By Roland Lovstad
A redesigned website and a new blog are among the latest tools that the Synod’s “What a Way” initiative has incorporated into its purpose of recruiting and retaining church workers — pastors and commissioned ministers — to serve in LCMS congregations, schools and ministries.
“Our mission is basically to rebuild a lifestyle of identifying church workers and encouraging current church workers at the congregational level,” said Dr. L. Dean Hempelmann in a telephone interview. The executive director of “What a Way” added, “We believe that pastors, teachers, church workers and the congregations need to learn how to do that again. It’s not in our lifeblood now.”
To emphasize the importance of rebuilding this lifestyle he describes, “What a Way” has produced a case document that shows the LCMS falling behind in replacing the workers who will leave due to retirement, death or personal reasons. That case document notes that projections for 2010 are approximately 180 seminary graduates, which compares with 300 to 350 men who are projected to leave the pastoral ministry this year.
The projections are based on actuarial data for Concordia Plan Services and an experience study of LCMS pastors. If the seminaries were to graduate 220 new pastors a year, the study projects that the number of active pastors in the Synod would decline from 5,176 in 2010 to 4,097 by 2019.
Noting that about 100 pastors annually leave the ministry for personal reasons, the “What a Way” case document states, “It stands to reason that each pastor who is retained in his service is one less pastor who needs to be replaced. Better and more effective means to retain pastors … are worthy of our Synod’s best efforts.”
“What a Way” also notes a similar trend among Ministers of Religion-Commissioned. That roster includes eight categories: teacher; deaconess; parish assistant; lay minister; and directors of Christian education, Christian outreach, family life ministry and parish music. The number of commissioned ministers is projected to decrease from 7,941 to 6,461 by 2019. About 45 percent of the current workers are at least 50 years old. That roster includes approximately 6,900 LCMS-certified teachers among 18,000 active teachers in LCMS preschools, elementary schools and high schools.
Replacing current workers will maintain the status quo, but it does not consider additional workers for a church body that desires to bring people to Jesus Christ as their Savior, the document notes. It also cites a shrinking group of young people who might be encouraged to serve: the population of high school age students in the LCMS declined from an estimated 109,450 in 2003 to 87,817 in 2008, for example.
Also interviewed by telephone, Richard Allen, a communications consultant serving the “What a Way” steering committee, described the new blog as “a more cohesive and coherent attempt at community building.” Twelve writers have been enlisted to share their perspectives, but Allen emphasized that the blog approach welcomes readers to participate in the discussion.
The blog is still in “formative stages,” Allen said. During a recent month it attracted some 1,800 visitors, about four times the number who viewed the website. “Just that shift in the way the information is managed and distributed has made it a more engaging initiative for everyone,” said Allen, who is the CEO of Airways Communications in Denver, a firm that specializes in interactive marketing.
Through monthly e-mails, “What a Way” reminds church workers of information, materials and new items on the website. The site has 500 to 700 visits a month.
As a way of calling attention to that “lifestyle” concept, Hempelmann compiled a list of congregations that have supplied the most men to the pastoral ministry between 2005 and 2009. The list includes 10 congregations that have sent a total of 55 men into pastoral ministry during those years. Two congregations — Faith Lutheran Church, Plano, Texas, and St. John Lutheran Church, Ellisville, Mo. — have sent seven men each.
In addition to media activities, “What a Way” will be represented at summer youth events, including the National LCMS Youth Gathering and the Higher Things Conferences, as well as developing additional materials. The initiative offers curriculum materials for schools and congregations and offers free copies of “Leap of Faith,” a book for men considering second careers as pastors. “What a Way” also is working with Lutheran Hour Ministries to produce a Bible study on Christian vocation.
“These are all ways that help our goal of getting people back into a lifestyle of thinking and praying about church work and taking care of the workers they already have,” Hempelmann said.
Roland Lovstad is a freelance writer and a member of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Perryville, Mo.
Posted July 1, 2010