Pastor Journey

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Barriers To Entry Into The Pastor Profession

Four barriers to entry into the pastor profession are clergy wages, lack of interest, seminary student debt, and geographical constraints.

Clergy wages

  • Out of the approximately 9,100 churches within the ELCA, about one in four are unable to afford a pastor as the church sizes, budgets, and full-time positions in the United States are decreasing. Wages are no longer enough to cater to the pastor and his family needs, thereby forcing most pastors to work second or even third jobs, which has made the job unattractive to many.
  • Furthermore, over the past few decades, inflation has negatively impacted compensation for pastors.
  • To combat this issue/barrier, many church leaders are receiving advice on ways to be innovative and entrepreneurial, along with understanding PayPal the same way they comprehend the Gospel of Paul.
  • Specifically, a vice president at Luther Seminary, Rev. Dwight Zscheile, supervised a Lilly grant in 2018 to encourage innovation amongst faith leaders. He says that the deep-rooted business model for religious institutions is currently being modified and clergy members must be prepared.
  • Churches are being encouraged to find alternative streams of income to enable them pay clergy wages and satisfy other needs.

Lack of Interest

  • Fewer individuals are inclined to become pastors. According to the ELCA, since 2010, around 3,661 pastors have entered retirement, yet merely 2,241 minsters have been ordained. Hence, there are reportedly fewer recruits willing to spearhead a fresh spiritual landscape requiring them to balance social media, fundraising, and their faith.
  • To combat the drop in enrollment and lack of interest, seminaries are using creativity and are currently seeking means to draw and keep pupils. Throughout the United States, many are providing hybrid Master of Divinity degrees, which combine comprehensive short courses that occur on campus with online learning and virtual participation through TV monitors placed in classrooms.

Geographical constraints

  • Lawrence Wohlrabe, an ELCA bishop, claims that the majority of candidates are disinterested in rural areas.
  • Numerous seminary graduates have specific geographic limitations and are hesitant or reluctant to travel across the United States to serve churches in rural areas or small towns because of economics, personal preferences, and finances. Also, if their spouse/partner is unable secure a job within the area, their family probably cannot afford to live reasonably off the salary of one minister.
  • To overcome this barrier, in an attempt to make rural areas more attractive, a Lutheran superintendent originating from South Dakota began establishing support structures to assist brand-new ministers, such as offering financial resources to aid them in paying their educational debt, as well as marketing districts as vigorous and formative places to perform ministry. As a result, the number of pupils desiring to participate rose significantly.

Seminary student debt

ECLA/ Protestant/ Lutheran

Research Strategy:

During our research, we identified some barriers to the Lutheran pastoral profession and others referring to the Protestant and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). We added this information because while searching for the barriers to entry into the pastor profession for Lutherans, we found that some sources lumped the ELCA and Protestants together. We then sought to understand their differences and history.

We found that a merger of three different Lutheran churches (the American Lutheran Church, the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches, and the Lutheran Church in America), in the year 1988 resulted in the ECLA, which was the largest protestant denomination in Minnesota.

We also discovered that the Lutheran Church serves as a Protestant denomination that primarily follows the schoolings of Martin Luther, while Lutheranism acts as a denomination of the Christian Church's Protestant section. Also, Lutheranism came from the principles bestowed by Luther, and Protestantism is a movement ignited by Luther.

For these reasons, we assumed that the ELCA and Protestant churches are similar, and that the barriers affecting one probably applies to the other.
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Insights and Trends - Pastoral and Seminary Training and Education

Three trends that are impacting Protestant pastoral training and seminary education in the United States are specialization, technology training, and residency requirements. Although these trends are generally impacting all Protestant denominations, they are also affecting the Lutheran religion specifically.


  • In the past, there were only a few pastoral roles in the Christian church, which were typically senior pastor, worship pastor, and youth pastor. Some congregations also had an adult education pastor.
  • However, a recent trend is for pastors to become specialized in specific outreach roles. For instance, "in addition to the positions mentioned above, it is not unusual to see outreach ministers with titles such as: Grow Pastor, Pastor of Assimilation, Pastor of Outreach, Connect Pastor, or Local Missional Pastor on church staffs." Titles such as "Pastor of Spiritual Formation, Minister of Divorce Care, Teaching Pastor, Campus Pastor, Pastor of Recovery, and myriad others" are also becoming more prevalent in Christian churches.
  • One reason for this trend is the growing responsibilities of church leadership. For example, not just anyone can be a children's pastor because they need to be trained "to spot signs of physical or sexual abuse, work with blended families, help parents discuss adoption and foster children, recognize learning differences, and be well-versed on issues such as police background checks even international issues surrounding child labor laws and sex trafficking."
  • As such, according to Paul Pettit, Director of Career Services at Dallas Theological Seminary, "specialization and customized training is becoming the norm in today’s seminaries and Christian graduate schools."
  • Although this trend is applicable to all Protestant denominations, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is embracing it by offering specialized pastoral training that reaches "directly into the primary social structures and institutions of [the] world."
  • Specifically, the ELCA offers specialized ministries in chaplaincy, counseling and clinical education to extend their pastoral reach to settings such as health care, long term care, mental health, corrections, rehabilitation, hospice, substance abuse, developmental disability, police and fire, the workplace, and more.
  • The ELCA also expects the list of specializations to "continue to grow as other areas of human need and ministry are identified."
  • The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod also offers "Specialized Pastoral Ministry" programs that train pastors to "serve as institutional and emergency services chaplains, pastoral counselors and clinical pastoral educators."
  • This was selected as a trend because as churches strive to meet the growing needs of diverse congregations, they are finding that their current pastors do not have the necessary training, experience, and time to properly counsel all parishioners. Therefore, additional pastors who specialize in these areas of need are in demand.


