Ministry in Context

Introducing Chris Scharen, the new Director of Contextual Learning

I'd like to introduce myself as the new Director of Contextual Learning. Ironically, God must have had me in mind for this call—my office is already in the Contextual Learning suite in the 3rd floor tower of Northwestern Hall. I've been there since 2008 when I began at Luther as Assistant Professor of Worship. I'll continue to teach worship part-time, but will shift the bulk of my time to the Contextual Learning enterprise. I'm excited to join a superb and dedicated staff hard at work in the dynamic intersection of congregational life and theological education. In this work, I follow two excellent leaders: Rick Foss and Randy Nelson. I'm honored to pick up the baton and run the next leg of the race.

Let me begin by briefly sharing how I view contextual learning as an exciting and dynamic part of theological education.

First, I believe contextual learning is the most important feature of theological education. Here, the rubber hits the road, so to speak. God's mission calls the church as a participant in 'the ministry of reconciliation' (2 Corinthians 5:18). We at Luther Seminary prepare evangelical public leaders for mission in God's church for the sake of God's beloved world. Working in contextual learning is about teaching the content, practice, and character of leading mission in particular contexts of ministry.

Second, I believe contextual learning serves congregations as the beating heart of theological education. I've been mentored in the faith by wonderful congregations throughout my life: my home congregation, Hope in Bozeman, MT; my internship at Bethlehem in Oakland, CA; my first call at First Lutheran, New Britain, CT; and Our Saviour's, Minneapolis, where I am a member today. We at Luther Seminary exist for the sake of congregations, their leaders, and their members who, as Christ's body, are taken, blessed, broken, and given to a world hungering for God's merciful presence. Working in the Contextual Learning office means playing in the dynamic space between classroom learning and learning in ministry practice.

Third, I believe contextual learning is an important and yet ignored area of theological scholarship. I've spent the last decade researching and writing about how pastoral leaders learn in and through the practice of ministry. The project, called Learning Pastoral Imagination, has followed a national, ecumenical cohort of 50 pastoral leaders as they leave seminary to take various calls in ministry — mostly to ordained congregational leadership, but also as youth leaders, Christian educators, and chaplains. Our research has taught us, among other things, how crucial supervisors are in setting a safe context for risking, failing, and trying again. Learning through screw-ups is a key element of growing in the practical wisdom required for good ministry. The Holy Spirit gives us boldness for just such risks for the sake of the Gospel (Acts 4:23-31).

In the next weeks, I look forward to talking to many of youstakeholders in this shared enterprise. As I ask the inevitably naive questions, I will listen and learn from you how I can jump into our shared work with energy and great hope for what God will do through us.

+Easter Peace,

Chris Scharen

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