By Kali Thiel
In 2019, the LCMS in convention adopted Resolution 9-05, recognizing director of church ministries (DCM) as a new position on the LCMS Minister of Religion—Commissioned roster. Concordia University Wisconsin (CUW), Mequon, Wis., now offers a Bachelor of Arts in Director of Church Ministries degree program that aims to meet the needs of the church by training individuals for the DCM position.
Similar to the director of Christian education (DCE), director of Christian outreach (DCO) or director of family life ministries (DFLM) designations, DCMs are equipped to aid in various congregational responsibilities such as visiting shut-ins, leading Bible classes, organizing vacation Bible school and the like.
However, a key distinction for the new CUW degree is its focus on nonprofit management. The DCM program prepares learners for ministry by exposing them to a solid foundation of theological classes while interspersing courses that focus on nonprofit fundraising, marketing and communication, legal issues and change management.
At the helm of the CUW program is the Rev. Dr. Kurt Taylor, who brings 24 years of experience as a parish pastor and also serves as chaplain lieutenant colonel in the United States Air Force. Prior to joining Concordia’s faculty in 2018, Taylor served as senior pastor at St. John’s Lutheran Church and School in Waltz, Mich.
“We want to train church workers who are both theologically and practically competent,” said Taylor. “There’s an issue of a growing pastor shortage within the Lutheran church, and overworked pastors are a very real concern in many congregations. This new program will prepare graduates to point people to the cross of Christ, and will alleviate some of the responsibilities that have been historically placed on pastors, thus giving them more time and energy for the preaching of the Word and administration of the Sacraments.”
Theological and practical training
Hannah Gillrup, a May 2020 graduate of CUW, is the first CUW graduate to receive a call under the DCM designation, and even more DCMs are in the pipeline. Nearly 30 on-campus undergraduates are currently enrolled in the program, and an additional 15 are enrolled online.
From the start of her college career, Gillrup knew she wanted to major in communications but also felt a desire to serve within the church. When Taylor alerted her to the upcoming program opportunity, she quickly decided it would be the right fit. She added a DCM minor her junior year.
In July, Gillrup received a call to Our Savior Lutheran Church in Laurel, Md., and has been eager to put her training to work. Within her first months on the job, Gillrup undertook a comprehensive audit of Our Savior’s website and ultimately advised that the church move to an updated platform. She has become active in handling social media and weekly and monthly email communications on behalf of the church, and plays a vital role in managing the Our Savior events calendar.
“We’re excited to have somebody who has so much versatility in the training that she received,” said the Rev. Peter DeMik, senior pastor of Our Savior. “That kind of mixture of theological training as well as communications has not been something that was around in the past.”
Meeting the church’s needs
The DCM program replaces the Lay Ministry program at CUW, which most recently was directed by the Rev. Dr. John Oberdeck. When Oberdeck retired in 2018, Concordia saw a natural opportunity to assess the program in light of the needs expressed by congregations.
“The number one request we get from congregations seeking CUW graduates is for youth directors,” Taylor said.
Those who major in the DCM program at CUW can specialize in one of five areas, including youth ministry. Students with this specialization:
- Complete requisite youth ministry academic courses;
- Spend a semester interning at an LCMS congregation, specifically under a called youth director; and
- Participate in CUW’s on-campus youth ministry teams, which regularly serve congregations throughout the semester by leading youth events.
In addition to her communications role at Our Savior, Gillrup holds responsibilities with the church’s child care program and with youth in confirmation up through high school. She also is gearing up to start a young adult ministry.
“The fact that my work is officially recognized as a called position within the LCMS gives it validity, which has been especially important for me, being young,” Gillrup said. “I have gifts that I know are valuable to the church, and there is no greater place to use them than to further the church.”
Kali Thiel (firstname.lastname@example.org) is director of University Communications for Concordia University Wisconsin, Mequon, Wis., and Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Mich.
Posted Nov. 20, 2020