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Story Magazine

Third Quarter 2006

D.Min.’s Project Becomes Call for Transformation for Moravian Congregations

by Andrew Behrendt, Master of Divinity Student

Betsy Miller joined Luther Seminary's Doctor of Ministry (D.Min.) program in Congregational Mission and Leadership because it closely matched her new job title with the Moravian Church. And what a match it proved to be: Her first major course project became a call for transformation that was presented to leaders of about 40 Moravian churches from Michigan to California this year.

"I never would have done that project had I not been in the D.Min. program," Miller says. "The project forced me to create a new way to communicate a whole new concept to my colleagues and therefore with the leaders." Miller, of Lake Mills,Wis., was a pastor for 20 years before becoming director of congregational leadership and resources for the Moravian Church in North America'sWestern District of the Northern Province in early 2005. Just then, she came across an advertisement for the Luther program's suitably titled Congregational Mission and Leadership concentration and was compelled to apply. "It was one of those God things," she says.

In Miller's first course, Systematic Theology Professor Gary Simpson required students to create a PowerPoint presentation--something completely new for Miller. Meanwhile, the leaders in her district aimed to motivate their roughly 40 Moravian churches into transforming from inwardly focused "maintenance congregations" into "missional congregations" that make disciples and actively participate in God's mission to the world.

Miller's course project and the Moravians' gear-shifting goals soon became united. After some revising, district leaders in early 2006 presented the PowerPoint project to local leaders at all churches in their expansive region and made DVD copies available for all congregations.

"It gave everybody a common language. It provided a wake-up call and a common goal toward which to strive," Miller says.The doctoral program "broadened a personal educational opportunity into a denominational educational opportunity," she says. "It's applied--it's practical. It assumes you're in the midst of doing something and that you want to be more effective at doing it."

Miller, now in her second year of Luther's five-year program, notes that the once-foreign PowerPoint has become a regular tool in her work with the district's churches. And she has begun to incorporate the language and theology of the missional church into her presentations and sermons.

"Everything that I'm doing at Luther is rolling into what I'm doing in the church," she said. "That's the goal for all D.Min students, most of whom serve local congregations. I am able, however, to apply my learnings at the denominational level. It  is very exciting."

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