by President David L. Tiede
Class of 2004
The church is mildly interested in how many people are enrolled at Luther Seminary. What it really cares about is how many will graduate ready to lead Christian communities in the callings God gives them. As one bishop said, "We need more of your graduates, and we need them smarter, stronger and sooner!" What does that mean to you?
"Smarter" means IQ (intelligence quotient). It also means EQ (emotional intelligence) and LQ (wisdom for leadership), and especially GQ (discernment of the gospel). When the graduates process across the platform at Central Lutheran Church in downtown Minneapolis, the faculty in the front rows are proud of their bright scholars. They know that many will prove to be superb pastors, musicians, youth leaders and evangelical ministers. After an annual meeting or two, the graduates will have learned lessons the school could not teach. "Smarter" means readiness to learn from others and to listen to what the Spirit is saying in the mission contexts of the churches. The deepest lessons will require a lifetime. "Go and learn what this means," said our Lord, "I desire mercy, not sacrifice." (Mt 9.13)
"Stronger" means depth of faith, sturdiness of character and healthy living. Leadership in Christian communities is taxing work, never finished, open to criticism, enmeshed in family and community systems. God's gift of forgiveness in Christ Jesus still confronts sin in the church and the world. A dean from the University of Minnesota reviewed our curriculum after its reform in the late 1990s. He said, "This is a remarkable educational strategy to prepare people to lead in a time of mission." Then he paused, "The single biggest predictor of your success will be who comes in the front door of the seminary." Agreed! And the largest factor in our practical control is how burdened are our graduates by their debt load. "Stronger" means spiritual, physical, emotional and financial health.
"Sooner" means the church needs these leaders now. The current shortage of first call candidates will increase as the retirement curve catches up with the roster. God is in these changes too, teaching the church to value its leaders, inviting new configurations of congregations and staffing, and creating space to develop community-based leadership. One graduate smiled, "I crammed four years of seminary into nine!" She was teaching when she began, gave birth to two children, and attended well to her studies. But the slow path is often required to keep bread on the table, and still the debt mounts. "Sooner" means providing encouragement, support and incentives to complete seminary.
The news is promising. For the past few years, we have asked you to join the prayer to the Lord of the harvest for laborers (Mt 9.37-38). The Alumni/ae Calling Team (ACT, see www.luthersem.edu/act) has sought to rally 5,000 recruiters in communities throughout the nation and the world. The Previews campus days of high school students with their pastors and youth leaders have expanded to 500 participants. And the enrollments rose this past year, with a sharp increase coming next September. A large class will come in our front door next year, and they excel by the "smarter" and "stronger" measures.
Be careful when you pray, but never cease. The students who are our answered prayers are also our sacred trust. We are going to need hundreds of congregations and individuals to "adopt a seminarian" so they can finish "sooner" and "stronger." They will make their sacrifices, take on the mantles of their callings, and discipline themselves to get ready. This is joyful, complex, and costly work. You can walk with them and make a difference.
View this issue as a PDF.