The Call Process in the LCMS

Because very few people (even within the LCMS) understand how the call process works, especially for first calls, I thought I would try and explain how it works for those who are interested.

What it most definitely is not is a send-out-resumes, interview, get-a-job process. Some church bodies work that way. It is also not a top-down, we’ll-tell-you-where-you’re-going process–although the first call can seem that way.

As far as I know, the LCMS (that’s Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, if you are unfamiliar with it) process is unique, although perhaps the Wisconsin Synod and the ELCA are similar.

Overall, any congregation can call any rostered pastor. There are different ways of getting names, but generally, if the guy is rostered, you can call him. In that way, it’s very congregational. In the LCMS, the district presidents are, from my experience, pretty involved in the call process of congregations in their districts.

The first call (like mine) is in some ways an exception to this rule, but in some other ways not. We, as first year candidates for the Ministry, are placed or assigned. One guy, a Presbyterian, said to me, “I didn’t know Lutherans were so episcopal in their process.” But in important ways, it is not at all episcopal in that sense. We are placed, but in the LCMS the congregations delegate to the district presidents (collectively called the Council of Presidents, which, if you’ve ever been to a call service, “act as the Board of Assignments for the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod”) their right to call a pastor. So a congregation chooses to be part of the process of placing new pastors by telling their district president that they would like a candidate. The seminaries gather the information on the candidates (through multiple interviews) and on the congregations who will be calling candidates. The placement director “pre-slots” candidates at congregations along with the representative of the CoP. Through that process, which takes months, finally candidates are placed in congregations. However, when the placing is done, it is the congregations who have called the pastor.

What makes the congregation’s call different than, say, a Baptist or non-denominational congregation’s, is that the congregation (ideally, at least) is not really “hiring” the pastor, and neither can the congregation “fire” the pastor. While it is a call from the congregation, it is also, and ultimately, a Divine Call from God to serve His people in that place. Thus, it is God who (through means, as always) calls His pastors from one place to another.

Some people ask how long I “have to stay there.” (They ask this more often when they find out I’m going to Northern Minnesota.) It is indefinite. Since none of us knows the mind of God, it is impossible to predict how long He will keep me there.

Another issue some people have is with the fact that the placement people at the seminary and the district presidents have control over where the candidates go. It seems cold and calculating, I suppose, that it is not only through prayer and “waiting on the Spirit.” I know that they do pray about the placement process, and I’m sure that “mistakes” are made in that sometimes the candidate does not “fit” with the congregation to which he is called. But shall we really be so bold as to suggest that God does not know what He is doing, even when there is a bad fit? Perhaps God has something to teach the congregation or the pastor, or both. I sometimes think people with this objection would be happier if the placement director would spend two hours praying over each candidate’s file, put a map on the wall, and throw a Spirit-guided dart at the map.

But Lutherans believe that God works through means. If He didn’t, what in the world would sinful men be doing in the Holy Ministry at all?  For that matter, what would you be doing in the Church?  And would there be fewer means if I decided where I went? As if I could discern God’s will for me better than these experienced men? In fact, I would probably be more likely to let my or my wife’s personal preferences get in the way of where God would send me. Isaiah’s “Here I am, send me” is the appropriate response, not Moses’ “what if’s.”

Is the process perfect? Not likely. We’re all sinners, right? Let’s just say that I trust the experienced men of the placement committee more than I trust myself to be impartial in my own placement. It’s either a Divine Call or a human hiring. Which would you prefer? I’ll take the former (even if it is to Northern Minnesota).



30 thoughts on “The Call Process in the LCMS

  1. I cannot speak for the ELCA, or even the ELS, and I am far from an expert on Calls in the WELS. However, I have a basic idea on how it works.

    If a church decides that it needs a pastor, for whatever reason, they make their need known to their district’s president. Barring any serious objection (i.e. there is not a legitimate need for the pastor), the District President will usually compile a list of pastors from the entire synod who are qualified to be pastor at the church requesting a call. The Church also receives some brief information about each pastor on the list. Certainly nothing like a resume, but where they are serving now, when they graduated from Seminary etc.

    The church voters then meet and will typically select one of these candidates to call. Occassionally, the church will ask for an extended list of candidates. Once the pastor is selected, a formal letter is sent from the church to the pastor, along with some basic information about the church and its programs.

