by Roland Lovstad
The message has sounded clearly for at least a decade: Mission opportunities exist in the United States.
It’s a message church leaders and congregations nearly everywhere recognize. Cities, towns, and even villages are experiencing a surge in immigration—including many newcomers who have not heard, or do not understand, the message of salvation through Jesus Christ. And in an age of increasing secularization, “mission” also exists among longtime Americans, many of them wandering in a “new land,” somewhere between faith and unbelief.
In short, “mission” today is next door. In your neighborhood—and mine.
Aware of today’s many mission opportunities, our LCMS seminaries ensure their students understand “mission” and are equipped to lead existing congregations, plant new churches, and serve as missionaries overseas.
But there’s another sort of “mission” before our church, too: To meet the growing demand for pastors.
Our LCMS seminaries—Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, and Concordia Seminary, St. Louis—are building a mission “mindset” among their students.
“Today, in our education, we should be aware of the missional context of every congregation,” explains Dr. K. Detlev Schulz, chairman of the pastoral ministry and missions department at Concordia, Fort Wayne. He emphasizes that mission is no longer going overseas or planting new churches; it is an important part of every pastor’s ministry.
The seminary’s curriculum is arranged so future pastors are attuned to mission theology as well as mission practice, Schulz adds. That includes the “how to” of mobilizing and leading congregations to be in mission. Two required courses are “Speaking the Gospel in a Pluralistic Society” and “Confessing Christ in Today’s World.”
“As you know, the LCMS context is changing from the rural congregation to a more urban context,” Schulz says.
Today’s pastors and congregations have to address mission at multiple levels, he adds. “It is complex, but the bottom line is that our Lord loves the sinner.”
Congregations no longer conduct mission only by providing funds to the Synod or mission societies, Schulz believes. “We also need to see that every congregation is the launching pad for God’s mission. There are ample examples of even the church in the cornfield, working with another church, or several, participating in outreach projects.”
Such opportunities abound, Schulz observes: “We try to put a lens on every student’s eyes to see opportunities, to see their church as a mission haven or a catalyst for mission.”
At the St. Louis seminary, required subjects include courses on the theology of missions, world religions, and religious bodies. The seminary also requires cross-cultural education and evangelism experiences during students’ fieldwork and vicarage assignments.
The goal: provide students life and ministry experiences with people very different from themselves, explains Dr. William Schumacher, mission associate professor of historical theology and assistant to the director of resident field education for cross-cultural experiences. “The fact of the matter is that the great majority of our students are white, middle-class Anglos from small towns or suburban congregations,” he says. “They need some intentional help getting comfortable in inner cities, in cross-cultural settings, in places where English is a minority language.”
The seminary requires every student to complete an evangelism project while on vicarage. “We have found that works a lot better than trying to do an evangelism course on the campus, because then it’s always sort of an artificial laboratory situation, and evangelism isn’t something that you can cook up in a Petri dish,” Schumacher comments.
“Evangelism comes about when you’re working with real people, both real Christians in the congregation and real unbelievers who are outside the church.”
Schumacher speaks of “the frontier between faith and unbelief” in today’s society, adding that every congregation is in a community with people who don’t know or don’t believe the promise of the Gospel.
“We would serve our students poorly and serve the church even more poorly if we didn’t make the effort to put mission at the center of theology in the minds and hearts of our students,” Schumacher says.
Another mission: men for the ministry
“Is there a need for more pastors in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod?” asks Dr. L. Dean Hempel-mann, executive director of the Board for Pastoral Education.
“Yes,” he answers, adding that a recent study shows the Missouri Synod will need 300 to 350 new ordained ministers every year though 2015 just to maintain the current level of pastors who serve congregations and other ministries. To put the figure in perspective, our two LCMS seminaries expect that 248 candidates will receive their first calls this year. Next year, that projection drops to 239.
Simply put: Supply is not equaling the need.
“One more thing that affects the church in regard to ordained ministers is the average years of service,” Hempelmann says. “The average age of new ordained ministers is expected to stay level over the next 10 years, at approximately 41 years of age. As a result,
the average length of service of pastors will decline by approximately five years from 2006 to 2016.”
The length of service is declining because second-career pastors are replacing “full career” ministers, Hempelmann notes.
He adds this: It is important to get men who are preparing to be pastors to know the Scriptures well enough so they can confidently relate them to the lives of the people they serve. People know stories about Jesus, Hempelmann says, but they don’t always understand what the biblical texts mean for life today.
“I think it’s all part of pastors being able to give a defense to the truths of the Christian faith against competing spiritual claims and movements, whether they be world religions or different cultures and contexts,” Hempelmann says. “In line with that, we really need to have pastors from different cultures to service in the pastoral ministry. We are very white, Anglo-Saxon.”
To increase the supply of pastors, Hempelmann suggests that districts, seminaries, and congregations:
- Identify and recruit students early in the home, in the congregation, in schools.
- Actively support their current pastor and his family especially during transitions.
- Work to reduce conflict and stress in the congregation.
- Have reasonable expectations of their pastor.
- Strengthen preparation for practical aspects of pastoral ministry.
- Work on a closer match between congregation and pastor in placement.
- Fully evaluate and adjust compensation.
‘Preparing Pastors Worldwide’
Emphasizing the ties that bind the church and its seminaries, organizers of the 2007 National Offering hope to gather at least $1 million to help prepare Lutheran pastors in the U.S. and overseas.
Two-thirds of the gifts will support Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, and Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. One-third will support seminaries of LCMS partner churches worldwide.
Information about the offering was sent to all LCMS congregations in mid-April. Donations also may be made at www.givenowlcms.org.
Encouraging current and future pastors
The LCMS Board of Directors has designated May as Pastoral Education Month, to emphasize the many dimensions of pastoral education.
Resources and links are available at www.LCMS.org/ PastoralEducation. The site includes materials for worship services. It also includes links to information about LCMS seminaries and continuing education, as well as information about the National Offering to prepare pastors.