In our day, while a small number of our rostered ministers may have let their skills diminish to the point of incompetence, and here and there a few are dispirited or inattentive to their duties, ours is more a crisis of sheer numbers. The past couple of years when bishops met to assign senior seminarians and others approved for their first calls, the “supply” has met only about one-third of the “demand.” More than 1,000 of our congregations in search of new clergy leaders are unable to fill their pastoral office. And a wave of retirements on the near horizon suggests the crisis will only grow worse. Imagine if that were the case in branches of our military—Congress would promptly reinstitute the draft! We have no such measure available, and would not want to force people into ministry if we did.

We seminary leaders have sounded the alarm now for several years about this looming dire shortage of workers for the harvest. It does appear that the church is finally awakening to this reality. The Conference of Bishops recently called us to prayer and adopted resolutions encouraging heightened attention to church vocations. Prayers are powerful; resolutions can rally. Now we need concrete action plans to turn around this trend.

Called to lives of joy This year marks the conclusion of my four decades of ordained service. On the verge of retirement, I’ve been looking back from the end of the road. And what a journey it has been! I’ve been granted the privilege of serving our church in all three of its “expressions”— congregation, synod and churchwide—and now the better part of two decades as “pastor-president” in a seminary.

To be sure, there have been days of difficulty and great challenge. Faithfulness to the gospel, exercising integrity within our polity where one is a pastor of the church and not only of a congregation or other calling body, means we can’t always please everyone. At times the criticism is sharp and personal, stressful to the point of threatening to harm one’s family life or friendships. The workload can be staggering in some seasons in what is never a 40-hour week free of frequent crises and interruptions.

Luther acknowledged the burdens borne by public ministers: “Our ministry today has become a serious and saving responsibility. It now involves much more trouble and labor, danger and trial, and in addition it brings you little of the world’s gratitude and rewards.”

But as both my wife (who’s an Episcopal priest) and I gave testimony in our book, Exploring Practices of Ministry, we wouldn’t have missed it for the world! This is a calling that brings deep and abiding satisfaction and joy. It needs to be held up for consideration by people of all ages and stations in life. For the “millennials” more interested in meaning than money, we can encourage young women and men to “consider the call.” Similarly, for those retiring after careers in government, the military or business whose life spans likely will go on for decades, we can reassure, “It’s not too late.”

Those who respond will come to know the truth of Luther’s conclusion about public ministry: “Christ will be our reward if we labor faithfully. The Father of all grace helps us to do just that. To God be praise and thanks forever through Christ our Lord. Amen.”

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Romans 10:14-15, NIV)

Despite excellent seminary preparation and quality continuing education, in accepting each of my calls over the past four decades I felt inadequate and unprepared for the task. But my attitude has always been that of an earnest baseball player: “If you’re standing at the plate and they hand you a bat, take your best swing!” Here’s hoping the lineup grows quickly of those who are willing to give their best and who trust God will help them round the bases. Now that I’ve run the circuit, I’ll have to figure out the nature of this new calling we refer to as “retirement.”

Michael Cooper-White retires the end of June after 17 years as president of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg (Pa).


Page 1  |  Page 2  |  Page 3  |  Page 4  |  Page 5  |  Page 6  |  Page 7  |  Page 8  |  Page 9  |  Page 10  |  Page 11  |  Page 12  |  Page 13  |  Page 14  |  Page 15  |  Page 16  |  Page 17  |  Page 18  |  Page 19  |  Page 20  |  Page 21  |  Page 22  |  Page 23  |  Page 24  |  Page 25  |  Page 26  |  Page 27  |  Page 28  |  Page 29  |  Page 30  |  Page 31  |  Page 32  |  Page 33  |  Page 34  |  Page 35  |  Page 36  |  Page 37  |  Page 38  |  Page 39  |  Page 40  |  Page 41  |  Page 42  |  Page 43  |  Page 44  |  Page 45  |  Page 46  |  Page 47  |  Page 48  |  Page 49  |  Page 50  |  Page 51  |  Page 52