My name is Matthew Dent. I was ordained as a pastor in The Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod in the summer of 2009.
The reasons for UACLutheran are varied.
Life circumstances can push us in unexpected directions
I was ordained and installed as Assistant Pastor in a declining sub-urban congregation in the metro-Detroit area before the bottom was reached in the most recent economic recession. In deciding to call me, the congregation I served “stepped out in faith,” expecting the recession to follow the recovery pattern of previous downturns. As we now know, this recession was not like others. As a result, the congregation was unable to maintain the salary of two full-time pastors and it was decided that as of July, 2011, the congregation would return to being served by a single pastor and I was placed on “candidate status” to await the call of the church for permanent placement.
Since then, I have still served the Church on most Sundays either by being asked to serve congregations that are in “vacancy” (without a permanently called pastor) or doing “pulpit supply” (preaching and teaching when the pastor of a congregation is out of town or otherwise unable to serve a given Sunday).
After going on “candidate status” in 2011, my wife’s job as preschool director for a local church preschool was the primary income in the family. To help assure her job security and to help make sure the preschool brought in enough to cover the health benefits that the congregation was now paying for my family, I began putting together a marketing strategy and plan to get and keep that preschool full. In the course of that work, I saw that I could build on the skills and experience of the life I lived before entering seminary (I’m a second career pastor) and at least make some money as I awaited the call of the church to permanent placement.
In the time that has elapsed since then, it has become abundantly clear to me that the current economy, demographic changes in the church, skyrocketing insurance costs, and many other factors within and outside the church have put many Lutheran congregations in a situation where they are not able to adequately support a pastor and his family through the weekly offerings. There’s no use pointing fingers, it’s just a plain fact.
It has also become clear that the church of Christ is becoming more marginalized within Western society (Europe and North America) and we are now firmly in an era that some have called, “Post-Constantinian Christianity”. This will increase economic pressures within congregations as many struggle to maintain unhealthy debt loads with shrinking resources and increased hostility in society.
A Change of Heart
If you choose to research UACLutheran, you will find that DM42.net, the company operating UACLutheran, is nearly 2 years old. I’ve been on “Candidate Status” a little longer than that. While more could have been done earlier to release products and put the company on a path to supply my family needs, one thing kept me from doing so.
Just before Jesus sends out the seventy [two] men to go ahead of Him into the towns and villages that He, Himself, was about to go, Jesus said, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” For a significant period of time, my work at building up DM42.net was a looking back to my former life, before I entered seminary.
Fear and anxiety dominated my mindset for some time after finding myself on “Candidate Status”. I knew very well about the perception that men on “Candidate Status” are somehow “unfit” for ministry. I had heard of very few instances of men being called from “Candidate Status” back into full-time ministry. I had heard of very many who found themselves in that status until the time-limit expired and they “fell off” the roster. So initially, to be honest, I was a bit skeptical that God was powerful enough to overcome the institutional and other barriers that would put me back into full-time ministry. “Finding another line of work” was not motivated by some altruistic ideal – rather, it was a faithless act of self-preservation (see Abraham’s actions regarding his wife Sarah in Genesis 12 and Genesis 20). I’m human. I don’t have “super-faith”. And pulpit-supply, while helpful, cannot pay the bills.
But in the past two years, the Lord has blessed me and my family and continued to provide for us. I have served not only in “pulpit-supply” but have been blessed to serve as Vacancy Pastor in one congregation for nearly a year and a half and am currently serving as Vacancy Pastor for two congregations and as youth catechist for a third. Except for the first few months, I have been serving continuously in pastoral ministry in LCMS congregations despite not being “permanently called”.
Through various interactions, discussions and experiences as I’ve lived in the “no-man’s land” of “Candidate Status,” I have begun to understand St. Paul’s mindset when he chose not to exercise his right to have his needs fully supplied by those he served (1 Corinthians 9). As a result, Paul not only accepted donations for his support from other congregations but also took up tent making to supply his needs and make it possible to carry out his ministry without being a burden on those whom he served.
To be sure, “the laborer is worth his wages” and congregation members are required by divine mandate to physically care for those who spiritually care for them and ministers of the Gospel have a divine right to such care (1 Corinthians 9:8-12).
At the same time, ministers of the Gospel are free not to make use of that right (though the Church of God is in no way free to demand this of her ministers) and pastors are free to find other means of support and yet still serve in pastoral ministry.
While the creation of the business plan that gave rise to UACLutheran started as an effort at self-sufficiency in the midst of faithless anxiety over God’s provision, that underlying reason has given way to a desire to be (at least partially) self-sufficient and thereby enabled to serve in pastoral ministry with as little burden as possible on those who are served and, as much as possible, to provide the Gospel free of charge.
A Community Need and Services to the Church at Large
UACLutheran was initially a “side project” within the greater business plan of DM42.net. Yet, as things have unfolded, UACLutheran and a related endeavor called Crosswise Evangelicals has become one of the primary focuses.
The true Evangelical Lutheran Church throughout the world is undergoing a number of major shifts.
One of the biggest shifts is in the geographic center of the church. As the true Gospel is being embraced in areas such as South America and Africa, many in these areas are throwing off the shackles of the imperialist liberal ideology of the Lutheran World Federation and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (neither of which are Evangelical nor Lutheran in any real sense).
Another major shift is seen especially among the younger generation of ministers of the Lutheran Church even in Western Christendom. Many in this new generation seek to closely and diligently align themselves with the confession of the truth rediscovered in the reformation. This is not to be confused with a desire to repristinate the past. Rather, it is a true, heartfelt desire to clearly articulate and confess God’s Truth in continuity with the universal church of all time just as Luther and the confessors at Augsburg desired.
