By Kevin Armbrust
MILWAUKEE — Floor Committee (FC) 6, Pastoral Ministry and Seminaries, brought resolutions to the 68th Regular Convention of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) over the course of three days.
On Tuesday, Aug. 1, FC 6 Chairman Rev. John Hill, president of the LCMS Wyoming District, explained the committee’s assigned task to address all the routes to ordination present in the LCMS, including various programs through the seminaries; Concordia University Irvine, Irvine, Calif.; and colloquy.
The committee was also asked to reconsider the licensed lay deacon program, the ability of Lutherans to attend non-LCMS seminaries, and other ways to pursue ordination.
Hill then outlined the assumptions on which the committee operated, noting especially that the Synod has determined the routes to ordination for several reasons. The first and most important is purity of doctrine. The seminaries are tied closely, Hill observed, to the first three objectives of the Synod as expressed in the Synod’s Constitution.
The Rev. Dr. James Baneck, FC 6 member and executive director of the LCMS Office of Pastoral Education, provided a brief overview of the Synod’s church work recruitment initiative, Set Apart to Serve (SAS). Baneck noted that “under God’s grace” the Synod is seeing an increase in efforts by congregations and other entities to talk intentionally to people of all ages about the possibility of church work vocations. Baneck then noted the extensive list of LCMS entities and Recognized Service Organizations, including the seminaries, the Concordia universities and all 35 LCMS districts, that have agreed to work together to encourage the church to embrace and utilize SAS.
Hill presented Resolution 6-01, “To Affirm and Strengthen Set Apart to Serve in Word and Action,” to the convention. LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison, convention chair, called the resolution a “no-brainer” that could be voted upon immediately. The delegates agreed by passing the resolution unanimously through vocal acclamation.
Hill proceeded to read the Resolveds in Res. 6-02A, “To Encourage Proper Pastoral Formation through our Synod’s Seminaries.” During discussion, delegates expressed the need for pastors to ensure everyone has a shepherd to provide Word and Sacrament ministry. After a failed amendment, the resolution passed by a voice vote.
On Wednesday, Aug. 2, FC 6 presented Res. 6-03A, “To Affirm and Strengthen the Synod’s Commitment to Well-Formed Clergy for the Sake of the Gospel.” Hill noted that the resolution addresses routes to ordination besides full-time, residential seminary education.
Hill explained the issues raised to the committee in preparation for this resolution. He explained that the ideal number of vacancies in the Synod is around 400, but in April the LCMS Council of Presidents (COP) noted 536 calling congregations. Part-time pastors serve 548 congregations.
The committee and the COP also addressed those on candidate status. About 75% of the Synod’s ministerium came via M.Div. or Alternate Route. In the last few years, however, the other routes have made up about 50% of new pastors. Much of this increase is due to the action to move the licensed lay deacons to the Specific Ministry Pastor (SMP) program.
Hill said, “We do recognize the urgency that Set Apart to Serve is addressing with such effectiveness. We recognize the urgency of the need for the Gospel today … and always the appeal for men to be pastors and the need for money to support them.”
Routes to ordination
Since 6-03A deals with the Pastoral Formation Committee (PFC), Hill explained that committee’s composition and duties, especially that of recommending new routes to ordination. Upon that recommendation, the route is placed before the convention. If passed, the seminaries then implement it.
Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, President Rev. Dr. Lawrence R. Rast Jr. spoke on the work of the PFC. “We had a marvelous and collegial conversation early today to address how to put together the information in the resolution before you. …
“One thing that came up was how best to prepare men for the pastoral ministry. … I will commit to you that we will engage with you with in all intentionality and truthfulness. … We want to hear from you, the delegates, as well. We want to work collaboratively with you as we move forward. … Hold us accountable.”
Hill then read the Resolveds. In the discussion that ensued, some expressed the desire to make the SMP an essential route to ordination, including adding an amendment to strengthen the language of the resolution regarding SMP. Delegates spoke both for and against this amendment, with all expressing their thankfulness for those serving due to the SMP program.
Upon request of a delegate, LCMS Pacific Southwest District President Rev. Dr. Michael Gibson addressed the convention. “I want to affirm Set Apart to Serve. It matters. Please become involved with it in your congregations. … It is important that we consider all routes.”
Gibson then explained the difficulty the district presidents face when helping congregations fill calls and provided an example of how SMP helps in his district. LCMS Chief Mission Officer Rev. Kevin D. Robson, chair of the PFC, was asked by Hill to address Gibson’s comments.
“I would like to affirm what President Gibson just said with respect to the criticality of the SMP program,” Robson said. “[Since] the Synod — you in convention — established that program … we have seen over and over again the fruits, the talents, the gifts, the wisdom of putting that route in place. … This committee has also affirmed the importance of SMP for the church.”
Robson then referred the delegates to the committee’s report that lays out the importance of the M.Div. for preparing men for the Office of the Holy Ministry.
After discussion, the amendment failed. The main motion was put before the convention and passed with 856 votes (90.3%). The committee was dismissed until the following day.
On Thursday, Aug. 3, the committee presented Res. 6-04, “To Affirm and Provide Guidance for the Service of Laity.” Hill noted that this does not address elders serving when a pastor is sick or absent, nor does it address assisting with distribution of the Lord’s Supper.
Harrison, as convention chair, then clarified the issue of lay readers. The 1989 Wichita resolution addresses men who lead a church in worship but do not serve the Sacraments, and who present a sermon prepared for them. This is a historic practice, “so we are encouraging that and working with the [Commission on Theology and Church Relations] to define that.” Harrison then noted that all members of the COP agree with the use of lay readers as just clarified.
Discussion moved to the issue of confession and absolution by the laity. Delegates spoke about the church’s continual teaching that laypeople are to speak absolution to their neighbor. Delegates also reaffirmed the role of the pastor to publicly forgive sins and to hear private confession. After hearing the discussion, Harrison ruled the amendment as non-substantive and thus out of order.
Further discussion addressed the inclusion of commissioned ministers in the list of laity found in the fourth Whereas. Hill noted that this is the common way that the Synod refers to commissioned ministers. The amendment failed, and the main motion passed by voice vote.
FC 6 then presented Res. 6-05, “To Affirm and Clarify Bylaw 188.8.131.52 by Amending.” Following brief discussion and clarification about the colloquy process by LCMS First Vice-President Rev. Peter K. Lange, and clarification by LCMS Secretary Rev. Dr. John W. Sias, the motion passed with 623 votes (87.03%).
Next, Res. 6-07A, “To Recommend and Implement Rigorous Program of Study in Circuit Winkels,” carried by a voice vote, and Res. 6-09, “To Recognize and Honor the Pastor’s Wife,” was adopted unanimously. As the delegates were looking up the resolution in their convention materials, Hill quipped, “I happen to be married to a pastor’s wife” to the laughter of the assembly.
The final resolution for FC 6, Res. 6-06A, “To Support and Participate in Post-Seminary Applied Learning [PALS] and Support and Preach the Word,” also passed unanimously following discussion about the benefits of the Synod’s PALS program.
Dr. Kevin Armbrust is director of the Graduate School and special assistant to the president at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.
Posted Aug. 4, 2023.
2023 LCMS Convention
Under the theme “We Preach Christ Crucified,” the 68th Regular Convention of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod met July 28–Aug. 3, 2023, at the Baird Center in Milwaukee.
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