CHANHASSEN - Matt Silker was always a leader. He served twelve years as a pilot and Army commander before he left the military for the seminary, trading soldiers for sermons in a true leap of faith.
“It was a big commitment to get a master's (degree) and then going to service in a church when you don't know where that call will be,” Silker said.
For Matt the call was to western Minnesota, where the congregations were so small he ministered to four different churches.
“It would be an 8 o'clock service, a 9:30 service, an 11 o'clock service and then a 1 o'clock,” he said.
All denominations say demands like that are typical, especially in rural Minnesota where churches are sharing pastors and using untrained worship leaders just to stay open. Luther Seminary in St. Paul had 155 graduates last year, but with aging pastors quickly retiring, it can't begin to fill the open jobs.
“We are only meeting about 40% of what's needed in this region,” said Carrie Carroll, Luther’s Vice President of Enrollment.
The school thinks there are lots of reasons why. One is that pastors need a bachelor’s degree plus another four year master's program to be ordained, for some, a commitment too big.
“It can feel very overwhelming for people who are saying, ‘I've wanted to do this but how do I fit it into my life?’” Carroll said.
Another cause: Many young people aren't going to church, and therefore have no interest in preaching to one.
“Their ministries and their passions are not necessarily in the church buildings,” said Janelle Hennager, 25, who’s studying at Luther to become a pastor.
And many also aren't passionate about rural living, with small town and country churches struggling most. Matt's now in the suburbs, saying leading a church has meant following his heart.
“It’s not something that I ever thought I would go into,” he said. “It's just something that eventually started to happen.”
“A lot of our students have found that it's pretty incredible and very rewarding,” Carroll said, “And they want to stay.”