Many people may look at the last 40 years and not see the positive changes that Jon R. Lee, ’66, has witnessed: The average person on the street will talk to you about spirituality (“something no one did when I started ministry”), churches are banding together with other organizations to accomplish amazing things in communities, and seminaries are changing the way they teach, within context and in a way that models what students may encounter in the parish.
Lee is senior pastor of King of GloryLutheran Church, in Dallas, Texas. He spent Mar. 8-12 at Luther Seminary as this year’s alum in residence. Lee was nominated for the honor by his peers. The Luther Seminary Alum in Residence Program invites alumni/ae to share their experiences, insights and expertise with students.While on campus, Lee preached in chapel, met with students and faculty, and participated in several classes. Lee, who hadn’t been to Luther Seminary since graduation, remarked, “It’s a different place since I was here, and a joy to discover.”
One large difference at Luther Seminary that Lee observed is the way classes are taught. “I came froman era when it was mainly lecture. I’m thrilled with how teaching is done today.”
Case in point, Lee noted, is the Synoptic Gospel of Mark course taught by Jim Boyce, professor of New Testament. “His style is wonderfully interactive. He lets the questions guide how he is going to do his teaching, leading his students into the mystery of God. It’s not about giving answers; it’s about leading students more deeply into their faith journey. It was an exciting hour. He is modeling teaching that the student can use in the parish–it is so alive and interactive.”
Lee experienced this over and over–highly participative classes that asked students to reflect and interact, and challenged them as well. And that included Lee, himself. In the Human Sexuality and the Christian Faith course taught by professors Roland Martinson and Janet Ramsey, he was asked to give the pastor’s perspective on how to deal pastorally, for example, in premarriage counseling when working with couples who are cohabiting.
In the preaching class, Lee spoke on how to connect the gospel with people’s lives. “I shared with them that the gospel is always an invitation, not a command. Preaching is wooing people,” Lee said. The class also asked Lee about preaching styles and managing time for sermon preparation.
Proclaiming Where the People Are
How do you preach to people not attending church? Lee encountered this question in the Ministry of Evangelism in Congregations course, taught by Craig Van Gelder, professor of congregational mission.
“It’s about getting out and talking to people where you find them, with the realization they are willing to talk [about spirituality]–spirituality may be the contact point of initial conversation, not joining a church,” Lee said. “God’s going to have to lead us.Where will that lead? What will that look like? It might be small groups outside of church.We know we are in a new post-Christian era. I am so thrilled that the seminary is asking questions and encouraging students to think out of the box. The seminary has said creative leadership is a priority. Ministry is going to have to be creative as we move into new unexplored arenas.
“What pleases me about Luther is it’s willingness to listen to congregations. That process of listening is reshaping the vision for the seminary. The process has changed their strategic plan. That’s potent stuff,” Lee said.
Keeping It Fresh and Challenging
Lee has been at King of Glory for 32 years, and ministry hasn’t gotten stale yet, he says. “I suppose selfishly I don’t want to get bored, or stale.You keep your eyes open, look and pray,” he explained.
“I don’t understand ministry to be primarily about maintenance. In a fast changing world it’s the realization that ministry has to change. How can we be a church that is identical to 10 years ago and expect to be responsive to what people need today? The Spirit invites us into ministry. That’s where joy is found. It’s being in relationship, listening, paying attention, caring, imagining–that’s when things happen.”
Lee’s congregation built in the growing area of north Dallas, visible and easily accessible from the highway. Given the proximity, he calls King of Glory a regional “freeway” church, with members coming from all over the area. One reason Lee’s ministry stays fresh is the mobility of his congregation. Many of the members have been Lutheran transplants from other states who have moved fairly often, particularly in the 1980s-1990s. “I became the stability zone of the congregation. The majority of members have known me only about eight or nine years,” Lee said.
Although mobile, the members are very active, and key to King of Glory’s ministry.
“We’ve been blessed with tremendous lay leadership. The ministry is exciting because people have been empowered, and have taken on roles that may have been previously viewed as a pastoral position,” Lee said. “The challenges keep coming. The laity is changing, they are growing, thinking. They have high expectations and are very responsive. I am mentored by the leading lay people in the congregation. It’s our lay people that help me with the running of the church and the staffing. A lot of initiative comes from them. Ideas begin to bubble up; they say, ‘Come on, let’s do it’.”
As a congregation, and because of its location, King of Glory chose to stay connected to the city.
“We invest time and energy working with the city.We belong to a Dallas Area Interfaith organization with a passion for community development.Our congregation made a shift from primarily acts of charity to involving ourselves in justice and structural issues–empowering people to act in the communities in which they live,” Lee said.
One area of focus is an impoverished area of south Dallas, where congregation members use their specific skills to help out. “We partner with the groups already there–such as in drug rehabilitation and gang intervention, helping create centers such as a computer center, a teen night club, working with the YMCA, school and providing teachers for ESL classes,” Lee said.
Mentoring a New Generation of Pastors
In his chapel sermon at Luther Seminary, Lee quoted alarming statistics from the ELCA about the general health of its pastors, including the fact that one in five pastors experiences depression. One major reason is the sense of isolation that many pastors feel, Lee said. “Often it’s a self-imposed loneliness. Pastors aren’t open to going to another pastor to ask how things are going. There would be less depression if pastors would come together and work with each other.”
Lee feels peer mentoring and coaching would aid pastors substantially. And, as is typical of Lee, he does see positive change, “We have in our synod (Northern Texas-Northern Louisiana Synod) a ministry for first-call pastors. I work with that group. It’s been a gift.”
Do you know an alum with an exciting ministry to share with the seminary?
Nominate her or him for Alum in Residence The Luther Seminary Alumni/ae Council is receiving nominations for the 2003-2004 Alum in Residence Program at Luther Seminary. All Luther Seminary graduates are eligible. The alum in residence stays on campus for approximately one week, preaches in chapel, speaks in classes, meets with faculty, visits formally and informally with students, and eats meals in the dining room. All expenses are covered by the Office of Seminary Relations. The schedule is flexible to meet the needs of the seminary and the candidate. To nominate someone, send a letter of submission by August 31, 2004, to:
Office of Seminary Relations
2481 Como Avenue
St. Paul, MN 55108
For more information, call 651-641-3448, or toll free at 888-358-8437.