Thanks for your leadership in your congregation. We are thankful for your partnership living in and living out the Gospel we know through Jesus Christ. Our gracious God is for us and with us.
In the past several months we have been experiencing a tightening of clergy supply for settled calls and interim service. I want to share with you what is happening and how we are responding.
First, there are a number of factors driving the availability of pastors for our context:
- We have known for some time that there would be a growing number of retirements as baby boomers approach retirement age. We are seeing this unfold as the number of retirements across our church body grows.
- The number of people attending seminary to become pastors has dropped by 41% in the thirteen years I have been serving as bishop.
-We have always been a consumer of candidates for ordained ministry from other synods. We receive more candidates then we produce. Without other parts of the church creating our pastoral leadership our supply of candidates would be lower yet.
- People are being influenced by cultural contexts and are more attracted to live in city environments.
-If you grow up in the cities, you have a harder time imagining serving in our generally rural synod.
-Retiring pastors are tending to relocate near their children and grandchildren who are often in metropolitan areas.
-Cities also provide more opportunities for spouse’s employment.
Second, there are some things we need to do:
- We need to affirm and encourage our current pastors and other ministers in their calling.
- We need to invite people to hear God’s call to become an ordained minister.
-Your question inviting someone who you believe has the gifts of faith, the ability to think and feel deeply, innovate to serve our changing context and good relational skills might help someone imagine that God is calling them to ordained ministry.
- We need to build up our scholarship funds which will allow us to achieve our dream, that no one who hears a call to ministry will be blocked by economic challenges. It will also allow people to serve with greater joy, telling the Good News of our generous God.
- We are using new ways of forming leaders. While the pathways have fancy names like TEEM (Theological Education for Emerging Ministry) and Distributed Learning they are forming great pastors who are rooted in the Gospel and open to serve in our context of Southwestern Minnesota.
What does this mean? In the short term we want you to know that during the past few months we have had to do things differently to serve the current mission field. This will likely continue.
- First, instead of nominating two interim candidates as we have the last thirteen years, we are nominating one candidate who we believe is a good fit. This nomination comes with a commitment to seek another candidate if the council does not believe our candidate is a good match. If we have multiple interim candidates we will share them. But we don’t want to have you be surprised in a time of transition by this strategic change.
- Second, instead of presenting three or four names for call committees we have been finding ourselves in a situation where we might have only two candidates who seem to fit for your context. Sometimes if neither of those candidates are a match, we have had to bring additional names one at a time until a call to serve a congregation is accepted by a pastor. How this supply of candidates looks varies from our metro area to our rural areas. Yet compared to our sisters and brothers in Christ in South Africa we have an abundance of faithful pastors.
- Third, we will be recovering an older practice of having Vice Pastors cover congregations in the gap when we cannot find an interim pastor. This neighboring pastor will be appointed by the bishop’s office. They will be compensated by the congregation they serve in as a bridging pastor. They will attend council meetings. They will make sure that we have worship coverage for Sundays, funerals and other pastoral concerns. They will not provide all the coverage but they will serve as the point for pastoral coverage.
We are thankful for your understanding. We want the same thing you do, great pastor/congregational partnerships for the sake of the mission and ministry of Jesus. We long to see congregations growing faithful and fruitful disciples of Jesus and sending them into God’s world. As a staff we will continue to walk with you as we follow Jesus into this coming chapter of our synod’s and your congregation’s life.
+Pr. Jon Anderson
Serving as Bishop of the Southwestern Minnesota Synod