For nearly 100 years, rationalism and liberalizing tendencies within the institutional Lutheran churches have worked to silence a clear and unambiguous confession of the truth and have left many confessing Lutherans (both clergy and laity) feeling marginalized. Even in historically “solid” church bodies, a firm adherence to the truth is often seen as “divisive” and an impediment to the maintenance of the institutions which are often held up as inherently necessary for the Gospel to go forth. This is slowly changing, but institutions change slowly and often with one finger in the air to feel which way the wind is blowing.
One of the purposes of UACLutheran is to aggregate the small, localized “breezes” of true Evangelical Christianity and show that the life-giving breath of the Gospel is still blowing like the rushing wind of Pentecost throughout the world. Our first two resources, already released, aggregate news and blog postings by confessing Lutherans from all over the world.
The Internet and related resources like Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc., have all but replaced the “official channels” of communication of years past. Newsletters, monthly magazines, etc., are rapidly in decline in circulation and more rapidly in decline in actual readership. This loss of a centralized distribution has further fragmented and marginalized sources of news and discussion. Unless you know where and how to find solid Lutheran resources, you are left in the wasteland. These two aggregation sites (Blogs-By-Lutheransas well as the UACLutheran News Aggregation Homepage) seek to help bridge that gap.
The next product, already well into development, is the UACLutheran Public Service Announcement advertising network. Initial ads from the network are already appearing on the Blogs-By-Lutherans website and our News Aggregation site. Soon we will be making the codes available for other Lutheran website owners to include these “Public Service Announcements” on their website and so advertise distinctively Lutheran materials (conferences, media outlets, etc.).
Following this, we will be releasing the UACLutheran Blogging and Website Platform. There are many places that will host your blog or website either “free” by posting ads on your website or for a small monthly fee. In either case, the revenue from those services is generally “pulled out” of ministry and put toward other uses.
DM42.net and UACLutheran are a “tentmaking” endeavor to help support me so that I can continue to do the work of the ministry. Yes, it is my hope that it grows enough not only to make me less reliant upon the congregation(s) that I serve, but also that I may employ others (my first choice will be to employ other “tentmaking pastors” whenever possible) so that UACLutheran becomes less reliant upon me. Every little bit helps!
When the blogging/web platform is released, please consider hosting your blog or church or ministry website on the UACLutheran network instead of sites like Blogspot or WordPress.com. Websites and blogs will be running the same WordPress software that is used by WordPress.com and Edublogs.com and I will be more than happy to help you move your existing content onto our network.
More is in the works as well, including a paid-advertising network with revenue sharing for bloggers and church and church-school web sites.
Technology Background and History
What pastor knows how to make all this work? You’d be surprised how many of us have technical backgrounds. In fact, two of my best friends (one was just ordained this summer and the other just finished his vicarage and is finishing his last year at seminary) are top notch! They both had very successful “technical careers” before entering the seminary and I’m proud to have worked with them in the past. (WARNING Eric & Joel – I may be tapping you for some help in the future!).
Prior to entering seminary and becoming ordained, I, myself, spent some twelve years in my professional career “growing up” alongside the Internet.
I installed the first Internet Email gateway on the campus of one of the LCMS colleges in the mid 90’s. For nearly a year, the campus email gateway ran on my personal hardware. When I found it necessary to begin working full time before I finished college (remember, life circumstances push us in unexpected directions), I found myself working as a technical support/call-center representative in a regional Internet Service Provider. This was before 56kbps modems were cost effective enough for the average home user.
Over the couple of years, my unofficial title became, “Vice-President in charge of anything needing doing.” That didn’t mean mopping floors (though I did that, too), it meant everything from product development, advertising and marketing, and call-center management to hardware configuration, network planning and deployment, troubleshooting and repair of an Internet network that covered much of the population of the state of Michigan as well as parts of northern Ohio.
Some of my projects included developing and writing a helpdesk/trouble ticket system from scratch including the database back-end (this was before many of the open-source database options like MySQL and Postgresql existed or were stable enough for production use), developing a “metered bandwidth” product (similar to how your smart-phone today has capped bandwitdth with addtional charges for overages) and writing the software and configuring the hardware to monitor usage (before routers were able to do this as a matter of course), as well as numerous other projects. I worked with the kernel code of Linux and FreeBSD as well as upper level telephone circuits like DS3, ISDN, DSL, T1, and all kinds of other stuff. I worked with Cisco routers, web servers, database servers, DNS servers, and just about anything related to the Internet you can imagine and spent many late nights pressuring telephone companies to fix problems or install new services during their so-called “maintenance window” while the rest of the world slept. On top of that, I have programmed in PHP, Perl, SQL, C, and a host of other things that only tech-heads would be interested in.
Since then, I have kept my finger on the pulse of things. While I can’t find my way around a Windows PC to save my life anymore, if you put me on a Linux box, I can make it do just about anything you want it to. I have contributed to several Open Source projects as well as found security vulnerabilities in a number of major applications.
Without intending to be pretentious, God has blessed me to know a lot about a lot of things and given me a varied and interesting past on which to draw both for this “tentmaking” project as well as in ministry.
It has taken me nearly two years to “pull the trigger” on this venture. No longer is it an effort at “self-sufficiency” in response to fear and anxiety that God will not provide. The Lord has shown me His faithfulness even in some extremely scary and difficult circumstances.
At the same time, I see no need to consider the efforts put forth thus far as wasted. I see much benefit for the church at large and for the cause of those who wish to confess the truth of the Gospel in the midst of this world.
What I ask from you is that you consider helping me continue to serve those whom God has placed in my path without a need to assert my right to be supported by them. By using the services we provide (paid and free), you help make that possible. Thank you.