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Stewarding Calls

The newsletter kicks off the new year with a series of articles contemplating the leadership required for today’s church and world. Today, my friend and colleague at Luther Seminary, Terri Elton, introduces the series. From its very beginning, the church has struggled with what posture of leadership most faithfully serves God and also helps organize God’s people for faithful service. As we enter 2018, that question is more relevant than ever.

Yours truly,

Adam Copeland, Center for Stewardship Leaders      

Stewarding Calls

Terri Martinson Elton

I have a great job. I teach at Luther Seminary where our mission is to educate leaders for Christian communities. While the people in my classes are students, more importantly they are leaders whom God has called. Stewarding their calls is part of my work, and engaging in this work brings me great joy.

I have not always seen my work in this way. I used to think teaching was more about what I brought into the classroom than about the encounter that transpires when God’s people gather and go about God’s work. Living into this new understanding has moved me out of the center of the classroom and created space for new conversations and discoveries. It has released me from the pressure to say the right thing and led me to wonder what gifts are present in the room and how they might add to the learning experience. It has opened me to see the people in my courses with new eyes and to see assignments as opportunities to engage in the real work the church is facing.

Last fall, I accompanied twelve Luther Seminary students, representing four countries and many regions of the United States, to a leadership conference to think about how the church lives out its mission in today’s context. As a small diverse group, I wondered what new learnings would surface in our time together. The first day of the conference people of faith with various leadership positions shared their experiences about living their faith in the world.

The first speaker was Kim Reynolds, the Governor of Iowa. As a member of the host congregation, she agreed to make time in her busy schedule to talk about how she lives her Christian faith in that public office. As a smart, articulate, and humorous woman, Governor Reynolds drew me into her presentation, but what captured my heart was the humility she demonstrated in sharing her personal struggles (with a room of people primarily from Iowa). One point Reynolds made was how she needed a community of faith to surround her, not only today, but throughout her life, in both the private and public moments and roles. People had helped her steward her call to live her faith -- as a mother, a spouse, a neighbor, an employer, and a civic leader. On that day, that was the message she wanted us to hear.

We all have calls to steward. And all of us need people around us to faithfully discern and live our calling in the world each step of life’s journey and in the various settings we find ourselves. It is not just seminary professors or ministry leaders who do this work. All of God’s people have calls and all need a community around them.

I hope you, like me, can see the work of stewarding calls as both opportunity and gift. I hope you can free yourself from placing strict boundaries around that work and open yourself to approaching it with imagination and curiosity. It is truly holy work.

As I have engaged in this work, I have met wonderful people passionate about making a difference in the world. I have learned how listening and asking curious questions opens up opportunities to learn and grow. And I have discovered how God makes God’s way into the world through us -- people broken and beautiful, saints and sinners.

In the weeks ahead, several students will share some of their discoveries from that experience and how they are currently thinking about stewardship. As those stories unfold, I challenge you to open yourself to opportunities to steward people’s calls and see where God takes those opportunities.

For More Information

Dr. Terri Martinson Elton is an Associate Professor of Leadership at Luther Seminary.

Executive Certificate in Religious Fundraising: Luther Seminary, in partnership with the Lake Institute on Faith and Giving, is hosting a four-day intensive course, May 7-10, 2018. For more information visit: Lake Institute

Author information was updated as of the article's post date. Author profiles may not reflect author's current employment or location.

"Baptismal Font" image by Megan. Creative Commons licensing via Flickr.

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