Butcher, Baker, Candlestick Maker: Lutheran Training for the Skilled Trades

There is our gap: we have no Lutheran trade school to train men in both piety and the skills needed to earn a good living; we have no network for connecting young Lutheran men with Lutheran business owners in the skilled trades who can provide them apprenticeships.

And Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Mt. 9:37-38).

This saying of Jesus is usually applied to pastors: these are the workers, and the harvest is the elect people of God who need preachers to teach them, baptize them, absolve them, and feed them. Every generation will have this need, and I suppose the church has always felt a bit pinched in filling her pulpits with capable and faithful men.

But pastors are not the only sort of laborer the church can run short of. In the parishes I serve, for example, they have never been short of pastors. Since 1877 they have done just fine in that regard. I suspect that this has a lot to do with the parish’s willingness to follow the Lord’s commands when it comes to supporting their pastor. In fact, when I hear folks complain that we are short of pastors I always ask this question:

“Do you think we would have a shortage of pastors if the average compensation package for pastors was $100,000 yearly salary plus benefits?”

No one has ever said, “Yes.”

So maybe each generation’s perceived shortage of pastors is built on a shortage of something else. And in our generation I think it’s clear what we are short on: godly laymen who can earn a family wage and thus care well for their families and faithfully support the ministry of the church.

The next generation’s godly laymen are trained in home, church, and school. In those places they must learn not only piety and godliness, but also receive the training they will need to earn a living. We fail our young men if we neglect either. A pious man who cannot earn a living wage cannot fulfill his God-given vocations. A man trained to do well in the world who has no piety is even worse off. This is why our church has never been content to leave education to the state at any level: grammar school, high school, and college. 

But we’ve developed a blind spot over the years. A gap has formed in our system of training. When we developed our system, high school graduates had three paths open to them. Those who were cut out for jobs in the white collar world could go off to college and get the degree they needed on their way to becoming pastors, accountants, engineers, bankers, lawyers, and so forth. Others could choose to join the armed forces. And others would find that their high school degree prepared them to be hired on to a job where they would receive training to be pipefitters, plumbers, mechanics, etc.

Our Concordias continue to prepare accountants and bankers and other white collar workers. Our high school graduates can still join the armed forces, where we provide chaplains to serve them. But what about the rest? Only 39% of Americans have a BA. Only about 3% are in the armed forces. What about the other 58%? What about young men who seek employment in the fastest growing job market that can provide a family wage: the skilled trades? The high school degree no longer guarantees entrance into that life. They will need to go to a trade school and/or get an apprenticeship. And there is our gap: we have no Lutheran trade school to train men in both piety and the skills needed to earn a good living; we have no network for connecting young Lutheran men with Lutheran business owners in the skilled trades who can provide them apprenticeships.

And that’s what I’m most excited about when it comes to Luther Classical College. Of course, as a Latin and Greek instructor for Wittenberg Academy I like the focus on the classics, but I believe this Lutheran trade school and apprentice network to be even more vital. One of my sons knows that he wants to be a plumber. He neither wants nor needs a BA. Currently there is no place for him to go to get training that will also give him a deeper foundation in piety and introduce him to those life long friends (and, dare I hope, a wife) that so many of us gained at Lutheran college in our training for white collar jobs.

I want future Lutheran plumbers, HVAC business owners, mechanics, and carpenters to have a place where they can meet each other, grow in the faith together, and make those life-long connections that have proven so beneficial for Concordia grads like me. And that’s why I support Luther Classical College as a much needed complement to our current educational system.

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Heath Curtis

Rev. Heath Curtis is Pastor of Trinity & Zion Lutheran Churches in Worden & Carpenter, IL and Latin and Greek Instructor for Wittenberg Academy.

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