SMP Program is “Mega-Death” for Lutheran Congregations

Because of comments and additional information received by email, the post has been completely revised.   I did the best research I could on the basis of published sources, but it looks like the published sources are not what is actually happening. 


version 2, Jan. 25, 2012

Of all the various legacies of the previous synodical president, the “Specific Ministry Pastor” (hereafter SMP) program is probably the most controversial, confused, and potentially dangerous for The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and its congregations. The impetus and rationale for SMP was stated in the preface to Resolution 5-10B, “The mission focus ignited by the Ablaze! movement has generated the need to identify laymen already in place in a local community to serve as church planters and missionaries” (Convention Proceedings 2007, 63rd Regular Convention, The LCMS, Houston, TX, July 14-19, 2007 [St Louis: 2007], p. 133).

SMP replaced the “Distance Education Leading to Ordination” (hereafter DELTO) program, which was intended to “provide ordained pastoral service to congregations that cannot support a full-time pastor, ordained pastoral service to contexts where English is not spoken, ordained missionary personnel where finances and/or conditions do not permit calling a full- time missionary” (ibid., p. 136). SMP added to the DELTO program “such categories as church planter, staff pastor, and others as needs arise” (ibid., p. 134).

As originally construed, the DELTO program was basically about preparing “worker priests” through distance education. “Worker priests” have precedent in the Catholic and other churches and are a workable model for Lutheran ministry, though not ideal for any situation. “Worker priests” serve congregations that are unable, or unwilling, to financially support a full- time pastor.

“Worker priests” have other full-time jobs, which prevent them from doing much of the work of a full-time pastor, such as midweek services, shut-in calls, nursing home calls, hospital calls, new member calls, evangelism canvassing, catechism classes for teens or adults, Bible studies during the week, devotions and counsel for Ladies Aid and other congregational groups, marital and pre-marital counseling, crisis counseling, youth ministry, seniors ministry, administration of volunteer groups, office administration, etc.

“Worker priests” conduct the divine services on Sundays and festivals, preach at all divine services, teach Bible class on Sunday mornings, and conduct baptisms, marriages, funerals, and other “official acts.” They can’t be expected to do anything more than this, since ordination does not supply super-human abilities or energy. Such “worker priests,” if they have been properly trained and certified, should not be viewed as “second-class” pastors by anyone. Graduates of the DELTO program were given the same status in the roster of the LCMS, as published in The Lutheran Annual, as pastors with the Master of Divinity degree. The DELTO program was modified in 2004 (ibid., 136) and eliminated in 2007 with the adoption of SMP (ibid., pp. 137-138).

In discussions about SMP, people in the synod have often ignored the “Alternate Route” (hereafter AR) program. This program allowed for a reduced seminary program for men in specific categories: commissioned LCMS church-worker with 8 years of experience in LCMS congregational-or-school service and a Bachelor’s degree from a Concordia University; laymen at least 35 years old with at least 10 years significant experience in Word-functions in LCMS congregations (elder, lector, evangelism caller, Bible class teacher, etc.); or men licensed by district presidents to perform functions belonging to the pastoral office. Men in the “Alternate Route” program did not receive Master’s degrees, only certification. They too were given the same status in the roster of the LCMS as pastors with the Master of Divinity degree.

What is the difference in training between the SMP, AR, and MDiv programs? The simplest basis of comparison is credit hours. These credit hours include field education and vicarage. According to a recent academic catalog (CTS, Fort Wayne, 2008-09 Academic Catalog), MDiv students are required to complete 139 credit hours, AR students complete 101 credit hours, and SMP complete 16 courses, i.e., 48 credit hours. Thus SMP students receive about one- third the training of MDiv students; and SMP students receive less than one-half the training of AR students. Furthermore, it should be noted that SMP students do not have to be graduates of high school or college (ibid., pp. 52-53).

Although the reduced amount of training for the SMP program is certainly significant, even more significant, in my opinion, is the altered admissions process into pastoral training. The admissions process into our Lutheran seminaries has always been rigorous, because it is scriptural. The biblical qualifications for pastoral candidates, and their rationale, are stated clearly, and frequently, in the New Testament, especially in the Pastoral Epistles.

