One of my pastor friends made a comment about his retirement date, which is projected to happen around the year 2040, and it got me to thinking about my future. When I was a new pastor, I'd given that some thought . . . though what a 25 year-old is doing thinking of retirement is beyond me. Anyway, after some consideration, I'd come to the conclusion that I probably wouldn't retire. The work is too important, and if the Lord wanted me to stop, He'd bring me Home.
I've been thinking about this in light of the current "clergy shortage" in the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod which apparently precipitates the need for programs such as DELTO and SMPP. According to the January 2009 edition of "The Lutheran Witness", we have 9,164 pastors in the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod, 5,356 of whom are serving parishes right now. Remembering for the moment that some of those pastors are serving in congregations with two or more pastors and others are serving two or more congregations, that leaves approximately 811 congregations without a pastor and 3,808 pastors who are not serving a parish right now. So my question is, is there truly a pastor shortage? My former district president told me in no uncertain terms and in capital letters, "THERE IS NO CLERGY SHORTAGE." He was was mistaken about a number of things, but I don't think he was wrong about this. Of the 3,808 pastors not serving a parish right now, there's no indication of how many of those are retired/emeritus and how many of those are CRM or inactive pastors who remain on the clergy roster. But between those 3,808 pastors, are there truly not 811 pastors who could not serve those congregations without a pastor? I know I just turned down a Call to a congregation that needed a pastor, and I'm one of those 3,808, but that does not mean I'm unwilling to serve. And I know I'm not the only guy in this circumstance.
I don't have any beef with the brother who is looking forward to his retirement. That's a decision every pastor must make for himself, and I can't fault anyone who feels they need to step away from the strife. The life of a pastor can be worrisome, and even the best of situations can be exhausting. I've seen both sides of this now. I've seen the Ministry in good times and in bad. I've seen pastors treat their congregations like they were children . . . or worse. I've seen congregations treat their pastors like hirelings . . . or worse. But I've seen congregations love their pastors through horrible family situations and worse, and I've seen pastors sit at the bedsides of their parishioners for literally days on end. Whether it's the best of times or the worst of times, pastors have a responsibility to preach the Word. And I plan on doing so until the day I die.