Begging the Question in BRTFSSG Proposal #19, by Pr. Lincoln Winter

(Editor’s Note: Lincoln Winter is pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church Wheatland in southeastern Wyoming. I last knew of Lincoln when he was a member of the Northern Illinois Confessional Lutherans and was instrumental in the writing of “That They May be One” also known as TTMBO, a straight-forward critique of the Yankee Stadium issue. It is good to see that Lincoln is still using his skills to critique important matters in the church. He has an entire series on the Blue Ribbon proposals on his blog Wild Boar from the Forest. This article is found here.)

If you say something often enough, it must be true.

When I was a boy, I was never allowed to go swimming for at least thirty minutes after eating. If I did I would get a cramp and die. Of course, that’s hogwash. But it was said by so many parents, that it simply must have been true. Recently, scientists did a study of kids drinking sugary Kool-Aid. They found that hyperactivity had more to do with parents expectations than with children’s behavior.

Proposal #19 of the BRTFSSG claims that “Congregations and District Officers see seminary graduates as well grounded in theology but often in need of greater interpersonal and leadership skills.” This has been repeated by our synod’s leaders for over a decade. (And I expect for far longer, but that’s how long I have been ordained.) But is it true?

One District President told me that when he was in office, he always worried about graduates from one of our seminaries, because everyone knew they caused more trouble than pastors from the synod’s sister seminary. Then, one day, he actually went through the records and discovered that the opposite was true. He saw what he expected to see, until he actually looked at the numbers objectively.

It’s called “Begging the Question” – a logical fallacy that asks a question which assume facts that are not yet proven. In this case, “How do we solve the problem of seminary graduates who are ill-prepared for the leadership challenges of being a pastor?” What problem? What evidence is there that seminary graduates fail at a higher rate than people in other professions? When I was in seminary, a large number of seminary students were ex-military. Do they need the sort of leadership training that only our synod can provide? Other seminarians had been successful in the business world, often giving up six figure salaries to become graduate students. They lack interpersonal skills? Some will say, “But that’s just your experience, it doesn’t prove anything.”

Exactly. Anecdotal evidence proves nothing. That some district or synodical officials see problems with seminary graduates proves nothing. What rate of failure is there? Does it necessitate drastic changes to the pre-ordination curriculum? Is the failure rate higher among men who are in their first calls as opposed to men serving in subsequent calls? What failure rate is found in men who go through the less-rigorous programs? (Delto, SMPP, the various lay-training institutes, etc.)

I have one final question – The one District Presidents don’t want answered : If there is a higher failure rate of men placed into their first calls, does that say more about the men who were placed, or the men who did the placing?

I am just asking.

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