  • In today's technological world, it is no longer sufficient for pastors to only be trained in traditional seminary topics such as biblical interpretation, worship and prayer, and practical theology.
  • Christian pastors must also "know how to run 64-channel sound boards, complicated lighting systems, and professional video cameras."
  • Moreover, in order to reach younger populations, churches often have their own apps, maintain social media pages, and even "Skype or FaceTime with missionaries they support around the world."
  • In a survey of Protestant pastors, 9% of Lutheran pastors indicated their churches have a Twitter account, 27% of Lutheran pastors use a text message service for bulk or group texts, 75% of Lutheran pastors use the church's website to "solicit interest in ministry or volunteer opportunities," 47% of Lutheran pastors use the church's website to "register people for events and activities," 33% of Lutheran pastors use the church's website to "facilitate online giving," and 28% of Lutheran pastors offer wireless internet access to their congregations at the church.
  • One reason for this trend is that many pastors are choosing to be "bi-vocational," which traditionally meant that they had to serve multiple churches that could not afford to each compensate a full-time pastor.
  • However, today's bi-vocational pastors are choosing not to be financially dependent on a single church and are instead becoming "marketplace" pastors who essentially provide their pastoral services on demand.
  • The rise in bi-vocational pastors is impacting the Lutheran church specifically because of "dwindling congregational income." Smaller churches often lack the money to pay for a full-time pastor, so they share one with other churches or make use of marketplace pastors.
  • To succeed as a marketplace pastor, though, one would need to be well-versed in all technology that is typically used in churches. They need to be ready to jump in and take over when called upon.
  • According to Pettit, the Career Services at Dallas Theological Seminary's placement office is "hearing from bi-vocational candidates who plan on working part-time in the marketplace and part-time at a church or para-church ministry," and technology allows them to do that successfully.
  • Additionally, "almost everyone who attends church has watched online first," which means it is critical for pastors to engage congregations remotely. Specifically, younger generations are seeking out online church, but the successful ministries will be those who can convert online-only attendees to in-person attendees.
  • Using technology, pastors must learn how to "position [their] church to see the internet as a front door for new people and a side door for engaged members."
  • This was chosen as a trend because churches are increasingly hiring pastors who have technological qualifications over those who only have traditional qualifications. The growing popularity of bi-vocational pastors is also driving this trend, as marketplace pastors must be trained in all aspects of running a church service so they can go where they are needed at a moment's notice.


  • There has been a recent increase in churches "seeking ministerial candidates who hold a master’s degree from an accredited institution, plus additional time spent 'on site' serving in a church ministry under qualified supervision in an internship or residency."
  • No longer is it sufficient just to have attended a seminary and received a degree. Pastors must now have relevant experience in a church setting before they will be hired.
  • Often, church search committees are asking candidates questions like "have you ever performed a wedding? Have you ever conducted a funeral? Have you ever baptized someone?" If the answers to those questions are "no," the candidate is no longer likely a viable option.
  • As a result, "larger churches, much like hospitals and businesses, are opening up one- and two-year residencies and then offering full-time positions to those who best match the values and goals of the church."
  • Distance learning programs such as the one offered through Concordia Seminary of St. Louis prepare "men for specific pastoral ministries in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS)," but rather than learn in a traditional classroom setting, "students receive academic training in the setting where they will continue to serve following ordination."
  • The Lutheran Studies Program at Yale Divinity School has a field placement requirement for ELCA pastoral candidates and "a parish setting is encouraged" to fulfill this requirement. In addition, the ELCA "normally requires a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education and a year-long full-time internship for candidates for ordained ministry."
  • Third-party programs such as Made to Flourish, are establishing residency programs for Christian pastors because "just as teaching hospitals provide real-life experience for young, talented doctors, a pastoral residency provides an irreplaceable learning laboratory for seminary graduates to grow in leadership, preaching, administration, and godly character."
  • This was selected as a trend because what was once a "nice to have" on a pastor's resume, residencies are now becoming mandatory, which means seminaries are increasingly having to provide internship and residency programs as part of their curriculum.


When searching for trends in Lutheran pastoral training and seminary education, we began by examining the websites for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, as they are the foremost institutions providing pastoral education for the Lutheran church. Although we found information on seminary programs and training opportunities for Lutheran pastors, we did not find anything specifically noted as a trend. Our search expanded to Lutheran publications such as Living Lutheran and Logia, but we only found articles on Lutheran theology, missions, and spiritual resources. Therefore, we expanded our search for trends in pastoral training and seminary education to the Protestant faith in general. This was more successful as we found an article in the Christian Post written by the Director of Career Services at Dallas Theological Seminary that provided a starting point for seminary trends in 2019. We verified that Lutheran pastors can study at the Dallas Theological Seminary to show that the trends mentioned in this article apply to the Lutheran faith. Then, we continued searching for evidence that the trends are in fact impacting the Lutheran seminary. In this way, we connected the general trends impacting the Protestant faith to the Lutheran church specifically.