The reason Paul wrote each of the Pastoral Epistles is also clear: “command certain men not to teach false doctrine” (I Timothy 1:3); “what you have heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching” (II Timothy 1:13); “appoint elders in every town . . . an elder must be blameless . . . he must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it” (Titus 1:5-6 and Titus 1:9). The biblical qualifications for pastoral candidates in the Pastoral Epistles are found, in summarized form, in I Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:6-9. These biblical qualifications for pastoral candidates are a direct consequence of Paul’s concern for a pastor’s blameless life and sound teaching. In other words, Paul and the Holy Spirit knew that the easiest way to prevent “wolves from slipping into the sheep fold” was to bar them at the gate.

The front “gate” into the pastoral ministry under the SMP program is the district office, not the two seminaries. This is obvious by reading the present procedures for application (ibid., pp. 52-53). All the initial screening and interviewing of candidates is done by the “District Interview Committee,” who are presumably appointed by their District President. Applications for candidates which pass the District “gate” are forwarded to the seminaries, who may in many cases be influenced, or pressured by, the District President’s “Letter of Nomination” in evaluating the “blameless life” and orthodoxy of the candidate (ibid., pp. 52-53). So, to put it simply, the real purpose of the SMP program was to reduce the training requirements for the pastoral office and to alter the “gate-keeping” function of the seminary admissions offices.

Since the SMP program claimed to be offering to the LCMS “church planters and missionaries,” one might wonder whether it is living up to its original claims. Recent enrollment statistics for 2010-11 indicate that SMP students were working-while-studying as: sole pastor (1), staff pastors (23), specialized (Hispanic, youth, chaplain—4); vacancy (2); satellite (3). Saint Louis- only enrollment statistics for 2011-12 indicate: sole pastor (1); staff pastors (15); specialized (1); vacancy (1); DCE (1); music community outreach (1). Other sources indicate there are at least two “church planters” so far.

Most frequent, by far, is the use of SMP students as “staff pastors,” i.e., assistant pastors of large congregations. One cannot help but feel that the synod has been lied to by the original proponents of SMP, but they might argue that their intentions have not been fulfilled. In that case, it is time to review and reform the SMP program. The latest news indicates it is past time to reform the program.

Last week, an SMP student was in the news (see People who think that his rock band “Megadeth” is just another band, like the Beach Boys, should read up on what we are really dealing with here (see WIKI Megadeth; WIKI Trash Metal; and WIKI Dave Ellefson). If you don’t want to read all of this, just read the sections titled “Lyrical Themes” and “Controversy” on this web-page (WIKI Megadeth).

I have no problem with rock music as entertainment. This particular case is not about using rock music in the church, which is a debatable practice, in any event. The problem that I have with accepting this candidate into the ministry is that he is continuing to work as a rock- musician-on-tour, of the “heavy metal” or “thrash metal” sort, while he is training to be a pastor in the LCMS. His Christian witness is compromised by his participation in a group with this sort of history. He should be required by the SMP admissions officers to renounce participation in a group which continues to perform this sort of music and lyrics. Why has his pastor not quoted to him the applicable Bible verse, with apt musical imagery: “What harmony is there between Christ and Belial?” (II Corinthians 6:15).

There is simply no way that this man’s full-time job as rock musician–for this band–passes the qualifications of: “above reproach, . . . temperate, self-controlled, respectable, . . . not violent but gentle . . . He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.” (I Timothy 3:2-7).

Having said this, people should not criticize this student for availing himself of the opportunity provided by the SMP program. He would hardly be expected to know the internal workings of the LCMS, much less the many biblical teachings about the pastoral office! I am certainly glad that he has come back to the church and is participating in the worship life of his congregation. I wish him and his family well, and that our Lord would continue to bless his growth in the faith.

The criticism should be leveled primarily at the front “gate” that let him in—the Pacific Southwest District President, Larry Stoterau and his “District Interview Committee.” The Saint Louis seminary admissions office also bears blame for approving this man. They should have simply said “No!” to the Pacific Southwest District President, but perhaps the admissions officer feels that his job is at stake here. I don’t know, but I think most synodical staff would find it hard to say “No” to Rev. Stoterau, who also happens to be the chairman of the Council of Presidents.

