Where have all the pastors gone? There is a real crisis among us, a pastoral shortage crisis we must face as a Synod. The June 2019 issue of the LCMS Reporter led with front page news about call services at both seminaries, indicating 201 pastors, vicars, and deaconesses received calls and assignments. Buried in the story are the breakdown of the real numbers for pastoral MDiv graduates shared between the two seminaries (CTSFW 39, CSL 40, for a total of only 79).
The article closes with, “As has been the case for a number of years, more churches asked for men than received them: 15 congregations did not receive a vicar and 22 will not receive a candidate.”
Congregations — especially those “turned down” due to the shortage — deserve to know the trends underlying the pastoral shortage crisis and what plans are in place to face this challenge. Where is the sense of urgency?
Three Terms and No Real Plan
With three terms under his belt, Harrison’s only plan is “recruitment” (Convention Workbook, President’s Report, p. 9).
“Recruitment” is not a plan.
In the Candidate Q&A in the same June 2019 Reporter issue, none of Harrison’s answers highlight a strategy for dealing with the pastoral shortage crisis.
It’s understandable if the other candidates don’t highlight this issue. They haven’t yet been elected to the responsibility of Synod President.
But a Synod President has to care about the needs of the congregations of Synod, first of which is having a pastor to preach the Word and administer the Sacraments of our Lord.
It took three terms for him to identify “worker wellness” as critical (something most workers assume should always be at the top of the president’s agenda).
Will it take three more terms to be transparent about the pastoral shortage crisis, let alone have a plan?
A Lack of Transparency
Harrison’s lack of transparency on the pastoral shortage crisis raises a greater question: is this basic need of LCMS congregations even on his radar?
Providing a good supply of pastors matters to congregations! A president should inform his constituents on graduation trends if they are troubling (and they are).
A president should highlight real crises, especially those he sees best from his position.
Who else can see the pastoral shortage at two seminaries better than the president who attends seminary call services each Spring? Instead, those who seek real data are forced to do their own math each year and come to their own conclusions.
Two Alarming Issues
Members of the LCMS can add up the two alarming issues and draw their own conclusions: First, there is a lack of transparency from President Harrison about what is really going on in the pastoral shortage crisis. Second, he has no plan. (Note: the initiative “For the Sake of the Church” is essentially an endowment initiative, not a strategy that highlights the data and trends of the pastoral shortage crisis or provides a clear plan forward.)
If there was a police shortage, a doctor shortage, or a teacher or food shortage in our communities, wouldn’t we expect our governmental leaders to develop a plan to protect and serve our citizens, care for their physical needs, train up the young and feed the hungry? How much more so should we be concerned for a shortage of those who care for the souls of God’s people?
Where Is The Urgency?
In a crisis, quality leaders share the facts and point out the trends they see best from their seat. They call together the best and most experienced leaders to develop options and communicate a plan to move forward.
President Harrison, what are the pastoral graduation numbers and trends over the last ten years since you took office? What is your plan to deal with the pastoral shortage crisis? We cannot wait another term to find out.
In the last Board of Directors meeting in May, the Synod Board of Directors signaled their concern about President Harrison’s lack of planning with a resolution moved by their Chairman. They stated in part that they would not pass another budget until they were presented with the strategy and tactics the Synod budget is supposed to support (page 212). No plan, no budget.
It’s time for something more. If after three terms the pastoral shortage hasn’t become an urgent issue for President Harrison, it’s time for a new president who believes the pastoral shortage crisis is real, someone who will share the real data, someone with a real plan and someone who will act.
Pulpits are empty. People are dying without faith in Jesus. The “harvest is plentiful.” We’ve been praying to the Lord of the Harvest to send more workers into the field. Now it’s time for us to act with a plan, trusting that the Lord will fulfill His promises of workers.
The election for Synod President starts this weekend. Let’s elect a new Synod President who takes the pastoral shortage seriously and will develop a plan of response.
“Recruitment” is not a plan.
Congregations — especially congregations suffering without a pastor — matter!