If the Synod President Wants to Calm Fears He Should Issue a Statement About the Real Issue: Seminary Education, by Pr. Rossow

President Kieschnick and other officials in higher education have issued a statement to calm the fears that the seminaries will be sold. We are pleased that such a statement has been issued because we believe that residency seminary education is the way to train our pastors. This is the clear model of St. Paul in the New Testament.

If President Kieschnick would like to keep these fears from arising in the future we suggest that he issue a statement about the real issue: “How ought we to educate our pastors?” The statement issued is rather  obvious and  simple which results in it sounding  rather politically correct. Of course it would take clear and intentional synod action to close one or both of the seminaries. That is not in dispute. We are glad to hear that there is no concensus in the current group to do that.   But it is no secret that the current leadership of the LCMS is smitten with the notion of “praxis” replacing doctrine in seminary education. (In other words, experience in the field is equally imortant, even more important than doctrinal training.)

It is also clear that this romance with “praxis” has moved the current synodical leadership to explore creative ways of doing away with residency training for pastors. The SMP program for example, has wiped out  seminary residency nearly entirely, save for a few short visits for collegiality. It would be much more calming to me if President Kieschnick would issue a statement that we shall follow the traditional path of residency education for pastors that historically has resulted in a strong and confessional synod. Instead, the statement issued merely identifies the seminaries as the “hubs” of pastoral education. The seminaries as mere hubs  allows for  the exact approach that the current LCMS leadership under President Kieschnick has endorsed which has put the fear of God in so many around the synod including this writer. “Seminaries as hubs” allows for the sort of new, dynamic approach to pastoral education recommended by  the consultants to which the  president and his task force listen.

President Kieschnick prides himself on bold leadership. He has dedicated a glossy insert in  each Reporter to this subject. (This in itself is odd and should give the synod cause for concern since leadership is not one of the desired traits described in the pastoral epistles.) It is his bold, out of the box leadership that has led him and others in the synod to raise the spectre of non-traditional seminary education and that is what has created the fears.

President Kieschnick cannot have it both ways. Delegates and members of synod alike, discern carefully what is being said.

About Pastor Tim Rossow

Rev. Dr. Timothy Rossow is the Director of Development for Lutherans in Africa. He served Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, IL as the Sr. Pastor for 22 years (1994-2016) and was Sr. Pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran in Dearborn, MI prior to that. He is the founder of Brothers of John the Steadfast but handed off the Sr. Editor position to Rev. Joshua Scheer in 2015. He currently resides in Ocean Shores WA with his wife Phyllis. He regularly teaches in Africa. He also paints watercolors, reads philosophy and golfs. He is currently represented in two art galleries in the Pacific Northwest. His M Div is from Concordia, St. Louis and he has an MA in philosophy from St. Louis University and a D Min from Concordia, Fort Wayne.


If the Synod President Wants to Calm Fears He Should Issue a Statement About the Real Issue: Seminary Education, by Pr. Rossow — 14 Comments

  1. Unfortunately, the nature of educating students from 4 years up is to change the way it is done every few years. My experience with public schools has been that they continue to change the way teachers teach and students learns and its usually detrimental to both! It would be nice if for once, policy makers could set up a system that remained in place for more than a few years. Unfortunately this decision seems to follow the status quo: Change it until we get it right!

  2. I would interested in the biblical support for your position that St Paul’s model of residency training. Frankly, I favor the academic approach and the residency training for all professionals.

  3. The previous article by Rev. Christian Preus reminds us that under the current structure synod presidents are not to lead the synod with their agendas, but are to carry out the will of convention delegates. Unfortunately, it sounds like delegates are often not given a chance to have a proper debate when the elected leadership controls the convention floor.

    If the leadership is able to work the process to their advantage, they have already turned our present structure on its head. If the delegates are convinced to hand over their oversight responsibilities by passing BRTFGS resolutions at the 2010 convention and let the president lead without their combined authority and the oversight of other boards, then what is to keep the president from deciding what he wants the synod to sell, or teach, or practice?

