Discovering Spiritual Truths & Celebrating God's Grace in the Every Day Happenings of Life.
This past week, I spent three days in St. Louis. Why? Not to avoid the snow, although the timing was wonderfully convenient. While most in our area were shoveling out and enjoying a snow day, I was in 60-degree temps with sunny skies. Plus, if I’m going to flee the snow, it will not be to the middle of the country where there is no beach in sight! It also was not, primarily, for the delicious St. Louis BBQ, fresh Anheuser-Busch brew, or local Ted Drewes Frozen Custard. The actual reason that I was in St. Louis was for the Set Apart to Serve (SAS) initiative that you’ve seen mentioned several times over the past many months in our weekly blasts and church bulletins. Our church body, the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, has its headquarters located in St. Louis and they hosted all members that are part of this pilot group for an onboarding conference.
So what is Set Apart to Serve? Again, it is a synod-wide, intentional commitment, and meticulous approach to raising up, educating, and sending new church workers. There is an incredible shortage of full-time church workers. For example, we currently have about 6,000 active pastors in our synod. If nothing is done, due to retirement and low enrollment at our...
seminaries, in ten years we will have about 3,000 active pastors. Another example, last year Lutheran schools requested about 425 teachers for open teaching jobs from the different Concordia’s in the University school system. They were only able to fulfill 95 of those requests. It is getting harder and harder for our Lutheran churches and schools to fill their ministry staff positions.
Although unfortunate, this is nothing new. And it is not unique to our church body. The church-worker shortage is a problem in denominations across the Christian spectrum. But its roots go back even further. Even in the 1st century, we find that the need for evangelizers was greater than those who were willing and able to do it. In Matthew 9, we read, “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
SAS is an effort to, not only pray for workers, but to actively seek out those whom the Lord has gifted and recruit them into a joy-filled life of serving the Lord and His church. This is not limited to pastors. It includes deaconesses, Lutheran school teachers, directors of parish music, directors of Christian education, directors of Christian outreach, and more!
So how does this work? Currently the synod has chosen one church/school from each district (35 total) to serve as the “pilot group” (or guinea pigs) for their church worker recruitment program. We are going to test out their resources, approaches, etc. We will provide feedback of what works and what does not. We will look for gaps in their materials. The SAS team, leadership from the synod, representatives from our LCMS colleges and seminaries, and an outside marketing and communications firm, have been working tirelessly to make sure their approach is organized and apt to bear much fruit. They have invested great time, money, relationships, and energy over the past three years. After getting feedback from the “pilot group,” they will tweak their resources and begin to make this initiative known to the rest of the synod. What we do in these early months as guinea pigs, will impact how this initiative is distributed and implemented throughout our entire church body!
So… why our church? Why not! 😊 Out of the 46 congregations in the New Jersey District, we were the lucky ones selected to have a firsthand engagement with this necessary and God-pleasing process. This is certainly the job of every congregation, to look for and train up children in the truths of God’s Word—whether they enter church work or not. This includes planting a seed in the hearts and minds of young people about the fulfilling work of spreading the love and Gospel of our Savior Jesus. The SAS leadership has methodically chosen churches of all shapes and sizes, in a variety of different contexts. We are indeed blessed!
How does this happen? Certainly, we will pray for this process. We can also consider the youth in our lives, not just our congregation, and encourage them in church work careers. We begin by thinking of the young people in our church. But we don’t stop there. What about your nephew or niece? What about your grandchild? There are no limitations to where this seed gets sown. We never know what God has in mind. If you were to tell me in middle school or high school that I would become a pastor, I would have laughed in your face and called you crazy—as would the family and friends that knew me best. Truth be told, I would not be where I am today, if not for the encouragement and nudging of my home pastor, church members, and countless others, who said to me at some point, "You know, you would be a good pastor."
Now whether or not I fit the criteria of a “good” pastor is not up for debate. 😉 But what is undeniable is that I would not be, where I am today, if not for the encouragement of men and women from my past to plant the seed of full-time church work.
You will be hearing more about this in the next coming months. There are many layers to this effort, including the future inclusion of 2nd career church workers. In the meantime, if you would like more information or would like to help me spearhead our “guinea pig” efforts here at King of Kings, please reach out to me. I would love the assistance and excitement of another person or two to help provide beneficial feedback to the SAS leadership team, and maybe even find a worker or two for the ripe harvest field right here in our own congregation!
Good things are happening here. God things are happening here!
Pastor Steve Vera