70 percent of our student body at the North American Lutheran Seminary is either discerning a call to ordained ministry in the North American Lutheran Church or already in the process of candidacy. Pastor Patti Morlock, chairperson of the NALC Candidacy Committee, answered questions about how the candidacy process works for our students and what the NALC is looking for in their future pastors.
Let’s talk about how candidacy works in the NALC.
We receive [candidates] from a wide variety of streams. Some are fresh from their undergraduate work and ready to step into the graduate realm. Some are second-career people. Some are coming from a very Lutheran traditional stream, and some are not. They get in touch with us, and we listen to their story. I ask, “How did you discover your call to ministry? Especially a call to Word and Sacrament ministry?” What’s been interesting is that we are finding people who are coming to us who haven’t previously had a connection to the NALC.
Why do you think that is?
The thread that we’re hearing across the board is this return to or a strong desire for orthodoxy. As [potential candidates] search through websites or by talking with other people, this—the NALC—is where they land. They resonate strongly with our orthodox approach to who we are as a denomination. They resonate with our return to the Scripture. They resonate with our emphasis on Christ-centeredness.
So, for all of these candidates, how does the process continue?
At their first interview, I ask them how their call has been affirmed by the Word, by churchgoers. I ask them, “What is a call? Why do [you] feel drawn to being a pastor?” And sometimes it ends there. All throughout the process, our committee takes very seriously the call that we’ve been given to be in discernment and be very prayerful about evaluating the candidates that are in front of us.
If the candidate passes the entrance interview, they move onto seminary work. Or, perhaps, they’ve already finished. The endorsement interview, the second interview, is primarily concerned with their seminary education. We want [to see] how well they understand the Lutheran confessions, Law and Gospel, and much more of what it means to be Lutherans. We measure their biblical knowledge, their confessional knowledge, their theological knowledge, their ability to articulate those thoughts. If the candidate is endorsed, he or she may begin a year-long internship in an NALC congregation.
About three months before the internship is finished, we conduct their approval interview for ordination, so that they can begin the process of putting together their profile and sending that out for their first call—based, of course, on the caveat that they’ll only be approved after a successful internship. They write a final essay that goes deeper into their understanding of the Lutheran confessions, pastoral identity and formation, a strong understanding of the Bible as the Word of God, their capacity for ministry within the NALC, and their identity as an NALC pastor . . . and then we determine their readiness for Word and Sacrament ministry in the church.
I know you have students coming from many different seminaries, but, all the same, why is it important for the NALC to have the NALS?
It says to not only our church-wide body but folks coming into the NALC that we value the theological and spiritual education of our people as we raise up new leaders. At our last candidacy retreat, folks were there who are from the NALS. It’s obvious that [they benefit] from . . . the good theological conversation that comes from doing life together. We always try to encourage people to go to the NALS. It is our seminary, and the quality of education—which is orthodox and confessional, something you don’t necessarily get from other institutions—is great.
How can people outside the candidacy process help guide potential pastors toward it?
Have conversations. As we see our high school kids who have a bent toward ministry, as we see them coming up or going through college, we must plant seeds. It’s crucial. Not even just as pastors, but you, a parent, an aunt, or an uncle are able to have those conversations.
This article was originally published in the Winter 2019 NALS Newsletter.