From the President: Responding to Good Counsel
In my visits with various constituents of the seminary over the last year, I have received a lot of good counsel about what today’s church needs from LTSP. And we are trying to respond. Your multiple requests, for instance, for the seminary to be more of a partner in equipping congregational leaders for a changed and changing world has spurred our sponsoring the annual Ministry Resource Day (which attracted more than 180 people to campus last week – see the story and view recordings here) and a renewed Preaching Days (happening this October 19-21 – learn more and register here).
In addition to your counsel and requests, I’ve also received many promises of prayers and support. You have no idea how encouraging that has been! Lifting up each other and our shared ministries in prayer is of vital importance. Knowing that many of you are praying for LTSP faculty, students, and staff at your worship services or during your own quiet time is so much appreciated.
A third thing I’ve encountered in my visits is, occasionally, some interesting perceptions and convictions about seminary education that, while sometimes understandable, are not always accurate. As I’ve checked with other seminary presidents, I’ve discovered that these “myths” are not unique to the LTSP community. For this reason, from time to time I plan to try to clarify some of these assumptions so that we can move forward together in educating vibrant, creative, and faithful leaders for God’s church and world. This month, I will focus on two misperceptions.
Myth #1: Why go to seminary when there are fewer and fewer jobs?
(In addressing this myth, I’ll stick to the ELCA, the tradition I know best, though I suspect it holds for other traditions as well.)
Yikes, if that were only true! I can understand from where that perception comes, as we’re all too familiar with statistics about declines in attendance and church closures. But those figures can be misleading, as each year all of the seminaries of the ELCA combined offer only a fraction of the leaders requested by ELCA Bishops for first-call parishes and other ministry assignments. There is actually a huge need for trained leaders in our churches for pastors, youth workers, and other positions.
In addition, I’ve heard from the leaders of social ministry organizations of a similar desire and need for persons with theological training and sensitivity combined with the other skills they seek. For this reason, we at LTSP are trying to make our Master of Divinity (MDiv) and Master of Arts in Public Leadership (MAPL) programs accessible, relevant, and affordable. Further, with the number of retirements forecast in the coming decade in both congregations and social ministries, we are on the verge of a severe shortage of theologically trained professionals. As Jesus said to his disciples long ago, “the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few!” We are therefore, as Jesus also said, “Asking the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into the harvest field,” (Luke 10:2). And we hope you will help us by lifting up ministry as a viable and important vocation in your setting.
Myth #2: It is the responsibility of the seminary to train our leaders.
Wait, that can’t be a myth, can it? I mean, that’s why seminaries exist, right?
Yes, it’s true, seminaries exist to train leaders. The myth is that we can or should do it alone. Initially, seminaries were set up by congregations, ministeriums, and synods to train their leaders. These groups not only founded seminaries, but also funded them. And the pattern of regional and national church bodies funding seminaries persisted until relatively recently. In recent decades, however, church support has declined precipitously. Currently, the ELCA funds about seven percent of seminaries expenses and regional synods account for about seven percent more. Because we do not want to burden our graduates with debt, tuition accounts for about another 25-35 percent of funding, which leaves more than half of the expense for training our leaders to seminaries to come up with through fundraising and other ventures. Little wonder that many seminaries have been running significant operating deficits and leaders are graduating with large debt loads.
One year into this position, let me say with conviction and candor that unless congregations see themselves as invested partners in the training of the next generation of church leaders, our seminaries will not be able to train another generation of church leaders, at least not one robust and healthy enough to take on the challenges at hand. We are all members of one Body, Paul asserted near the outset of our movement (1 Cor. 12:12), and we need to act that way if seminaries are to continue forming leaders for the church. So I would ask that if you imagine needing a pastor or youth worker or other trained professional in the future, you put the seminary in your budget today to make sure we can train and prepare persons for a lifetime of ministry.
As you consider these requests, please know that I remain so very grateful for the counsel, prayers, and support I and the other faculty and staff at LTSP have received from you as we discern the best way forward in preparing leaders for today’s church. Again and again I am so very grateful that God has knitted us together in partnership and ministry.
Yours in Christ,