The seed was planted early for me to enter church work. There were the older members of the congregation who, when I was a second grader, pinched my cheek after I said my lines in the Christmas program and remark, "What a nice voice! You should be a pastor!" Then there was Pastor Werth, inviting me and some other newly confirmed kids to a “visit weekend” at our local Concordia. I didn’t think all that seriously about it at the time... but here I am, thirty-something years after those pinched cheeks and twelve years out of seminary.
There are great opportunities to lift-up church work vocations for young people to see in our congregations. Seizing those opportunities not only allows us to celebrate what God does through those He calls into church work careers but it also plants seeds in the congregation to consider those vocations. In fact, every congregation, no matter its size, has the opportunity to regularly remember those occasions together.
Here are a few ways to plant those seeds for workers called into the harvest:
1. Prayer: Pray regularly for workers - those serving, those considering serving, and for more of them to serve. Public prayer is a great time to remember the workers we have, as well as to give thanks for any raised up in the congregation who've gone on to be called workers, to pray for those studying and training for that work and to encourage those considering church work careers.
2. Most of us are familiar with ordination and installation services for pastors and commissioning services for teachers, DCEs, etc. Did you know the Agenda (that companion book for the hymnal with additional rites and blessings for the care of the congregation) has many other resources related to church workers? There are options for those beginning church work education as they go off to college, for those beginning internships and vicarages, for those sent out from their home church to begin church work careers, for those taking calls to another congregation/school and for celebrating anniversaries in ministry. If you're not already doing so, consider rededicating staff each fall and recognizing milestone anniversaries each spring for all church employees.
3. Plant seeds. Encourage those with giftedness or interest related to possible church work careers. Many professional church workers knew from a very young age that they wanted to be in church work. Many of those childhood dreams have become reality, aided along the way by encouragement from pastors, teachers, family and congregation members. So too there are adults who've always thought about going into church work but haven't yet, who could use your encouragement and guidance. And, there are adults who've run away from it or have never given it a thought who would be excellent church workers.
4. Love and encourage the workers you have. Help their work to be a joy. If you are a worker, emphasize the joyful aspects, especially to your own children.
5. Publicize the programs available in our Concordia University System and seminaries. Did you know Concordia University Irvine has been offering a scholarship to undergrad church work students that guarantees $20,000 in institutional aid, plus a grant for campus housing? (https://www.cui.edu/studentlife/financial-aid/undergraduate/church-work-scholarships-and-grants) The seminaries and other Concordia also have a variety of scholarship and grant opportunities. Is your congregation in a position to help toward education expenses for church workers? Did you know about the grants application available through the District?
What have you done in your congregation to plant seeds and uplift church workers? Consider sharing those with the district office to be featured in a future article.