My Grandpa Arnold Ahlman has been with Jesus for 22 years. His friends called him “Arnie.” I don’t remember him preaching much. I do remember him giving me candy, playing card games, and I remember his deep, guttural belly laugh. I would sit on his large lap, bouncing up and down. Pure joy. It all came from Jesus.
He went to see Jesus at the end of my senior year of high school football. I was the quarterback. We beat the state champs in the quarterfinals. Grandpa was in hospice, but he was eager to hear how we did in the state semifinals. We got beat badly. Dad took the news to Grandpa after the loss. He shook his head with disappointment. He didn’t like to lose. Nor do I. That morning, Dad came into my room and said, “Son, I’m so sorry, but Grandpa Ahlman went to be with Jesus last night.” He paused as tears came to both of our eyes. Dad lifted his head and said, “You know, son, I think if you had won he would have hung on for another week.” We laughed and cried. I miss my grandpa.
Grandpa wrote his autobiography in 1996. He titled it Miracles, Missions, and Mandates. You
can see where I get my love for alliteration. I forgot Grandpa wrote it until my Mom said, “Tim, I think you should read Grandpa Ahlman’s theological formation story.”
Grandpa went to high school at Concordia Academy in St. Paul, Minnesota, from 1931 to 1935. He knew he wanted to be a pastor. He said there was a “surplus of pastors,” resulting in an almost “survival-of-the-fittest” mentality. Grandpa wrote, “Today, December 1, 1995, we (the LCMS) have about 6,000 churches and we are short about 600 pastors or 10%. What a change from the ’30s. We had about 500 or 600 ministers who had graduated from one of our two seminaries but did not receive a call.” Even my Grandpa was lamenting the shortage of pastors 27 years ago! He would not be pleased with where our pastoral formation system is today.
Grandpa went to Concordia Junior College in St. Paul from 1936 to 1937. He was 18 years
old. He remembers taking Greek and Hebrew classes and barely making it through his math classes. Professor Overn helped Grandpa through trigonometry. He said, “Arnie, you’re a leader, and if some in the class see you not trying, it would hurt the class.” Grandpa scraped by with a B-. He was a proclaimer of the Gospel, not a mathematician. We are quite a bit alike.
Grandpa went to Concordia Seminary in
St. Louis from 1937 to 1940. Grandpa’s pathway to ordination was 2 years shorter than mine because he attended a junior college prior to studying at the seminary. He was at the Seminary for four years, with his third year being a vicarage (just like it is today). Grandpa’s vicarage was in McCook, Nebraska where he earned $25 a month. It was the depression, but that was still not a lot of money. Grandpa did not receive a master's degree. He received a certification for ordination. His studies were rigorous. He obviously didn’t do it for the money. He simply wanted to serve God’s people with Word and Sacrament.
In the ’60s and ’70s, more pastors were coming out of Seminary with a Master of Divinity degree. Grandpa felt inadequate. In his forties, he completed a master's degree in social work. On the one hand, continuing education is a blessing. On the other hand, it is sad grandpa felt “second class” because he lacked a master's degree. A hierarchy system within the pastorate of the LCMS was created. I am not sure Jesus was entirely pleased.
Grandpa loved his seminary years. So did I. Grandpa was blessed during his second year to take Hebrew from Dr. Walter A. Maier, the first speaker on The Lutheran Hour. The Lutheran Hour was a nationally known Sunday morning preaching hour that blessed many people in numerous denominations with good Law and Gospel preaching. The Lutheran Hour allowed the LCMS to be known in some circles as a “cutting edge” denomination because of its use of “new” technology. Grandpa had Dr. Maier as a professor. It must have been epic, and a bit intimidating. You can listen to Dr. Maier preaching here. He is quite poetic regarding the finished work of Christ through the cross and empty tomb.
Grandpa said, “Dr. Maier would read his notes rapidly during classes from Monday through Thursday, and then we’d have a test on Friday.” Grandpa’s classmates wanted to personally get to know “the great speaker of the Lutheran Hour.” This was an unusual request. To make their request known, they stopped taking notes one day in class. Dr. Maier noticed and said, “Ahlman, Baumann, Bethke, why are you not taking notes?” My Grandpa spoke for the group and said, “Dr. Maier, we have other classes that leave time for discussion. You do so well on the Lutheran Hour, and we want to get to know you better.” Dr. Maier’s face turned red. He was very angry. He stomped out of class and said, “You fellows think you are busy? Wait until you get into the ministry. You are wasting my time.” I am sure my Grandpa laughed telling this story. Those were different days.
In August of 1941, my Grandpa received his first call to Trinity Lutheran Church in Indianola, Nebraska, close to McCook. He was grateful. He wrote that 300 to 400 young men from the previous two years had not received calls. It was the Great Depression. Times were tough. Congregations could not afford pastors. Even if Grandpa was prone to hyperbole and slight exaggeration in his number of students not receiving a call, the point was made. Grandpa was very grateful to receive a full-time call into Word and Sacrament ministry. He wrote that those who did not receive calls often served as teachers in schools, or served bi-vocationally in churches and in the community taking other “normal” jobs. In 2022 in the LCMS it is hard to imagine having such a surplus of pastors. We should work toward that end.
I am proud of my grandpa. I am thankful he wrote down his story. For years, there has been a burning desire in me to multiply more leaders within the church to start new ministries to reach new people. I didn’t know my grandpa cared about the same thing. Much of what we’ve written in the past, such as Is the LCMS Cherry-Picking the Confessions, could be interpreted to display that we care little about the LCMS and our institutions (universities and seminaries). Nothing could be further from the truth. We simply believe that LCMS leaders must explore contextual, less-expensive and theologically faithful ways of educating bi-vocational and vocational leaders. If LCMS leaders do all they can to bless local churches in their leadership development plans, our institutions will benefit.
Times have changed. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have an overwhelming number of men serving existing congregations and starting new congregations in the midst of our post-Christian context? The Unite Leadership Collective desires to play a small part in seeing this dream come true by the power of the Word and Spirit.
Let us know how we can help you and your congregation multiply ministers of the Gospel! Visit us at Uniteleadership.org