Congregational Lay Leadership Initiative

We are very grateful for all of the ways in which retired NALC pastor Don Brandt enhances the ministry of Lutheran CORE.  He has an article in every issue of our bi-monthly newsletter.  In these articles he draws on his decades of ministry experience – both serving as pastor of a congregation and consulting with congregations – as well as his many years of research and writing.  We want Lutheran CORE to be a Network for Confessing Lutherans as well as a Voice for Biblical Truth.  We want to provide resources for pastors, lay people, church leaders, and congregations in addition to our work of alerting people to ways in which the historic, Biblical, confessional Christian faith is at risk. 

For several years Don has been providing a consulting service through the Congregations in Transition (CiT) ministry initiative.  Through this ministry he has worked with transition teams – both in situations where the pastor has already retired or resigned to take another call as well as in situations where the pastor has not yet left but soon will be leaving.  He has also worked with call committees in their search for a new pastor.  At this point Pastor Brandt has provided some level of coaching support for twenty-five congregations.  Twenty-one of these congregations are LCMC, three are ELCA, and one is dual-rostered. 

Pastor Brandt has also written powerfully about a dynamic that church leaders and congregational call committees are only too familiar with – the growing shortage of pastors available for call.  This shortage is reaching crisis proportions.

He has written convincingly about the need for many congregations – especially smaller and/or more remote congregations – to take seriously the fact that they might not be able to find another ordained pastor to call.  Instead they may need to transition to a lay-led ministry model in order for the congregation to be able to continue to exist and do God’s work. 

But Pastor Brandt is not just someone who will describe a problem.  He is also someone who will do something about the problem.  And even beyond that, he is someone who will develop a plan so that others also can become involved in doing something about the problem.

Here is a link to the Congregational Lay Leadership Initiative (CLI) page on our website.  Clicking on the link you will find such resources as a description of the concept, including frequently asked questions, as well as a list of steps that a congregation can take to identify, enlist, and train part-time lay ministers.

We are very grateful for the fact that LCMC and the NALC have a similar concern and are taking positive steps so that all congregations can have trained leaders.  It is going to take the best efforts of all of us to address this major concern.  

I frequently hear from congregations that are unable to find a pastor to call or that have found a retired pastor who is able and willing to come one or two times a month but then lay members provide worship leadership on the other Sundays.  We are very grateful to all retired pastors who are willing to serve – even if not every Sunday and even if serving means traveling a considerable distance.  And we thank God for the members of congregations who deeply love their Lord and their church so that they are willing to step up and lead worship and give the message.  I know that some people feel that these lay leaders should receive sufficient training so that they would be ordained.  But I know of situations where I believe that willing and capable lay leaders would be “scared off” if they knew that they would have to be ordained.  Then that congregation might have to close because of a lack of worship leadership. 

Please notice that the Congregational Lay Leadership Initiative (CLI) calls upon retired pastors who would be willing to come alongside of these lay ministers, meeting with them online once a month and providing ongoing counsel and support.  If you would be willing to consider being one of these mentor/coaches please let us know.  We have a document which will tell you more of what would be involved. 

Every Samuel Needs an Eli

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” It’s a question that youth have been asked since they graduated kindergarten. But in high school, the question becomes a much more pressing issue. In a culture obsessed with both success and control, students are encouraged at earlier and earlier ages to have their futures and career paths completely mapped out. And much of the decision making in this regard revolves around interests, skills, money, and the expectations of others. At the intersection of “What am I interested in, what am I good at, what will my loved ones approve of, and how much money can I make doing it?” is the decision to follow one career path over all the others.

What is too often excluded from this equation is the biblical reality of God’s call. We are called into being, called into relationship with the Lord and His Church, called to serve, and called into a yet unknown future by One who knows us better than we know ourselves, and who loves us beyond measure. For Christians, then, the primary question that needs to be answered is not, “What do I want to be when I grow up?” but rather, “What is God’s call on my life?”

Every kid in Sunday School has heard the story of young Samuel (I Samuel 3), to whom the Lord spoke in the middle of the night. Like many of us, Samuel struggled to recognize the voice of the Lord. In fact, it was Samuel’s older and wiser mentor, Eli, who helped Samuel recognize God’s voice and call on his life.

Although he failed to recognize God’s calling at first, Samuel was open to the Lord’s leading. After learning that it was God who was calling, he responded by saying, “Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.” Are you listening for God’s call on your life? Are you open to His leading? You might hear God’s call during times of study or silent prayer. You may hear God’s call through the proclamation of His Word in a sermon or Bible study, through a petition in the Prayers of the Church, or through the lyrics of a hymn. Or even more likely, you may hear God’s call through family, friends, or church members who might say, “You would make a good pastor. Have you ever considered pursuing ordained ministry?”

One of Martin Luther’s gifts to the Church was his insistence that all callings are holy. Whether one is gifted and called by God to be a pastor, butcher, baker, or candlestick maker, each calling is equally holy and necessary for human flourishing, and for the building up of the Lord’s people. So how does one “hear God’s call?”

The first step is to recognize the Holy Spirit’s movement in your life. The older and more experienced Eli recognized that the Spirit was speaking to Samuel, and he encouraged Samuel to reply, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.” Only then could Samuel recognize the Spirit’s leading and respond in obedience to the call.

The truth is that most of us need an “Eli” at one time or another in our lives. And most, if not all of us, are also called to be an Eli for others. Being an Eli simply means keeping our eyes open to recognize the gifts of others and staying present to them — listening, talking, praying, and sharing with them. Finding an answer to every question is not always as necessary as just being a companion as they search and discern.

