Responsibility for recruiting extends beyond seminaries

“Aggressive” is the way representatives of the LCMS seminaries in St. Louis, Mo., and Fort Wayne, Ind., describe their recruitment efforts as they do their part in addressing the projected shortage of parish pastors.

Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, has three full-time recruitment officers who travel extensively to meet with men who are considering service in the pastoral ministry, according to Rev. Glen Thomas, formerly special assistant to the president at the seminary and now executive director of the Board for Pastoral Education.

Both seminaries hold events to encourage high school and college students to visit the campus and participate in programs with faculty.

Echoing Thomas’ comments, Dr. Carl Fickenscher, dean of pastoral education and placement at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, says, “Our high school academy is most important in causing men to give a serious look to pastoral ministry.”

“Our recruiters are very aware that our goal is not to be competitive, but to raise up men who will go into the ministry of the LCMS,” Fickenscher adds.  “We have a wonderful exchange among staff and faculty at the two seminaries.  The result is that the two really are eagerly working on the same team, on the same page, to influence men to consider the ministry.  That’s really our primary goal.”

Thomas observes that parish pastors are most influential in the recruiting process. Pastors know the men in their congregations, serve as models, and plant the seed of church careers in young minds.  He said the seminary regularly asks potential students who was influential in their decision.  “It’s rare that a pastor is not mentioned somewhere,” he says.

“Recruitment needs to become a lifestyle,” comments Dr. L. Dean Hempelmann, who retired Oct. 1 as executive director of the Board for Pastoral Education.  “It’s not as simple as calling the district office when you need a worker.”

He believes recruitment starts at home and in the congregation.  “When we see gifts that indicate larger service — whether to teach, preach, administer, show compassion, or convey the Gospel through music — then we need to pray for and encourage those people to ask the Lord how they might use these gifts vocationally.”

Hempelmann notes that the “What A Way” initiative encourages both recruitment and retention of pastors and commissioned church workers.  The Web site has a graded curriculum on church vocations for Sunday schools and day schools plus information for prospective and current church workers.

“Our donations are part of the recruitment,” Hempelmann adds.  “Recruitment has to go beyond finding future pastors or church workers, but also getting them ready so they can serve.”

After graduating its largest class in decades, Thomas says the St. Louis seminary will see smaller class sizes in coming years.  One reason is economic: “We’ve had to increase the amount [of cost] that our students must cover.  Students, especially second-career students with family responsibilities, begin to doubt they really can do this.

“This area of funding theological education is one that the whole church has to come to grips with,” Thomas adds.  “A lot of people are under the misimpression that their Sunday offerings cover the cost of seminaries, but the seminaries receive 70 percent of their income from direct gifts that are given by individuals, groups, and congregations.”

Posted Nov. 20, 2007

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