    Although all pastors are technically eligable to receive a call, there are some restrictions that are followed in most cases. Usually, a pastor will not be called until they have served in their current position for at least 5 years. Also, in most cases, a pastor will not receive another call if they have turned one down in the past six months. There is no restriction on receiving more than one call at a time however.

    • In the LCMS, a pastor has no time limit before he is eligible for a call, neither is he unavailable for any time after he has turned down a call. I have had several calls at the same time, and have gone years between calls. In my current parish, I doubt that I will get another call, simply because of my age.

    • So do sveral pastors recieve calls at one time or just one. And does that pastor have the choice to reject the call or must he take it If the church makes a request for him?

  2. Marximus,
    I think the people are going to be great, and everyone we talk to who actually lives in Minnesota loves it.

    If not for the distance from our families, I think everything would be about perfect.

    Ryan, thanks for your comment.


  3. I think there is too much matchmaking going on in the LCMS where the Holy Spirit seems to be ignored and the DPs determine who gets a call and who doesn’t. At this time there seems to be a log jam in the call process. We now have more non-calling congregations than actively calling congregations. And there is a growing list of pastors on Candidate status – 200+ – most desiring to get back into full service of the church. Then to add to the delima we have some vicars and untrain laity filling pulpits without being rightly called.

  4. Hi,
    Our church in Hazleton, Pa., (@30,000 pop) is looking for a pastor. I feel we’re getting a run-around from the LC-MS because I know there are pastors out there looking for jobs.
    I feel we should be able to contact available pastors one-on-one, but getting names of these pastors is like a big secret. Why? We are a small congregation, about 70 active worshipping members now, but we have a strong tradition. We were founded by Slovak immigrants 87 years ago. Our main needs are bringing our old members back, building our membership and especially providing programs for our youth which is fading. Our last pastor had a zippo personality and did nothing but conduct services.
    Any suggestions.

  5. I have a few questions regarding this whole process. Is there a way for someone to request a certain region or state? I am dating a guy in his last year. I live in a different state and it obviously would be ideal for him to be called here. If we were engaged, would that have more pull?

  6. curious:

    When you go through the call process at the seminary, you can request regions and states, but they first of all try to match guys with churches. If they can get you where you want to go, they will, but the congregation match comes first. I don’t know how much they weigh relationships. Your boyfriend can probably ask about it in the interviews.


  7. Dr. Junas,
    I don’t know enough about your situation to give you any advice. I have never been on a call committee dealing with a district, so I’m not much help there either. Are you on the call committee? The district should be able to give you some names, and the congregation’s members can suggest anyone they want.


  8. Curious

    I share your concern about location. My daughter has a Masters degree with a full time teaching job in High School which she loves. Husband is in last year of seminary. Real problem is daughter will be very unhappy to lose job, friends, family etc. Assume we have to pray and hope God will do what is right for us but it is hard. Good Luck.


  9. Dear friends,

    I am looking for a call. Three years ago the dual parish split partly because one congregation didn’t like certain sinful issues being delt with. The second contributing factor was that a retired pastor who had ties to the one congregation moved back into the area and offered to serve them a lot cheaper. Before the congregations split, the one congregation was 6 months behind in paying my salary. I continued to faithfully serve them in spite of this. I had asked the DP to circulate my name at least a year before this all came down. Seeing that no new call was coming I asked the other congregation, the one that had the parsonage and not giving me any problems to consider calling me themselves and allow me to work outside the parish to offset what the other congregation would have been paying me. This seem to work for the past three year. The hope was that I would receive a new call. No new call has come! Some in this congregation became impatient and wanted me to resign. This past year another retired pastor moved in a few miles from this congregation. They wanted the DP involved where they gained his support and ultimately I resigned from the congregation. I don’t have anything to hide. I have been a faithful pastor, doing the best with the gifts that God has given me. Now I am once again waiting for a new call. I have been work in a repair shop. Any help in my situation would be appreciated.


  10. I am a Ugandan Lutheran Pastor, I have been serving the Lutheran Church Mission in Uganda for 8 years as the only ordained minister in the entire church. Three men were ordained Octeber 11th 2009, 5 more have finished their forth year at Lutehran Thelological Semminary in Tswane South Africa and return this November.

