Mythbusters at work again; The Pastor Shortage, by Pr Loren Zell

Here is a reader submission of an analysis of the continued statements that we will have a pastoral shortage in the next few years.

For years, members of the LCMS have heard that the synod is facing a shortage of pastors. Out of love and concern for other Christians, many men have entered our synod’s Seminaries so that other Christians would not face life without a pastor for their church. However, over the years this shortage has never occurred. In fact, a careful examination of published statistics and demographic trends reveals that the synod will almost certainly not face any shortage, baring some unforeseen catastrophic event for many years to come.

First lets look at what’s been going on the last 20 years. The 2009 LCMS Lutheran annual reports that in 1987 there were 6,269 congregations. As of 2007 that number dropped by 111 to 6,158. The membership of the synod has dropped from 2,707,134 to 2,383,084 a drop of about 13.5%. At the same time, the number of pastors on the clergy roster has increased from 8,463 to 9,164, an increase of over 8%. Considering these trends, it’s pretty hard to conclude that the synod is facing a shortage of pastors.

Our Synodical leadership has asserted recently that, that although there is no current shortage, our congregations still might be facing a shortage because of the large number of pastors approaching retirement age, and the expected growth because of the Ablaze goal of starting 2000 new ministries/congregations. It would be hard to argue that our synod’s congregations and pastors are now much more effective than 30 years ago, especially since today, evangelism efforts in the present bear less fruit than they did 30 years ago. Synod’s congregations baptized 55,948 children in 1977, but only 27,913 in 2007. There were 50,819 youth and 26,329 adults confirmed in 1977 but only 20,673 junior confirmations and 13,869 adults confirmed in 2007. Synodical officials estimate that the average age of a LCMS member is about 56, 18 years older than the average age in the general population, and the average size of a LCMS congregation has shrunk from 326 to 303 confirmed members. With these kind of trends, it’s easy to see that demand for pastors could decrease further.

Other factors are having a negative effect on demand for pastors. Several years ago, the Concordia Retirement Plan began to allow pastors to start collecting their pensions, but also to remain in their calls. This and other factors mean that more pastors over the age of 65 are continuing to serve congregations. This, in part explains why more congregations can remain vacant so long. Retired pastors can fill pulpits and save the congregation money as the congregation can save some or all of the cost of paying into Concordia Health Plan and Concordia Retirement Plan. Some of these retired pastors may even be willing to serve for a reduced salary, saving congregations additional money.

The other factor that has a negative impact on demand for pastors is the frequent use of DCE’s, DCO’s, Deaconesses and other synodically trained staff filling positions that in previous years might have been filled by pastors. Congregations can save money calling these individuals since their pay scale is not as high.

No one should be fooled into thinking that there exists a large number of congregations that simply cannot find a pastor to fill their pulpit. Our clergy roster stood at 9,164 as of 2007, but only 5,258 were actually serving in pastoral ministry. 753 were serving in District and Synodical positions. That means there were over 3,000 men either retired or classified as Candidates. Many of these men are still willing to serve in a full or part time capacity, and many do. Some vacant congregations have been and will continue to be vacant. They are simply too small to afford to call their own pastor, and so their pulpit is being filled by a full time pastor who serves a neighboring congregation. The 2009 Lutheran annual reports that there are 122 congregations with 0 members and 668 have less than 50. That is more than 10% of all the congregations in the LCMS.

Until some of these circumstances change, men considering entering one of our synod’s seminaries should seriously consider that they may spend four years and a considerable amount of effort and money to prepare for a call that might never come. As far as this author knows, this has not happened in the past twenty years but our Synod is facing circumstances it has never faced before.

The LCMS has become just another mainline denomination suffering continued shrinkage on a yearly basis. This trend seems unlikely to change in the near future. Our synodical leadership tells us that this is not our grandfathers church and they are right in many ways. Our grandfathers church grew. Maybe some reevaluation is in order?.

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