Jesus had compassion on the crowds he encountered because “they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 9:36). Today there is a critical shortage of shepherds in God’s Church. Many congregations are without a called and trained pastor to preach His Word and administer the sacraments. How to explain this shortage? Has God gone silent? Is the Lord no longer speaking?

No. In fact, somewhere in our congregations right now is an infant who will be baptized this Sunday, who has a call to ordained ministry. Somewhere in our congregations right now is a fourth grader who has a call to ordained ministry, and who is also the absolute terror of Mrs. So-And-So’s Sunday School Class. Somewhere in our congregations right now is an eighth grader who has a call to ordained ministry. They are about to be confirmed, and they wish their parents would allow them to sleep in on Sundays, because “Church is boring.” Somewhere in our congregations right now is a high school sophomore who is preparing to attend the retreat that will change their life and confirm their call to ordained ministry. And somewhere in our congregations is a college student or career person who is running from God’s call to ordained ministry or has postponed it to pursue an alternative career path. I know this because each of these people was me at different points in my life.

Thankfully, the Lord strategically placed Eli’s in my life. My youth minister, Duane. My Sunday School teacher, Ruth. And my pastor, Reuben. Each of them, and many others, too, played the role of Eli in my life to help me recognize my spiritual gifts, to encourage my discernment of God’s call, to listen to my concerns, questions, and objections, and ultimately to walk with me to the “yes” that finally came when I filled out my seminary application.

Friends, there are many, many Samuel’s out there today who are called to serve and speak the Word of God, but instead of filling out a seminary application, they are pursuing a path that is more expedient or lucrative. They are pursuing a path that is more in line with the expectations of those around them.

So let me ask you to find your place in this biblical story. Are you a Samuel, knowing that there is a voice speaking to you and calling you to a purpose bigger than your own dreams and desires? Or are you an Eli, called to pay attention to the gifts of those with whom you worship? Called to encourage and walk with those who are or should be discerning God’s call to Word and Sacrament ministry? Either way, you are the answer to the crisis we face today in the Church of Jesus, where sheep without a shepherd are “harassed and helpless.” Every Samuel needs an Eli. And every Eli can recognize a Samuel with God’s help.

Pastor Jeff Morlock is Director of Vocational Discernment at the North American Lutheran Seminary. He may be reached at

NEXUS: One Theology Institute, Two Mentors’ Perspectives, and a Triune God

by Ethan Zimmerman and Luke Ratke

Executive Director’s Note: Many thanks to Ethan Zimmerman and Luke Ratke for telling us about their experiences at NEXUS this past summer.  Ethan and Luke are both NALC college students and are planning on attending the NALC seminary after graduation.  They have also made a video about NEXUS, which is posted on our website.  A link to that video can be found here.


NEXUS is a vocational discernment institute rooted in Lutheran theology hosted by Grandview University in Des Moines, Iowa, and it is a week full of blessings! High school students who are contemplating their vocation, what God’s call for their life is, come to NEXUS and experience fellowship with other young Christians who are going through similar journeys. Morning and evening worship, classes on the Old and New Testament taught by solid Lutheran professors, small group discussions led by college-age mentors, and lots of prayer are all part and parcel of what NEXUS is, learning where God’s call meets your life!

Hi, my name is Luke and here are some of my thoughts on NEXUS: NEXUS is a great organization, because God makes it one! I loved being able to be a college-age mentor and a leader for the high school participants at NEXUS. Furthermore, I also liked being able to learn about God at NEXUS with and through the high school students.

My favorite thing about NEXUS this year was getting to meet and talk to Christians I had never met before or only briefly. I was able to talk to pastors, professors, and other Christians about Christianity. For myself, who someday wants to do full-time ministry as my career, working at NEXUS let me have conversations with other college-age students and high school students who think their vocation is full-time ministry. I also was able to practice and learn skills that will someday help me when I am doing full time ministry because I was a college-age mentor at NEXUS. Such skills were helping lead a small group, writing/giving a devotion, talking about the Bible with other people, etc.

Hello all, my name is Ethan Zimmerman, and this is my perspective on NEXUS!

NEXUS is something truly special, something that I don’t think happens anywhere else. NEXUS is not just another church or bible camp; discipleship and vocational discernment happen, and bonds of Christian fellowship that will stand the test of time are forged. My time as a NEXUS mentor was truly a blessing, and as my fellow mentor Chris put it, good for my soul!


The topic of discipleship is something that has been on my mind for quite some time. I have wondered how I can disciple the people around me while I am at college, and being at NEXUS showed me how! Even though we were only with the participants for a week, we lived life with each other, we worshiped together, learned together, ate, laughed, and cried with each other. God showed me that this was how discipleship happened, in the nitty gritty little things of life, right in the trenches with people as they go through things and think about what God has in store for their life. Are they to be pastors? Missionaries? Youth leaders? Being there with these young participants while they pondered these questions and sought to answer what the Lord has called them to was truly a blessing and an eye opener as to what discipleship could look like.

I left NEXUS feeling encouraged, not just because I saw what discipleship and vocational discernment looked like in the lives of young folk, high school students, but because of the friendships that I left with. From the late nights discussing theology with the other mentors, to the goofy laughs shared with the participants, I left encouraged that there are other young Christians out there yearning to pursue God and answer the call He has given them in their lives, and that not every young person is all about decadent hedonism, but faith is still alive amongst my generation. I praise God for NEXUS, for the lives changed by it, for the doors opened because of it, and for the continued ministry it will have in the future!

We both think that every high school student that is a strong Christian should pray and think about coming to NEXUS next summer. Every high school student should think about going to NEXUS, not just high school students who think or know their vocation is full time ministry. We want to thank Lutheran CORE for financially helping The NEXUS Institute. And last but greatest of all, we want to thank God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for NEXUS!