  4. Matt,

    Paul stayed in cities and towns sometimes for years teaching the elders-to-be (pastors). We also have the example of him instructing Titus to stay in Crete to put things in order and appoint elders (pastors).

    That’s my point. It’s just a common sense Biblical thing.


  5. What about Paul and Timothy? Would the example still hold? Timothy did spend a considerable amount of time with Paul, but would this be equivalent to seminary education or to a praxis form of pastoral training? Perhaps this would point forward to a system of residence seminaries supported by a system of “St. Timothy Lutheran Church’s” – congregations that specifically commit themselves to supporting the seminaries and serving as vicarage locations that provide practical training in pastoral ministry under the tutelage and oversight of senior pastors.

  6. At least Paul’s students didn’t have to learn Greek, and of course, they had a good Hebrew teacher.

  7. Dear Pastor Rossow, Norm, Mollie, and others,

    Thanks again for getting us good reportage and commentary on what is going on in the synod. I wish the “Reporter” would do this. Since David Mahsman left, who was very talented, the substance of that paper has declined. It doesn’t help that the Synod President has refused (for how many years?) to pick one of the persons nominated for that position by the Board for Communication Services. So all we have is an Interim Director of News and Information, and nobody can complain about their work, because they are doing that on TOP of their usual jobs.

    I think our Communication staff is really doing a good job, with the few resources and personnel they have. I think that staff is also scared of publishing anything controversial, or what might put the president, the LCMS Board of Directors, or the BCS in a bad light, due to what happened to David. As a result, most of us are in the dark about what is actually going on. I don’t know if that was the intent, but that is the result.

    Regarding resident seminary education, it is the only thing that makes any sense–at all–when you are talking about preparing pastors of young men straight out of college, or who are still in their twenties without kids.

    The problem with this is that group of students is drastically declining numerically. The November 2009 Reporter noted that this year only 7.5% of CUS students are church-worker students (i.e., 1,900 divided by 25,516). The number of pre-seminary students is only 245 (0.96% of total CUS student), scattered around ten university campuses. That means that the incoming class to our seminaries is, on average, 61 first year seminarians, divided between two campuses.

    Regarding resident seminary education for men with children, or older second-career men, it is still the best method of educating (academic side) and forming (character-building side) these guys. But the total cost to the student is increasingly prohibitive, and that was before the Great Recession. When the cost gets too high (and this includes payback of loans for years to come), the students won’t come. So money is what is driving the move toward non-resident seminary education for ethnic groups (EIIT), Hispanics (Hispanic Institute), and others (DELTO and SMP). Those of us who went through (or started) seminary as single students might not realize what has happened here.

    I have a high respect for the BHE/CUS executive, Kurt Krueger, and the BPS executive, Glen Thomas, as well as the seminary presidents and administrations. These guys are real servants of the church and have its best interests at heart. I don’t know what they discussed at the recent Fort Wayne summit, but I bet that the decline in number of students, and what to do about it, was high on the agenda.

    I think that the synod really has its fiscal priorities wrong. This is not the fault of the current LCMS Board of Directors or the Treasurer. They have to work with the plate served up by the conventions, i.e., by the resolutions which set programs and policies. And our finance guys have done wonders with, relatively, little to work with. Everyone at the national office knows that!

    Here is the problem. The synod has decided, since the early 1980s, to: 1) use its capital assets, its alumni funding networks, and its best development people to financially support ten universities who have only 7% church-workers in their composite student body; AND 2) use its operating revenue stream, from congregational offerings, to support large district offices, with many professionals, equal numbers of clerical staff, and expensive office buildings—and it has done this at the expense of international missions (which used to be huge in the 1960s) and seminary education. Again, this is not the fault of LCMS Directors or Treasurer, this is what the synod and district conventions decided.

