Under Water

When the President’s approval numbers show that more disapprove of the job he is doing than approve, it is called being underwater. It is not good.
Our synod is underwater.
We now have 275 vacancies which are calling a pastor (including sole, associate, and senior pastors). This is, in and of itself, bad. There are not going to be enough vacancies for pastors graduating from the seminary. When pastors need to move (health or other reasons) there are not enough places for the movement to be timely. But, if we had full congregations, this would not be a severe problem. We could use the surplus pastors to plant new congregations, send missionaries to foreign mission fields, etc.
The problem is that congregations are not full. The vacancy rate for synod is over 7%. There are a total of 873 vacancies. 598 are not calling. This is not a problem. It is a scandal. Are we to leave 598 individual flocks without a shepherd? This number is growing. There are now twice as many non-calling vacancies as vacancies. What do they do? Some use part-time retired pastors for help. Some use CRM pastors for help. Others simply go their own way, with various forms of pulpit supply. This is just not sustainable. Congregations without pastors generally see a decrease in membership and worship attendance, and rarely, if ever, see new members added. By encouraging, or even allowing, congregations to have long term (and even permanent) vacancies, we are destroying any hope we have of growing (or for that matter surviving) as a church body. Yes, I know that District Presidents can only do so much. They can not force a congregation to issue a call. They can only advise. (After all, as our constitution so elegantly states it, the synod is not an ecclesiastical government with coercive powers) So here is my respectful advice to those who have been given the oversight of parishes and their pastors Ready? Here it is :
Say, “You need to pony up the cash and call a pastor. Otherwise you will die as a congregation. I know you don’t think you can afford it, but you can’t afford not to. If you truly can’t afford it – no way, no how – then I have another congregation that could join you in a dual parish. I know you don’t want to do that, but it must be done for your own good. I will arrange a meeting with them. If you refuse, I will simply put it on my schedule to come back in 3 (or 4 or 5) years so I can discuss closing the parish, because that is what will happen.”
Of course, what bishop in his right mind would talk that way? But the Council of Bishops (There I go again) needs to do more than simply report and take note of these numbers.
Consider this : In 2006 the numbers were :
450 Vacant and Calling
388 Not Calling
838 Total Vacant.
Notice anything? The total vacant number is almost the same today as four years ago, but the number calling has been cut in half. Does this mean that in another four years the numbers will again be the same/cut in half? No. In another four years, if the District Presidents do not take action, look for the number of non-calling vacancies to have doubled again. The number of vacancies is about to skyrocket, but most of them will be non-calling.
These congregations, with no link to the district except the people who provide the pulpit supply list, will become increasingly distanced from the district office. “All they do is make a list of pastors for pulpit supply. That can’t be worth thousands of dollars.” The district money supply will dry up. And that means that they will no longer be able to afford full-time staff – like District Presidents. Of course, that would be a good thing, but it isn’t worth destroying the fabric of our synod to get there.
So, pastors continue to speak up and say “NO” to this. When they can, they encourage congregations to do the right thing. But it happens far to seldom that they are in a position to have influence. We need the District Presidents to speak up and say, “Congregations need pastors”. Perhaps soon a crisis will come that can not be ignored. Or perhaps our new Synod President can devote some of his efforts to this. I imagine that, being the godly sort of man he is, his heart aches when he sees congregations that are like sheep without a shepherd. Or actually without one.
Kyrie Eleison.


4 Responses to “Under Water”

  1. FB, I agree that congregations should do everything possible to get a pastor. But in the Upper Plains, where I live, the non-calling congregations are tiny (with 10-12 on a Sunday) and isolated. So they ‘”contract” with a congregation that is somewhat close. That contract ensures they have worship, funerals and pastoral care but don’t have to deal with the paperwork partnership of a duel parish.

    In addition there is a benefit for a pastor to have a non-calling congregation. If the pastor is a vacancy pastor he receives much more than if it converts into a duel parish. He would do the same job for less money if he urged them to go to a duel parish.

    At least in the Upper Plains there would be no to few additional pastors added by ending non-calling vacancies.


  2. Peter,
    I have a solution, and I hope you don’t take offense :
    The prospective dual parishes download Open Office (it’s free), and enter the following numbers into the spreadsheet function :
    What his parish honors him with in the course of a year.
    The honorarium given by the vacant parish.
    Click on the “Sum” button, and select those two numbers.
    Agree to give him the result.
    I am not aware of any law which requires that a congregation remunerate less in toto than when honored individually.
    Is there a substantive difference between upper plains and high plains? I am in the upper plains – very desolate that is – in the state with the lowest population, and the district has made a commitment that each congregation will have a pastor. Does it require sacrifice? Yes. Is it worth it? Yes. It isn’t a matter of “solving” the surplus of pastors, but of remaining faithful to our confession, and making certain that the flock of Christ has a ritely called shepherd. Of course, in America, with all our surplus money and resources, it really only takes a little bit of commitment to make these things happen. To see people who really sacrifice to make sure they have pastors, look to some of our partner churches, such as the Siberian Lutheran Church (featuring, I am told, the world’s largest parish – 4,000 miles, end to end.) or the Lutheran Church in Sierra Leon (One of the poorest countries on the planet. Many of the pastors work six days a week at back-breaking labor, just so they can afford to preach on the seventh. They walk for up to two weeks to attend a ‘seminary’ for two weeks a year to learn more about our faith. Their goal – every parish will someday own a hymnal.)

  3. FB,
    You are right of course. Congregations should call the man serving them.

    I was just trying to give a bit of background on why some congregations are non-calling(10-12 people in worship due to location) and also the perspective of some of the pastors who serve(cut in salary for same work).

    But I agree with your theological point…Call him!

    Unfortunately I believe you will see even more non-calling congregations with the invention of the SMP’s. Just to my north there are 5 congregations served by 3 smp’s and 1 called and ordained. The DP likes it and the circuit counselors in the district had no problems with it( except for me).

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