“Jesus said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.’” – Matthew 9:37-38
Rarely do I repeat a sermon in a Ramblings article. The importance of the subject leads me to do that this month, especially because so few members were in worship on the weekend of June 17/18 to hear this sermon. If the excerpts from this article make you curious, you can listen to the entire sermon from our website or I can email you my manuscript.
The 65 bishops of the ELCA, we trust and believe, have been called to their office by the Holy Spirit. When they gather in Conference twice a year, it seems to me that we ought to pay close attention to what they have to share with us as this likely is wisdom that comes from God. At the Conference of Bishops meeting this past March, under the theme verse noted above (also the Gospel text for June 17/18 weekend), the bishops noted two priorities for the ELCA today; 1) identifying, inviting, equipping, and supporting leaders for the church, and 2) cultivating vital faith communities.
The ELCA has been and is projected to continue in severe decline. The number of congregations that can afford to pay a full-time pastor is dropping quickly and the number of retirements of clergy has and is projected to significantly exceed the number of ordinations resulting in a clergy shortage. For example, our bishop requested seven seminarians for congregations in our synod this year. She got only one!
While this is a bitter pill to swallow, I remind you that LCR remains vibrant in ministry, and as I said in my sermon, people from outside our congregation speak glowingly of LCR and ELCA theology. I noted that we have what the world does not know that it needs; the treasure in a clay jar, Jesus and the gospel. There are so many people that we encounter who are lost, suffering, lonely, or seeking meaning in life who would benefit and be healed by the community of our congregation and the grace and love of Christ that is foundational to our ELCA theology. Jesus sends us into the mission field! That is our calling!
LCR is fertile soil for developing church leaders because we have a healthy congregation and a good track record of pastors who thrive in their calling to ministry. I see the Spirit is so many of our young people. Pastor Nicole is actively mentoring and encouraging them. We need every member of our church to be active in identifying, inviting and equipping new leaders for our denomination. Every time we baptize a child into our community we each take responsibility to nurture their faith. God calls you to that work.
Is God calling you further? Is something missing from your life? Are you a good steward of God’s spiritual gifts? Do you have any regrets? Please step back, take a bit of time, and reflect on these questions. Are you being called to church leadership? Might you be called to a career change? The ELCA is making this more financially feasible and the path through seminary more flexible. It is possible!
It seems to me that our bishops are asking every ELCA member to do two things at this important moment in time: 1) encourage and invite “lost sheep” into this sheepfold, and 2) consider your calling and consider the calling of other LCR members in regard to church leadership. I leave you with prayer petitions written by our bishops and ask you to place them in your daily prayer book, journal, or devotional book. For the wellbeing of the Church, for the wellbeing of LCR, and for the sake of the gospel, please be about praying these prayers. If the Spirit is stirring in you in any way in this regard, please engage Pastor Nicole and/or me in conversation.
Peace, Pastor Zorn
Prayers from the Conference of Bishops
Christ Jesus, head of the church, raise up from among the baptized, pastors to preach your word and administer your sacraments; deacons to serve all people and bear your gospel to the world; and congregational leaders to bring vision and vitality to your people. Grant us the grace to identify those in our midst you are calling, courage to name their gifts, and opportunities to gently nurture and support their discernment. God of mercy. Receive our prayer.
O God, you make your love known in Jesus Christ. We thank you for loving your church so much that you send the Holy Spirit into the hearts of children, women, and men so that they know themselves called to be pastors and deacons and leaders for congregations and the church. Bless your church with an abundance of leaders. And as we are bold to believe that you will raise up pastors, deacons, and leaders from this congregation, ready our hearts to nurture their faith, celebrate their call, and support their preparation for ministry. God of mercy. Receive our prayer.
O God, you so love the world that you sent Jesus, and our world so needs your love. With the whole Church we implore you to call forth pastors, deacons, and congregational leaders to lead us in bearing Christ to all the world so that the world may know your love. We pray especially for those in this faith community the Holy Spirit may be nudging to public ministry in the church and Christ-like service in the world. God of mercy. Receive our prayer.
Lord Jesus, we pray for congregations in the call process and for the pastor you will send them. We pray for those outside the church who will come to know Jesus through ministry in his name and for the deacon you will send to serve them. We pray for our congregation’s future and for the leaders you will call forward to guide us. Embolden us to invite those in whom we experience gifts for these ministries to prayerfully consider your calling, and give us generous spirits to support them. God of mercy. Receive our prayer.
We give thanks, O God, for the children in our midst—especially those in elementary and middle school. We pray that as they grow, they will hear your voice calling them into your service—in the church, in the world, for the sake of their neighbors. Help them to imagine being pastors and deacons, church council leaders, Sunday school teachers, mentors and community leaders. Give them courage to say yes to your call, O God. We pray in gratitude and boldness in Jesus’ name. Amen.
About the Author: Pastor Henry Zorn is Co-Pastor of Lutheran Church of the Resurrection in Cincinnati, OH. A vibrant and welcoming community of faith and a congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.