Thursday, July 24, 2008

Meet the new ordination shortcut...

...same as the old ordination shortcut."
- Pete Townshend (paraphrased)

This insert appeared in the recent issue of the LCMS Reporter newspaper. Notice the front-page article entitled: "Future SMP students seek to serve while in pastoral formation process."

The SMP ("Specific Ministry Pastor") program was "sold" to LCMS confessionalists and traditionalists as a "new and improved" DELTO ("Distance Education Leading To Ordination") program, one that would bring the synodical alternative route to the pastoral office into better confessional compliance.

I was not at the convention last year, but it is my understanding that two seminary professors - one from each institution - argued that the SMP program would put an end to the very thing being trumpeted in this article: laymen claiming to perform Word and Sacrament ministry apart from Holy Ordination. I believe these professors who spoke in favor of the SMP program owe us an explanation for this "bait and switch." In fact, the faculties of both seminaries endorsed this plan. In light of how this program is being implemented, I would like to know why they did not see this coming, and what they plan to say and do about it now - though I won't hold my breath. I do believe they owe us - pastors and laymen alike - some explanation, and not a lot of bureaucratic double-talk either. We weren't born yesterday.

And, another oft-unspoken reality is that the seminaries do send men to vicarages where they are expected to "do Word and Sacrament ministry" apart from Holy Ordination. This violates the vicarage handbook (not to mention the Book of Concord, for crying out loud!), but the seminaries will not insist that this cease. They will not stand up for these scandalized men and will not tell the District Presidents and vicarage supervisors to either knock it off, or they will get no vicars. Men's consciences suffer for this. I know of one young pastor in particular who was so distraught over this that he never recovered from it, and ended up leaving not only the ministry but the LCMS after serving a very short time - and I suspect he's not alone. Why do the seminaries leave these men twisting in the wind? Do the rules not apply to the vicarage supervisors and congregations? Do the District Presidents get carte blanche to violate any rule they wish?

But here are the real fruits of the SMP program, in full color, sent all over the country in the Reporter: "Future SMP students seek to serve while in pastoral formation process." There's even a picture of a lay deacon in shirt and tie officiating at a baptism. This was obviously not an emergency baptism. This was done in a permanent church building at a regular baptismal font - not a hospital, battlefield, or concentration camp. The SMP program is typically sold to us as the solution for that little congregation in the middle of nowhere that would just fall to pieces if this one man were to leave to go to the seminary. But the article says outright that the church where this deacon serves has a real pastor on staff. In fact, they have a senior pastor, a deacon, two DCEs, worship attendance of 380, three new member classes a year, and a preschool. So why is the pastor not conducting this baptism, and why is this layman pretending to be a pastor?

The deacon in this article implies that he's unable to go to seminary, as he's 53 years old, has a wife, and has two sons in school. In other words, he is in the same boat as probably half of my class at seminary - older, second career guys who left established jobs, uprooted their families, took a leap of faith, and made sacrifices for the sake of the Gospel. I guess this fellow can't be bothered. Furthermore, the article tells us he has no college degree, but sold auto parts, worked in a restaurant, and served "as a counselor for couples in communications" (the latter of which sounds to me like the kind of thing one ought to have some formal education to be doing).

I can't claim to speak for anyone but myself, but if my baptismal certificate were signed by a non-ordained person, and the situation was not an emergency, I would be asking an ordained man to baptize me. Why the LCMS is instilling doubt and playing games with the Holy Office and the Holy Sacrament is beyond me.

