By Roland Lovstad
Strategies to tap the technology tools of e-mail, a Web site, Facebook, and even Twitter will encourage the church to ask important face-to-face questions: “Have you ever thought about becoming a Lutheran school teacher (or pastor or deaconess)?” and “How is everything going in your ministry?”
The questions deal with recruitment and of church workers, and call attention to “What a Way,” an initiative the LCMS began in May 2000. Now, renewed efforts are raising the visibility of the initiative and emphasizing the congregations’ roles for assuring a sufficient supply of ordained and commissioned workers.
“We’re trying to reach into congregations. If the emphasis is not at the congregation level, it doesn’t meet our mission,” said Dr. L. Dean Hempelmann, director of What a Way. One of his goals is to rebuild a culture in congregations that encourages sons and daughters to use their gifts and talents in full-time church professions.
Hempelmann works in collaboration with the staffs of the Board for University Education, Board for Pastoral Education, the Commission on Ministerial Growth and Support, and the Board for District and Congregational Services. What a Way is funded by the Synod through restricted grants and gifts.
He explained that the initiative has both a recruitment and retention focus. Among plans is an update of the What a Way Web site at www.whataway.org, which offers information and resources for potential church workers. It includes profiles of current ordained and commissioned church workers. The site also has resources for forming worker care committees, encouraging wellness, and continuing education for current workers.
What a Way also produced a “mini-curriculum” for day schools, Sunday schools, and confirmation classes. The curriculum teaches that students can share the Gospel of Jesus Christ now and introduces them to possible church vocations. Grades K-2 emphasize Christian caring; grades 3-5 emphasize Christian living; and grades 6-8 focus on Christian growing. By providing lessons and activities for each grade level, the curriculum guides teachers in posing the idea of full-time church work before every student, every year.
Hempelmann said What a Way is providing a new book, distributed through Concordia Publishing House, to every congregation. Leap of Faith: A Resource for Spirit-led Explorers, looks at the transition to pastoral ministry. It specifically targets men who are considering a career change to pastoral ministry, but it has value for anyone taking a family through the transitions when a husband and father prepares to be a full-time church worker.
Helping to develop and execute a communication plan is Divine Marketing Solutions, operated by Julie Jacoby and her husband Jeremy, an LCMS pastor. To build awareness of What a Way, the plan will initiate e-mail contacts with all LCMS church workers. The communication will determine their knowledge of What a Way and collect their comments about what influenced them to enter full-time church work, as well as their joys and struggles.
“Every worker will have the chance to say, ‘Thanks, but no thanks,’ as far as ongoing e-mail communication,” said Jeremy Jacoby.
The firm is proposing a newsletter for church workers to share advice and information. Also planned is a blog so congregation members — professionals and laity — can share their ideas and experiences in church worker appreciation. Plans also call for using social networking tools such as Facebook and Twitter.
While specific communication goals are still being formed, Jacoby said one goal is to involve 1,500 organizations during the next 18 months. The organizations could be congregations, schools, auxiliaries, or service organizations. Another goal is to increase the number of church work students at the 10 LCMS colleges by 375 in 2010. Between 2000 and 2008, the church work majors at LCMS colleges declined from 3,048 to 2,034.
Jacoby, a parish pastor for 12 years, informally surveyed his colleagues and learned that only two in 10 knew about What a Way. “We’ve also learned that the strongest influence for recruitment is the existing church worker who suggests that a person — whether youth or adult — consider serving full-time in church work,” he said.
Hempelmann said much information has been gathered in the Synod about church workers, including current and future needs, potential effects as the “Boomer Generation” retires, health and wellness practices, and financial planning. He is working with a church worker information committee, called by the Board for Pastoral Education, to share data and apply it to recruitment and retention of workers.
As awareness grows, What a Way will identify and promote resources for commissioned and ordained workers to use in encouraging potential workers. Materials are already offered on the Web site. Other materials discuss topics like financial and retirement planning, health and wellness, continuing education, and worker care committees.
LCMS professional worker categories include pastors, who are ordained, and other workers who are commissioned, including teachers, deaconesses, directors of Christian education, directors of Christian outreach, directors of parish music, directors of family life ministry, and lay ministers.
As director of What a Way, Hempelmann also is gathering stories and comments from professional workers, which he shares in his presentations and communication materials. He invites workers to e-mail their stories to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Roland Lovstad is a freelance writer and a member of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Perryville, Mo.
Posted June 3, 2009