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The Lord takes care of his church

In 2015, there were 77 vacancies for pastor-trained positions in our synod. That represented a vacancy rate of about 5 percent. Today, there are more than 140 vacancies for pastor-trained positions, which means the vacancy rate is approaching 10 percent. That doesn’t mean that 10 percent of congregations are without a pastor; many vacancies are in congregations that have two or more pastors on staff or in ministries outside of congregations. A similar situation is taking place in teacher-trained positions in our early childhood, elementary, and high schools.

This scenario is likely to be with us for some time. Even though graduating classes at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis., will be larger in the next few years, those additional candidates will only bring the pastor vacancy rate down slightly. Enrollment at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn., was impacted significantly by the pandemic. So while Martin Luther College is doing everything it can to recruit additional students for the teaching ministry, it may be a few years before the graduating classes are back to the pre-pandemic level. Adding to the challenge is the way that the Lord has blessed our Lutheran elementary schools with record-high enrollments. We are thankful for that blessing, but the number of teachers to serve those schools is not growing.

Vacancies in the pulpit and in the classroom can be a difficult and frustrating time for congregations, leading to recurring questions and concerns.

  • “We’ve extended so many calls, but no one accepts. How long will we need to wait? Why is no one accepting our call?”
  • “Why is it that our pastors and teachers receive so many calls? Every time they receive a call it is hard on them and on us.”
  • “Can’t the Conference of Presidents come up with a better calling system than the one we have?”

Recognizing those questions and concerns, the Conference of Presidents continues to look for ways to improve our call system to reduce stress on congregations and called workers. It also is working to address the vacancies affecting our congregations and schools. A special task force has been appointed to study ways to increase the number of teachers. Martin Luther College is exploring ways to increase financial aid for students. Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary is working to identify more pastoral candidates. District presidents are encouraging renewed recruitment efforts by called workers and congregations.

But what can you do? You can pray. You can pray fervently as Jesus encouraged, asking that the Lord of the harvest will send more workers into his harvest field. You can trust. You can trust in the promises of God that, even in the most challenging of circumstances, he will continue to do all things for the good of his people and his church. And you can encourage. Talk to the young people in your family and your congregation and encourage them prayerfully to consider training for a lifetime of service in the public ministry. Encourage people who are now serving as public school teachers to consider teaching in a WELS school. Encourage a man serving in another career to consider the pastoral ministry as a second career.

Our synod has experienced times in the past when we have had more workers than places to serve. We have also experienced shortages of called workers, as is the case now. But the Lord of his church has always enabled us to weather these challenges. There is no reason to think that he will not do that now.

Author: Mark Schroeder
Volume 110, Number 3
Issue: March 2023

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