Home > Media > a shortage of pastoral calls in the LCMS

a shortage of pastoral calls in the LCMS

I would like to encourage readers to listen to this [link] visit by LCMS 1st Vice President Herb Mueller with Todd Wilken on Issues Etc. where they discuss the growing shortage of pastoral calls in the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod. I wish all church organizations were this forthcoming when facing systemic or organizational problems.

In the LCMS churches are to a degree self-governing, and they issue a pastoral call when they have a staff vacancy. There are currently more seminary graduates than there are open positions, and the shortfall has grown over the last several years. According to Mueller this is due in part to tough economic times; pastors of retirement age are deciding to hang on longer because they can’t afford to retire, and as a result they aren’t leaving the workforce and opening positions that could be filled by new seminary graduates.

It has been my experience that churches tend to avoid questions about organizational nuts and bolts unless there’s a crisis, by which time it’s too late to get helpful answers to tough questions. For example: we may not ask whether it’s a good idea to have a member of the pastor’s family be the church treasurer, or whether nursery workers have background checks, or who technically owns a church building, until there is some sort of crisis and we discover substantial spending irregularities, or a predator in our midst, or find out that the pastor or one of the elders can sell church property without consulting the church or returning the proceeds of the sale to the church. We tend to paper over questions about this sort of thing with vague God-talk, without any consideration for whether in the worst case we’ll face a crisis of faith to go without financial or organizational crisis.

So I was surprised when Mueller and Wilken took a call that asked bluntly if God is the one ultimately issuing the calls how there could be a shortage. It’s a fair and unpleasant question, and I will defer to Mueller and Wilken to speak for themselves at the link above rather than try to characterize what they say.

I am tempted to take a cheap shot at Wilken here; he is one of those people who claim that the collapse of Evangelicalism is inevitable if not imminent, and so it seems ironic that his church, which he presents as being part of the solution to the problem of the shallowness/heterodoxy/ahistoricity/whatever of Pop American Evangelicalism would be facing what seems to be a demographic problem while Evangelicalism for all its problems, doesn’t seem to be actually shrinking. But I’m going to pass on the opportunity, not least because a shortage of calls doesn’t mean the LCMS is imploding, and it’s awfully hard to make fair comparisons here anyway.

The easy trap to fall into when looking at long-term demographic trends (or even short-term boom-bust cycles) is to say something like “my church is growing (or shrinking) because we are right; your church is shrinking (or growing) because you are wrong.” I suspect we’d do well to think twice before claiming any of these premises is actually true.

 

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