Pressure Points (September)

With Dr. Bruce Hartung

A couple recent Pressure Points focused on the vexing challenge of inadequate funding for pastoral-ministry students. Higher debt and low salaries creathartung.gife real challenges for them.
In response, some readers have noted that Synod professional church workers in other vocations are in similar straits, and also should have our concern.  For example, the question and answer that follow draw attention to the issue of debt as it applies to our Lutheran school teachers.

Q: I have seen other [Pressure Points] articles about financial hardships that lie ahead for those who become pastors, but not much about the hardships for those entering the teaching ministry.
I heartily believe that God provides for all our needs, but young men and women coming out of our Synod colleges as teachers with an average debt of $27,000 per year of schooling are faced with similar challenges.
It is extremely difficult to encourage my sons to become parochial school teachers [when I know] they will have incurred such debt before they even begin their teaching careers.
My wife, whose annual gross salary is about $30,000, has been a Lutheran school teacher for a number of years. At such a salary, how would the “head of household” be able to support a family, buy a house or car, etc.?
As a financial concern, why should our sons choose parochial over private school teaching? … Does the Synod have a plan?
I would appreciate any comments and help with this concern for me and my family as we guide our children to hear God’s calling for them.

A: If the Synod has such a plan, I cannot find it.

There is current study about student debt, but study must move into constructive and educated action before a clear crisis gets even worse.
From research the Synod’s Commission on Ministerial Growth and Support and I conducted, we have known for almost a decade that the number-one issue in retaining teachers in the Synod is compensation.
Good personal relationships with their students, the principal, and other faculty are crucial to their satisfaction with teaching; but when it comes to retention, finances emerge as the concern.
For instance, we know this is a growing issue as the number of men teachers in our elementary schools continues to diminish.
Competitive pay is vital.  Financial support to offset teacher-education costs should be a priority, to help alleviate “start-up stress” for each new teacher.
I very much hope that we can mobilize as a church body to face this important concern, and I call on our leaders to facilitate that mobilization.
In the meantime, our children are wondering if they are called to be teachers, DCEs, deaconesses, DCOs, or pastors.
No Christian’s vocation is any more important than another’s.  God calls us to our work and duty, no matter what it is. 
With that in mind, young people who aspire for the teaching ministry need to prayerfully consider their options — the entire picture.
One suggestion is to have your sons check with teachers they can trust — sit down with them and ask them to give an honest assessment of their teaching careers. They should converse freely about how financial concerns affect their vocational satisfaction. Also, what keeps them in the teaching ministry?  In short, let your sons investigate by talking with people who do what they think they might want to do.  Then, I encourage you to sit down with your sons for a de-briefing of their conversations with teachers.
Please let me know how it went.

Rev. Bruce M. Hartung, Ph.D., is dean of Ministerial Formation at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, and can be reached at

Posted Aug. 27, 2008

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