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Students at commencement

Ministry in Context

On CPL 2.0, The Needs of the Community, and Hope for the Future

Elsewhere in our newsletter, we shared an update regarding our new-and-improved Christian Public Leader (CPL) program. In this piece, I'd like to talk more specifically about how the CPL program can help us take major steps toward intercultural development, anti-racism training, real-world ministry skills, and spiritual and mental health at Luther Seminary. Through CPL, our students, staff, and faculty can work together to meet some of the most important needs in our Luther Seminary community today.

1) CPL's emphasis on intercultural development and public church is one small way of turning the church's slow-moving ship of white supremacy toward racial justice and reconciliation.

This campus has historically been steeped in sameness in ways that can potentially be damaging to an institution. As #decolonizelutheranism teaches us, jokes about Norwegian sweaters, monocultural expressions of worship, and Eurocentric pedagogy have all historically contributed to students of color feeling left out and devalued. In spite of efforts to shift the culture at Luther, there have been times where it has been difficult to change the culture here to openness and inclusion.

While Director of Multicultural Enrollment Richard Webb has been very intentional about recruiting one of the most diverse incoming student groups in recent history, we have also attempted to make holistic efforts to shift the culture here at Luther. One of the keys to this shift will be raising up leaders who are practicing intercultural competence. In our second Christian Public Leader course (Public Leaders for a Public Church), we will require every student to take the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI). As students progress from polarization to integration, we will hopefully become closer to cultivating the gifts of all people and providing a safe space for every student. 

2) CPL will help students tap into the world of real-life, practical, functional skills of life in ministry.

On a weekly basis, I used to get calls from a friend of mine serving an urban parish. He called our phone calls "This Week's Installment of 'Things I Never Learned in Seminary.'" He felt like his four years of seminary had given him plenty of theology (theo-logos, or "words about God"). What it hadn't given him was a practical toolkit that comes from lived experience in a context.

Fortunately, Luther has now doubled down on the importance of contextual learning by requiring every student to commit to serving in a context through the CPL program. This will shape our students as they discover a theology of incarnation that avoids disembodied platitudes or theoretical precepts. This rhythm of action and reflection will be assumed by each student as they share blessings and burdens with one another. I am excited about what this means for Luther Seminary moving forward. The diverse communities in which we live and serve no longer are the afterthought of our education but the very nexus of our Christian formation. This is the future of theological education! 

3) CPL will help ministry learners connect with peers across time and distance, build community, and share life-giving spiritual praxis.

For some students, particularly online learners, Luther can be a time of loneliness and uncertainty. I had a friend go through intense addiction issues at seminary that were only exacerbated by his isolation during his first few years in the classroom. Feeling that he didn't have the support system, he felt ashamed to tell any classmates of his struggles. I also lost another classmate to suicide a few years ago who felt alone during her time here at school. What can be done about this?

CPL is not the magic cure-all for these situations. However, having a precept group, a mentor, and a faculty member checking in with students regularly decreases the chances that a student will fall through the cracks. As we share spiritual practices with one another, we will hopefully experience the Koinonia that we hope to facilitate in our ministry settings. As my friend Tiger says. "If it is not happening to you it is harder to have it happen through you." Sharing regular spiritual practices together will ensure that students are exposed to a regular life of faith with caring peers. Hearing stories of struggle and triumph from other students assures us that we are not alone in our ministry. 

We have a long way to go here at Luther to respond to all of the ways that God is moving in the world and in our church. Hopefully CPL will help us move in the right direction. My prayer is that CPL will be one of the pens in God's hand that etches practices of gracious leadership and compassionate presence into the lives of every student here. Please keep us in your prayers as we move forward together with these new changes.



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