In an interview last week on Issues, Etc, The Reverend Herbert Mueller, First Vice-President of the LCMS talked about the “shortage of calls” in the synod. One of the commenters asked if it was proper to speak of a shortage of calls. While we can use the term colloquially, I think that a better term should be found. There can never be a “shortage of calls”, because it is the Lord who calls. To say that there is a shortage is to say that the Lord is not providing properly. In addition, Jesus says, “Pray the Lord of the harvest to send workers into the vineyard.” God sees a shortage of workers, because (all of) the people need to hear God’s word. Scripture also speaks of the people as “sheep without a shepherd” – And this is when Jesus is walking the earth. In other words, we have a desperate need for shepherding from God’s word. There are not enough workers to fill the need, because every person earth needs to hear this. Does that mean that just anyone should go? No. “I did not send them, but they ran,” says God in Ezekiel. Laborers are to be sent. How does this happen? God uses the church to call them.
The above explanation also shows why we can not speak of a “pastor surplus.” There is, to some extent, a shortage of congregations. There should be more. But that’s always true. And our Lord himself tells us that “Many are called but few are chosen.” A pretty direct way of saying “The World will not accept this message.” (A point made explicit in John’s Gospel)
So what do we have? (Naming it properly will, I believe, give us insight into a solution)
We have a surplus of candidates. That is, there are many more men who have said, “Here am I, send me” than there are resources to send them. God is (Through his church) saying “Not yet.” It is frustrating for a man who has given up everything to spend four years studying the Lord’s Word to prepare to serve, and then be told “Not yet.” But that is often God’s answer to prayer.
This is not the first time. As VP Muller points out in his interview, in the late 1930’s there was a desperate surplus of candidates. How bad was it? The synod started (created, invented?) the vicarage program to delay entry in to the ministry by a year. In other words, for an entire year there were no new candidates added because there were so many extra candidates.
So what are we to do? Add yet another year of training? (or in the case of the SMP program, add training?) The very existence of the SMP program shows the impracticality of this approach. Telling men that the seminary will require yet another year of their time, while the SMP program sends men through in months would be not delaying the entry of candidates, but rather delaying the entry of new seminarians. It would be a good way to kill the seminaries.
And yet, we have men willing to serve the church. Fundamentally, the problem is that we do not have the resources to employ them all. Has anyone ever wondered about the huge number of churches started in the 1950’s? It wasn’t all suburban growth. There were men who were told to go and start a mission congregation in a certain area. They went, preached, taught, and the Holy Spirit gathered a congregation in that place. Today, districts are cutting staff, so it is not a tenable idea to say that districts should place hundreds of men as paid missionaries. If we had the financial resources, we could do this on a fully funded basis. We don’t so we can’t.
So what are we to do? I have recommended before, but it bears repeating: Offer the men calls to serve as worker-priest missionaries. We offer these men, who are qualified and certified for ministry, and many who have served congregations, the opportunity to build a congregation. No, it’s not fair to have them do that while they work full time, but is it fair to have them wait on a CRM list for years? The only way off of such a list that I have seen is that a pastor gets a part-time vacancy position, and the congregation later calls him to serve full time. What does he do in the meantime? He works for minimum wage (or worse) while he waits for a vacancy to serve. So what would be the difference? He would have a call that might develop into a viable congregation. He would be preaching and administering the sacraments. It is not an ideal situation, and it is not the way things are supposed to be (the worker is worthy of his wages), but things in the world are not as God intended them. (Sin, death, etc.)
The district can offer logistical and moral support (And free use of a photocopier). Perhaps a local circuit could offer some financial help, or old hymnals, or whatever is available. With some prodding, CPH could offer two years of free liturgy license for Lutheran Service Builder (The hymn license can’t be waived because CPH doesn’t own the rights to all the hymns), with the understanding that after that time, the congregation would pay for or stop using the program. Services could be held in the living room of the CRM Pastor’s apartment until other arrangements can be made. (Either a member’s home, or a store-front) The synod could even, to encourage the man to stick with it, add something about “not eligible for a call for three years, to give this ministry time to grow.” To assuage doubts from area congregations, they could say that the new mission could only accept transfers that live at least three miles closer to the new parish than the old one. (Which would mean no transfers from parishes that are closer than three miles to the new parish.)
I don’t see a downside to a district at least offering this as an option to the CRM candidates in their district. Do you?