I’m a 65-year-old life-long Lutheran and lay-leader. In each congregation of which I’ve been a part and served, there has been at least one pastor, a small group of paid support staff, and a great number of lay volunteers who make sure that everything that needs doing, is done. Yet, through the years, I’ve observed that even with strong lay leadership, the most impactful leader in each congregation is the pastor.
Our Lutheran tradition relies on pastors to set the tone and develop momentum within each congregation, even as they share leadership with the laity. Our pastors are well-educated in the gospel and the sacraments. Our pastors are also well-trained in the basics of how to help healthy congregations operate day-to-day.
As a lay leader, I’ve been aware that there has been a shortage of clergy in the Lutheran church, but until I attend the Southwest Synod’s annual gathering this past June, I wasn’t aware of how urgent the need has become. In the next decade, a significant number of calls in our synod will go unfilled quite simply because there aren’t enough pastors available. As I understand it, are three factors that are converging to cause this crisis:
- Many of our pastors who, like me, are part of the baby-boomer generation, are retiring. These retiring pastors represent a significant percentage of our current rostered clergy both here in the Southwest Synod and across the nation.
- Financial assistance for seminary education, readily available to baby-boomer seminarians, has shrunk significantly; now seminarians routinely graduate with significant student debt.
- Compensation for pastors has been significantly eroded by inflation over the last couple of decades.
We’re reaching a crisis: We’re simply not attracting to our seminaries nearly enough students who may want to be pastors. Think about it. Would you choose, even if you felt called, to enter seminary knowing you’d graduate with high student debt, and then begin your career with the prospect of compensation well below what you will need to feed and clothe your family, let alone service your seminary debt?
Although I’m most likely in the final quarter of my life, and while I may be fortunate enough to be part of a congregation with strong pastoral leadership until the end of my life, I know that without my help, and the help of my fellow Lutherans, the next generation may not be so fortunate. That’s why I support “Deep Roots, New Life.” I see the importance of Lutheran to keep our roles of rostered clergy strong and thriving.
I ask you to join me in supporting the goal of alleviating student debt for seminarians and seminary graduates. The money you and I give will to two things: 1) provide scholarships for current seminarians and associates in ministry from our synod, and 2) provide seminary debt relief for our pastors currently serving here in the synod. 50% of your contribution will stay right here in the synod. 40% will go the ELCA’s “Always Made New” campaign for seminary support. 10% may be designated by you to support your local congregational ministry. Together, with God’s help, we can do this!