Story Magazine

Second Quarter, 2004

Strategic Plan Update: Sending Missional Pastors Prepared for Today’s World

"We believe God is calling and sending the church of Jesus Christ into apostolic mission in the 21st century world of many cultures and religions." (Opening statement of Luther Seminary's 2000-2005 strategic plan, "Serving the Promise of our Mission.")

Anyone who has heard Luther Seminary President David Tiede speak in the past few years has heard him utter this phrase. He tells of a critical time for the church, with many challenges ahead for Luther Seminary's graduates. Like early Christian leaders, they are heading into a world that knows little, if anything, about the Christian story.

To meet this challenge, Luther's strategic plan is ambitious. It calls on the seminary to help develop high caliber leaders who are both confessional and missional. These leaders are to be well-grounded in biblical preaching, worship, and congregational mission and leadership. They must reach out to the growing populations of those who are unchurched, and be a part of the global community that is no longer half a world away, but right at their doorsteps.

For the past 10 years, Luther Seminary has refined its curriculum and academic requirements to more accurately reflect the changes in congregations, communities and the student body. In particular, Luther has:

  • changed the academic calendar from a quarter to a semester system;
  • developed new kinds of courses, and the means to teach them;
  • revamped the internship and field education qualifications; and
  • re-organized academic administration to best serve students and
  • to work with interns at a distance.

Changing Courses While Staying the Course

"Our vision is to build on the foundations already laid as we seek to strengthen within our master of divinity education the theological perspective and skills required for motivating and empowering the laity to share in the ministry of the church to itself and in the world." From "Serving the Promise of Our Mission."

Luther requested the help of graduating students to rate their own learning over the course of their seminary education. Each year, seniors take a survey developed by former Academic Dean Marc Kolden. In addition, entering students are surveyed about their expectations. "The result of all this work, along with numerous in-class evaluations and online surveys on a variety of topics, has been continual course re-vamping within the parameters of the curricular structure of the early '90s," said Sarah Henrich, associate professor of New Testament, who has served as the associate dean--missional pastors, for three years.

She cited two good examples of how evaluation and change continue to shape the master of divinity curriculum.

First, is the work of the faculty's Leadership Division. "Clarifying goals and the means of evaluation have made them into a team, modeling that kind of work for all of us," Henrich said. "Their primary goal of engaging students precisely as adult learners is pressing them to wrestle with more traditional educational structures. Their findings have generated significant proposals that the faculty will discuss in the coming year."

A second example, she continued, is the work that has been done to make the required introduction to worship course the best that it can be. "Our professor of education attended the course, worked with the syllabus and with students and made some recommendations concerning the course.We then spent a year talking about worship with input from a wide swath of the community and outside of it. Coming from these discussions we hope to implement a more cohesive program in teaching and experiencing worship at Luther Seminary."

Leadership in Context

"Our vision is to integrate fully learning pastoral leadership in the context of missional congregations and other Christian communities in such a way that it becomes a complementary part of the whole theological education of master of divinity students." From "Serving the Promise of Our Mission"

In 1999, Luther Seminary received a grant from the Lilly Endowment, Inc. to redesign the seminary's contextual education program. In the past, the program consisted mainly of overseeing contextual education congregational sites and internships for master of divinity students, and cross-cultural education. The five-year grant, which has just ended, allowed the seminary to reorganize contextual education into the "Twin Cities Strategy," required of all first- and second-year master of divinity students.

Students are assigned to a congregation as their contextual education site. This congregation is part of a cluster of churches that represents a different context, such as inner city, first-tier suburbs and outer suburbs. The clusters are unique because they bring the pastors, students and a faculty member together the first Wednesday of every month for intentional conversation. In this way, students, pastors and professors learn from each other, and congregations and the seminary work together to provide the church with strong missional leaders.

The grant also allowed Luther Seminary to develop distance site theological education plans. "While this is still a work in progress, we have had significant success in the site of Shalom Hill Farm (in southwestern Minnesota) for the provision of seminary courses.We continue to work to develop sustainable sites in the Pacific Northwest, in Phoenix in Denver. This work has involved assessment of numbers of likely students in an area, the ability of an area to provide supervision for students, technology, and space for education. Our own technological capacity has continued to increase dramatically since 1994.We hope to do a better job serving students not able to come to the Luther campus for their entire program."

One of the largest changes that came out of the Lilly grant is the creation of the Contextual Leadership Initiative (CLI)--a contextual education "department" that belongs both to Luther Seminary and Pacific Lutheran School of Theology (PLTS) in Berkeley, Calif.

By consolidating contextual education offices, Luther and PLTS are able to provide a wider variety of sites and greater geographic diversity to interns, and reduce costs at the same time, said Randy Nelson, director of CLI. "Our smaller staff and budget have pressed us to make good use of both technology and of local supervisors to work with interns at a distance.

"As one can see, taking context seriously has begun to shape theological education at Luther in very profound ways, forcing faculty in particular continually to think and re-think their own work in regard to assignments, evaluation techniques, the building of a 'class community,' the development of an ethos, theological formation and the like," Henrich said. "The residential faculty is required to trust offsite instructors in an unprecedented way to do much of the work of formation and ethos building, as well as instruction."