Story Magazine

Second Quarter, 2004

FLEAS with a Mission

by Sheri Booms Holm,
director of publications

Dave Daubert (standing), ELCA Executive for Renewal of Congregations, presented a FLEAS retreat in January on how to lead an organization through guiding principles.

FLEAS are on campus and they're catching. Not the irritating little critters, mind you, but the Fellowship of Leaders in Evangelism Attending Seminary (FLEAS). This student-led organization is so excited about mission they want to begin now, while still in seminary. In particular, FLEAS members are eager to become mission developers and redevelopers whose goal it is to plant and revitalize congregations.

Ask how FLEAS came about and you find that it was set into motion by a series of events: conversation and prayer after a campus campfire worship; spirited discussions between students, faculty and others during "The Missional Church in Context" 2003 January Term course; and an invitation to a meeting last September for students interested in an emphasis on congregational leadership. The meeting was hosted by Craig Van Gelder, professor of congregational mission, and Kelly Fryer, instructor in congregational leadership. Sixty students showed up.

Learning to Lead

"It's about transformational ministry," said Rob James, master of divinity middler and FLEAS coordinator. "Many students are interested in learning more than academics at seminary. There's a common interest in beginning ministry now. We want to be trained as evangelists, not only as pastors or theologians.

One of FLEAS' --- and mission development's --- tenets is that the church needs leaders, not shepherds or caretakers. "To be a leader in the church right now is to stand for something," said Jedediah Scharmer, master of divinity middler and member of the FLEAS recruitment team. "We are blessed to be a blessing. We need to stand up and say, 'This is what we believe in.' Say who we are, and speak to that."

"And continually explore," James added. "[Mission development] takes seriously how to minister to people outside of the church. It's less inward focused, more outward focused. It's a model of empowering laity and coaching ministry --- leadership isn't done by one person or an executive committee. You come, you bring gifts."

Church-Wide Support

The fact that so many seminarians are interested in mission development and redevelopment is a good sign for the ELCA and other mainline denominations. Nearly 75 percent of ELCA congregations are experiencing either a plateau or a decline in membership, a statistic similarly shared by other denominations.

Since that interest meeting in September, the group has organized and given itself a name that's hard to forget. FLEAS sponsors monthly worship and forums, provides resources related to evangelism, leadership mission development and congregational renewal, and engages in dialogue regarding evangelism and mission with the seminary community, the wider church and beyond.

James expressed appreciation for the support FLEAS has received from the Luther Seminary faculty and staff, and also the ELCA's Region 3 and the Division for Outreach.

FLEAS tapped staff from the Division for Outreach, plus visiting scholars and clergy, as speakers and resources. They invited Dave Daubert, ELCA Executive for Renewal of Congregations, to present a January retreat on how to lead an organization through guiding principles. FLEAS took advantage of this workshop to create a team to develop FLEAS' own mission statement and guiding principles.

Modeling Ministry

It's typical for a FLEAS forum to become a hands-on learning experience. The workshops are structured in a way so participants learn how they would conduct the same event in a congregation. "Anything we do reflects what we plan to do when we leave seminary, so it can be used as a model of ministry," said master of divinity junior Matt Knopf, FLEAS communicator and worship team member.

Another integral part of each gathering is worship. The FLEAS group has been thankful for the participation of Luther Seminary faculty who preach at the events. "Prayer and scripture are key for us, and to have an open heart," Knopf said.

Even planning meetings are biblically based. "We always begin with prayer, then we open our Bibles and have a Bible study. Then we go into the agenda. That way we are grounded when we come to the table --- hearing God through the same texts together," Scharmer said.

The demographics of FLEAS members run the gamut, from conservative to liberal. "We're able to come together and talk about mission. If there are any special interests, it's the interest of God's mission to all," James said.

In just a few months, James, Scharmer and Knopf have seen how FLEAS has changed--it's not just about mission development/redevelopment. "All leaders need to be missional, not just developers or redevelopers. We all need to be missional people," James said.

Contagious Mission

Similar to its insect namesake, FLEAS is contagious. Members have participated in a mission developer conference and an ELCA Region 3 consultation, and recently coordinated a Region 3 "Come, See, Discover" event on campus that invites college students with gifts for ministry to explore mission development. "These connections are incredible. We know we have a voice to use now and the ELCA and larger church wants to hear it," James said.

Other seminaries have expressed interest in the FLEAS concept. "Although they don't have to keep the name," James said with a smile.

James and Scharmer will both begin internships in mission congregations in the fall. James will head to a booming exurb (a residential area beyond suburbs) outside of Minneapolis, and Scharmer to San Antonio, Texas. Neither of the congregations have the funds for interns, so both James and Scharmer are raising their own money for the year.

"God provides when he wants you to go someplace. So I follow," Scharmer said.


Purpose-Driven FLEAS

Through prayer and the Scriptures, members of FLEAS developed the following purpose statement and guiding principles. "God's Purpose for FLEAS is to Equip and Give Voice to Leaders Reawakening to the Church's Missional Identity." (Isaiah 29:13-24, Gal 5:1, 1 Cor 15:18-19, John 20:21-22, John 17:25-26, Rev 3:2)

FLEAS Guiding Principles:

1. God's Direction is Discernable. (James 1:5-8, 1 Cor 2:12-16, Acts 16:6-7, Jer 29:11-13)
2. The Church Needs Leaders. (Matt 4:16-22, Mark 1:16-20, 1 Cor 3:5-9, 1 Cor 12:28)
3. All Leaders Need to be Missional. (Isaiah 29:13-16, Gal 5:1, Mark 1:16-20)
4. The Spirit Uses People to Awaken and Equip. (Gal 3:1-5, 1 Cor 12, 1 Cor 2:10)
5. We Will be Changed. (1 Cor 4:6-7, Rom 12:1-2)