Let’s lay off pressure on the SMP student and bring it to bear where it belongs. The responsibility lies with the Pacific Southwest District President, his District Interview Committee, and the Saint Louis seminary admissions office. If the defense is, “We are too busy to really check out the SMP candidates in detail,” or “We thought the other guy checked that part out,” well, then that just proves that SMP admissions should return to being under the unhindered control of the seminaries. This case proves that if the SMP admissions process is not returned to the seminaries, and carefully regulated by them, then the SMP program will mean “mega-death” for LCMS congregations.

Here is a suggested resolution to help the LCMS return to a well-ordered ministry. You are encouraged to submit this to your congregation, your Circuit Forum, your District Convention, and the 2013 Synodical Convention. Other similar resolutions are also encouraged—the more the better!


This resolution is duplicated under our list of Overtures proposed for your church, circuit, district, or synod levels.



Whereas, the “Specific Ministry Pastor” (hereafter SMP) program was adopted in 2007 with the claim that it would produce “church planters and missionaries” (2007 Convention Proceedings, p. 133); and

Whereas, the SMP program to-date has produced few “church planters” or “missionaries,” but rather 70% of the students in the program are identified as “staff pastors” of large congregations (2010-11 enrollment statistics); and

Whereas, the SMP program altered the pastoral training admissions process, so that the district offices are heavily involved in the admissions process with the seminaries, and this inhibits the seminary admissions offices from
fulfilling their vocation of ensuring that candidates for seminary
admission meet the biblical requirements for admission to the pastoral ministry in I Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:6-9; and

Whereas, there continues to be concern about the fact that SMP students receive about one- third the amount of training as M.Div. students, and also do not have to be graduates of a college or high school; therefore, be it

Resolved, that the admissions process for the SMP program be immediately turned over to the sole authority of the seminaries, so that all students received for the pastoral ministry, in any program, have the same process and same rigorous examination of fitness for ministry; and be it further

Resolved, that any duties held by district offices in the pastoral training admissions process be reduced to whatever they presently have in the M.Div. program; and be it finally

Resolved, that the President of the Synod appoint a Task Force from faculty members of both seminaries and members of the Council of Presidents, to review the SMP program, assess its graduates, and to report its findings and recommendations to the 2016 synodical convention.


SMP Program is “Mega-Death” for Lutheran Congregations — 82 Comments

  1. The following was received in an e-mail from a SMP student – it was sent to a number of recipients so it is by no means a private communication.

    As the discussion of SMP continues, it is important to distinguish between the program and the men who are a part of it. The ones I have met truly want to serve God’s people and SMP is the route that the Synod opened to them and into which they were encouraged to enter. Some have confidently said that they see distance education as inadequate; others get angry when any question is raised about its effectiveness. I think that the jury is still out on that question of academic preparation as data must be accumulated and analyzed. But Pastoral formation is more than a data dump – it involves the formation of the man for a lifetime of service. Residential seminary formation cannot be duplicated by computers for that even if the informational content is duplicated (which is itself, in my opinion, doubtful). This discussion goes beyond our own Synod. Others who have distance education programs are re-evaluating its formational aspects.

    I pray that the discussion will continue at district conventions as well as at the next Synodical convention. But it is important that the merits or demerits of the program itself be the focal point, not the men who are part of it. They need your mentoring and help.

    The e-mail read as follows:

    “Not necessarily to add fuel to the fire, but perhaps our educational institutions as a whole need to re-examine the “scam” ($$$$s) that is counted as higher education. Maybe the “ancients,” our tenured faculties in their pretty unviersity robes and stoles are not as wise as they believe they are! Maybe it is the University that is trying to “hold on to the past” when the present has already overtaken them. I know that I research and look at a lot of things besides what our “on line” profs are giving us during any one course. If there is a lack of interaction it is not on the part of the students. The fault, if there is any, is not on the part of the SMP students who are commited to serving God’s people with a true heart and a 100% dedication to that effort. Many of my classmates have sacrificed monumentally to become “called and ordained servants of the word.” And at that, being charged $20,000 per man times 20 is over $400,000 (this figure does not include the costs connected with the 4 one week intensives that all of us attended. Needless to say, it seems, that most of us have put in far more time and energy in the course work than any one of our professors, as good as some of them have been and as inadequate as some of them have been. Of all people, I believe the Seminary Presidents in St. Louis and Fort Wayne should be defending the online programs with an even greater enthusiasm than the oncampus programs.”