I had a seminary classmate who was in the DELTO program. He attended classes with us traditional students for, I believe, two quarters. During break, he went home to officiate at a baptism. I asked him why he, a layman, was baptizing. He told me he was "licensed for Word and Sacrament ministry by the District President." I asked him if there were no pastors available. His response: "This is a mission situation." Right. The man came from a major American metropolis of some four million people, a city that hosted the Olympics, for crying out loud. There are LCMS congregations and pastors all over the place where this man was playing pastor. "Mission situation" indeed. He did not return home to an African hut or an igloo in Alaska (and even those places have real pastors!). That "mission" excuse is nothing other than a damnable lie. I expect telemarketers and spam e-mails to lie - but I expect more out of my church. We pastors and lay people should be enraged, enraged, that such nonsense goes on in the LCMS - just as enraged as we rightly were about the Issues, Etc. debacle.

In the insert's article "A new pastor and a new program" Rev. Glen Thomas reveals another "bait and switch." The SMP program was originally sold to us as a solution for specific situations, such as one specific congregation where the SMP pastor will be able to serve unless he upgrades to GMP (General) status. But this is not the case. Thomas explains that the SMP is declared to be in a specific "type of ministry (e.g. church planter, youth pastor, campus pastor), declared at the outset" and that is the "realm in which the SMP is eligible to serve." So, the "specific" part doesn't refer to that specific call or struggling congregation, but rather to that "realm." Thomas adds: "Following completion of the program, the SMP may accept a call to another location only if that call is within his specific ministry category." In the case of the deacon serving the big congregation, he is on track to become an associate pastor of a large congregation. Does this mean that he, as a SMP, will then be eligible to take a call to any congregation seeking an associate pastor? The specificity in the SMP program is already broadening itself, and the program hasn't even started yet!

I'm tired of being fed a line of bull at every turn.

Furthermore, Fort Wayne's most recent For the Life of the World magazine has devoted the back page to "Frequently Asked Questions about the SMP Program." One question asks: "Does SMP represent a dumbing down of our standards for pastors?" Of course, the answer is predictable: "Absolutely not," - though it admits that the SMP program "will, of necessity, be more limited than in our residential programs." But we are assured that "the standards will remain high." So, a program that requires no residential requirement, almost no face time with profs and fellow seminarians, almost no experience worshiping and debating with brother seminarians, a lack of hearing and observing the diversity of preachers in chapel, and a requirement of only eight classes before ordination - is not a "dumbing down" when compared to the traditional program of three years of full-time onsite class work and a year of vicarage? How am I supposed to buy this?

Can a SMP student sing in the chapel choir, join the Kantorei, participate in student government, drink beer every Friday with faculty and fellow students, get grilled by Dr. Scaer for three years, struggle with the formidable Early Church course, browse around a world-class theological library every day, attend Good Shepherd Institute and Symposia every year, participate and in some cases lead daily Matins, Vespers, and Compline in addition to a daily preaching office and a weekly Mass with the community, load and unload trucks as fellow students move in and move out, learn Latin, German, or even Swedish from faculty and fellow students, experience Q-parties, or go through the crucible of summer Greek with one's class? Pastors are formed not only by the classroom, but by the experience of being part of a worshiping community of men in the same boat, by access to profs outside the classroom, by a semi-monastic setting of prayer and study, and by allowing the Spirit time to work. Even our Lord trained His disciples for three years.

If it's true that SMP isn't a "dumbing down," then why not make those same eight classes the requirement for ordination for all seminarians? If the standards are just as high, it would be poor stewardship to condemn the residential students to years of student loan indebtedness. And if that were to happen (the SMP standards being applied to all students), would the overall standards of our ordained ministerium remain the same?

