LCMS Seminaries: Magnets for Worldwide Lutheranism

by Roland Lovstad

What does it take to be an LCMS pastor? And what makes the seminaries that form those pastors so unique?

What comprises a seminary curriculum?

Pastoral ministry students at the LCMS seminaries—Concordia Theological Seminary (CTS), Fort Wayne, and Concordia Seminary (CSL), St. Louis—can be divided into two categories: residential and contextual (distance education). The seminaries also enroll women in programs leading to deaconess certification. Additional students are enrolled in graduate programs. Regardless of what they study, the students receive the same high-quality instruction from seminary professors.

The substance of their study is in four areas: understanding and interpreting Scripture (exegetical theology), the life and heritage of the Church (historical theology), the pastoral care of souls (pastoral theology) and Christian doctrine and the Lutheran Confessions (systematic theology). Plus, students apply their learning through field education, cross-cultural and vicarage/internship experiences in congregational settings.

Residential students attend classes on campus in the traditional format of higher education, which usually involves four years of seminary enrollment. Both seminaries offer residential programs in pastoral ministry and deaconess studies.

Contextual students already are serving in ministry situations, such as a rural congregation, a specialized parish responsibility or ethnic ministry. Typically, these students listen to lectures, participate in discussion groups and turn in assignments via the Internet. They meet personally with a pastor-mentor and attend an annual two-week course on campus. Both seminaries offer distance education for pastors, and CTS also offers deaconess studies via distance education.

What is the cost to educate a seminarian?

The operating budgets of the two seminaries for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2010, were $18.5 million at St. Louis and $11.1 million at Fort Wayne. Of this amount, about 2 percent (some $374,000 in St. Louis; $280,000 in Fort Wayne) was provided in subsidy direct from the LCMS operating budget. The major sources of income to the seminaries are tuition, fees and direct contributions from LCMS congregations and individual donors.

It would be unfair to attribute all the operating costs directly to educating a seminarian. Faculty, whose salaries and benefits comprise a significant part of the budget, also teach continuing-education classes in the field for pastors and laypeople. They serve as presenters for district conventions and pastors conferences, on LCMS commissions, as resources to the church on contemporary topics and as authors on subjects benefiting the church at large.

The seminary campuses also serve a wider function in the church, hosting church groups or lending books and materials from their libraries.

How is the cost worth the outcome?

The most direct answer is that the care of souls provided by pastors has eternal implications for all who are entrusted to their care. Dr. Glen Thomas, executive director of the former Board for Pastoral Education, says that the seminaries are more than mere “preacher factories” or “trade schools for pastors.”

“While our seminaries instruct students in skills they will utilize in preaching, teaching and many other aspects of pastoral ministry, excellent skills must be accompanied by deep theological knowledge and understanding, drawn from and shaped by God’s Word and the Lutheran Confessions,” says Thomas.

“When St. Paul writes that an overseer should be ‘apt to teach’ (1 Tim. 3:2),” he says, “we believe he implies that a pastor must not only know ‘how’ to teach, but of even greater importance, he must have knowledge and understanding of the content he is teaching so that he can apply God’s Word in ways that are faithful and meaningful.”

Why do the seminaries draw students from church bodies worldwide?

The graduate programs of the LCMS seminaries draw students from every denominational background and from the four corners of the world. International graduate students cite three reasons for attending an LCMS seminary: confessional Lutheran theology, learned professors who are also skilled teachers and study that is relevant to the ministry of the Church.

The seminaries also offer international students the skills to share that knowledge upon returning home where they serve in significant teaching and leadership roles. International graduates include seminary professors, heads of church bodies and executive staff in partner churches, as well as church bodies not formally in fellowship with the LCMS.

Often the presence of these students helps to develop relationships between the LCMS and church bodies that are not partner churches. Seminary faculty who serve short-and long-term teaching assignments in partner churches and in mission areas where current and future pastors need theological instruction also aid in those relationships.

What is the average debt of a seminary graduate?

Data compiled by Thomas indicate that the average educational debt that 2010 seminary graduates carried into the pastoral ministry was a little over $32,000. This figure includes debt incurred during undergraduate education, a concern that has led the seminaries to delay admission for some with excessive incoming debt. Compounding the concern are cases in which the applicant’s spouse has also accumulated a large educational debt.

“Our seminaries are working hard to keep costs down and God’s people are responding generously to support our future pastors,” Thomas adds. “The average amount of financial aid awarded per student last year exceeded $15,000 at both seminaries. We thank the Lord of the Church for this support. It demonstrates the high priority we place upon the preparation of our future pastors and how thankful we are for those who desire to serve our Lord in this special way.”

Will there be enough LCMS pastors to replace those who will retire over the next two decades?

The two largest groups of active LCMS pastors are those 55–59 and 60–65 years old, totaling 36 percent of all active pastors. While 62 percent of active LCMS pastors are 50 years old or older, only 16 percent are under 40. The LCMS clergy roster is heavily weighted toward the upper end of the age range, which suggests that the demand for seminary graduates will increase in the near future.

What about the demand for pastors over the next two decades?

In recent years, a growing number of non-calling pastoral vacancies (598 in February 2011 versus 418 in February 2007), pastors delaying retirement or serving after they retire and a devastating economic downturn have contributed to a shortage of calls for seminary graduates. While no one can predict the future demand for pastors with absolute certainty, it seems likely that the demand for pastors will sharply increase over the next two decades and that our seminaries will need to be prepared to meet that demand. —Dr. Glen Thomas

> Enrollment of deaconess students during 2010–2011: 39 at Fort Wayne and 28 at St. Louis.

> The campus of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, was designed by the architect of the St. Louis Gateway Arch, Eero Saarinen.

> Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, was founded in 1839 in Perry County, Mo., by a group of German immigrants.

> Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching (1 Tim. 4:13).

About the Author: Roland Lovstad is a member of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Perryville, Mo.

May 2011

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