In Danger of Extinction?
As I write this blog, I recall a hymn that I learned from my grandmother when I was a little boy. The hymn was Hark, the Voice of Jesus Calling. The opening stanza of the hymn begins with questions being raised by our Savior, “Who will go and work today? Fields are white and harvests waiting, who will bear the sheaves away?”
These questions are relevant and even crucial for our Lutheran schools in 2021. Sadly, statistics show that fewer students are heeding this call by entering church work programs, specifically the Lutheran teaching ministry. Is the synodically trained Lutheran teacher in danger of extinction?
Just within the past fifteen years, the number of Lutheran teaching candidates graduating from the Concordia University System schools has gone from 292 in 2006 to 92 in 2020. During these same years, the number of requests for candidates went from 536 in 2006 to 389 in 2020. (Information taken from CUS statistics and CUNE Placement Office). One can conclude that the corresponding drop in requests for candidates might in part be attributed to schools filling their need for teachers by hiring non-Lutheran teachers. If we were to go back even further, statistics would show a much larger number of Lutheran teaching candidates having graduated from our Concordia teachers colleges.
Can this trend of fewer and fewer students enrolling in the teaching ministry of our synodical universities be reversed? Or is it a lost cause? Does it really matter? Sadly, I believe there are too many of our churches and schools who think that it really doesn’t matter. This writer, however, feels that theologically trained teachers are vital to the future of our Lutheran schools. While there are many excellent non-Lutheran Christian teachers serving in our schools, I believe our schools are in danger of losing their distinctive Lutheran characteristic as more and more teaching staffs have fewer Lutheran or synodically trained teachers. Biblically-based, Lutheran doctrine, including the proper understanding of Law and Gospel—that permeates everything taught and done in our schools, is at risk when this occurs.
What can be done? I believe there are several steps that could help. First, we need to intentionally encourage students from very early on to think about becoming a Lutheran teacher. Over the years Synod has had several programs to promote this. These should be reviewed and possibly revised and updated.
Second, our congregations need to be encouraged to provide substantial financial support to students who attend our synodical schools to become Lutheran teachers. While congregations might currently provide some support, they need to be persuaded to do more.
A third step would be for our Concordia University System to look at providing additional tuition support and aid to students who specifically enroll in Lutheran teaching programs and commit to teaching in our Lutheran schools for a specified number of years.
Another step that could be taken is for our Lutheran schools to encourage (or require) non-synodical teachers to enroll in the colloquy program and to provide financial assistance for this (if not fully fund the cost).
Additionally, our churches and schools need to provide more financial incentives for our Lutheran teachers in terms of paying more competitive wages, offering teachers with families substantially reduced or free tuition for their children enrolled in the school, and assist with some of the health care costs for families. Other incentives could include tuition assistance for graduate studies and lane advancements for advanced degrees, if not already provided.
How can this be accomplished when the financial cost might seem too high and unattainable? I believe that with a coordinated and committed effort at the church/school, district, and synodical levels we can accomplish this. Hopefully we will then have more and more students responding as the hymn states, “Here am I, send me, send me!” With God, all things are possible!