“I’m a Seminary dropout,” says Rev. Bill Wrede, director of Ministerial Admissions at Concordia Seminary. “I came in ’85 and made it nine months and quit.”
Bill didn’t follow the “normal” route to a Seminary degree. After dropping out during his first go-round, he served in St. Louis, Mo., as an interpreter for the deaf for 10 years. Then he returned to the Seminary for a second time, completed the Master of Divinity (M.Div.) Program in 2000 and was called to New York City as a mission field developer for the deaf. Eleven years later, he joined the Seminary’s admissions team.
Rev. Micah Glenn, director of Recruitment at Concordia Seminary, hasn’t gone the “normal” route since graduating from the M.Div. Program in 2016. His first call was to Ferguson, Mo., as a domestic missionary, and then he accepted a call to Lutheran Hour Ministries (LHM) as regional ministry facilitator.
No longer do most students come from families in which the father was a pastor; only 16% of last year’s incoming class came from such families, and 28% of the class was not raised in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS). That means the stereotypical route to the Seminary is just that — a stereotype. So prospective students who aren’t sure about the Seminary find that Bill can understand their perspectives. Those who can’t see themselves serving in parishes but want to serve God in other ways can learn from Micah’s ministry experiences.
“You’ve got to listen to find out where they are,” Bill says. “It doesn’t matter if you’re at a Concordia University System school meeting with a pre-sem guy or an eighth grader at a church. They’re still somewhere on this whole journey.”
Of last year’s incoming class, 34% said they were not influenced by their pastors to come to the Seminary. Prospective students in such a position need a spiritual guide to help them determine God’s will, and for many, the Seminary’s Enrollment staff provide that guidance.
Bill uses a 1-to-10 scale to determine where potential students are on their path to the Seminary. One is “I’m just starting to think about being a pastor or deaconess.” And 10 is “I just need to know how to sign up.” The people from 1 to 5 are discerning vocations, so Micah helps them explore their strengths to determine what ministry could look like for them. The people from 6 to 10 are the ones Bill leads through the details of admission — entrance requirements, scholarships and figuring out Seminary life.
Micah and Bill aim to build a relationship with each prospective student, and for some, that relationship can develop for years before the student enrolls. For instance, one young man has followed Micah’s ministry from Ferguson to LHM to the Seminary. Micah continues to invest in that relationship. “Who knows what this kid can do for the church?” he says.
“[Recruitment is about] what the church will look like 50 years from now.”
– Rev. Micah Glenn
Micah also is developing a network of student recruitment ambassadors around the country who will extend the Seminary’s reach and make recruitment efforts more effective.
“The ambassadors will be in parishes. They will be in circuits. They will work and live where people are,” Micah says. “The ambassadors will be in places at times when we simply can’t be there and they will help point prospective students to the Seminary.”
Micah hopes the ambassador program will nurture a culture of recruitment in the LCMS. His fellow congregation members were key in influencing Micah in his pursuit of the ministry, and he sees the ambassador program as a way to empower more parishioners to become part of the recruitment process, to help them recognize they have an important role in encouraging future church leaders for the sake of future generations.
“For me, being faithful in recruiting is about not only what the Seminary looks like today but also what the church will look like 50 years from now,” Micah says.
Micah and Bill recognize that through all the relationship building, paperwork, testing and other steps it takes to get men and women to the Seminary, the Holy Spirit is the One guiding the process. At the heart of their work is Christ’s admonition in Matt. 9:38: “Pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
“People have been praying for years for some of our students who are coming this fall,” Bill says. “There’s sometimes a lot of growth that happens long before they come here.”
Erica Tape is a communications specialist at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.