"We want to shape students’ theological imagination and their self-image as vision leaders. We want them to grasp the essence of who we are — the body of Christ, the communion of saints — and to understand that in this culture the church is the only institution that has both the mandate and the power to be a reconciling force in society."
At age 15, Craig Van Gelder made a personal profession of faith. Three years later as a freshman in college, he answered a call to Christian ministry. Since then he has focused on helping the church participate fully in God's mission to bring salvation to all of life.
Following college, Van Gelder worked with The Navigators for 10 years in campus and discipleship ministries throughout the South. Then he changed focus and spent a decade working as a consultant to congregations, helping with strategic planning, organizational development and needs assessment.
An ordained minister in the Christian Reformed Church, Van Gelder holds Ph.D. degrees in both missiology and urban affairs. He came to Luther Seminary from Calvin Theological Seminary where he spent 10 years as Professor of Domestic Missiology.
He describes his current role as "bringing congregations into a conversation with theological education." One way he does this is through "Reading the Audiences," a course rooted deeply in congregational practices. He leads students to think holistically about the essentials of ministry: learning the story, interpreting and confessing the message, and leading in mission.
Van Gelder also administers a major seminary initiative, "Learning Congregational Leadership in Context." Funded by a grant from Lilly Endowment, Inc., the project aims to increase the involvement of students with congregations. Faculty and pastors will help students reflect theologically about congregational life. Participants will examine Scripture, church history or other course material from the perspective of the congregation.
"We want to shape students' theological imagination and their self-image as vision leaders," Van Gelder says. "We want them to grasp the essence of who we are — the body of Christ, the communion of saints — and to understand that in this culture the church is the only institution that has both the mandate and the power to be a reconciling force in society. The church has to be on the mission's edge — it's part of our very nature."