Convention approves new seminary track for 'specific ministry pastors'

HOUSTON – Delegates to the 63rd Regular Convention of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod July 18 approved a resolution (Res. 5-01B) to establish a new seminary track for “preparing men as quickly as possible to be called and ordained in order to meet the urgent mission needs of the church.”

The “Specific Ministry Pastor Program” uses distance education, pastor mentoring, and some on-campus seminary instruction – before and after ordination – to train pastors for specific ministries, such as “church planter” or evangelist.  Although they will train at their own pace, students in the program could qualify for ordination – and serve as “specific ministry pastors” – in less than two years, according to Dr. Jon Diefenthaler, chairman of the Floor Committee for Seminary and University Education, which presented the resolution.

Once ordained, the specific ministry pastor would be allowed to preach and administer the sacraments, with supervision, within his specific-ministry situation.  But he also would be required to complete the entire four- to five-year program to retain his certification.

Students in the Synod’s traditional seminary program for “general ministry pastors” typically complete four years of college, plus three years of on-campus seminary instruction and a one-year “vicarage,” or internship.

The Synod’s two seminaries – Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, and Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Ind. – currently offer a nontraditional pastoral-training route called Distance Education Leading To Ordination, or DELTO.  The new Specific Ministry Pastor Program replaces DELTO, while offering students an opportunity to continue their studies in the seminaries’ Master of Divinity programs, which DELTO does not.  Specific ministry pastors will not be required to continue in the M.Div. program, but will be encouraged to consider doing so, when feasible.
The new program will be offered by both seminaries, most likely beginning next year, according to Diefenthaler.

Students for the new program will be nominated by their district presidents and go through the same admission process as traditional seminary students, but will continue serving their home ministries while they study.

The new seminary program marks a “significant change” for pastoral ministry, taking advantage of modern technology and distance-education models, according to Dr. Andrew Bartelt, vice president for academic affairs at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. It resolves the need for pastors “in a positive, constructive, and theologically responsible way,” he told delegates, and “brings together doctrine and mission – that should be supported by all of us.”

“The goal is a good one – more pastors,” Bartelt said.  “Good pastors … who are about seeking and saving the lost and nurturing them in the faith until Christ comes again.”

Dr. Lawrence Rast, academic dean at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, assured the convention that specific ministry pastors “will be well-instructed in our confessional theology” and “under the direct supervision of our [seminary] faculties.”  The new program, he said, fits the Fort Wayne seminary’s commitment to prepare pastors in both traditional and nontraditional ways.

A proposed amendment to delay the ordination of students in the new program was declined by delegates after Diefenthaler spoke against it, saying it would “defeat the whole purpose” of the Specific Ministry Pastor Program.

LCMS Missionary Tim Nickel, who serves in Kyrgyzstan, called the program “a wise and creative solution” to the shortage of pastors, especially on mission fields such as his, where the number of congregations planted far outstrips the number of trained pastors to serve them.

Delegates voted 908 to 287, or by 76 percent, to adopt the resolution.

The theme of the July 14-19 Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod convention here is “One Mission – Christ!  His Love is Here for You!”

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