Such broad markets dilute the school’s confessional strength. An increasing number of theological schools are embedded in universities. Many are doing this to survive, but the result is often that they lose their self-determination in the bigger bureaucracy and budgets of the university. If our seminaries were dispersed to CUS schools, we’d lose the careful and caring polity the LCMS has long had for its seminaries. And dispersing would dilute our world-known academic and theological strength. The grass isn’t always greener! We’re blessed to be denominational seminaries, meaning, we know whom we serve, the people of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Granted, sometimes the close-knit nature of the LCMS creates issues, but this closeness is a key reason why both your seminaries are financially strong and focused on future mission.
While we grieve for the closing of Concordia Selma and Concordia Portland, we thank you for your many demonstrations of ongoing support for your seminaries. It’s a great time to be in the mission of our Lord Jesus Christ!
Dr. Dale A. Meyer, President
Concordia Seminary, St. Louis