Harrison: Time to head to the seminary.

Joe Schmo – Wannabe Pastor: Really?

Harrison: Yes, really.

Schmo: But I’m hearing that guys are going to the sem, yet there are many who are not receiving calls at the end of their four years of study?

Harrison: It is true that the past couple of years the number of graduates from our two seminaries has exceeded available calls. HOWEVER, all or nearly all of the students desiring to serve in a parish have been placed in the course of the months following graduation. I myself had to wait several months to be placed, so hey… be confident that the Lord will bless. He will!

Schmo: Are you SURE about that? What if I go through all the trouble of moving, perhaps selling my house, moving my wife and kids, and all that with no guarantee of a call at the end?

Harrison: The economy won’t remain in the tank forever. In fact, the number of calling congregations across the Missouri Synod increased significantly over the past year. The UNOFFICIAL word right now is that the number of men who will have to wait to be placed will be much fewer than last year. And I’m confident that with a little time, all will be placed.

Schmo: But what are the long term trends?

Harrison: There are a number of factors here, but a couple of things make me rather optimistic about the need. Right now and well into the next two decades, the class size of retiring pastors are quite large. The raw data show that we are going to need to replace some 300 retiring clergy per year for some time to come. There are factors affecting this need currently, such as retiring clergy continuing to serve on a part-time basis, or small congregations choosing to employ a retired man rather than pay a full salary. But the bottom line is that the need long term will be significant. There will also continue to be the need for church planters.

Schmo: O.K. But the economy still worries me.

Harrison: Fair enough. But there have been times in the Synod’s history when hundreds of men were without calls. We are nowhere near that challenge at the moment. Moreover, although the economy in certain states is particularly challenging, still, in many rural/farming communities there is a significant economic upswing occurring, driven by record high prices for corn and soybeans. The Lord will provide.

Schmo: But the housing market is a problem, no?

Harrison: Yes, true. There have been better times to sell and move. But hey, Ft. Wayne remains one of the lowest priced housing markets in the country, and it is definitely a buyers’ market in St. Louis – which is a huge and very diverse market. Many Ft. Wayne students live in low cost government subsidized housing, and the St. Louis sem has married student housing right on campus.

Schmo: But can’t I just do my seminary education via distance learning?

Harrison: It is true that the seminaries offer distance education for certain specific circumstances, where a man intends perhaps to be bi-vocational. Such programs offer flexibility needed for some local challenges. But there is no substitute for a thorough, residential education. While distance opportunities are appropriate for some, a distance education may also limit your ability to serve in the maximum number of circumstances in the future.

Schmo: So what’s the great benefit of a residential education?

Harrison: There is absolutely no substitute for total immersion in a community of hundreds of men and women (deaconess students) all totally committed to studying the sacred texts of holy scripture. There is no substitute for rigorous language study done in residence, study that will bless your ministry for decades to come. There is no substitute for the learning that occurs shoulder to shoulder with professors, students, graduate students, on burning topics of the day. We have the two finest Lutheran seminaries in the world. Both are in good shape financially. The St. Louis sem has undergone marvelous renovation of the physical plant thanks to the work of President Meyer and the staff. The Ft. Wayne seminary boasts a fabulous new library facility, which will open soon. The faculties boast many men who are leading scholars in their field of study, from historical theology to doctrinal theology, to exegesis and practical theology.

Schmo: But how do I know this step is for me?

Harrison: You can only find out by inquiring. If you have a good reputation in your home parish, if you love the bible and love people, if you have the nascent tools to be a leader, if you have a passion to know more about Christ, and share that knowledge with people who need to know Jesus, contact the seminaries and ask for an application. The process will assist you in assessing your potential. There are great folks at the sem with lots of experience in helping men and women, working with their current realities, while honoring their vocations as father or mother. And once you’ve been accepted, you can always postpone for a year or so, or go when the moment is right.

Schmo: Are there other people like me at the sem?

Harrison: Indeed there are. Many. And there are profs too who have gone through exactly what you are going through. And you will find a community made up of diverse individuals asking many different questions, hungry for knowledge of the scriptures and the Lutheran confessions. There will be people at the sem from all over the world and your eyes will be opened to a whole new world, the world of the church of Christ which spans the globe and the centuries.

Schmo: But I’m still nervous!

Harrison: You should be nervous! This is a huge step. And you are contemplating a vocation which is difficult but also hugely rewarding. There are risks, but there are also fantastic blessings. I can not find the words to express how much I’ve enjoyed my time serving in the parish. People let you into their lives at their worst moments, and at their most joyous moments. To bring the forgiveness and comfort in Christ, to share in new lives beginning in baptism, to teach young people to love Christ, to minister to the sick and dying, are honors which few Christians get to experience. And the opportunities to take Christ into the surrounding community are legion!

Schmo: That sounds like a pretty cool job!

Harrison: It is! There are few jobs where you are expected to study the scriptures and related texts, and then get the chance to directly apply what you’ve learned from God’s word during the week, and every Sunday morning in the context of real lives and people. Seminary teaches you how to study as well as all the basics you need to serve Christ in his people.

Schmo: I guess I’d better do some more praying about this.

Harrison: Indeed, dear friend. And be assured that I’m praying for you too. Jesus said task number one in mission is to “pray the Lord of the harvest send workers.” And I’m praying that directly with YOU in mind. H.C. Schwan, president of the Synod from 1878 to 1899 said that you’d better watch out if you “pray the Lord of the harvest send workers.” Why? Because you’ll soon find that the Lord sends YOU! As you pray, I’d suggest you read St. Paul’s Pastoral Epistles and let them saturate your thoughts and prayers (I & II Timothy and Titus).

There is no need, I’m convinced, that the Missouri Synod should decline. We have a worldwide moment before us. It will require fidelity to the Scriptures and Lutheran teaching, zeal for the gospel of Christ, openness to diverse cultures, mercy for those hurting, and love for the church. And, it will require a GREAT seminary trained ministerium.

Go to the sem!

Matt Harrison