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Story Magazine

Third Quarter 2004

Strategic Plan Update: M.A./M.S.M. Degree Programs: Affirming Callings, Strengthening Christian Witness

MSM grad Sara Birkeland, '02, conducted the Luther Seminary Choir last year. Chris Nelson, '04, accompanied on the piano.

Dennis serves a Colorado congregation as minister of worship and music. Brant is a school social worker in Minnesota. Amy is a director of family ministries at a North Carolina church. Francis runs a foundation in Hong Kong. What they have in common is they do what they love with the gifts God gave them, and they are alumni/ae of Luther Seminary's Master of Arts (M.A.)/Master of Sacred Music (M.S.M.) programs.

M.A./M.S.M. students receive exemplary, biblically based theological training right alongside Luther's Master of Divinity (M.Div.) students. In addition, they take courses and learn skills that are applicable to the work they do or plan to do.

Can a theological education help non-ordained professionals in their work? Yes, now more than ever.

Luther Seminary recognizes that an increasing number of positions in congregations and other Christian communities are being filled by gifted laypersons. In addition, many people express interest in pursuing theological education in order to strengthen their Christian witness in their everyday life and work.

In its five-year strategic plan, Serving the Promise of Our Mission, Luther Seminary shared its vision to prepare leaders to enter into and serve a variety of callings within the church and community.

The plan lays out specific goals to be achieved by 2005. These include:

  • to meet the needs of the church in North America and throughout the world for a wide variety of specialized ministries by at least doubling the number of M.A., M.S.M., and certificate program students; and
  • to have in place specialized M.A. and certificate programs for strategically providing leadership within diverse ecumenical, ethnic and economic populations, and strategically serving congregations needing leadership in ministry.

So far the results have been promising. The M.A. degree programs are the fastest-growing programs at Luther Seminary, and have already exceeded the seminary's goal to double the number of students in these programs, from approximately 90 students in 1994 to 214 in 2003.

This growth is due in part to the refinement and addition of concentrations that offer an amazing breadth of specialization, take advantage of faculty strengths and expertise, and match many of Luther's strategic initiatives.

"Our various concentrations both fulfill our core value of continuing our excellent offerings in the classical disciplines as well as match Luther Seminary's strategic initiatives," said Diane Jacobson, associate dean, M.A./M.S.M. degrees, and professor of Old Testament. "They are designed to meet leadership needs in congregations and within diverse ecumenical, ethnic and economic populations."

Some noteworthy concentrations include:

  • Since 2003, the Youth and Family concentration has been offered both residentially and as a distributed learning program. The course work is the same for both programs, but the latter enables
    students to continue their youth work in congregations across the country while they study (see article on page 8).

  • The M.A. in Islamic Studies continues to thrive. "This program has been well positioned to respond to the increased desire on the part of Christians since 9/11 to understand Islam and to work with Muslims both nationally and internationally,"Jacobson said."We have strengthened our ties to the Muslim community in the Twin Cities.We have military chaplains and even several Muslims enrolled in our program. Alongside this concentration, we have added a new concentration in Mission and World Christianity. This program should help strengthen our ties with various international institutions of higher learning."

  • The new specialization in Congregational Mission and Leadership matches another strategic initiative. "With the addition of a second full time position (see Kelly Fryer article on page 21) and the influx of students in the new D.Min. in this area (see page 11), this concentration will help us meet the growing need not only for leaders in congregational mission, but also for scholars trained to contribute to the burgeoning field of congregational studies," Jacobson noted.

  • Luther Seminary is working towards integrating its CenteredLife initiative into the curriculum through its Ministry in Daily Life concentration. "This specialization has the potential of educating congregational leadership for lay ministry and fostering intimate connections with various congregations and organizations committed to the ministry of the laity," Jacobson said.

  • Several of the concentrations and specializations help Luther form fruitful partnerships with a variety of other institutions in the Twin Cities and elsewhere. In both the M.S.M. and the dual M.A./M.S.W. degrees, the seminary partners with other educational institutions (St. Olaf for the M.S.M. program, Augsburg, St. Catherine's and St. Thomas for the M.S.W. program).

  • Many of the Cross Cultural Studies courses are offered in partnership with other national and international ministries. The rural courses are often offered at Shalom Hill Farm in Windom, Minn. The urban courses are offered as part of a collaboration within the Minnesota Consortium of Theological Schools as well as through the Seminary Consortium for Urban Pastoral Education (SCUPE) in Chicago.

  • The group of adjuncts who help to teach courses in Educational Leadership are located in congregations throughout the Twin Cities.

  • In the area of Congregational and Community Care, students and faculty make use of Luther's connections with hospitals, colleges and congregations, and are developing a relationship with the nursing school at the University of Minnesota. "These partnerships and others both help our students receive a broad and varied education, and help Luther Seminary to stay connected to local, national and international congregations and communities," Jacobson said.

Making a Match with M.A./M.S.M. Alums and Christian Communities

What does an M.A./M.S.M. graduate do? The choices are many. In the case of those with the M.S.M. degree or Youth and Family specialization, congregations are clamoring for them. A number of M.A./M.S.M. students from the ELCA are also candidates for rostered ministry. These students are working toward being one of the public leaders in the ELCA, rostered as either an Associate in Ministry, a Diaconal Minister, or a Deaconess. The Contextual Leadership Initiative Office is available to work with candidates for Diaconal Ministry in securing a field experience, and the Office of Candidacy and Placement oversees the entire candidacy process for candidates. Currently, 24 M.A. students are at some stage in preparation for rostered ministry in the ELCA.

The Office of Candidacy and Placement also helps students with traditional career development issues (such as job hunting, resumes and cover letters, interviewing and compensation negotiation). In addition, the office works with students to better identify and articulate their own vocation goals. "The goal of the office is less about placement of students in jobs and more about helping each student reach their vocational goals through strengthsbased counseling and networking ideas," said Krista Lind, ELCA candidacy and placement coordinator at Luther Seminary.

The ELCA recently launched a new nationwide,Web-based mobility system entitled "People and Places" specifically for lay rostered leaders to help them find calls that suit their gifts.

"At Luther, we have been eager to encourage the church to think outside the box in creatively using the talents of those whose call is to something other than the ministry of the ordained," Lind said. "We have begun this conversation by hosting a 'Stirring the Imagination' conference, which sought to hear the stories of lay rostered leaders, and think strategically about how seminaries, synods and candidates can work together to lift up the gifts of all theologically trained leaders."

The M.A. programs at Luther Seminary include eight concentrations, with eleven specialties within these concentrations:


  • Old Testament
  • New Testament

History and Theology

  • History of Christianity
  • Systematic Theology

Islamic Studies

Mission and World Christianity (beginning in 2004-2005)

Cross Cultural Ministries

Congregational and Community Care

  • Aging
  • Faith and Health Ministries

Youth and Family (offered both residentially and through a distributive learning program)

Congregational Ministries and Leadership

  • Educational Leadership
  • Rural Ministries
  • Urban Ministries
  • Congregational Mission and Leadership
  • Ministry in Daily Life

In addition are the M.S.M. and the M.A. or M.Div. and Master of Social Work dual degree, in association with four nearby educational institutions: the colleges of St. Olaf, Augsburg, St. Catherine's and the University of St. Thomas.

Youth and Family M.A. student Ingelaurie Lisher (right) with two church youth.

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