The “Call Shortage” in the LCMS – Is There An Upside?

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?

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6 Responses to The “Call Shortage” in the LCMS – Is There An Upside?

  1. Alan says:

    A few things

    The idea of a district mandating that a man be ineligible for a Call for any other purpose than gross sin, negligence or false doctrine sets a horrible precedent. The abuse of power in some district offices is already bad enough without legitimizing further abuse.

    2. How can district say who can or can’t transfer membership to these prospective parishes when we already have people transferring from one parish to another for less-than-legitimate reasons? It’s a nice idea in theory, but it’s not practicable.

    • Country Preacher says:

      1) True. But I was in no was suggesting that anyone would be ineligible for a call. I referred to “those on CRM status who are fit to serve.” I put it this way because whenever I mention pastors on CRM status, I get the official line, “Sometimes there are issues that need to be resolved with men on CRM, and so the problem isn’t as easy as it seems.” Fair enough. Maybe that’s true. But there are also men that are on CRM status through no fault of their own, who are faithful and competent pastors. They should be given a chance. If there is no outstanding and specific reason why a man should not be considered for this program, then they should be offered the opportunity. If there is a reason why a candidate should not be considered for a call, then CRM is not really the category he should be in. I’m not sure how my proposal opens the door to more abuse.
      2) They can’t. Congregations are responsible for their own self-government. And yet, just as a congregation gives up certain rights of self-government in joining the synod (They agree to seek the advice of the District President when calling a pastor, for example, and also agree not to change their bylaws without first receiving the approval of the district.) so the pastors of these local congregations could agree to submit to other rules for the sake of peace and good order. It would be practicable if the pastors were all men of integrity and the congregations respected the agreement enough to honor it. I believe that most in our synod would stick by such an agreement, at least for a term of three years. If we are to begin trusting each other in our synod, we must begin by trusting each other to honor their word. If, for some reason, both pastors and congregations agree to the transfer, their is no churchly reason it could not occur. The point is to allay the possible fears of local pastors that the new Mission church has set their sites on all of the biggest and best members of local parishes. The goal of this proposal is to plant a congregation among the unchurched, not to simply move current members around so that four parishes become five. I still think that it is an idea with merit. Will their be problems encountered? Yes, there always are. But is it a worse idea than men who are ready, willing and able to serve the church working instead in secular pursuits that, in many cases, barely support their families, and don’t even begin to pay down their student loans, while they wait for their four years of CRM status to run out so they can be removed from the roster? I think my idea has to be better than that.

      • Alan says:

        I will admit to being a little sensitive to these issues. I spent 4.5 years on CRM for something that was not one of the “big three”, and more than one DP was involved in the yanking of my chain over those years. And as the pastor of a small rural congregation with two LCMS congregations less than 5 miles away, we’ve seen more than our share of departures for these other congregations. I’m not saying your ideas are bad ideas. I’m just saying that these gentlemen handshake agreements are assuming a lot about the gentlemen who have, to this point, proven not to be such gentle men.

      • Country Preacher says:

        A hearty “Amen” to everything you wrote. But you see, here is the genius of my proposal. The DP’s are saying that some of these men have issues that preclude them serving a congregation. So, what harm does this do? The men are saying they are fit to serve. So here is their chance. I think that, if this proposal were tried, DP’s would find that many men whom they considered as “having issues” would show that they can, in fact serve as faithful pastors and be very ‘successful’. I suspect that the reason many would not like to see this proposal implemented is because it would show that many of the men on CRM status are there for no good reason, and they would do quite well. This would then bring up questions of judgment regarding those who considered them unfit. But that’s not the fundamental reason I am suggesting it. The reason is to give these men a call. Pastor Harrison keeps talking about doing more mission planting. We have hundreds of men on CRM who are ready to go. ALl they need is the chance. Is this the best chance (no real resources being given them)? No. But it is a chance. We need to work with what we have, and what we have right now is a lot of candidates, not a lot of vacancies, and not a lot of cash to work with. So, let’s work with those things, and as Pr. Harrison says, “Let’s Go!”

  2. Kaleb says:

    The only problem I see with this is that there are districts that would never allow a confessional church to be created under such an arrangement. Here in Kansas, you would simply see a proliferation of “Lutheran” churches that aren’t really Lutheran at all.

    • Country Preacher says:

      That is the other reason I think this proposal would not be acceptable. Because, if a pastor can start a viable congregation with no funds, no transfers, and no real support, then it shows that the baptistic model that is in such favor in so many quarters is not more effective. And if that is the case, then the entire reason (pragmatism) for doing baptistic worship in Lutheran churches is exposed as not about missions, but about doctrinal drift. And yet, according to the very theses on which the church growth movement is founded, this plan have no downside. But the church growth movement was never about church growth, it was always about a bringing the “new measures” into the Lutheran church. So any plan that might allow true Lutheran theology to succeed must be avoided, lest it show the new measures for what they are.

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