Letters to the Editor (November)

Synod statistics

Last month’s story about the 2007 Synod statistics report was more accurate and clearly stated than last year’s. The limitations were well explained by Synod Secretary Hartwig and Dr. O’Hara.

My only suggestion is that the numbers in the first paragraph in keeping with their estimated nature should be truncated from 34,913 to “about 35,000”; 2,383,084 to “approximately 2,383,000”; 21,719 to “almost 22,000”; and from 1,835,064 to  “approximately 1.835 million.” This would enforce in the readers’ minds that the numbers are estimates with significant variance and were calculated as well-described further on in the report. There may be other ways to more accurately express the numbers too.

I hope that you don’t think that I am nitpicking. Numbers can easily deceive us at times.

Donn Parker
Los Altos, Calif.

Suggestions for sems

This is in response to the current “How Will They Hear?” appeal of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, as well as to the problem of seminary graduates’ indebtedness, as discussed in recent “Pressure Points” columns.I’m a retired LCMS missionary with 33 years of overseas experience, including a total of 18 years as a seminary teacher in the Philippines and in South Africa.  I presently serve as coordinator of the small Rocky Mountain Theological Institute (RMTI), preparing men to enter the LCMS Specific Ministry Pastor program or to serve in the district’s Licensed Deacon Program, as well as preparing laypeople for greater service in their home congregations.

The $77 million “How Will They Hear?” campaign figure causes me to reflect on the present LCMS situation, on the long-range prospects of ministry, and on the theological education we need in order to provide that ministry.  As theological education becomes more and more expensive, students graduate from the seminaries with greater and greater loads of debt. The Concordia health and retirement plan costs keep rising.  Already a significant number of smaller LCMS congregations cannot afford to call seminary graduates.  And many graduates, because of heavy educational loan debts, cannot live on the salaries that smaller congregations can afford to pay.  It appears that this gap between congregations’ financial ability and seminary graduate needs may continue to widen, rather than diminish.

As food for thought, I would like to suggest a way to address the problem at the seminary level.  Retaining the M.Div. program and the residential training system, the seminaries could teach the first one or two years of courses at district theological education centers. 

The RMTI program is a small-time example of that approach.  Each district could have a seminary faculty member as a part-time coordinator.  He would oversee all of its centers (located so that any student could drive to a center within two or three hours for his classes).  That coordinator might be able to serve as pastor in a smaller congregation, to help augment his income and enable the congregation to support him.

The courses could be taught by pastors or professors certified by the seminaries as adjunct or deployed staff.  The curriculum could be the normal courses.  Honoraria for the teachers could be nominal, since all of them would be part time.

Students could stay at home and keep their jobs and continue to function with their families and congregations.  Under the supervision of their pastors (who could be given nominal stipends) students could be using in the local congregations what they learn in their classes. A participating student could mature in ministry as he interacted with the people and the Word in the congregation.  That’s good educational practice, as well as a way to help the local church fulfill its mission, though it does lengthen the years of study.

The cost difference could be tremendous, even if only the first academic year or two would be taught in that way. 

After a student completed the first year or two at a district facility, he could then transfer to a residential seminary to finish his M.Div. studies in the rich atmosphere of the campus and all it has to offer.

Another option along the same line is the possibility of distance learning.  Even as our seminaries are now opening up the possibilities of electronic teaching, it might be possible to offer almost the entire curriculum to a student who takes courses at home. Occasional seminars and workshops on the seminary campus could add at least some of the riches available there.

Would such an approach enable us to down-size our seminary faculties and facilities somewhat and thus lead to less expensive seminary education without losing any quality — perhaps even enhancing the quality of the experience?

Changing theological education is never easy.  But we need to think about it!  In the long-range view, the question remains and looms ever larger: How can we lower the cost of theological education so that small Christian congregations can afford the Gospel ministry that they need, in order to reach out with the saving power of our Lord’s death and resurrection to the dying world?  Our answer has eternal implications.

Rev. David Schneider
Colorado Springs, Colo.

Ablaze! counter

I am responding to the article in the October Reporter, “Faith-sharing at schools boosts Ablaze! counter.”

The entire article made me stop and scratch my chin, wondering if we have not turned the privilege of teaching our children the Gospel into a matter of the Law. 

There are potential flaws in the reporting, such as unchurched students possibly being counted twice in the 2004-2008 statistics, especially if the students were enrolled for four consecutive years.  Not to mention that polling our young Pre-K and kindergarten students about their faith-sharing encounters poses some reporting dilemmas.  Many of these young learners cannot differentiate between yesterday, today, and the day after tomorrow.  It is quite possible that they will share the same faith-sharing story multiple times. 

Let’s spend less time worrying about the numbers and the possible reporting flaws and put our efforts into solid, Scriptural teaching of our children.  The Lord promises returns on His Word.  In faith, we leave the final count to Him.

Susan Johnson
Richmond, Mo.

Please send letters via e-mail to REPORTER@lcms.org or by mail to REPORTER Letters, 1333 S. Kirkwood Road, St. Louis, MO 63122-7295.  Please include your name, postal address, and phone number.  Lett

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