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Where are all the Church Workers?

There was a recent post that asked probing questions about opinions regarding the critical shortage of church workers in the LCMS. For the author of this post, his inbox started to fill up immediately. Ideas, stories, struggles, solutions, and a willingness to help find solutions began to chime in. Within a week, he had answered each one individually, in part, to begin or maintain a relationship with someone who cared and had a fervent desire to apply a measure of hope to change this incredibly challenging reality. One must begin somewhere. This particular post began with a prelude of prayer, and then seeking the hearts of God’s people. This created foundational momentum. The conversation continues. The shortage of rostered workers is real.

Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore,to send out workers into His harvest field.   

Matthew 9:38 NIV

To add another element to this discussion, the author had an opportunity to spend a few days at Concordia University in Nebraska this past November. Early on, he and his wife had met there, graduated together, and have been educators in Lutheran schools for many years. There was time to reacquaint, meet, and mingle with President Bull, several leaders/influencers, and to spend some time with faculty from the Department of Education. Also, the Lutheran Education Association directors were present for a board retreat. There was great anticipation, as well as an intriguing perspective in the air. It was all about ministry: past, present, and future. The past was embraced, the present was studied, and data was shared, with a real excitement about God’s plans for future endeavors. And…how to overcome challenges, for sure.

There were discussions about the state of our university system, as it relates to this topic. Also, about the reality of how few church workers were available to graduate from not only this Concordia, but from all of them combined. The number shared as seventy. There is work to do. If there was a highlight to the time spend there, it was the culmination. Dean Sankey, of the Department of Education, had gathered a committee of church work students to host a luncheon.

All current were invited to attend. The unknown? What would the attendance actually be? And so it began: much work behind the scenes. The luncheon was marketed, the campus chef was involved, a program was put in place.

The day arrived. The room was packed! The delightful aroma of a grand meal was evident. Anticipation was in the air. The author was placed at a round table where there was a deliberate seating arrangement. He was a stranger. The students were in degree programs to become teachers, DCEs, parish music directors, for pre-seminary, and for the pre-deaconess degree. The faculty and staff of the Department of Education were all there. The Lutheran Education Association was present as a guest. As everyone seemed to enjoy the deliciousness, there were conversation starters spread around: Introduce yourself! What’s your major? Where are you from? What year are you? And more… In addition, a half-sheet card gave two other opportunities: 1) Take-away Notes, and 2) What’s My Why? At our table, conversation started slowly, but all warmed up to each other pretty quickly. It was interesting that even though these students had seen one another on campus, not all of them knew facts about each other, or had ever even talked. That quickly changed.

One could only be enamored by their anticipation to be church workers, to serve in our congregations, schools, and RSOs, to share Jesus Christ with their gifts and talents. Each speaker encouraged them and everyone in the room. To put it all in context, it was a relationship-building day. All smiles. New friends? Yes. We shared a prayer for our collective futures. It was announced that this was an initiative that would continue. It was a success!

Those who spoke did so with purpose, including guests and members of the student body.

Reflecting back, data became available during time spent at the campus. The following three points were shared as keys to enticing God’s people to enter a church work career. It begins through influences from others:

  1. They have family members who are church workers.
  2. They knew a church worker who significantly impacted their life.
  3. Church members and others told them they would be good servants for the church.

So…it is all about relationships. The data bore this out, but so did this one-hour luncheon. Perhaps if we can focus on the joys of ministry by telling our own story – more will desire to be part of the journey of church work. If we do not, and stay with the status quo, there may not be the movement that needs to happen.

Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD.

Jeremiah 17:7 ESV

The challenges are many. How will ministries pay appropriately? Can we overcome the reality of student debt with a plan that works? What about dysfunction in places of service? This is just a primer, a continuation of the Set Apart to Serve initiative. Let’s move the conversation along. Let’s pray to the Lord of the harvest. Let’s be optimistic about His plans, for His church.

Thomas Wrege is an educator and principal, with 38 years in Lutheran school leadership. He has a desire to further the kingdom of God by providing rich resources that engage others to further their mission of sharing Jesus Christ throughout the world. He loves to be innovative and to collaborate with others in ministry.

5 Comments

  1. Jeffrey Burkart on January 9, 2024 at 4:05 pm

    Thanks for this blog, Tom. All I can say is Amen! Some day I’d like to talk to you about this issue to brainstorm some more ideas about this pressing problem.
    God bless, and happy Epiphany Season.

    • Thomas Wrege on January 10, 2024 at 1:21 am

      I would also love to make this happen, Jeff! You always have great ideas. His blessings and peace to you and your family as well!

  2. Jeffrey Burkart on January 9, 2024 at 4:06 pm

    Thanks for this blog, Tom. All I can say is Amen!

  3. Laurence Meissner on January 15, 2024 at 2:26 pm

    Wonderful article, Tom. What a blessing to be in your congregation and watch the ministry happening in the school you lead! Great leaders inspire future leaders. I pray that God will open the eyes and touch the hearts of the students you mentor by example that many will follow the career path of your faculty.

    • Thomas Wrege on February 6, 2024 at 12:40 pm

      Thank you, Larry! It is always wonderful to partner with you in education. Your career is esteemed and I always learn so much from you. I truly appreciate your comment and we can both pray that the Holy Spirit will continue to nudge His people to desire to serve Him in our churches and schools. To Him the glory! Your friend in Christ – Tom

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