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How to become a Lutheran pastor

If a young man were to ask me today, “How do I become a pastor?,” one way to answer that question would be to come to Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. One of our main reasons of existence is to form pastors for The Lutheran Church—-Missouri Synod (LCMS). The typical and preferred route is for a student to move to St Louis and to study residentially for the Master of Divinity degree. It’s typically a four year course of study in which students learn Hebrew and Greek so they can read the Bible in its original languages. Students also learn the teachings of the Scriptures on various topics like who is God, what is Baptism and why does the church exist. There also are courses on the history of the church’s theology. Of course, there are also practical courses on things like how to preach, how to teach and how to lead a congregation. The third year is a one year internship called vicarage. That’s a basic summary of the course of study.

BUT, becoming a Lutheran pastor is a lot more than just going to classes and writing papers. The founder of the LCMS, Dr. C.F.W. Walther, once said that becoming a pastor is not just learning a bunch of knowledge. Learning pastoral theology is much more about learning that involves one’s entire person. He said it’s more like a disposition or a condition of the soul. To explain this, he pointed future pastors to 2 Tim. 3:17 — that the Scriptures are given to us by the Spirit of God for teaching, reproof, correction and training in righteousness “that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” Walther went on to say that this training is not able to be attained simply by human will power alone. Instead, it’s training that the Holy Spirit alone can give. In a different writing, Walther called this the “Holy Spirit’s school of experience.”

Martin Luther once laid out a simple method for learning theology: prayer, meditation on the Word of God, and enduring the trials and temptations of the devil (oratio, meditatio, tentatio). And this is ultimately how someone becomes a pastor. God forms pastors Himself through the means of coming to Seminary where we pray and study God’s Word, but He also forms future pastors by sustaining seminarians through their struggles with the devil. At the Seminary, we gather together every day in chapel where we pray and meditate on the Word of God. In the classroom, professors lead students in prayer before they dive into the lesson for the day whether it be understanding the Greek genitive in Gal. 2:16 or reading through a dense theological text like Luther’s Bondage of the Will. As seminarians face everyday life challenges, Satan sows his seeds of doubt, despondency and sometimes even despair. Becoming a pastor is a spiritual battle. But Jesus Christ conquered the devil by His crucifixion and resurrection, and He has given us His Spirit. As the Apostle John still reminds us today, “He who is in you (the Holy Spirit) is greater than he who is in the world (Satan)” (1 John 4:4 ESV).

Check out our podcast, Under the Fig Tree, or explore our programs for more information. And then let’s find some time to chat about your questions or next steps.

Dr. Benjamin Haupt is associate provost and associate professor of Practical Theology at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.