Students at commencement

Learning Pastoral Imagination

Reimagining what shapes effective ministry

The Learning Pastoral Imagination (LPI) Project is a five-year study that responds to this question in light of the fact that seminary graduates report significant gaps in their preparation for the practice of ministry. The project is co-directed by Chris Scharen (Auburn Seminary) and Eileen Campbell-Reed (Central Baptist Theological Seminary), and Luther Seminary's lead faculty for the project are Dwight Zscheile, Associate Professor of Congregational Mission and Leadership, and Terri Elton, Associate Professor of Leadership.

What do the gaps between education and ministry look like?

Recent seminary graduates are making the transition to ministry in large numbers and giving high marks to their schools. However, two exceptions stand out: women are not doing as well as men, and practical training lags behind academic preparation. (See the 2007 Auburn study, How Are We Doing? The Effectiveness of Theological Schools as Measured by the Vocations and Views of Graduates.)

A survey of new ministers reveals that 80% of them do not feel adequately prepared for congregational ministry and leadership by their seminary education, which presumed a theory-to-practice approach to teaching. (See the 2006 landmark study Educating Clergy.)

How are we thinking about pastoral wisdom and imagination?

In several recent essays, Craig Dykstra identifies intangible qualities of pastors who know their work well, embody habits of mind and enact wisdom through pastoral practices that nurture community and sustain vocational life. He says: "Life lived long enough and fully enough in the pastoral office gives rise to a way of seeing in depth and of creating new realities that is an indispensable gift to the church, to all who are members of it, and indeed to public life and to the world." 1

The LPI study deepens our understanding of pastoral imagination by listening to the stories of both new and experienced pastors. Participants in the study are recognized leaders in ministry, exhibiting either substantial capacity for or clear demonstration of pastoral imagination in their work. We will interview them to discover how they learn and lead in ministry over time.

Who will we learn from?

Over the next five years the ecumenical project will work with 50 Christian pastors at various intervals of time working in ministry as well as 50 seminary students as they move from professional training into work in ministry. Research will take place through small group and individual interviews as well as follow-up congregational visits across five regions of the United States. 

Regional research sites

For Life Abundant: Practical Theology, Theological Education and Christian Ministry, edited by Dorothy C. Bass and Craig Dykstra (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008) 50-51.