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Students sitting outside Bockman

Story Magazine

Third Quarter 2004

Meet Kelly Fryer

Assistant Professor of Congregational Leadership

When Kelly Fryer looks around, she sees a changing world. “The mission field isn’t ‘out there’ anymore,” she says. “It’s here in our own communities. Yet we tend to do church in a way that’s out of sync with the mission field that surrounds us.” Fryer’s title, a new one at Luther, signals a new understanding of congregational leadership. “We must reimagine and rethink what it means to be church, and that means we must reimagine and rethink what it means to be a leader,” she says. Fifty years ago, church was what happened when people gathered inside the building. “But in a mission field, the church is not a gathering place, but a place from which people are sent,” Fryer says. “Our job is to equip people to work in the world—in banks, beauty parlors, or offices. This view of church changes the meaning of leadership.” Congregational leaders need to understand the context, speak the language, and understand the needs and perspectives of the congregation. This might mean learning Spanish or the dialect of Chicago’s Southside, understanding Islam or suburban life. An adult convert, Fryer became a Lutheran because she loved the theology of “a God who always comes down to meet us.” This grace-filled message is “at the heart of what it means to be Lutheran,” she says. Ordained in 1989, Fryer holds a master’s in theology from Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago where she is completing a Ph.D. with an emphasis on missiology. Before coming to Luther, she led Cross of Glory, a redeveloping mission congregation in Chicago. Fryer hopes that her students will leave class with a sense of urgency, a spirit of adventure, and the courage to try new things. “This is God’s world. It’s a good world, but it’s broken. God has called us to be partners in making it whole,” she says, adding, “Either the church is in mission, or it isn’t the church.”