I just returned from Placement Services for Vicars and Candidates in Ft. Wayne and St. Louis. It’s an exhausting trip, but one that leaves you filled with joy, and hope for the future. We saw 111 eager vicars receive their assignments to congregations across the United States. We received five of six requested vicars. These men, and their wives, will participate in a year of practical, hands-on learning experiences in a congregational ministry, benefitting from a mentoring relationship from a seasoned pastor. These congregations are carefully chosen to provide the best overall ministry experience for these men, assisting in their preparation for pastoral formation.
We also placed 97 men into the Holy ministry for their first call. They heard the same words I heard when I was first called, from 1 Peter 5, “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.” They joined a band of humble servants—shepherds of the Good Shepherd, caring for God’s sheep!
Many of these congregations have been eagerly awaiting the Call service for many months, and in some cases several years. I can only imagine the joy these congregations experienced as they learned the news. Unfortunately not everyone who applied for a candidate received one. There were more calls than candidates! It just points to the fact that we are not preparing as many men as we once did for holy ministry. Couple that with the fact that we are seeing a wave of pastors beginning to retire, and the number of pastors that experience burnout on a regular basis, it signals our need to creatively address the issues that face us as congregations dwindle and fewer pastors are available to serve them.
For far too long the church has become inwardly focused. As I learn the history of many of our congregations the vast majority of them were founded with a desire to reach more people with the good news of Jesus and how He died for our sins to bring us into relationship with Himself. Many began with service to the community. We, in the LCMS, were once known as an evangelistic church, reaching out to the helpless and hurting with the love and grace of Jesus. In fact, there are over 300 Lutheran social service agencies that were organized to respond to the needs of all kinds of people with the love of Jesus. As these pastors were called, the preachers charged them with loving not only their congregation, but also their community. They were charged to see the hurts and needs of people all around them, and to serve their community. It was really a call to be incarnational—the very presence of Jesus in a hurting world.
I suspect that most of the pastors reading this can recall call night. It’s an unforgettable life event for most of us. While I couldn’t tell you who preached or what was said, I can tell you about how Edith and I anticipated with great joy the opportunity to serve Jesus full time and tell people about His love and forgiveness. Of course, there was that, and then also the knowledge of what would set the course of our post-graduate life, when we all learned where we would be living. It’s an anxious time, contemplating where God would be sending us, and then asking why! I can still remember thinking we were going “home,” back to New York, in fact being convinced in our minds that as this was pleasing to us, it had to be pleasing to God too. Someone has said that if you want to make God laugh tell Him your plans…
What I didn’t fully grasp then, and still struggle to comprehend at times, is that you can always trust Gods plan. Jeremiah 29:11 reminds us, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” While this is true for pastors receiving their first call, it’s really true for every one of us. God has created each of us with purpose and He has unique plans for each of us. Concordia Seminary in St. Louis uses, as its motto, “to equip the saints for works of service,” from Ephesians 4.
The role of the Pastor isn’t to DO ministry, but rather to equip God’s people to do ministry. By the way, that also doesn’t exclude the pastor from living as an example of a life of service. It’s a partnership, pastor and people together, proclaiming the forgiveness and grace of Jesus. That’s why our focus for at least the next three years is to engage in the Master’s business. One of the most important things we can do is to serve the community in which God has placed us. This, again, isn’t only for the pastor, but for all of God’s baptized children. Each of us has been chosen, in grace, to represent Jesus in the world. Certainly that includes the church, but it is also pointed at the world beyond the church to those who have not yet heard. The opportunities around us are staggering. The harvest is plentiful and the workers are few; pray the Lord of the harvest to embolden you to be a proclaimer of Jesus. As we share the grace and love of Jesus with a sin-filled world, many will be eternally grateful for their new life. Then you will have some idea of the excitement and eagerness of these new pastors and vicars who are preparing to serve Jesus.
Call day is a highlight on the seminary campus. It’s a special call, set aside for those who will serve in pastoral ministry. However, each of us also has a call. Our call, in partnership with your pastor, is to reach the world for Jesus, starting in the communities in which God has placed us. May the Lord prepare us as we work together, engaged in the Master’s Business, equipping, empowering and engaging to connect people to Jesus!
Serving Jesus with you,