And here are some unforeseen (to put on the best construction) results that are likely to happen:
  • SMP pastors will serve start-up congregations that may not make it financially. The church closes. Another congregation nearby needs a pastor, and will petition the District President to allow the SMP guy to take a call there. If he refuses, a pastor will be left with no way to make a living and feed his family. If the District Presidents allow these exceptions, the entire SMP premise is blown to hell (which may be appropriate under the circumstances).
  • Someone will argue that restricting SMP calls is a violation of the confessional principle of the equality of bishops, and the CCM or the COP will simply overturn the SMP restrictions by fiat.
  • Since "the seminaries anticipate the ability to enroll 40 SMP students each this fall" (80 in total), there is going to be a huge shift away from the traditional paradigm. 80 students in a year's time is the size of some entire graduating classes at Fort Wayne. The traditional (residential) students are going to increasingly question why they are spending so much time and money, racking up student loans, causing their families to move four times (to seminary, to vicarage, back from vicarage, and then to a call - if they even have one) - when the SMP guys get to learn by correspondence classes, and even have a guaranteed call waiting for them when they finish their 8 classes spread over two years (which run concurrently with their home-congregation vicarages).
  • This influx of students through non-traditional routes will almost certainly result in a glut of pastors, especially of men with: M.Div degrees, huge student loan debts, and no calls to be had.
There is no clergy shortage. There will be no clergy shortage. It is simply unrealistic to expect numerical growth among Lutherans when our people are practicing "family planning." All the programs, slogans, and gimmicks in the world cannot replace procreation as an effective tool of generationally sustainable church growth. The decline of the Christian population is simply a fact in western countries - especially non Roman Catholic countries where contraception is king. In many western nations, the native population is plummeting, and only the influx of immigrants - many of them Muslims - is preventing a total societal economic collapse. Of course, this is almost never discussed in the context of long-range planning for future pastors. Instead, we're given an almost hysterical dystopian picture of clergy shortages and desperate congregations ready and willing to call and pay for a pastor, but with none to be had. We are assured that the more men that we can run through the conveyor belt the better. I remember the sainted professor Kurt Marquart saying: "You cannot mass-produce pastors."

Even among our traditional students, the educational standards have slipped. Personally, I think we should be adding a year (if not two) to the M.Div. program, not reducing the ordination requirement to eight classes. Instead of increasing enrollment, maybe we should be reducing it, raising admission standards, and finding ways to increase financial aid for each man willing to slog through the years of training and formation required to become a pastor. In generations past, men knew their biblical languages, not to mention Latin and German, before setting foot in a seminary classroom. There is simply no way to continue to cut back on the rigor of the program without giving the church less-educated and less-prepared pastors.

Would you want your cardiologist or airline pilot trained in this way? I believe this kind of flippancy toward ordination, toward the office of the Holy Ministry, and toward the importance of a properly educated ministerium is one reason why some of our brightest and best pastors and theologians leave the LCMS and go elsewhere. This goes beyond "playing church" and is moving toward just "playing."

But in the midst of all the pragmatic smoke and mirror arguments to justify this program, what about our Lord's example of devoting three painstaking years to onsite pastoral formation? What about Matt 8:19-22? Or Luke 5:27-28? Or Luke 9:61-62? In 1 Tim 1:18, St. Paul calls the carrying out of the ministry as "the good warfare." Even the military, which wages temporal warfare, has no SMP version of basic training. Recruits go to boot camp in person. There is no substitute for actually going through the experience. How much more must we "soldiers of the cross" be prepared for battle? The pastoral ministry is real warfare, not a computer game. One cannot prepare for the Holy Office in front of a computer screen any more than a marine, soldier, airman, or sailor can do boot camp on a PlayStation or Xbox - that is, unless we see the ministry as somehow less of a militant office than the guy carrying an M16 or flying a fighter jet.

And in spite of all of this, the original premise of the SMP program was that this would at least be an improvement over DELTO and would ensure that only ordained men are serving in Word and Sacrament ministry. But here it is in the Reporter, complete with a picture. It's just not true.

So, who is going to step up to the plate with some answers?


Susan said...

All I can think is: Have they lost their minds? And if they have lost their minds, can we have them committed to a local sanitarium under good pastoral care until they regain their senses?

I wish we could... :(

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

You are mistaken in one major point. SMP isn't about providing pastors - it's about providing cheap pastor. This is a cost saving measure - these men will be across the board paid less because they don't have an M.Div. Smaller congregations will be told that this is what they can afford, and there will be a two-tiered clergy set up.