  2. Dear BJS Bloggers,

    Thanks for all the discussions so far. I have had now two confirmations that there is a “church planter” SMP out there, which could be one or two persons, so I am altering my post and overture accordingly.

    If you want to use the overture, please use the corrected one when it appears. (changes to 2nd and 3rd Whereas). Thanks again to Norm Fisher for doing a great work for all of us “behind” our computer screens.

    Your comments above have brought out many other aspects of this problem that I had not thought of, or even conceived could be a problem. For example, I didn’t know that the SMP student in question was a millionaire (comment #48) – so, the argument that he and his family can’t afford seminary doesn’t wash there.

    Two other thoughts occured to me last night. First, any manager knows it is harder to get rid of a person after they are employed, than not hiring them in the first place. The same goes for church-workers in the synodical system. Second, the District Interview Committee is a group of volunteers, and they are amateurs in screening out candidates, whereas the seminary Admissions Officers are professionals in this respect.

    My main concern is that our admissions officers–and the District Interview Committees and District Presidents, if they continue to maintain their roles in SMP–seriously examine the biblical qualifications and required characteristics of the individual called to serve, as found in the passages from the Pastoral Epistles I quoted in my post above.

    The relevant CTCR document “The Divine Call” (St Louis: 2003), p. 10 says the same thing about those qualifications. As does the manual for Second-Career ministry produced by the LCMS Board of Pastoral Education: Raymond and Martha Van Buskirk, “Leap of Faith” (St Louis: 2009), pp. 39-41. I have not said anything new, provocative, or unusual here.

    For you Greek students, study the relevant terms for “above reproach” in I Timothy 3:2 (anepilamtpos) and I Timothy 3:10 and Titus 1:7 (anegklatos). Look at commentaries on those passages, if you don’t know how to use the lexicons and related literature for comparative studies, and also look at the other “Terms of Qualification and Disqualification” in the original language of the Pastoral Epistles.

    By the way, I highly recommend the book “Formation: Essays for Future Pastors” (Fort Wayne: CTS Press, 2008). It should be available from the CTS bookstore. If not, they should reprint it. It is a superb introduction to the ministry for those thinking about becoming pastors; and a good refresher course for those already in it.

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  3. @Daniel L. Gard #52

    Dr. Gard et. al.

    You are right on with your comments. We have an SMP in our circuit and our guys have tried very hard to outline the struggles with program and theological “formation” as you put it and the individual man, who is in that office. We always invite him to everything and realize that it could be very easy for him to end up “drooling in the corner in a fetal position” with trying to do everything on his plate. My elders have taken him to lunch etc. We are opening a preschool and offering his congregation our members rate etc.

    It was hard on the man and the circuit, since it was a church that was purposely started in a small town where there were 2 Lutheran churches already, but were not focused on contemporary worship. So, it was started to introduce CW into the town. That all happened before I came to town. It was given a large sum of money to start. It had no intention of using the name Lutheran in the name of “mission plant.” The poor guy got caught in the middle of the issues and the guys feel sorry for him and want to support him, but struggle with the way it was pushed in.

    It is a tough line of demarcation for the SMP guy to maintain – separate the criticism of the program from the person that is working his fanny off trying to get his courses, his family, his job and sanity in sync.

    We have what we have and I fear that most SMP guys will have this problem. Because of his job, he can’t get to circuit meetings. I’ve been in the circuit for over a year and haven’t met him, but I live 45 minutes away too and can’t make all of the circuit functions and for me it is painful not to be able to be as involved as I have been in the past… and I’ve got the M.Div. etc…

    So I fear that the yearning of these men to serve will also burn them out.

    I hope readers understood that I was only trying to highlight the financial realities. My own DP, who has been VERY SUPPORTIVE of me, has made it clear that the part time pastor is the future and encouraged me to get back into business. Wow! THat was mindblower.

    In the end, the church will hurt when the Lutheran ethos, the formation, isn’t handed down from generation to generation, that is what is at stake in this discussion.

    BTW, my “arguments” with profs was too strong a word. They were always good “lunch table” and party discussions.


  4. #52: Many of my classmates have sacrificed monumentally to become “called and ordained servants of the word.”

