by Sheri Booms, director of publications, and Todd Hawkins, M.Div. senior
When the 12 students of Luther Seminary's new doctor of ministry (D.Min.) program in congregational mission and leadership gathered for the first time on campus, it didn't take long for them to bond. That's because they had already introduced themselves online. Along with general information, they discussed their beliefs, values and ministries via the Internet before attending the first seminar in August. It was no accident that these individuals would come together as a cohesive peer group. The new D.Min. is structured so that cohorts of 12 students go through the program together in order to maximize peer learning. The students are also bonded by their desire to revitalize congregations and develop new ones in the challenging contexts of a growing mission field: North America.
Peers strengthen learning process
Melanie Wallschlaeger is the youngest person in the D.Min.'s first cohort. A 1998 graduate of Luther Seminary, she wants to gain more skills for developing congregational leadership. The church she serves, Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Sioux Falls, S.D., is 1,800 members' strong and growing. "Leadership needs to change and grow with it," Wallschlaeger said.
She expressed appreciation for the breadth of experience her D.Min. peers provide, and for the cohort aspect of learning. "We have developed peer support. We learn from each other," she said.
Weekly online interaction has been particularly important in maintaining peer learning, Wallschlaeger continued. "We have weekly assignments: required readings, responses to the readings, and responses to each other's writings. There's even an online prayer group."
The peers also become accountable to each other. The times she has been missing from online discussions, Wallschlaeger's colleagues have sent her inquiring e-mails and have even phoned to make sure all was well.
Cutting edge skills for suburban "missionary work"
For Michael Peck, the D.Min. program seemed a good fit for his interests and needs in his present context. He is senior pastor at Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Overland Park, Kan., a suburb of Kansas City. Peck describes his congregation as "young, dynamic and growing. We serve many young families that come from limited church backgrounds. As a staff, we are constantly reminding ourselves that we are doing 'missionary work.'"
Peck sees the context in which he serves as very post-modern. "Holy Cross must seek new ways to reach out to the community and new ways to develop the disciples within our congregation. The D.Min. program is helping to think long and hard about the relation between mission and context.
"I hope to improve my capabilities as a leader and to help the wider church capture a new sense of mission in a rapidly changing culture," he continued. "We can no longer do things the way we have always done them as a church and expect to survive."
Learning to be a missional pastor
Robert Sachs' ministry is decidedly different from Peck's and Wallschlaeger's. Sachs serves a mid-sized rural congregation in Cordova, Nebr., 50 miles west of Lincoln. The congregation will celebrate 120 years of ministry in 2003.
"For the past five years I have been searching for a program that would help me develop understanding and skills as a missional pastor. Until now, I didn't know of any school that offered a D.Min. program in congregational mission and church leadership development," he stated.
Sachs saw in Luther Seminary's D.Min. program "the opportunity to apply my studies to the community and the communion in which I am serving, along with the privilege of being in a new community and in communion with fellow students and seminary faculty who are all learning and re-discovering biblical and contextual ways of following Jesus in our North American culture."
Sachs seeks to prepare himself to serve in this new mission field. "I hope to be a better witness to the gospel in our North American culture ... I hope to be a more visionary leader in these changing times among ALL the people of God, not just the church or the ELCA. I would invite the opportunity to be sent and start a new congregation in an area where there is no ELCA presence."
The Doctor of Ministry Program in Congregational Mission and Leadership is accepting applications for the next cohort until March 1, 2003. Applicants will be notified of acceptance by April 1. An online application and additional information are available at www.luthersem.edu/dmin
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