And, if things fail for them, well, they should have employable skills.


One other thing. This wasn't designed to replace "DELTO" - it was designed to eliminate district run "lay ministry" programs and unite them under one banner. I don't know how successful it has been - I couldn't get to the mike with an amendment calling to phase out individual district programs.

Getting the various districts into one, unified program was the sell job I got - along with ordaining them right away so they aren't violating the letter of AC XIV.

Rev. Thomas C. Messer, Pastor Peace Lutheran Church (LCMS) said...


Excellent post, brother!

Personally, I think this program is directly linked to Ablaze! I am betting that we will see a plethora of SMP guys serving mission-start "Covenant Congregations" in the very near future. After all, we have to find a way to start up those 2000 congregations by 2017!

For that reason, and for all the reasons you so eloquently stated in your post, I am, with you, enraged!

In Christ,

Fr. Gregory Hogg said...

Fr. Beane,

I don't mean to revisit a lengthy topic, and I would have emailed this to you if I had your email address. You wrote:

"I can't claim to speak for anyone but myself, but if my baptismal certificate were signed by a non-ordained person, and the situation was not an emergency, I would be asking an ordained man to baptize me. Why the LCMS is instilling doubt and playing games with the Holy Office and the Holy Sacrament is beyond me."

I guess I can see the consistency in your position when you think that Orthodox should simply baptize Lutherans and others becoming Orthodox--is that right?

But how does one remain in a communion fellowship where one cannot embrace baptisms performed in that fellowship? I'm genuinely perplexed here.

The unworthy priest,

Fr. Gregory

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Fr. Gregory:

I'm also perplexed - because in spite of your tone of being "above it all" - the Orthodox are in the exact same boat. The fact that this is even an issue to the Orthodox belies your claim that we're not part of the Church.

I'm also perplexed how it is that you can't seem to dig up my e-mail address. I just did a Google search on "Rev. Larry Beane" and it came right up. And of course, there's also the directory of church workers online at

But to be honest with you, Gregory, I'm really not interested in getting on another "convert to Orthodoxy e-mail list" - like I was placed on a couple years ago uninvited by some guy that I had never heard of. If I want people to come to my house with pamphlets and magazines to try to convert me, I'll invite them. But notice they always prefer to come without being invited.

But back to your point: The Orthodox are in the same boat with us, the same Ark, if you will - like it or not.

If we weren't part of the Church, there would be no acceptance, economic or otherwise, of any baptisms outside of Orthodoxy. But there are. And just as there is disagreement within Lutheranism about these lay baptisms and the interpretation of AC14, there are disagreements within Orthodoxy about what to do with converts.

For example, when Fr. Gilquist and his gaggle of Protestants wanted to convert to Orthodoxy, he got nothing but rejection - until the Antiochian patriarch accepted them and placed Gilquist and other former Protestant clergy on their own "shortcut to ordination."

So, how could the OCA and the Greek Orthodox Church accept these converts when they had previously rejected them explicitly? "How how does one remain in a communion fellowship where one cannot embrace" conversions "performed in that fellowship?"

If I remember right, Fr. Fenton spent one day as a deacon. One day. Now, that's a "shortcut to ordination" that on some level recognizes the ministry he exercised as a Lutheran. This demonstrates a dissonance between what is said: ("The Lutherans are in no way Church") vs. what happens in practice: ("The Lutherans are Church on some level").

The fact of the matter is that Orthodoxy is one denomination within the one holy catholic and apostolic church. This is why what happens in one part of our "una sancta" affects all of us.

The turmoil in the Anglican communion affects us all. The "reform of the reform" of Pope Benedict does as well. The decisions in the ELCA and among Baptists also are of interest to every part of the body of Christ - precisely because there are indeed Christians and churches in those places - Christians and churches bound to us as the Body of Christ - bound to you and me. This is why Touchstone is not a "journal of mere Orthodoxy" but rather an ecumenical "journal of mere Christianity."