    I want to be sure I understand — an SMPP student made this claim about SMPP students?
    If so, I have to ask, “Compared to what?”

  5. @Daniel L. Gard #52 Dr. Gard:

    I find the public email by the SMP student highly arrogant. This individual doesn’t realize that residential students sacrifice far more than he has. For instance, when I attended seminary, I not only moved with no prospect of a job for my wife, little in the bank, and student loans to pay off. We not only moved to a new place where we had to find a new doctor, a new bank, get new phone services. I also had sacrificed my future dream of being a choir teacher. What has this man sacrificed? $20,000 and some evenings? Some of the faulty opinions about theology that he would rather believe, and now is being instructed is false? Some sacrifice. Hypocrite.

    To send such an email to “tenured faculty” and accusing you of being shortsighted while he alone knows the answers to all things, is self-justifying and arrogant beyond belief. To say that the SMP students are putting in far more time than any of the professors on their classes sounds like a man who thinks he should not be spending as much time in preparing for the pastoral ministry. Obviously he is not taking into account the many years of graduate school, teaching and discernment that the teachers of the SMP courses have undertaken. Quite frankly, this man has no knowledge whatsoever of the schedules demanded by a seminary faculty and those other pastors like my brother who are also teaching these courses. He has no understanding that the pastoral ministry is nothing but sacrifice (and demanded by Jesus as an example of the embodiment of the cross for those who would preach His kingdom in Luke 10:1ff.)

    Of course, if such a man complains like this, he should be redirected to God’s condemnation of complaints, haughtiness, and self justification in Scripture. It sounds like he hasn’t read that part of the Bible yet. I would not want this man as my family pastor.

    In Christ,
    Rev. Robert Mayes
    Beemer, NE

  6. @Rev. Robert Mayes #56

    Rev. Mayes,

    While I can see why you would consider the email posted by Dr. Gard to be arrogant, I would request that you take a minute and consider the other side of the story.

    On the subject of sacrifices made to garner education, I would not begin to try and compare who sacrifices the most. I will say this however. Most of the SMP students I know, hold full time jobs in addition to their work in the parish. None of these men hold the sort of responsibility free 40 hours and no more jobs that many people have. Most of the men in the SMP programs hold responsible, leadership types of jobs and work well over 40 hours a week.

    In addition to all the above, these men make time available to study do the work required to complete their SMP studies. The instructors all tell us that we should plan on spending 8-10 hours a week on this work. I love to read, and am a pretty decent reader, but very often, just the reading portion of the class is a good 8-10 hours of work. No, I am not complaining, I am merely trying to relate that while the sacrifices made by an SMP student are not the same sacrifices you made to attend seminary in residence, most SMP guys do make serious sacrifices.

    As to the wisdom of complaining about the manner on which the profs teach the class, I agree. To send such an email to faculty, rather than discussing it with the program director was less than bright.

    By the way, are you brother to Benjamin? He is the instructor of my current class on the Confessions. At the risk of looking like I am “sucking up”, he is truly doing a great job.

  7. “He should be required by the SMP admissions officers to renounce participation in a group which continues to perform this sort of music and lyrics.”

    “He would hardly be expected to know the internal workings of the LCMS, much less the many biblical teachings about the pastoral office!”

    “I wish him and his family well, and that our Lord would continue to bless his growth in the faith.”

    So this guy has three options – quit an incredibly high paying job so he will be an acceptable candidate to recieve additional education that would help him perform a job for the church that he is already doing. Or he can keep his high paying job and keep his current job with the church, just remain in ignorance.

    Or he can seek education elsewhere from people who are willing to teach – which from the third quote above, seems like you are encouraging him to do. Go with God and grow, just not with us!

    This resolution is going to reward people for doing the exact opposite of what you want.

  8. Maybe, if all of you who have time to complain about men going into the ministry and meeting the people Christ died for where they are, as He did, would make mission calls on a daily basis, you wouldn’t have time to play on the computer. Our mission is to spread His word so that the Holy Spirit can do His work. Let’s all get back to the fundamentals and do a better job.

  9. @Rev. Robert Mayes #56
    As a first generation student taking the SMP classes, I would agree with your assessment. I was embarrassed to read the sections of the email posted here. My professors have bent over backwards to give us as much as we can possibly absorb. Most of them have had to create new courses to accommodate our time/schedules – in addition to the classes they already teach. All of them have been very helpful and accessible.

