Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
The “firsts” are always exciting, aren’t they? The first day of school. The first year of marriage. The first day on the job. The birth of a first child. Everything is new and full of promise. Except . . . everything is also full of unknowns. What if you make the wrong step, say the wrong thing, let people down?
When new graduates step off of the Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary campus and into your churches, they are excited for this first—the opportunity to take the Word that has been implanted in their hearts and minds—and practically apply it to their hands and feet and mouths. Still, these men care so deeply about serving their Lord and you well, that they have concerns about the unknowns.
Grow in Grace, the institute for pastoral growth at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, has taken a number of steps to serve and support these men at such a critical time. We’ve established a mentoring initiative where recent graduates are paired with experienced pastors for encouragement in all their callings—child of God, pastor, husband, father. In addition, retreats for pastors and wives are also available at key ministry milestones. Plus, we’ve increased opportunities for pastors to take courses to grow in faith and ministry.
These are key steps for our church because pastoral resignations had been a matter of deep concern for years. In the 1980s we lost 111 pastors to resignation. That number grew to 194 in the 1990s and remained too high in the 2000s with 162 pastoral resignations. Over 40 years, 27 percent of seminary graduates had resigned, often long before retirement age.
In the ten years since the synod committed to more concerted efforts to support called workers, God has greatly blessed the work of Grow in Grace. Of the almost 200 new pastors mentored in the past seven years, only one has resigned while being mentored. We are holding on to a higher percentage of new pastors than we’ve seen since the 1980s. The impact isn’t just with young pastors! Pastoral resignations across the board have decreased 28 percent from the previous decade. That translates into 45 more pastors in our pulpits right now than if resignations had continued at the level of the previous decade.
While the majority of these initiatives are funded by calling bodies and pastors who participate, none are completely self-funded. It takes about $70,000 – $80,000 annually to fill the gap between what fees and tuition cover and the full cost of the work of Grow in Grace to support pastors.
Please know how important your own encouraging words and prayers are for your pastor. Along with that, generous gifts from God’s people—like you—help make our retreats and mentoring affordable. Scholarships enable more pastors to take courses.
Professor Richard Gurgel
Director of Grow in Grace, Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary