In this last series of Grapevine articles, I would like to share a few thoughts regarding several resolutions that were passed at our recent New Jersey District convention (May 21, 2021); probably the most pressing need that has developed over the past ten years or so is the growing number of New Jersey District congregations who are struggling to compensate a full-time pastor, operate its physical plant and provide ministry programming for its mission and ministry.
But there are other internal factors which contribute to this pressing need, such as:
+. the diminished number of Seminary candidates available for a first assignment to requesting congregations by the Council of Presidents at its annual April meeting…when I graduated from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis in 1982 there were 128 candidates placed into their first assignment; and our sister Seminary in Fort Wayne placed another 100 candidates…in the spring of 2021, there were a total of 88 candidates available for their first assignment, with approximately 120-140 congregations making application for these candidates
+. the shortage of ordained pastors who are available to serve a New Jersey District congregation when it experiences a pastoral vacancy -- so how do we provide the needed ministry leadership and pastoral care within our NJD congregations until the next pastor is installed
Since nearly two-thirds of all New Jersey District congregations are finding it more and more difficult to resource its ministry through member giving and non-member sources, it might be prudent for these congregations to consider one of three options for their future ministry:
+. two New Jersey District congregations agree to form a “dual parish” in which they are served by a shared pastor; in this kind of ministry partnership, each congregation retains its congregational identity and church property and, through a process of mutual conversation with some generous give-and-take, they agree on the particulars pertaining to worship times, office hours, ministry expectations for their shared pastor, along with determining how much each congregation will contribute to the pastor’s compensation and housing needs
+. two or three New Jersey District congregations join together to form a new congregation, with each congregation selling its current facilities and establishing its ministry in a new location
+. five New Jersey District congregations, located in close proximity to each other, could enter into a ministry partnership in which they are served by three, full-time pastors; each congregation would retain its congregational identity and church property and the three pastors would function as a ministry team so that the worship and pastoral care needs of the five congregations are met
Each one of these ministry partnerships has its trade-offs (its own strengths and weaknesses) as they deviate from the traditional norm of one pastor serving one congregation; and which remains the preferred model of ministry for the majority of LCMS congregations.
So that this pressing might be actively addressed within the New Jersey District, the following resolution was adopted:
WHEREAS, many congregations within the New Jersey District have diminished in numbers of average worship attendance and congregational activity; and
WHEREAS, there is a dearth of pastors matriculating from both seminaries; and
WHEREAS, many congregations are finding it increasingly difficult to adequately compensate a full time pastor in both salary and benefits; and
WHEREAS, New Jersey is a geographically small district with many churches within thirty minutes drive of each other; and
WHEREAS, the continuity of Word and Sacrament ministry is vital to the health of congregations and the members therein; and
WHEREAS, the partnership of congregations can lead to new or expanded ministries to the communities in which they are set; and
WHEREAS, the Church seeks to be a good steward of the gift of pastors; therefore be it
RESOLVED, that the New Jersey District establish a task force to study and implement ways of making the most effective use of the pastors we have including, but not limited to dual parish arrangements, satellite campuses, use of live streaming and other digital means of proclaiming the Gospel, and be it further
RESOLVED, that this task force report quarterly, in person or by written means, to the Growth Council of the New Jersey District, and be it further
RESOLVED, that this task force contact and seek information from every congregation of the New Jersey District to ascertain the willingness and readiness of each parish to enter into a shared pastorate agreement, and be it further
RESOLVED, that the task force provide detailed models of various multi-parish plans and a step by step guide for implementation thereof to assist congregations who are pursuing such congregational configurations, and be it
RESOLVED, that this task force seek to discover ways congregations, in cooperation with each other, might use their combined resources for the proclamation of the Gospel in word and deed both within their congregations and in the wider communities, and be it
RESOLVED, that this task force include at least 1 vice-president and 1 circuit visitor, and finally be it,
RESOLVED, that this task force complete its work within the current triennium and report its work, in summary, at the District Convention in 2025.