    As to the cost. SMP students pay the same fee per credit hour that residential students pay and have a technology fee added to this to cover the cost of delivering content remotely. To complain about the costs for the education, especially in light of what the residential students are paying, strikes me as short-sighted.

    SMP folks get what we signed up for. It’s not an easy road to work, manage a family, study, and work as a vicar. That’s why the DPs, in addition to ensuring men are qualified, should be encouraging men to “count the cost” before signing on so that they are certain they are ready for this.

  10. @David Hartung #57

    @Coonberry #60

    Gentlemen, your comments are more than fair and present a more balanced view of the realities facing men in the SMP program. Thank you for not reading my former comments as referring to all men in this program, but to the arrogant individual mentioned earlier.

    It is difficult to study theology period, let alone in an environment where you don’t get immersed in it as much. To add extra congregational expectations on top, without as much study before hand, I think would be more challenging than what I faced going to seminary. God be praised for those men who are sincerely intending to serve as pastors, who want to learn and be Lutheran, and who by relying on God’s grace are able to do this great and difficult challenge.

    David – Yes, Ben is my brother. He told me some things that he was doing for the SMP classes, and I’m glad to hear how you are receiving his teaching well. My brother Ben is a pretty thorough guy, and one who has a high regard for the Confessions of our church and has done research in it. He has a great understanding of the specific nuances of teaching and practice in the 16th and early 17th centuries. Glad you’re enjoying him.

    In Christ,
    Rev. Robert Mayes
    Beemer, NE

  11. @Coonberry #60
    Just a question here. It was my understanding of the discussion at convention that the congregations who have requested the man go into the SMP program were to pay a sizable portion of that cost. Has this now changed and the SMP man has to pay all of the costs?

  12. Rev. Roger D. Sterle :
    @Coonberry #60
    Just a question here. It was my understanding of the discussion at convention that the congregations who have requested the man go into the SMP program were to pay a sizable portion of that cost. Has this now changed and the SMP man has to pay all of the costs?

    I cannot speak for Coonberry, but in my experience, that varies. As I understand the original resolution, the ideal was that the student, congregation and district would each pay a third of the expense. The reality is somewhat different. The districts pay what they can, but I don’t believe that it comes out to a third, in some cases, the congregation pays all the rest, and in some they pay nothing. I even know one man who has not even requested district assistance.

    When you get right down to it, this is not at all surprising. I seem to recall an article 8-10 years ago saying that there were plans in the works to support the seminary programs at a level high enough that pastoral students would not have to pay tuition. Care to guess how that worked out?

  13. @David Hartung #31 While the SMP is not my preference and I hope it will not exist in the future, I do rejoice that Dr. Mayes (a fine man and great theologian) is teaching you. God’s blessings on your future ministry.

  14. @Rev. Roger D. Sterle #62

    I paid the entire tuition for the first two years of the program. The last two years my tuition was paid 100% by anonymous donors in the congregation. I still paid travel expenses to St. Louis ($1,000/yr) and books. The district was never asked, nor volunteered, to pay expenses on my behalf.

    My original desire was to pay 100% for my own education. I have not accepted a salary from my home congregation for my work there. However, I have been helping another congregation that lost their pastor and I am paid for my services there. It was a pleasant surprise to me that people recognized the value of my education and volunteered to cover the costs.

  15. Niemand Wichtig :
    @David Hartung #31 While the SMP is not my preference and I hope it will not exist in the future, I do rejoice that Dr. Mayes (a fine man and great theologian) is teaching you. God’s blessings on your future ministry.

    Thank you for your kind comments. One message I would hope that people take away from this thread is that the professors who teach the SMP courses, and the men whom they teach are doing much more than simply “square filling”. This is also true for those involved in the admissions process. I know from personal experience that the admissions committees do not simply “rubber stamp” SMP applications. Those applications are examined every bit as closely as are those for the more traditional programs.

