Mark G. Schroeder
Our synod is experiencing a shortage of called workers. The shortage of pastors is especially a concern. Prior to assignment day in May, there were more than one hundred pastoral vacancies in parish positions. Even with the assignment of graduates, the number of remaining vacancies is higher than it has been in recent years. It’s not a crisis, but it is a concern.
We continue to believe that this shortage will be temporary and will end when God in his love and wisdom decides otherwise. In the meantime, while we recognize that God is the one who provides workers for his church, all of us need to do our part to encourage young men to consider the pastoral ministry for their life’s work.
Recently, I received a letter from a WELS layman who asked some good questions about how we use our pastors in this time of a pastoral shortage. He noted that we use pastors to fills many roles other than that of parish pastor. He asked if it is necessary for pastors to serve in those non-parish roles and if we had considered using non-pastors for those positions.
For example, many of the tutors, who serve as dormitory supervisors and teachers at our ministerial schools, are graduates of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary and are ordained pastors. We believe that tutors are some of the best recruiters for ministry. So, rather than looking at the tutor position as taking away pastors, we believe that more young men are gained for the ministry precisely because we have pastorally trained tutors interacting every day with students.
At Martin Luther College, over 20 members of the faculty are pastorally-trained men. Could non-pastors be used to fill those positions? Since MLC is our college of ministry, where pastoral training takes place on the college level, we believe it is vital that men who have seminary training make up a good share of the faculty. We do look to use non-pastors in subjects where it is not vital to have a professor who is trained as a pastor. Similarly, pastorally-trained faculty members are vital at our prep schools as well.
Could the administrative and other called positions at the synod level be filled with non-pastors? Laymen and teachers do serve in various roles whenever it is appropriate. But in other cases, when the main job involves working with other pastors and congregations in carrying out ministry, pastoral and congregational experience has proven to be indispensable for that work.
What about pastors serving on the faculties of area Lutheran high schools? Most area Lutheran high schools have at least one or two pastors on their faculties, but the overall number of pastors serving in area Lutheran high schools is not large. The high schools have found it important to have pastors serving on their faculties as teachers of religion and languages, as well as pastoral counselors and recruiters for the pastoral ministry.
The Conference of Presidents (COP) is looking for ways to ease the shortage of pastors in the short term. District presidents provide counsel to congregations on how best to provide pastoral staff during a time of shortage. In addition, the COP continues to look for a long-term solution by encouraging efforts to recruit young men to consider the pastoral ministry.
To ask whether pastorally trained men need to fill various roles that take them out of the parish ministry is a good and necessary question. But sanctified human judgment concludes that filling a role with someone pastorally-trained is important and is beneficial to the kingdom.
Mark Schroeder is president of WELS.
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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 105, Number 7
Issue: July 2018
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