    Nobody is really willing to come out and say this clearly. The presidents of the synod have avoided the subject, because they don’t want to offend all the university people and all the district office people. That would be politically disastrous for them.

    I have said this clearly, but not too often, because I don’t want to be a “nag.” I spoke at every district convention where they voted to decrease synod’s revenue stream. I spoke against reducing synod’s percentage. Very few people spoke with me. Afterwards, I got nasty stares and comments from district staffers.

    I wrote an article on the educational priorities in 1995, in Logia Forum, saying that synod did not have the financial resources to support ten four-year universities. I was not guessing, I did the math, and have the notes on that still somewhere in my files to prove it. Afterwards, I got nasty looks and comments from synod’s university staffers.

    So, as a result of no one giving leadership on this subject, large universities and large district offices have replaced a corp of international missionaries and affordable seminary education. I think that synod has its priorities mixed up, and now the seminarys (i.e., residential education) look to be at risk.

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  8. @Steven #5

    I think that the better argument in defense of seminary and praxis education for training of pastors is made not from scripture but from history.

    Scripture points not to formal university or seminary education but to close learning one to one just as a Paul taught Timothy the faith in order to send him out in service.

    History, on the other hand, points to the real strong role that academic study has as a key part of preparation for ministry but not as the only place for learning.

    Luther’s Reformation and Lutheranism itself was born both in a University and in the Castle Church in Wittenburg. If Luther had remained locked away in a monestary and university he may never have seen the need to reform the church or had a means to communicate the Good News to so many. Likewise if a student is only given time in a Seminary he will arrive ill prepared for ministry in the church in the world.

    What we need is equal emphasis on both kinds of learning. The hard part is that many miss the fact that we need both to live out our Lutheran heritage today. Luther himself had a dual calling when he wrote the 95 Theses. One calling was to preach and serve as confessor in the Castle Church and one calling was to serve as professor of Old Testament.

    Pastors need both academic and practical instruction; plain and simple. The hard part is, in an age of fear over the impending death of Christendom (don’t worry the Holy Spirit will not let the invisible church die), will we be creative and resourceful enough to keep both academic and practical learning front and center for future pastors so that they are fully equiped to spread the Good News.

  9. Dr Noland,

    You have given some great insight into the issues involved. However, I would like to point out that Synod is NOT funding CUNE in any way right now, although technically it owns the property. I don’t know about the other Concordias in our system. The Concordias now raise their own funds through their own development offices. We are not teachers and preachers colleges anymore. Those days are gone and will never return.

  10. Matt,
    When you said, “We are not teachers and preachers colleges anymore. Those days are gone and will never return”. Two things to remember:

    1). Gone- but not forgotten

    2). Never, say never.

    This would be two parts of the problem, sorry….issue.

  11. Perhaps, I should clarify….we do much more than JUST train teachers and preachers. We do still have active pre-seminary programs and a college of education at CUNE that trains more Lutheran teachers than any other institution of higher learning. Unfortunately, the number of Lutheran schools (especially high schools) is decreasing, not increasing.

    I will put it this way: If Lutherans want to retain Lutheran universities they will need to support them financially. It’s that simple.

  12. Dear Matt, and other bloggers at this post,

    I appreciate very much the efforts of faculty and staff at all of our CUS schools. I did not say they were doing unimportant work. What I said, and have said for 15 years, is that the synod cannot afford ALL of the campuses.

    After the synod has already committed itself financially, it is not easy to back out of ten universities and two seminaries. There is this thing called “sunk cost.” It is money invested that will never come back. Closing any school, or closing a radio station, almost always results in “sunk cost.” I am not advising that we close schools. What I am saying is that mixed-up priorities has led us to a problem in funding resident seminary education. I don’t have a solution to this problem at the present time. But we cannot find a solution, if we don’t understand the whole financial picture at the synodical corporate level.

