By Paula Schlueter Ross
With about a fourth of this fall’s incoming ordination-track students at the Synod’s two seminaries enrolled in distance-education programs — and the opening last year of the Specific Ministry Pastor program — what will the future of pastoral education look like? Will distance education play a larger role? Will the church still need traditional, residential seminary programs?
Those questions and others were discussed by nearly 50 LCMS leaders at the Synod’s Pastoral Ministry Summit, Nov. 4-5 at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Ind. Most discussion groups expressed support for the church body’s two seminaries serving as the “main hubs” of theological education for 2015 and beyond, according to Dr. Glen Thomas, executive director of the LCMS Board for Pastoral Education (BPE).
Co-sponsored by the BPE and the LCMS President’s Office, the two-day summit included guest speaker Dr. Daniel Aleshire, executive director of the Association of Theological Schools, the accrediting agency for both LCMS seminaries, in Fort Wayne and St. Louis.
“Dr. Aleshire offers the perspective of one who oversees the accrediting agency for approximately 250 member seminaries and divinity schools in the United States and Canada,” noted Thomas. “He also knows the LCMS very well. He is able to speak as one who has a broad base of knowledge concerning seminary education — past, present, and future — and do so from an objective viewpoint.”
Thomas said Aleshire “did a marvelous job” and was “extremely helpful for us in providing, I think, a very unique and helpful perspective on the whole issue of a future vision for seminary education.”
Thomas said summit evaluations “were extremely positive,” and, even though not everyone agreed on everything, “discussions were collegial and participants were very respectful of one another.”
The summit was a mix of plenary sessions and breakout sessions in which participants formed small groups to formulate “visions” for the future of theological education in the Synod.
While the visions “differed in some respects, a majority of the groups agreed in several important areas,” according to Thomas. In addition to wide support for maintaining the two LCMS seminaries, there was “majority support” for:
- strengthening the partnership between the 10 Concordia University System schools and the seminaries,
- developing future “hybrid” theological education programs that incorporate the strengths of both distance and residential learning “to get the best of both worlds,” Thomas said, and
- identifying the best possible “teaching congregations” to serve as vicarage sites.
“Preparation and formation of future pastoral leaders in The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod is one of the most critical matters facing our Synod. That’s the primary reason for holding the summit,” said LCMS President Dr. Gerald B. Kieschnick. “I was delighted, but not surprised at all by the respectful and collegial conversation at the summit.
“Parish pastors, leaders of both seminaries, the Board for Pastoral Education, the Board of Directors, the Council of Presidents, and the Office of the President communicated cooperatively and collaboratively at the summit,” Kieschnick continued. “My hope and belief is that such collegial conversation will continue in the days and weeks ahead, so that a broad consensus regarding a plan for the future of pastoral formation can be determined with the involvement of all across the Synod who have a stake in the future of pastoral education.”
Dr. Dean O. Wenthe, president of Concordia Theological Seminary, said the summit was “very affirming and supportive of our two historic seminaries, with splendid suggestions for enhanced service on their part to the church through collaboration, distance education, satellites, etc.”
James F. Ralls Jr., chairman of the Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Board of Regents, said “it was quite valuable to be able to interact with so many church leaders and explore the many issues that face today’s seminary education leaders.”
A variety of topics were discussed, Ralls said, “and many ideas were proffered.” The summit “confirmed that the best approach going forward is to maintain our two seminaries and to expand the role of distance education and [the seminaries’] ongoing relationships with the Concordia University campuses.”
Rev. Wayne Graumann, senior pastor of Salem Lutheran Church, Tomball, Texas, and chairman of the Board of Regents at the Fort Wayne seminary, said the LCMS “depends on solid pastoral education and, at the same time, needs pastors who are trained in such a way that new technologies are utilized, new cultural groups are included, and synodwide resources are effectively identified.”
The summit, he said, “brought together a wide spectrum of Synod leaders to address these and other important topics,” and the fact that “wide unanimity” was reached on major goals was “heartening.”
“Both Boards of Regents were grateful for the discussion and for the consensus that seminary education at both of our seminaries is still at the forefront of planning for the needs of the Synod in the future,” Graumann added.
Posted Nov. 25, 2009