From the Worldwide Faith News archives

ELCA Council Discusses Clergy Supply and Demand

From News News <NEWS@ELCA.ORG>
Date 11 Apr 2000 11:04:50


April 11, 2000


     CHICAGO (ELCA) -- The Church Council of the Evangelical Lutheran
Church in America (ELCA) reviewed a draft of a report on the supply of
clergy in the ELCA.  "The problem is not so much on the supply side but
on the demand side," said the Rev. Joseph M. Wagner, executive director
of the ELCA Division for Ministry.
     The Church Council is the ELCA's board of directors and serves as
the legislative authority of the church between its churchwide
assemblies.  The council met here April 7-9.  Assemblies are held every
other year; the next is August 8-14, 2001, in Indianapolis.
     Wagner presented the "Study of Ordained Ministers in the ELCA:
Needs and Resources in the 21st Century" to the council.  The report is
to be completed in consultation with the ELCA Conference of Bishops.
     "Things are not the way they were, and they will not be the way
they are," Wagner said, beginning with what he said he learned from the
     The number of ordinations has been "stable" in the past decade,
said Wagner, with 325 to 350 each year.  The number of retirements each
year has been similar to the number of ordinations, he said.
     A growing number of small congregations which are unable to call a
full-time pastor is having an impact on the demand being made for ELCA
clergy, said Wagner.  "There are synods where this is a real problem."
ELCA congregations are organized into 65 synods.
     While the total number of ELCA congregations fell from 11,120 to
10,862 between 1988 and 1998, the number of congregations reporting an
average weekly worship attendance of 50 or less rose from 2,058 to
2,329, according to the report.
     The number of ordained ministers serving in congregations dropped
from 10,125 in 1989 to 9,583 in 1998, according to the report.  The
number of ministers being added to the roster of ELCA clergy was almost
equal to the number of ministers retiring or dying in each of the years
from 1990 to 1998.
     Much of the decline can be attributed to resignations and
removals, said Wagner.  Clergy who do not serve in "called" positions in
the church for three years are usually removed from the roster of ELCA
     "Most of the boxes we are stuck in we have built," Wagner said,
when he began to discuss possible solutions.  He suggested extending the
"three year rule" to a longer period of time.
     In dealing with the demand for clergy, Wagner suggested "yoking"
congregations -- having one pastor serve two or more congregations.  He
also recalled that synods can authorize non-ordained ministries and that
a minister could work part-time for a congregation while earning a
salary from a full-time job outside that congregation.
     The Rev. Jonathan L. Eilert, council member, Wooster, Ohio,
commended the division for implementing "first call theological
education," which requires pastors to contract with their congregations
regarding their continuing education during the first three years after
their ordinations.
     The process includes gathering "colleague groups" of other pastors
in the area, which may include mentors as well as friends from seminary,
said Eilert.  Such relationships will be very helpful in retaining
pastors and keeping them from "burning out," he said.
     The Rev. Karen L. Soli, council member, Virginia, Minn., said many
new pastors are unable to serve smaller congregations because they must
repay large student loans.  She asked if the ELCA could look into
creative methods of helping, such as by buying the loan and allowing the
ordained or lay minister to repay the loan at a lower interest rate.
     The Rev. Michael Cooper-White, director of the ELCA's Department
for Synodical Relations, noted that the number of ordained ministers
serving in calls other than to congregations fell from 2,779 in 1989 to
1,919 in 1998.  "Military chaplains and specialized pastoral care
chaplains have been identified as two areas of service where there is a
growing need for ordained ministers," stated the report.
     "We are trying to deal with the candidacy issue and not with the
congregational issue," said the Rev. Larry V. Smoose, council member,
Media, Pa.  He said the council should also examine what can be done to
merge or consolidate congregations or to close churches.
     Many small, rural congregations have nowhere else to go, said
Steve E. Koenig, council member, Elwood, Neb.  "The problem is that many
of our rural congregations have been 'family congregations'" which do
not welcome new members, he said.  Koenig suggested training rural
pastors to "open" rural congregations.
     The ELCA Department for Research and Evaluation developed a
questionnaire being used to gather information for the report.  The Rev.
Norman D. Eitrheim, former bishop of the ELCA South Dakota Synod, Sioux
Falls, conducted personal interviews for the report.

For information contact:
John Brooks, Director (773) 380-2958 or NEWS@ELCA.ORG

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