The Process of Placement
This week is a high point on the Seminary calendar. The spring assignment of calls to pastoral candidates occurs on Tuesday (April 26) at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, and on Wednesday (April 27) at Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. Call assignments will be announced on those days to 78 candidates from St. Louis and 52 candidates from Ft. Wayne. For these gifts to the church, we give God thanks!
Call Day is perhaps the apex of the experience of a seminarian, as he and his family learn where they will locate to begin the adventure of pastoral ministry. It is also a culminating occasion for the faculty and staff at the Seminary, as they witness the fruition of the formation process into which they have invested themselves. Accordingly, Call Day is an exciting, anticipated, suspenseful, and angst-ridden event!
Many (if not most) of those who access concordiatheology.org have experienced this day in the past. Quite likely you, the reader, have done so. What are your memories of that occasion? No doubt your remembrance of your assignment of a call elicits some emotions. Hopefully you recognize that God’s hand was at work on that significant day.
I have been involved as a seminary placement officer for over 15 years. Most of those have been as the Placement Counselor (i.e., assistant to the director), but for three years I was the Placement Director. Although the theological premises which inform the placement process have not changed during this time, some procedural practices have. For example, today there is a much more extended conversation between district presidents and seminary officials than in an earlier era. District presidents are given more thorough information about potential candidates for congregations in their districts, and this information is provided earlier in the process. This gives these ecclesiastical supervisors more time to reflect upon and investigate the potential assignments. The intention is that decisions about assignments are more thoroughly and thoughtfully arrived at. Of course, through it all, the participants—calling congregations, candidates, wives and children, seminary faculty, placement officers, district presidents—seek divine guidance and support through prayer and the means of grace.
Several theological principles are at play in the placement process. The first is the understanding that no one places himself into the office of the ministry, but this is done through a call from God mediated through the church. This is in accord with biblical teaching (Acts 1:23-26, 13:2-3, 14:23, 20:28; 2 Cor. 8:19) and the Lutheran Confessions (AC 14; Ap 13.12; Tr 67-72). This mediation through the church occurs as the broader church affirms that one is qualified for pastoral ministry, which in the context of the Lutheran Church?Missouri Synod (LCMS) is called certification. It also occurs as congregations identify and elect qualified candidates to serve in particular contexts of ministry. This “call” to each pastoral candidate entrusts him with the authority and responsibility “to administer in public office the common rights of the spiritual priesthood in behalf of all,” as C. F. W. Walther articulated (Theses on the Ministry, Thesis 7).
Most commonly calls are made by congregations. The vast majority of candidates from Concordia Seminary are placed into calls extended by congregations which gather in various localities in the United States and even beyond. In the case of a congregation which seeks to receive a seminary candidate, it delegates its right to select a specific candidate to another churchly entity, specifically the Council of (District) Presidents (COP) acting as the Board of Assignments of the LCMS. In such a case, the congregation willingly authorizes the COP to represent its interests and to act on its behalf. Accordingly, the congregation collaborates with the wider church in its effort to call a pastor who will be newly graduated from the seminary.
Although the process is much more complex than the following description, its basic steps look like this. First, the congregation informs its district president of its desire to call a seminary candidate. Next the district president guides the congregation in the proper procedures for this endeavor. The congregational leaders provide extensive information about their church and its needs to the placement director of the seminary as well as to the district president. The placement director, who has interviewed the candidates and their wives and has thoroughly reviewed the students’ ministerial formation file, provides recommendations to the district president regarding who might fit best as pastor of that congregation.
In the case of congregations seeking to call assistant or associate pastors, the opportunity is provided for representatives of the church to interview candidates either in person on the seminary campus or via technology from a distance. This increases the likelihood of a good working relationship between the senior pastor and the newly installed assistant pastor. After the interviews, the congregation can designate in its call candidates who were interviewed. Such interviews of seminary candidates by congregational representatives are ordinarily not conducted for calls for sole pastors (i.e., candidates who will serve as the only pastor of a congregation).
Lastly the congregation, via a decision of the voters assembly, submits its call for a seminary graduate to its district president. The district president then works with the seminary placement officers to confirm an assignment of a candidate to the calling entity. The collaboration between the district presidents and the seminary officers is vital, for the district president know the congregations well and the seminary placement director knows the candidates well. But in the end it is the Council of Presidents which approves the assignments to calls.
This arrangement is done in the case of first calls for the sake of order and uniformity in the wider church. Many of the practices described in the previous paragraphs are not divinely instituted (de jure divino) but are by human arrangement (de jure humano). Accordingly, they can be changed as best befits the needs of the congregations which are “walking together” as a synod. As I said, changes in these de jure humano practices have occurred in the past, and no doubt they will in the future. In my role as a placement officer at Concordia Seminary, I am interested in suggestions or recommendations which others might have about how to improve the process of placement. I know that Rev. Wayne Knolhoff, the Placement Director, is also interested in receiving input. We welcome your comments which may contribute to serving God’s people better through the placement process. Note, however, that the procedures are largely set by the Council of Presidents and the seminary placement office does not have the authority to change these willy-nilly. Nevertheless, it can be helpful to hear from others who have an interest in the wellbeing of the church regarding what they think can improve the process. So please let me know if you have any recommendations!
Ultimately we acknowledge and trust that God the Holy Spirit is at work in this process. The divine call is mediated through sinful people who compose the church, and so not every aspect of the process occurs flawlessly. I am humbled that such a fallible person like me can be used to advance God’s will in this process. By his mercy and grace the Lord of the church accomplishes his purposes in and through his church. It is the risen and ascended Lord Jesus who gives “some to be pastors” (Ephesians 4:11) to build up his body, the church, and to bring the blessings of the means of grace to his people. These gifts from a gracious God—Word, sacrament, and the pastors who deliver them—are what we celebrate on Call Day and always!
Editor’s note: The Call Day service will be live-streamed on Tuesday, April 26, 2016, 7:00pm (CDT), at callday.csl.edu, and people can take part in the celebration on social media via the hashtag #CallDay2016.