In 2010, some who graduated in June from Bethany Lutheran Theological Seminary did not receive a call until the fall. There just were not enough openings for the five graduates.
Four years later, the situation is reversed—our synod has many congregations without pastors and only one May graduate to fill the vacancies. And it may take two or three more years before those vacancies can be reduced in number.
This lack of seminary graduates could affect plans to start new mission congregations. It can also affect the smaller congregations of our synod, if they are unable to obtain a pastor. Souls can be lost. Congregations without a pastor can experience a lack of direction in their church work. Outreach activities may not be done.
It is a fact that other Lutheran synods are experiencing a similar shortage of seminary graduates. But this should not make us complacent about the future.
While God moves men to decide to study for the ministry, we should be encouraging young men with God-given gifts to prepare for this most important vocation. High school and college-aged men are concerned with their future work. The world will encourage them to seek out work that has the highest paying salaries, or a job that gives the greatest chance for promotion. And this may mean attending a more prestigious college.
How can we encourage a study for the ministry? Speak to the young men in your congregation about the important work of a pastor. Talk about how blessed you are to have a faithful pastor who proclaims the truths of God’s Word. Tell about the pastoral privilege of being able to baptize children, instruct the young, teach the Gospel to the lost, and comfort those who are sick or dying.
When you encourage the pastor whom God has given you and speak well of him to others, you can also help young people be more aware of the blessings God gives through this work.
Young men also think of marriage and families and how to support them in this changing economy. It does not encourage them to consider the ministry when they know about young ministers who struggle financially, or where their wives have to both work and rear children in order to support their families. Your financial support of your pastor and his call to preach the Gospel and administer the Sacraments will also encourage other gifted men to attend our seminary.
Finally, consider what would happen if no pastoral candidate was available and you had no local worship services. Would you travel 30 to 50 miles every Sunday to another Lutheran church? Or if you were to compromise and attend a non-Lutheran church or one that was not faithful to the Gospel, would you hear about Jesus as the only way to heaven? Would you be comforted through Baptism and the Lord’s Supper? Very likely not!
Our prayers to the Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers—pastors, missionaries, and teachers—into the harvest of souls are vital for our hearing God’s truth in the future and for others who do not yet know about Jesus. The Lord of the Church promises to answer those prayers.
Reverend Theodore Gullixson