    Corporate funding works different from personal finances. The key thing in corporate funding is a capital asset. As I said in my previous post on this blog page (#7), the synod has used its “capital assets” for funding the ten universities. I didn’t say that synod was sending much, if anything, for operating expenses. Specifically for the ten universities and two seminaries, the synod has used capital assets to purchase grounds, buildings, equipment, and also “lines of credit.” The campuses cannot exist without these things, but we usually take them for granted. Corporate finance people don’t take them for granted.

    Let me explain this with a comparison. Everyone has played Monopoly. It is a game of corporate finance with capital assets. But it doesn’t really get to the level of capital assets, until you have all of the properties in one color, and every property has a hotel.

    Here is how Synod-opoly works. The corporate level of synod does not pay the university in Podunk, Iowa in monopoly money. Instead, it lets the university use one of its capital assets (three properties of one color, all hotels), which USE provides significant income for that university’s support. Without that capital asset, the university cannot exist – certainly not for any length of time! Any Monopoly player at the end of the game without capital assets can tell you that!

    Synod used to fund two full “universities,” i.e., River Forest and Seward, a couple of four-year schools (Saint Paul and Saint John), and a couple of two-year schools (Portland, Milwaukee, Austin, Ann Arbor, Selma, Bronxville). That is a generalization, because schools have come and gone and their programs have changed. But the big change happened in late 1970s and early 1980s, when every school went four-year with graduate programs (universities). All campuses expanded with new buildings and equipment, and some even moved to bigger quarters.

    All the capital assets that went into expanding the university system could have been used to provide endowments for the two seminarys, teacher education, pre-seminary education, and for international missions. Instead the synod conventions kept expanding the schools, and even incorporated them apart from the synod in the Concordia University System without reversionary clauses. Reversionary clauses ensure that the synod still has ultimate ownership and can reclaim a capital asset if necessary.

    I sent a letter to the LCMS Board of Directors when the CUS was started warning them about how the synod’s capital assets were being cut off from the synod itself. I received a short letter in reply saying I was “disrespectful,” or something like that. Later, a different Board of Directors realized the mistake with the lack of reversionary clauses, and insisted that these be written into the CUS school charters. This has been done, but not without a lot of wrangling and complaints by many of the schools.

    Lutherans do support Lutheran universities financially, Matt! Of course, individual Lutherans need to support their alma mater; and for-profit corporations held by Lutherans need to support Lutheran universities. No question about that! But you cannot say synod does not support Lutheran universities, because it does through letting CUS use the vast majority of its capital assets.

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  13. Martin,

    Your point is well taken and that certainly clarifies what you meant. However, I think the capital assets backing of the Synod has dwindled and will again be a thing of the past. Foolishly, Synod leaders discouraged the building of endowments at the Concordias in the past, so we are behind many of our higher ed competitors in that regard also. In the next 10 years the Concordias will have to “sink or swim” on their own. Those that are making plans to deal with that reality now will survive. In order to survive financially major changes will occur (and already are taking place). Some of these changes are simply the ever-evolving market of higher education. For instance, one can look at the importance of online classes. I could express the same misgivings about non-residency training of historians, businesspeople, elementary school teachers, etc as Pr Rossow has about pastoral training, but online classes will only expand in every area in the future.

    My point was that IF we as devout Lutherans want any Concordia to remain Lutheran we must give to them and also be vocal about how we want our Concordia to operate. Perhaps, we should target our funds, energy, and prayers strategically. Selfishly, I want everyone to back CUNE, but God might have other plans.

    Frankly, it may mean that Concordias are sold off or become independent. You know much more about the history of finances and I appreciate your insight.

  14. A classical approach is tried and true and field work via Vicarage is sufficient. Real field work is had OTJ with constant exchanging of ideas and experiences with mentors in your area. I have met many a sem grad who is so vacant in areas of doctrine and apologetics to be embarrasing. Also do away with support for PLI and partner programs outside of Synod especially the apostate ELCA.

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