Story Magazine - Second Quarter, 2003

Focusing on Leadership

While participants brainstormed, President Tiede took notes.

In the past eight years Luther Seminary's mission to "educate leaders for Christian communities" has meant re-examining what these communities need in their leaders and initiating broad-sweeping curriculum changes to meet these needs. Did the changes work? Luther Seminary sought to find out.

In 1995, Luther Seminary President David Tiede visited seven congregations in the Midwestern and Western United States. He undertook it, he said, "as a Lenten journey by the seminary to listen more than speak, to learn more than teach."

In 1997, three-person teams of seminary faculty, students and staff visited congregations as part of a Lilly grant to evaluate Luther's effectiveness in meeting the needs of its graduates.

Now, five years later, the self-evaluation process continues with an initiative called "Focus on Leadership." Teams from Luther Seminary, led by Dr. Paul Berge, professor emeritus of New Testament, conducted focus groups in 12 congregations. It was a time to find out what the Spirit is saying to the church and also a time to reflect on ways in which Luther

Seminary is responding to the leadership needs of the next generation of church leaders.

On May 8, Luther Seminary invited members of the 12 participating congregations to an on-campus Focus on Leadership Summit. The participants heard a summary of findings, attended chapel and classes, and met in small groups to brainstorm ways Luther Seminary and congregations can work together to train future leaders for mission.

Summit participants had one driving concern for the seminary and the whole church: prayer. God's word is clear: "...ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.

The Focus Group Summary

During the congregational visits, members and leaders were asked to describe their church.

Each of the 12 congregations reported change in their community and their church. Half of them noted their membership did not reflect the demographics of their immediate neighborhood. The largest change in congregations was in worship style and/or time of worship.

When asked how they equipped members for their callings, most congregations cited specific programs, gift discernment, education and Bible study. Many reflected on what should or could be done rather than what actually is taking place.

Most of the congregations interviewed indicated that they either were working on or wanted to work more on instilling a deeper Christian commitment among members and also wanted to be more intentional about mission and outreach.

When describing the specific leadership qualities of a church, "visionary" was by far the most frequently noted. Next came the abilities to be flexible, to think outside the box and to empower others.

With less than a third of the demand for first call pastors met each year, would members encourage those with gifts for ministry to become pastors? This question stimulated advice about what would be helpful in nurturing a call to professional church leadership.

Interviews showed strong support for lay professional church leadership and partnership in ministry on many levels. Participants also recognized the difficulties of sufficiently funding such positions.

Nearly every congregation visited said they would like more interaction with Luther Seminary. Some congregations were surprised to hear that only 16 percent of seminaries' educational costs are paid by benevolence systems of the ELCA. The congregations recognized that they had some responsibility in helping fund seminary education.

The last question made in the focus group always generated a lot of discussion: If you could make one statement to the president or faculty of Luther Seminary, what would you say? Some comments included:
"Leaders coming out of Luther Seminary are great!"
"Work to develop relationships with individual congregations."
"Communicate seminary needs more."
"Encourage faculty to address issues and model healthy dialogue."

Luther Seminary will continue to work with these congregations and others to learn how they can help each other equip the church for mission and ministry through effective ordained and lay leadership.