Story Magazine - Third Quarter, 2004
Question: Who’s the Typical D.Min. Student?
Answer: There Isn’t One.
by Nancy Giguere, special correspondent
There's no such thing as a typical Doctor of Ministry student at Luther Seminary. Even though each cohort (a peer group that goes through the program together) studies the same field, the pastors use their own unique ministries to inform the workthey do with what they've learned.
Meet three D.Min. students in Congregational Mission and Leadership with three very diverse ministries.
For Fritz Wehrenberg, campus pastor at Iowa State University in Ames, the Doctor of Ministry program is a natural. "A college campus is full of people whose lives revolve around studying," he says. "The students love it that I, too, have papers to write."
More importantly, the program is germane to his work at the University Lutheran Center. "This particular call is to a public institution where people are engaged in serious discussion. It's important for Lutherans to be at the table,"Wehrenberg says. He notes that Lutheran participation in honest, faithful public discourse is part of a tradition that began nearly 500 years ago when Luther posted his 95 theses on the "public bulletin board."
The program's required theological readings and biblical work have already altered the direction of Wehrenberg's ministry. In both his preaching and one-on-one work, he is now interested in learning contextually how students describe their experience of God. "I'm asking different questions, and I'm hearing different stories," he says. "I'm letting God work through me in a new way."
As a result, the students are now talking with each other about faith in ways they haven't done before. Through their participation in a semester-long gift discernment process and in faith-sharing groups, students are beginning to connect the "going-to-church experience" with the rest of their lives.
Wehrenberg notes that the church likes to emphasize youth and family ministry. "But youth stops around age 18 after high school graduation and families start about age 30. In many ways, those in their 20s are marginalized by the church. That 12-year gap is a mission field," he says.
Although young adults on campus are very spiritual,Wehrenberg believes it's a mistake to think that they will return to church once they have their own children. "We have something important to share with people of this age, and we must be articulate, understanding and creative in our ministry," he says.
When Jill Gendreau chats with parishioners over coffee, she doesn't do it in the church basement after the Sunday service. She does it at Soul Cafe, a coffee and dessert bar in downtown Hood River, where the town's unchurched residents come to find community and discuss spiritual concerns.
"We want to provide an opportunity for outsiders to initiate questions," says Gendreau, who serves as Soul Cafe's lead mission explorer. "What we hope to do is help people experience and participate in being church."
It's a new kind of ministry, and Gendreau admits, "We're not always sure what we're doing." But that's all right, she says, because Soul Cafe is "about what God is doing."
Gendreau has found companions for this journey into the unknown in the Doctor of Ministry program. She enjoys the biannual gatherings of her cohort and the opportunity to continue the conversation online. "I've grown so much through the give and take of the cohort model," she says. "The program helps us see the necessity of asking 'What is church? Why are we here and what are we doing?' "
Soul Cafe has been enriched by projects that connect Gendreau's class work directly to her ministry. One project involved helping people rethink the Trinity and its impact on the life of faith. Another dealt with the practice of faith in daily life.
In addition to becoming a more effective missional leader in her current ministry, Gendreau looks forward to being a part of the Oregon Synod's ongoing visioning process. "I want to develop the skills needed to a be leader in the ELCA," she says. "I love the ELCA, and I want to be a part of its growth, both numerically and spiritually."
She believes that the North American mission field includes many people who consider themselves "spiritual but not religious." Most are not interested in going to church but are drawn to ministries like Soul Cafe. "Some people in the church see this as a negative," Gendreau says. "But I think the church is called to respond in a positive way."
Located in an affluent suburb of Phoenix, Ascension Lutheran Church is in the midst of revitalization. Its 40-year-old building, created by a son-in-law of architect Frank Lloyd Wright, is at the center of this renewal.
"We are coming to grips with our identity and context," says Senior Pastor Randy Olson. "Our building is a work of art, and we are finding ways to use art as a vehicle for witness and outreach to neighbors and the community."
When Olson learned about the Doctor of Ministry from a coworker at the church, he was excited. "Its emphasis on missional vision fit our needs," he says.
He believes that both he and his congregation will grow through his work in the program. "I'm enrolled, but the congregation is also enrolled," he says. "We are encouraged to identify projects that connect class work with congregational life. And my projects so far have had a direct impact on our ministry."
Olson's participation in the program invites his congregation into the same conversation that he and the members of his cohort are engaged in. He believes his own leadership development will be reflected in the development of the congregation's leadership. "As I mature as a missional leader, the congregation is maturing as a center for mission. It's really about the priesthood of all believers," says Olson, who hopes that he can one day serve as a resource for the Grand Canyon Synod.
Olson believes that the mission field lies outside his door in the affluent community that surrounds Ascension Lutheran. "We have to learn a new language to communicate the gospel to people who are detached from faith practices," he says. "We also have to learn how to communicate with winter visitors so we can embrace them and integrate them into our ministry."
Luther's Doctor of Ministry program provides excellent preparation for this work. "All course content relates to our work as missionaries in the North American context," Olson says.
Meet Some of the New Biblical Preaching D.Min. Students
This past June 14 pastors from across the country met at Luther Seminary for the first Doctor of Ministry in Biblical Preaching cohort. You can meet some of these pastors, too. Visit Luther's Web site to see video clips of these new D.Min. students. Find out what drew them to the program. Hear them describe the cohort process, and learn about some of the discoveries in preaching they've already uncovered. To view the videos, visit www.luthersem.edu/dmin
/ and click on "Biblical Preaching."