    We are in the process of calling one of the three men to serve the Lutheran Congregation at Kampala and are in need of some guiding documents on the calli policy/system that is used by LCMS. We have had a good working relationship with LCMS for the last 15 years.

      • Do you mean to replace the current pastor? The only Scriptural reasons to remove a pastor, whether to replace him or not, are immorality of life, false doctrine, or inability to carry out his duties. These are probably in your Constitution also.


  11. hay. my church has been without a pastor for about 3 years now. we have called at least 5 pastors so far and all have turned us down. I’, starting to question our church leadership. So I’m wondering, what kind of info does a pastor look at in order to decide if he wants to accept the call?

    • It’s hard to say exactly, but if I were considering a call, I would consider if there’s a lot that I feel I need to do in my current call; would I be more useful in a different place; what sorts of challenges will I face in a new call; what is best for my family; will the salary allow me to do what I need to do (i.e., give all my time to the congregation); etc. So it may not be the fault of the congregational leaders at all; but simply that they’ve called men who, for any number of reasons, didn’t feel like they could accept it.

      It’s a difficult position to be in, but perhaps God has work He wants to do in the members of the congregation before a pastor comes; or maybe He is preparing the pastor that you need. Hard to say; but we can be sure that God will work all things for the good of those who love Him and whom He has called according to His own purposes. Keep praying, and keep trusting.

  12. Timotheos,

    Thanks for your work describing the LCMS process. I wonder if you would be willing to give any updates since you wrote this piece. I went through the ELCA assignment process in 2010, and it was very similar to what you describe here. While our call and assignment processes have not changed significantly on paper, there are a few realities that are creating changes around the edges:

    1. Many more seminarians have working spouses than in the past, especially among the many second-career seminarians now enrolled. Bishops and Regional Coordinators (ELCA language) are trying to account for this reality, but it’s a major challenge when it comes to serving the needs of rural congregations.

    2. While the number of pastors is just about right for the total membership of the ELCA, the number of full time calls is not. Many churches, from what I understand, have communicated to their synod office that they can only handle a proper compensation package for a very young pastor or for an older pastor serving 1/2 to 3/4 time.

    3. There is a currently a swell of pastors age 60 to 70. I have no idea what this wave of retirements will mean over the next few years, but it will obviously have some ripple effects across our church.

    Are you still serving in Northern Minnesota? Have you kept up with any changes to the process in the past few years? I’d love to hear any updates, if you are still tracking this blog.

    • Hi Eric, I’m still keeping up, a little bit! Things are essentially the same in the LCMS with the call process as they were, and I suspect the demographic changes are similar to the ELCA.

  13. When a pastor gets a call does that mean he requested his name to be on the call list or is every pastor on there anyway? Reason I’m asking is our pastor told us today he received a call and this past year our music director left due to differences of opinions with the pastor. This caused about 1/2 of our congregation to leave. Just wondering if he requested to be considered for a call.

    • I’m assuming LCMS? Because it’s different with different Lutheran church bodies. Any pastor on the roster may be called by another LCMS congregation at any time. There may be times or reasons why a pastor sometimes requests a call elsewhere, but that shouldn’t be the norm. God calls pastors where and when He wants them (which, of course, may also happen through his request). But I would assume, unless I knew otherwise, that he had received the call in the regular way.

      God’s blessings in Christ on your pastor’s deliberations and on your congregation.

      • Thank you so much for the quick reply. We just found out tonight that he had a calling from another church and I was thinking he might have requested it from all the drama over the past year. Thanks again and God’s blessings to you also.

  14. Who changed the Calling Process for the congregations? For many years when a congregation was calling a Pastor, the District would send a list of pastors. The congregation would then interview 3 candidates and the congregation would then vote on the candidate of their choice. Now, the Ohio District President gives one candidate to the congregation; and they vote either yes or no; then the congregation must wait.(This method was used on several congregations) This new Call Process has changed the Missouri Synod from congregational church body to an episcopalian church body. This type of process changes the District President into a Bishop. This type of yes/no vote is exactly how communist vote in the Soviet Union. Who changed this?

    • I can’t tell you anything specific about the Ohio District. But I’ve seen Districts do all sorts of things that may or may not amount to interference with the congregation’s right to call its own pastor. Nothing’s changed in teaching, even if practice may have been abused in places. Hard to say.

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