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The church’s need for more pastors

Your phone rings, and you see that the call is from one of your parishioners who rarely contacts you. You set aside your preparation for this coming Sunday, and you answer the call from one of the sheep whom the Lord has entrusted to your care. Within an instant, your entire day will be flipped upside down; your plans dropped. Your hopes for whatever you thought you would accomplish that day are no more. “The plans of man will perish.” Because once you hear the trembling voice from the other end, you know. “Pastor …” and then, a pregnant pause. Before the person even says another word, you know. A pastor’s ears over time are tuned by the Holy Spirit to recognize that voice all too well; it is the voice of a hurting, lost sheep — a helpless voice crying out in the wilderness who is longing to hear the voice of their Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ.

I remember my first phone call like that. “Pastor, my dad is in the hospital and he’s not going to make it.” It was only a few weeks into my ministry. The tears began to flow from the other end. I dropped everything and went to the hospital. I had the privilege and joy of giving the man’s father the Lord’s Supper, one last time before he took his place at the Eucharistic feast along with the angels, the archangels and all the company of heaven. I still remember how his gaze was fixed straight above and the way he shielded his waning eyes with his hand as he heard these words from Scripture, “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb …” A few weeks later, another parishioner called, “Pastor, I was just put on hospice.” And then another call, “Pastor, Frank just collapsed. He is unresponsive.” And then another, “Pastor, the doctors suspect it’s cancer.” And another, “Pastor, I’m going to kill myself.” Throughout nearly seven years of serving the flock at Trinity Lutheran Church in Clinton, Mo., that shaky, desperate voice became more and more familiar: soon-to-be widows weeping in their car on the way to the hospital, overwhelmed parents, left-behind spouses, troubled teenagers, veterans and the abused. So many sheep. So many wounds.

“They were harassed and helpless; like sheep without a shepherd.” The sheep need a shepherd. A pastor must be willing to drop even the most glorious of his plans — no matter how grand he thinks they may be —- all for the simple task of caring for the sheep. He must be willing to leave the 99 behind and care for the one, not with words from his gut or mere words of man, or the reasons of man, but with the words of God, the voice of the Good Shepherd. “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul.” And again, “I will never leave you nor forsake you,” and again, “Be still, and know that I am God,” and again, “Nothing will snatch you out of my hand,” and again, “For God alone, my soul waits in silence for my hope comes from Him. He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress, and in Him, I shall not be greatly shaken.”

Last year, 148 congregations of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) called its two seminaries for a shepherd to be sent to them. More than 30% did not receive one. The trend is worsening. In 2020, it was 23%; in 2019, 18%. More and more congregations are left without a shepherd because fewer and fewer men are taking up this eternally crucial task. Thousands upon thousands of sheep are currently gathering without a shepherd in the office. Countless more do not even know the voice of the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ. Join me in praying for the myriad of congregations in our beloved LCMS who are without a pastor, for the millions who do not know Christ and for the men currently considering the Lord’s call to shepherd His flock. Join me in praying to the Lord of the harvest to send faithful laborers into His harvest fields. You can help by encouraging a young man you know to prayerfully consider becoming a pastor.

If you are interested in talking about becoming a pastor, or even if you are just now beginning to consider future church work, you can call or text me at 573-768-5752 or email me at kuekerj@csl.edu; I would love to talk with you and pray for you. If you know someone you believe could make a great pastor someday, please send them this article.

Rev. Jesse Kueker is an admissions officer at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.