In a recent interview 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 callers 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.” God sees a shortage of workers, because the people need to hear God’s word, but the old Adam is opposed to it. 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 on 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. Our Lord himself tells us that “Many are called but few are chosen” which is just another way of saying “The World will not accept this message.” 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.” I can not imagine the frustration they must feel to have given up everything to spend four years studying the Lord’s Word, only to hear, “Not yet.”
But it is not the first time our synod has faced this challenge. As VP Muller points out, 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? The very existence of the SMP program shows the impracticality of this approach. Telling men that the seminary will require yet another year of there time, while the SMP program sends men through in a fraction of that would cause not delaying the entry of candidates, but rather delaying the entry of new seminarians. It would be a good way to kill the seminaries.
We have men willing to serve the church. Fundamentally, the problem is that we do not have the resources to employ (support) 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 them 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 (especially those on CRM status who are fit to serve) calls to serve as worker-priest missionaries. We offer these men, who are qualified and certified for ministry, 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? True, he would be attempting to do two jobs at once. But he would also have a call that might develop into a viable congregation. He would be preaching and administering the sacraments. And he would no longer be listed on “CRM status”.
The district can offer logistical and moral support (free use of a photocopier, etc). 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 congregation, eliminating the danger of just playing shell games with disgruntled members.)
I don’t see a downside to a district at least offering this as an option to the CRM candidates in their district. On the other hand, we have the potential to have dozens, if not hundreds, of new congregations planted, while also allowing men on CRM status to re-enter the ministry, and for some of them, it could end up being a full-time pursuit.
Are there any districts bold enough to try this?