Pressure Points (March)

With Dr. Bruce Hartung

My mailbox is starting to fill with messages related to congregational and church-workers’ concerns about the effects of the current economic crisis on our chartung.gifhurches, schools, and Recognized Service Organizations (particularly social service RSOs).  I anticipate that these types of communications will continue (at least I hope so!), in order that we might have dialogue concerning scarcity of funds, job security, and person-to-person respect of members of the Body of Christ for each other.  So, I encourage readers to contact me about how churches, schools, and RSOs are dealing with the economy’s impact, especially regarding personnel concerns.

Somewhat related to this issue — but existing apart from the economic downturn itself — is the following question/comment I’ve received.  It is representative of several similar communications.

Q: I am writing to you because of a comment my wife made to me while reading the latest Reporter.  She said, and I quote, “I wish there was someone I could talk to and tell them how the Missouri Synod … left me.” 

The comment was made regarding the fact that since she and I have turned 40, it seems that the ability to obtain calls is almost non-existent for people of our age. We used to get at least a couple of phone calls per year regarding call availability, but that has stopped.  When we have been considered, we have been told that we are over-qualified or that we don’t fit the situation.  We read this as being too expensive (too old and high up the pay scale) to be considered … .

Dr. Hartung, we have been fortunate to both land jobs in our fields.  Other “older” teachers across the country are not so fortunate … .

I never see this topic in the “Pressure Points.”  I always see pastors’ problems, [or those about] tuition for pastoral students, calls for pastors, etc. 

Pastors will always get a call somewhere and continue with their ministry.  Teachers are not so sought after when they reach a certain age — or so it seems to me. … It seems [that] as long as younger teachers graduate and fill positions, everything is OK. … There is a wealth of experience in the Synod that I see going to waste.  It would seem to me that we would embrace that experience and make places for that experience to be used.

A: This is definitely an appropriate concern for me and for this column!  There has indeed been more emphasis on pastors and on congregational leadership than on the voices that have been raised concerning our teachers.  Here is an opportunity to change that — at least somewhat. 

While the question of “older” teachers getting teaching positions is the focus of your comments, there is also a more general question having to do with age, experience, and compensation across church vocations.  It may very well be, though, that teachers are more vulnerable.  I hope I will hear from teachers about this issue and from school board leaders as to how they are thinking through these kinds of concerns.

For the moment, though, I think it is important to note that we are not just talking about teacher-hiring issues. We are more basically talking about our investment in our children and the desire that we as parents and grandparents provide the very best wholistic education for them.  Investment requires capital.  If we actually do make choices of who teaches our children based primarily on financial considerations, then our choices speak to the level of our investment in them.  If “age” equals “higher pay” and any of us decides to choose a teacher based primarily on these economics, then we are making an investment choice.

Age does not always make a better teacher, of course.  But the basic issue remains one of investment.  I assume that we all are working with a common question: how can we best invest in the future of our children — a future that will, generally speaking, outlive our own personal lifespan?  And, how does the age of teachers and current economics play into that investment?

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

Posted Feb. 26, 2009

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