By James Baneck
Christ’s death and resurrection for our salvation is the purpose and joy of Set Apart to Serve (SAS), the LCMS (Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod) church work recruitment initiative. God calls pastors and commissioned workers to tell the Good News of Jesus Christ, that all will hear it, believe it and have eternal salvation. As we bask in Easter joy, I have joyous news to share with you about SAS.
The SAS pilot program involves 35 congregations and schools across the Synod, plus one National Lutheran Outdoors Ministry Association camp. The purpose of the pilot program is to test SAS strategies and resources. On March 30, the pilot program participants met on Zoom for our first check-in. This is what they shared:
“I led a full-day retreat with my staff, brainstorming all the ways we could think of to help our young people engage in the life of the congregation. We think that participating and leading in the congregation is vital to young people’s faith and will encourage many to consider full-time church work.” — Rev. Dan Weber, Washington
“I asked my team to make a list of talents and attributes to look for in our youth as we talk to them about considering church work. Being intentional is the key.” — Rev. James Woelmer, Texas
“Pastors who are associated with our association school are getting involved. One of them is talking to specific parents about inviting their sons for job-shadowing opportunities.” — Principal Robinette Flatch, Illinois
“I am intentionally engaging with kids at catechism age (grades 7 to 8), and [with] their parents, to think about considering church work as a vocation.” — Rev. Josh Woodrow, California
“I appreciate the intentionality of this initiative. I’m sharing SAS with influencers in my congregation, and I have identified one young man I want to encourage to consider the pastoral ministry.” — Rev. Russ Gibson, Alabama
SAS is fine-tuning the resources being tested by our pilot congregations. These resources include journey maps, an essential experiences toolkit, ordained and commissioned church work description booklets, and conversation guides. SAS is also reviewing and incorporating resources developed by individual pilot congregations. At the end of the pilot program, these resources will be made available on the SAS website.
There are two phases to SAS: youth (Baptism–12th grade) and second career. One immediate need in the LCMS is to address the shortage of pastors and Lutheran school teachers. In the second-career phase, we are striving to increase awareness of opportunities to serve as a pastor or teacher as a second career and to increase the number of pastors and teachers proclaiming salvation through Jesus Christ to all the world.
We are currently in the research stage of the second-career phase. Several second-career church workers responded to our request to conduct one-on-one qualitative interviews with them. We will also be sending out a quantitative questionnaire as part of our research.
From this research, we will create a strategy and build resources for this phase. Significant partners in the second-career phase include Dr. Alan Freeman, LCMS School Ministry; the Rev. Peter Lange, Synod first vice-president and head of Colloquy; the Rev. Ben Haupt, associate provost, Concordia Seminary, St. Louis (CSL); and the Rev. Matthew Wietfeldt, director of Admissions and Christ Academy, Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne (CTSFW).
Seminaries see early impact
SAS is developing a dashboard to show our progress toward the goals of recruitment and retention of church workers. Key indicators include awareness of church work vocational paths among youth and second-career candidates, intentional conversations between pastors/other influencers and those considering/pursuing church work, and increased enrollment in church work programs at Concordia universities and LCMS seminaries. Early indicators show promising trends.
Haupt said, “Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, is blessed to collaborate with Set Apart to Serve, our sister seminary CTSFW and our fellow CUS [Concordia University System] schools in the noble cause of calling our church … to encourage more people to consider church work. Because of this collaboration, word about the church’s need for church workers is getting out and making a difference. CSL received 103 applications for its 2023 Master of Divinity program (more than any year of the last 10), nine applications for the Residential Alternate Route program and eight applications for the residential deaconess program.”
Wietfeldt said, “Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, continues to see an increase in the number of completed residential pastoral and deaconess applications and prospective student visits to campus. In addition, there has been a substantial increase in participants in the CTSFW Christ Academy vocational discernment programs, including the new Christ Academy: Family Institute.”
Set Apart to Serve is an initiative of the LCMS to recruit church workers, encouraging young people and second-career individuals to consider church work vocations primarily through their continued and faithful involvement with their congregations. For more information, visit lcms.org/sas.
Posted May 2, 2023