  16. Where were all you folks several years ago when BOTH seminaries approved of this Cracker Jack box “Pastoral Formation”? Asleep. DELTO, which was villified by many for years actually had about TWICE the requirements as SMP. Now it is possible for a man to enter an LCMS pulpit, and preach BEFORE HE HAS EVEN LOGGED ON TO HIS FIRST INTERNET COURSE. Let alone finish it. Some of us fought, but the mantra was that it was an impovement over DELTO; and that the Seminaries (save a lone professor or so from each) was for it. I pity the tradition dependant on scholars to save them. You need to rethink the abandonment of monasticism in the Reformation; it is a necessary to tool to fight the wiles of the Evil One. Celibates are able to fight this battle in a way that most of us cannot. No esteeming of celibacy equals no orthodoxy.

  17. One futher thought. Can a surgeon perform surgery BEFORE he even finishes one class? Is cutting someone open, and even being trained on how to suture them back together enough? First he must be taught the complexity of the body. How it works. The interelationships between its constituent parts. Also he must be familiarized with the equipment, medicine, etc. involved in providing care.

    It does not matter whether a parish has twenty, two hundred or two thousand souls in it. Each of its members needs a Presbyter/Pastor who is trained, examined and competent to provide pastoral care. This SMP program is nothing less than the dehumanization of small, “special” or other ministries. Perhaps some of these “retired pastors” (receiving full LCMS benefits plus Social Security) should take their experience and pastor some of these small churches instead of serving for sometimes years at a time as “Intentional Interims” to the tune of an extra $50,000 in some places. Lord have mercy.

  18. #67: “You need to rethink the abandonment of monasticism in the Reformation; it is a necessary to tool to fight the wiles of the Evil One. Celibates are able to fight this battle in a way that most of us cannot. No esteeming of celibacy equals no orthodoxy.”

    I was explaining to my sister-in-law that the gift of celibacy that Paul recommends is not the same as mere abstention, that the real gift means going without and not being miserable about it, in fact not even missing it at all — it’s simply not an issue. I asked rhetorically, “Who has that gift?” Without missing a beat she said, “My husband would probably say that I do.”

  19. @Fr. Daniel #67

    It was always possible for a man to preach without any training or supervision and without being rite vocatus according to the Synodical definition of the term. Hence, such things as the “DELTO” and “SMP ” Programs have been necessary. My understanding of those programs is that they are/were for men who were already serving in Word-and-Sacrament ministry without being properly trained, called, or supervised, hence none of those programs require(d) the man to leave his home church.

    That has been a problem since the beginning of the Church: a small congregation is too far away for any properly called pastors to serve, and does not have enough members to call its own pastor. The church then “calls” a man from the congregation to preach to them and administer the Sacraments to them. Is he properly called? Yes, because the call came from the congregation (as from God Himself); No, because according to the Synod he must be certified by one of the seminaries. As such, these programs are intended to bring all those “lay pastors,” “lay deacons,” or whatever term you want to use, into the fold of being properly called and ordained. In my understanding, regardless of what the men in the DELTO program were called, many were already preaching and administering the Sacraments before they were even accepted to the program.

    Regarding your assertion about surgeons performing surgery sans training and certification by the Medical Board, YES there are surgeons who perform surgery without any of that training. Generally, they operate out of paneled vans in dark alleys or huts in third-world countries, but they do exist. If they are discovered, they are shut down because of the unsanitary conditions in which they operate, but you can’t say they don’t exist. The only difference between untrained surgeons and untrained pastors (in our Synod) is that we don’t arrest the pastors and throw them in jail; we make them take classes so they can be properly trained and know what they’re doing.

    As far as celibacy goes, I view it as a trade-off. Yes, a celibate pastor can focus all his energy on the church instead of trying to keep a wife and children happy. But (in my opinion) that doesn’t make up for the benefits of having a wife to supplement my income, help me clean the house, bounce ideas off of for ministry, help me meet people at church, etc., and (in the future) having children who can help me by filling in as acolytes, folding bulletins, teaching VBS, and the like. (Yes, I’m a PK, and yes, I did all those things for my dad, too). What’s your opinion of Martin Luther? Carl Ferdinand Wilhelm Walther? They were both married.

