By Roland Lovstad
Meeting in St. Louis and Fort Wayne in late April, the LCMS Council of Presidents (COP) placed 156 seminary candidates and colloquy candidates into ministries in the church.
The council participated in placement services at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, on April 27 and at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, on April 28. During their time on campus, the district presidents met with the candidates and their wives who were assigned to their districts. In addition, the council held half-day meetings with faculty on both campuses.
Noting in a May 4 statement that the COP did not receive enough calls to place all spring graduates, Rev. Kurtis Schultz, chair of the placement committee, said many factors affect the process and extend the placement time. The president of the Southern District said placement is a year-round task with constant fluctuation of candidates and pending or potential calls.
“Candidates simply cannot be placed unless and until sufficient calls are issued by congregations of our Synod,” Schultz stated. “The 32 pastoral candidates not yet receiving calls this spring will remain on the minds and in the prayers of our district presidents and will be placed as soon as the Lord makes calls available through the decision of individual congregations, who have the right and responsibility to call their own pastor.”
He emphasized that the COP “does not and cannot manufacture calls for seminary candidates,” adding that the 35 district presidents will continue to work with congregations seeking a pastor to determine if a seminary graduate might be considered. “We already anticipate a number of additional calls coming in the next few weeks as we await congregational voters meetings,” Schultz said. “That process will continue until all available candidates have been placed.”
From vacancy reports compiled from the districts following the April placement, a total of 325 congregations are in calling processes. Among them, 224 are seeking a sole pastor, 47 a senior pastor, and 54 an assistant or associate. The report indicated 375 congregations are in a permanent non-calling status, and 181 are temporarily not calling to fill a vacancy.
The COP began its meeting April 24 at the LCMS International Center, participated in activities at the St. Louis seminary, and concluded with a joint meeting with faculty at the Fort Wayne seminary on April 29.
As part of LCMS President Dr. Gerald Kieschnick’s report, the council heard plans for the LCMS convention, scheduled for July 10-17 in Houston. During the presentation, it was noted that electronic communication — such as cell phones, text messaging or e-mail — will not be permitted in the delegate area during convention sessions.
Laptop computers will be permitted for notes and information, but due to cost considerations, there will be no electrical connections in the delegate areas.
Calling attention to the task force on unity and harmony, requested by the 2007 convention, Kieschnick highlighted its progress report identifying several factors that contribute to disharmony in the Synod. They include inability to deal with diversity, lack of civility and accountability, a politicized culture, and distrust.
The council also heard two presentations on April 26 as part of its “Ecclesiastical Leadership in a Post-church Culture” working theme. Invited to continue a presentation from the February COP meeting on ministry in a post-modern society was Tony Cook, assistant professor of practical theology and director of distance curricula at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. Rev. Jeff Johnson, pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church and director of Building Hope for the City, spoke of the work in the inner city of Cleveland.
Cook offered challenges in thinking about current institutional models for congregations. He said many smaller or declining congregations have an institutional structure that is not “right-sized,” and may need to reorganize themselves in new way that is appropriate for their size and possibly become part of a new institutional model that involves networks of congregations.
He said church plants also may need to take nontraditional forms and that smaller congregations need to be celebrated for the ministry they provide, instead of being marginalized and seen as failing.
Cook said networks, instead of neighborhoods, form the communities in today’s world, adding, “Not every congregation is called to minister to the same people in the same way, but we are still part of the same Synod.”
In 1992, Johnson came to Cleveland to serve Trinity, a congregation with 45 people in worship that had considered closing since the 1970s. Through a recommitment to reach into the community, the congregation’s worship attendance grew to 200 by 2000.
“Trinity was among the few Lutheran churches in the city that was growing and I had a group of people by then who knew enough about the Gospel who said it’s not OK to celebrate now: don’t we have a responsibility to the church?” Johnson said. (Worship attendance is now about 300 in four weekend services.)
Building Hope in the City was incorporated in 2003 to conduct cross-cultural and urban church planting. Among its methods are urban family centers where children are matched with an adult mentor-tutor; a program providing basic employment skills and connections to positive role models; and year-round half-day Saturday programs modeled after vacation Bible school, offering worship, songs, skits, age-related groups, and lunch. The ministries rely heavily on volunteers from the congregation and other congregations in the greater Cleveland area.
Building Hope in the City also mentors pastors and churches. “We spend a lot of time focused on pastors and their wives,” Johnson said. “Sometimes the neighborhood doesn’t want you there and the church you were dropped into may have difficulty with reaching into the ethnic neighborhoods.” He said they try to equip the pastors for ministry, adding, “If the neighborhood finds out you’re going to leave, they don’t have time for you. It takes seven to 10 years to become accepted.”
Roland Lovstad is a freelance writer and a member of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Perryville, Mo.
May 27, 2010