This time of year is marked by two great vocational benchmarks: The NFL Draft and the LCMS Call Day. (Note: Sorry for the 2014 link… I can’t find the link to the 2015 call services for both seminaries.) My friends and I would often discuss what Mel Kiper Jr.’s take on this year’s crop of seminarians would look like.
Young men going into their vocations… and with a great deal of scrutiny and perhaps unease leading up to the events.
Two similar (at least at face value) methods, yet extraordinarily different due to the secular v. religious nature of the two.
For those that do not know, the NFL draft is a televised event in which the teams choose players from college to play for their professional team. In an over-simplified explanation, the worst teams get the first choices so that they can improve in future years. Teams can trade draft pick order, players, etc. and so it can get a bit complicated, but in general, that sums it up. As in the Call Service, the young men are of similar age and are leaving their education to join the “professional” ranks. Another similarity is in the mechanism: In both cases, the young men have very little say in where they end up.
Of course a key difference is in the salary structure. Whereas high draft choices in the NFL are practically guaranteed millions of dollars, the same is not true of seminarians. Because of the amounts of money at stake, the NFL is very meticulous in their evaluation. Teams evaluate their needs and then evaluate the players. Players are measured and tested in various physical drills. They are photographed in their underwear to look for any abnormality in their posture or joint structure. They players are interviewed at length. They also take intelligence tests and undergo psychological testing. Friends, teammates, coaches, family members, teachers, and anyone else connected with the player are interviewed.
Even though we know that there are millions of dollars at stake, the meticulous nature of the checking and re-checking seems a bit overdone. Teams do not want to be known for drafting a player who will not make the team or who has a checkered past that can by symptomatic of future problems. Teams need as close to a sure thing as possible. Players taken on faith often disappoint. The players certainly face some tense moments, wondering where they will be drafted. Will they go to a bad team? Will they end up in a system that does not fit their skills?
For seminarians, I know that there can be some nervous moments. Will I be placed in a larger congregation or smaller? Will the congregation listen to me? Will my wife be able to find a job? Will she find good friends? The questions can be a magnified a bit when the wife of the pastor to be is already employed. (As a school administrator, I can tell you that this time of year gives US pause as well… will we lose that teacher that we love? Will we have to scramble to find someone?)
Seminarians undergo SOME background checking and certainly faced the rigors of classroom work in preparation of their Call. However, in the end, the trust is in God. The Call is not a “sure thing” but it is an “assured thing.” We have assurance that God is in control. We have assurance that He has called pastors, teachers, DCEs, and others to their vocations. Pastors may not fit in culturally in every congregation. Teacher methods may not work at ALL grade levels. A DCE may have certain gifts for some aspects of ministry and not others. So, a pastor, a teacher, a DCE, or any other church worker may not always have “earthly success.” However, we have assurance that God works through us and in us to bring about good, even in those bad situations. Thus, while the NFL Draft can bring tension and angst, the Call Service–even in the face of unknowns–is enveloped in peace. It is wrapped in the peace that comes from Christ.
I wonder how changes in education will affect both the NFL Draft and the Call Service. The draft places a lot of emphasis on physical skills and demonstration of those skills. I suppose we would call those performance and/or authentic task assessments. You could also say that there is a portfolio assessment that takes place through the whole process.
How about our seminaries? Will the shift away from the lecture model affect how our future pastors are taught? Perhaps. But I hope not too much. I have argued for some time that when it comes to the exegesis and systematics of theology, it is important that we do not promote the thought that “all ideas are valid” or “all opinions are valued.” Scripture has a proper interpretation. Our theology is based upon hermeneutics and not on individual expression. As a result, in a theology classroom the teacher still must be the “sage on the stage.” Perhaps the mode or medium will change, but we must never lose or modify the content.