The Church is bigger than our denominations and confessions - mine and yours.

The reason you can't just let your Lutheranism go and leave in peace is because a certain part of you and your Christian life will always be Lutheran. You were baptized in this jurisdiction of the Church, you were confirmed, ordained, and ministered Word and Sacrament here. We are part of the Church, just as your particular denomination of Orthodoxy is part of the Church. Otherwise, you wouldn't be so drawn to our blogs and what happens in our churches. If we weren't part of the Church you would have no more interest in what constitutes a valid Lutheran baptism than you would care what makes a proper Mormon one.

But you do, and so do your bishops.

But notice how we Lutherans actually address our problems. You will find open, frank, and honest discussion on Lutheran blogs, in academic journals, and in other publications. You will find disagreement and lively debate. I don't read any Orthodox blogs or journals (at least that I know of) - but I suspect you won't find such open and frank discussions about the disagreements that do well exist in Orthodoxy. It is almost as if there is a "code of silence" among the Orthodox, so that when someone finally does speak out, their objections are dismissed as "oh, well, that's the OCA, move along people, nothing to see here" or "it's just a little financial problem, nothing doctrinal mind you" - sort of like the Black Knight in Monty Python's Holy Grail having his legs cut off and claiming it's "just a flesh wound."

I'm glad your church is perfect, Father Gregory - that there are no doctrinal disputes among the Orthodox. That's really impressive. I've also been told there's this place called Area 51 where the government is hiding aliens from outer space...

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Susan:

Have them committed? Great idea. Where can we order a set of Ablaze!(tm) straight jackets?

Father Hollywood said...


It's a shell game. All this talk about the teeny tiny congregation in the middle of the desert that would fold if Elder Bob were to physically attend seminary classes makes no sense when one considers this deacon from Washington State whose church is larger than mine, and already has a pastor, a deacon, and two DCEs on staff.

These programs always expand to become bigger than intended - or were they always intended to be what they become? I'm not sure. But I know a lot of people were swindled by this.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Tom:

Indeed, this program is being sold as a facet of the total Ablaze!(tm) package. But when the Ablaze!(tm) house of cards falls by the wayside in 2017, the damage caused to the office of the holy ministry by turning a rigorous seminary experience into a few Sunday school classes will remain.

Thanks for your post.

Fr. Gregory Hogg said...

Fr. Beane,

As to finding your email address, I looked on your blog, and I searched my inbox, because I thought I remembered you emailing me at some point. Neither showed an edress. Sorry.

As to why I can't "let my Lutheranism go," some of it I haven't--e.g. its Christology is the same as that of the Church; some of it I have. But I have not let go of my Lutherans. I have both a personal and an intellectual interest to see how others--many of them long-term friends--answer the same questions and respond to the same situations that led me to the Church.

Finally, as to Fr. Fenton's being a deacon for one day before his ordination to the priesthood: St. Photios was elevated through the ranks of clergy in a matter of days, and went from being a layman to being the Patriarch of Constantinople. It happens, sometimes, in our midst--without any necessary recognition of previous 'orders'.

As to the rest of what you write--well, I see I've touched a nerve with you. I am sorry for that. But I will continue to watch how you answer the same questions and situations I and many others have had to address.

The unworthy priest,

Fr. Gregory Hogg

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Fr. Gregory:

St. Photios was elevated through the ranks of clergy in a matter of days, and went from being a layman to being the Patriarch of Constantinople. It happens, sometimes, in our midst--without any necessary recognition of previous 'orders'.

Of course, there are always exceptions. Fr. John is such an exception (and he is, to be sure, an exceptional guy) - but I think we can all safely assume that were Fenton an auto mechanic or a restaurant worker, he would not have gotten the "exception." I think it is safe to say that when Protestant clergy are given "shortcuts to ordination" that it is related to their previous vocations. It would be naive to think otherwise.

