Having observed from the sidelines some of the discussion regarding the seminary programs and paths to ordination (here, here, and here, just to link a few), I’ve heard quite a number of solutions for how to form pastors in the LCMS. I was a pre-seminary student at one of the Concordia Universities, so I’ve seen the process from the traditional side. I’ve also done my share of reading on the SMP program, so I understand the intent for beginning it. The SMP program, however, isn’t being used only as intended. It’s forming pastors as fast as possible without the cost or time of the traditional path.
Cost and time may be the problem. So I submit to the blogosphere the following ideas for changes to the seminary ordination path.
1) The seminary needs to be free for ordination-seeking M.Div. men. Cost is the biggest obstacle for those to whom the SMP program should be available: pastors for the newly planted, the multi-lingual, or the special-needs congregations. We are, however, a Synod with limited funds and a pair of seminaries already having financial issues. The question then is, how can we make the seminaries free for M.Div.? It’s time to decide as a Synod that the education of our ministers, teachers, D.C.E.’s, etc. is the most important thing we can do. We need to let the bodies who are trained to do this do the work, and not the Synod. The most amazing things I saw after Hurricane Katrina were the vans, trucks, and trailers lined up in front of the local Wal-Mart and grocery stores, packing up food and water, and driving south the day after it hit. FEMA hadn’t even gotten up out of it’s chair yet to take a look at the issue, and many individuals were streaming into the void to provide for those most affected. The Synod does great and powerful work, but it’s first job should be to provide education and $$$’s for those that educate.
2) Limit enrollment for ordination-seeking men. It is time for the seminaries and the Synod to be responsible enough to plan for the future and budget it’s resources ($$$ AND pastors) appropriately. That means that the district presidents must provide every year to the seminaries and Synod a projection for pastoral openings 4 years out. Then the seminaries can divide the number between themselves and each add 10 percent for attrition. This will help to provide each graduate with a call to fill.
With a limited enrollment, the incoming students should be further subdivided. Up to 25% of the incoming class should be second-career students. It’s important to have a perspective tempered by time spent outside of a classroom. Congregations have benefited from these pastors for years, and we should continue to prepare them for service. Also, up to 25% of the students should be the original target for the SMP program. Purposefully providing for the multi-lingual, the church-planter, and the specialty parish will change the outlook for our Synod and our seminaries. If one-quarter of our pastoral students are preparing to step foot into a mission field, it will have an effect on the whole class.
3) Make the M.Div. program a cohort-style program. Organizing the curriculum into a cohort-style, pre-arranged program will save funds because the costs will be predictable. Number of classes will be steady from year to year, and the seminarians will have a group of men to bond with as they move through their time at seminary.
4) Reduce the M.Div. program to 3 years. A cohort-style program means that the class schedule would need to be pre-defined, removing the ability for students to try and plan a schedule. This means that the electives would have to go. No electives and an arranged schedule of classes could move the seminarians through the required classroom courses in two years. A vicarage in the 3rd year would become more like an actual internship, and would set them up to keep the mindset of working with parishioners. This would also speed up the seminarians who need to move into specialty calls.
5) Push electives to the fourth year as an optional and online program. And charge for it. The learning a pastor receives from electives is still important, but it’s not required to administer sacraments, teach the Scriptures, or preach the Gospel. Seminarians who would like to add to their learning can do through online classes. The technology is available, we have experience with it as a Synod (Wisconsin and St. Paul have very successful online programs), and it’s time to make it available. The electives they take in the 4th year would cost them tuition, but could be used toward an additional Master’s degree, or even a Ph.D. By this time, they would be a called and ordained pastor, would be receiving a salary, and supporting their family. Some would say that they won’t have the time in their first year to take classes. If that’s the case, then the online programs will be available to them in the future, or could be taken at a pace that would not remove them from there duties. And the pastors in our congregations would still be learning and developing. That, and other individuals in the Synod would be able to pursue advanced degrees from our seminaries online, giving others access to the amazing and intelligent individuals teaching at our seminaries today. Also, the classes would provide another form of financial support for these institutions.
6) Add local supervision as a replacement for the 4th year. Let’s not push our new pastors out of the nest so quickly to cause issue. Create a local supervision committee, or a mentorship program to provide for these men who have just lost a year of support on campus. They will be fine, their training will be as excellent as it always is at St. Louis and Fort Wayne, but they may want to have someone to lean on or look to for questions or concerns that may have been addressed in the 4th year during classes.
I believe that it’s time to adopt the technology available today for our seminarians, and to help them start out without the overwhelming debt which the seminaries require today (and if they have come from one of the Concordia universities prior to seminary, watch out!). We can get them in and out quickly and still give them an effective and biblically-sound education, while saving our Synod and seminaries money. The adoption of a program like this would require us to end the SMP and lay minister programs. All the better, for these cause nothing but division and frustration amongst the Synod membership. And why would we want to create ministers with “restrictions” (direct from lcms.org) to their ministries? Let’s provide the right number, at the right time, for the right reason: To spread the Gospel of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory alone. Amen.