  20. @ Fr. Daniel. Excellent points, which I made as well to our congregation when we adopted a resolution to end the SMP program to send to District. Why should a smaller congregation be shortchanged in any way? Are they not “worth” a fully trained pastor? There are so many other things we could do instead of lowering the standards for pastoral training/formation. I can think of no other profession where this is done like this. No matter how desperately we need doctors someday would we tell men to go ahead and start practicing medicine and then start taking classes to figure out what they are doing? Or then tell them they can be a full doctor after only 9 courses? Who in their right mind would want that person for their doctor? And what intellectually honest person who desired to be a doctor would truly think that that was the best way to be trained?

  21. @Fr. Daniel #68

    Also, there is the old saying “Pastors don’t retire.” I know of many “retired” pastors who are not actually out of the ministry. Many circuits/districts have a few “retired” pastors who assist with pulpit supply, teach Bible Studies, and the like. My great grandfather’s “retirement” was as the chaplain for the retirement home where he lived. A former pastor at my vicarage church “retired” to become the pastor of a pair of small rural churches in need of a pastor. My supervisor has said that he has no intention of retiring, just taking a call to a smaller congregation. But do we have enough retired pastors to serve these smaller congregations who are willing and able to continue serving? And how challenging would it be for a retired pastor in, say, Milwaukee to move to, say, Tennessee to take another call?

  22. @Rev. McCall #72
    You’re absolutely right. No congregation ethnic, hispanic, large, small or otherwise deserves an undertrained pastor. We shouldn’t lower the standards for any congregation. But by making this arguement against SMP students, are we not also making it against residential midwest seminary vicars? These men are not fully trained, yet. They are not rightly called (unlike the SMP students). Why are vicars and seminarians allowed to preach when they are neither called or fully trained? Don’t these called SMP student-pastors have supervisors that oversee them until their training is done?

  23. I used to marvel at how my Baptist neighbors ordained the local housepainter, because he believed in his heart that God was calling him and the people were convinced that his heart was in the right place. I was glad we in the LCMS had a higher standard. Had.

  24. If you haven’t seen the latest interview of Dave Ellefson, it’s worth watching. It was posted on Tuesday February 7th during his latest tour. The entire interview is worth watching, although the specific part about his studying for the ministry is about 1/2 way through the video. I’m deeply troubled by his view of Scripture, the Church and the Office . . . but maybe it’s just me? Here’s the link:

  25. Here’s some of the excerpts from Youtube’s MEGADETH’s David Ellefson interview video about his views and plans of studying to become a minister (starting at 7:50 into the 16:21 video):

    “After two years my church can ordain me so, essentially, I can marry ’em and bury ’em, I guess.”

    “I’ve read the Bible four time now cover-to-cover over the last four years.”

    “The reason that I started reading it is I got so sick of the conservative religious right bringing politics in, giving this inference that if you not one of us righter-wingers you’re not a Christian. That p—ed me off; I was like, you know what, that can’t be right. And the more I read the Bible I’m just convinced Jesus was a liberal.”

    “In recent years [10-15 years ago]… music got better; church became more contemporary so it actually spoke more to our culture.”

  26. Ellefson’s diatribe about the conservative religious right was a red herring response after he was ask how Megadeth’s violent lyrics mesh with Christianity.

    Later the interviewer brought up the question again (at 10:03), and Ellefson diverted (again) by alleging that a couple of years ago Revolver magazine did a story about the Bible being the number one book that influenced heavy metal.

    I’m not impressed.

  27. I was a Christian about as confused as Ellefson when I was accepted at the seminary. The pastoral formation that I received as a resident student was crucial in convincing me to be Lutheran. If I had gone through SMPP, I might still be a “Lutheran” pastor, but I’d still be a Baptist at heart.

  28. From Wikipedia, here is a comment by Ellefson on why he worships God instead of the Devil:

    “Worshiping Satan, it’s like, ‘Is that the best you can do?’ He’s kind of a small fry guy. You’re kind of limiting your resources a little bit there, if you go down that road.”

    That this man can train to become a “pastor” in the LCMS without permanently cutting his ties to the “Heavy Metal” world and its music, is immensely depressing. Judging by his antipathy to the so-called “religious right,” and his blasphemous assertion that Jesus was a “liberal,” Ellefson might very well be a supporter of abortion, homosexuality, and any number of abominations in our culture today.

    We should pray to God that He will continue to bring Confessional renewal to our Synod and will remove from it these antichrists (Ellefson, Becker, Wyneken, Domsch, Benke, Daystar, OWN, et al.)

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