When [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore, pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matthew 9:36–38, ESV).
A shortage of laborers, shepherds, pastors, is nothing new. It already was evident in Jesus’ time. It is evident in our time as well. In our Evangelical Lutheran Synod, about one congregation in twenty is without a pastor. In our sister synod (WELS), about one congregation in twelve is seeking a pastor.
The fields affiliated with our Board for World Outreach also have their shortages of pastors, in some cases quite severe. Together with our brothers and sisters in foreign lands, we work to resolve these shortages.
In South Korea, a theological institute exists for the training of future pastors. To have an institute and teachers is one thing. To have students is another. In South Korea, a modern and prosperous country, they face the same challenge we face in our country. Where there is prosperity, people often fail to see their need for God. It is true in our country, and it is true in South Korea as well. The institute actually attracts students who want to learn more about Lutheran theology, but they are non-Lutheran pastors who are unlikely to become Lutheran pastors.
Two congregations are currently served by pastors. Hope Lutheran Church in Anyang (a “suburb” of Seoul) is served by Rev. J.W. Kim. Seoul Lutheran Church in Seoul is served by Rev. Dr. Sam Choi, who also serves as director of Seoul Lutheran Theological Institute. There are no future pastoral candidates currently studying. However, one former student is now studying at Bethany Lutheran Theological Seminary and will return to serve in Korea, or another Asian country, in the near future. After he completes his studies, who will replace him?
In Chile, one pastor, Mario Galvez, serves the Family of God congregation in La Cisterna, Santiago. Two vicars, Guillermo Ruz and Victor Hernandez, serve small congregations in two other parts of Santiago, the capital city of Chile. These men serve faithfully at their own expense. They support themselves with secular full-time work while dedicating themselves as pastors of their congregations. Not many men are willing to do that.
Three hours south of Santiago lies the city of Linares. This congregation has been without a pastor for years. In the past, it has been difficult to find someone able to dedicate the time to preparing for the ministry while maintaining his work schedule. Recently, a layman in the congregation, Jon Gross, has offered to become better trained to lead the congregation in worship. But at this time, becoming a pastor is not part of the plan. A laborer for the harvest is needed. We continue to work with this field to address the shortage.
What can you do? Do as Jesus said: pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers. Your prayers—and your gifts—help God’s people to carry on harvest work. Pray that the Lord would lead Christian men to consider preparing for pastoral ministry. Pray that the Lord would bless the message in these countries so that men’s hearts are touched by the Gospel and they seek ways to serve him. Pray to the Lord of the harvest!
Rev. Thomas Heyn
Board for World Outreach