But I will continue to watch how you answer the same questions and situations I and many others have had to address.

No problem. I'm cheaper to watch than cable - not nearly as interesting, though. But if you start peering through my windows, just be warned that the lemon tree has some nasty thorns on it. Watch your head.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Right Reverend Beane (I am posting from the "Bible" Belt, after all),

"Lay" Ministry has always been a shell game - an attempt to have people circumvent the Seminaries and be totally dependent upon the District officials who have power over them.

Look at SMPP not as a curative to DELTO, or even to Lay Ministry, but rather an attempt to take education and certification power out of the hands of the individual districts and place it under the auspices of the Seminaries.

And apparently that's what it is doing. The Seminaries are prepared for 80 people - that's good - it's working. Or did you not think that if not for SMPP those 80 wouldn't be "lay ministers" anyway? I'm in a small district, we've got 2 or three going at any given time. How many districts are there that do this? SMPP isn't creating any more lay whatevers - it's consolidating and standardizing them.

Once you have standardization - then you can start to correct and control. I think SMPP is just putting an oar back into the water when the canoe has been drifting since '89.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Ritely Called Rev. Eric:

Respectfully, my friend and colleague, I disagree.

If your analysis is correct, it would be like applauding that *parents* are now handing out condoms out to their teenage sons since, at least its now being done by them instead of the school administrators. But either way, somebody is getting..., well, never mind. I think you get the picture.

I just don't think this is in any way an attempt by the seminaries to "stick it to the man." In fact, I think "the man" has stuck it to the seminaries - who are now institutionalizing violations of the confessions.

The COP is calling the shots - not the seminaries. If the seminaries had that kind of power, they wouldn't cower to the COP when it comes to allowing vicars to be abused by AC14-deniers in the vicarage supervision program. Nor would the sem have promoted Ablaze!(tm). I believe this has all been done under duress. There has been some arm-twisting going on in smoke-filled rooms.

And did you notice that the sem is calling a former DP (who has term-limited out) to be a prof? I don't know anything about the man, but he's been in a district office for three terms and has only an honorary doctorate. Such a call would have been unthinkable when you and I were seminarians. This guy may be the bee's knees, but I'm skeptical.

The COP needs the blessing of the seminaries to use against folks like me who cry "foul." And they did what they had to do to get compliance. There is no way the seminaries pulled off a magnificent coup to wrench lay ministry from the hapless districts so that they can shut it down.

No, indeed.

They will not put "lay ministry" out of its "Missouri." Au contraire, this nonsense is only going to expand - mark my words. They are geared up for 80 guys this fall. 80 guys! This is not a little fringe operation. It is a significant shift in the direction and philosophy of pastoral education in our synod and at our seminaries. It will eventually wreck seminary education in the LCMS.

If the seminaries truly had the kind of muscle it would take for what you describe, they would instead issue a forceful joint statement from the faculties saying that lay ministry violates AC14, and that the seminaries will in no way support nor recognize any such program, nor will they allow any vicars to perform sacramental acts either with or against their will, and any DP, district, or vicarage supervisor that endorses such programs and other violations of the confessions will be admonished by the faculties of the seminary and will not be allowed to receive vicars.

And then you will wake up...

The sad part is that I think our church would respect the seminary faculties and would side with them over and against the COP.

But as it stands now, the seminaries have not only endorsed Ablaze!(tm) but have given their *blessing* to various incarnations of laymen openly violating AC14. They have surrendered the high ground. As it stands now, President Kieschnick is right - there is no dissent. We all support lay ministry. We've one happy family. We're all on lockstep agreement. (Though I'm going to quote Tonto: "What do you mean *we*, white man?").

How can the seminaries take a moral stand against it after they have blessed it?

Personally, I think we're stuck with this and other usurpations of the holy office until God rains judgment down upon the LCMS, and it falls to pieces.

But then again, I'm an eternal optimist. :-)