Pastor Blair Lundborg
One of the important tasks of the church is identifying, teaching, preparing, and mentoring men and women for ministry. In our Lutheran tradition, we place a high value on well-educated pastors; it’s part of our DNA. The way we train and equip rostered leaders is changing, both in terms of curriculum and delivery systems.
Seminaries are responding to the changing shape of ministry in the 21st century. Our candidates for ministry are not cloistered in an ivory tower academic setting for four years. Seminaries are becoming incubators for transformational leaders with an emphasis on hands-on fieldwork. This is perhaps most evident in the new ways in which theological education is being delivered.
For those on a Masters of Divinity (ordination) track, the traditional model was a four-year residential program on one of our seminary campuses. Today, we have students who are being prepared through Distributed Learning (DL) through online coursework, intensive courses on campus, and “Cohort Support” with fellow students. Another track to ordination is the Theological Education in Emerging Ministries (TEEM). TEEM students are leaders lifted up from within congregations and trained “in-place”. TEEM sites are typically congregations that are in challenging contexts, such as inner-city, rural or multi-cultural settings that may not be able to afford a full-time pastor.
Once a pastor has completed his/her seminary education, the ELCA engages in a careful process of placing first call candidates in congregations. TEEM candidates typically serve in the place of their training for a period of three years. Residential and Distributed Learning students go through an assignment process. Each year our ELCA seminaries will prepare several hundred candidates for ministry. Nationwide the demand for first call pastors always exceeds the number of available candidates. The process of matching this limited pool of candidates with congregations is a challenging task.
The first step in the assignment process is done regionally. Each synod makes a request for a specific number of pastors with specific congregations in mind. Each synod carefully evaluates the congregations in transitions and identifies those sites that would provide a good setting for a first call pastor. The synod staff reviews the entire slate of first call candidates to identify which candidate is a good match for these identified first call sites. Those requests are submitted to the Assignment Table. Bishops representing each of the nine regions in the ELCA carefully and prayerfully consider the requests of all 65 synods.
Once candidates have been assigned to one of the nine ELCA Regions, the Conference of Bishops meets to match the candidates to specific congregations in their respective synods. The Conference of Bishops carefully evaluates the needs of each congregation and the geographic preferences of candidates. Because demand for first call pastors is always greater than the available number of candidates, not all congregational requests will be filled. In addition, the available first call sites may not always match a candidate’s geographic preference. As you can imagine, the process of assigning first call pastors to congregations is complicated. It can be an anxious time for a pastoral candidate and his/her family, as well as for congregations in need of a pastor. The 65 bishops of the ELCA take great care in getting this process right. It is done carefully and prayerfully.
This year the TX-LA Gulf Coast Synod made a request for six first call pastors. Four of the candidates we requested have been assigned to our region. Earlier this month, Bishop Mike met with the Conference of Bishops to complete the process of assigning each candidate to one of our congregations in transitions. Please hold Bishop Mike, the Conference of Bishops, and the first call candidates in prayer.