Saturday, November 21, 2015

Shaping pastors for the church they find or the church that should be. . .

There has been much discussion about the supposed and real differences between Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne and Concordia Seminary in St. Louis.  I would not presume to present an informed study of the differences but I do have a few notions based upon some experience on campus and some experience interviewing seminarians from both schools (though certainly not a representative sample).

Concordia St. Louis (CSL) seems to have adopted either a conscious choice or a default position to prepare pastors to serve the great diversity of parishes within the Synod.  It feels as if CSL has listened to the District Presidents and to the parishes and heard the message that both DPs and congregations want pastors who will respect things as they find them.  I do not mean to suggest that this constitutes an insistence that nothing be changed.  What I do mean is that CSL trains pastors for what they will find when they get to the parish.  In the worship of the chapel, for example, there is a broad diversity of music and forms that, while they do not mirror everything you will find in the parish, they do give a nod to the diversity of musical styles and instruments, worship patterns and forms, participants and leaders.

CSL is missional in the way that term is bantered about among us today but it also attempts to be traditional -- seeing the main thing as what works.  CSL has not only Bach at the Sem but the Crave Coffeehouse ministry, both decidedly out of the mainstream of the ordinary LCMS parish.  It is less that CSL is wedded to an ideology than to doing what needs to be done.  If it is praise band, then we will do a praise band.  If it is liturgy, then we will do liturgy... etc.

Concordia Fort Wayne (CFW) seems to hold up an ideal and prepares pastors to bring parishes into the fullness of Lutheran identity and life.  If DPs and parishes have a problem with CFW pastors, it is because they are intent upon the changes that bring the fullness of Lutheran confessional identity into the parish's worship, teaching, and life.  They seem to train pastors toward the goal or outcome rather than how things are on the ground, so to speak.  I do not mean to suggest that this is arbitrary or that they insist upon changing everything right away.  Rather, I sense that they will move the parish deliberately and intently toward the goal of the fullest and richest Lutheran confessional identity possible.  So the worship life at CFW flows from the hymnal, utilizes a rich and diverse musical palate in which the pipe organ is the central instrument, because the hymnal is our book and the expectation is that worship in the parish will be from that hymnal.

CFW is confessional in the way that term is bantered about among us but it is also creative in the use of technology and social media, for example, in the pursuit of this confessional Lutheran mission.  CFW hosts an international student body and an international presence in Lutheran bodies from Africa to Russia to the Baltic to South America.  You will not find a praise band at CFW but you will find the worship life of the chapel mirrored in far off places from Siberia to Lithuania to Kenya.

I may be off base here but I don't think so.  And it brings up a great question.  Should we shape pastors to serve the congregation they will find or should we shape them for the parish it should become?  I suppose the best answer is yes to both -- yes, we will train pastors to serve in whatever circumstance they find but we will also train them to lead the parish into the fullest expression of confessional Lutheran doctrine and practice possible -- gently, pastorally, but intentionally and authoritatively.  If you have to choose, I lean to CFW.  Our church body and our parishes benefit most when their pastors have a clear idea of what it means to be Lutheran, what it is that Lutherans confess and teach, and are willing to catechize, teach, and lead the parish toward this goal. 

Having served a couple of parishes half a continent apart, the hardest question to answer for many of our people and parishes is the most basic one -- what does it mean to be Lutheran?  Liturgy and outreach are falsely accused of being either competitive or in conflict.  Where the Divine Service is celebrated richly and fully and consistent with our Lutheran Confessions, people will be equipped for and directed to the mission of the church.  Where the Lutheran faith is taught with conviction and confidence, people will be given the tools to witness confidently and boldly in their homes, neighborhoods, workplaces, and communities.


Anonymous said...

I agree with this essay. I like the recommendation. HRB

Anonymous said...

If this comparison is valid, that would make St. Louis into the practical seminary, i.e. the new Springfield if you will. Now that's a flip-flop.

Anonymous said...

When I joined the Lutheran Church in 1964, there seemed to be no doubt in the mind of any as what it meant to be a Lutheran. As the years went by, uncertainty crept in, little by little. The faith was gradually modified from the top by the repeated introduction of new hymnals. You cannot change the way you worship without changing the faith you are professing -- Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi.

I did not wish to change, which I why I went to Continuing Anglicanism, essentially no significant change from what I had believed all along.

Continuing Anglican Priest

Anonymous said...

You are correct in your assessment. St. Louis is the practical seminary by all accounts. What a decided change that has occurred in our two seminaries. St.Louis is a mixed bag of theology and practice, more so than Ft. Wayne seminary. Seems that Ft.Wayne is decidedly more confessional. All of this is a reflection of the mixed-bag that the LCMS is these days with all kinds of theology and practice at work.

Carl Vehse said...

Tullian Tchividjian was the Concordia Seminary March 19, 2015, Reformation500 speaker, advertised in the Reporter as “bring[ing] his own legacy of American Christianity and ministry. He is the grandson of famed evangelist Billy Graham.”
The Concordia Seminary faculty’s website, Concordia Theology, also promoted Tchividjian as the 2015 Reformation500 speaker, “Tchividjian will put spotlight on Luther’s legacy in American Christianity.”

His selection by Concordia Seminary as a Reformation500 speaker was discussed in the BJS thread, "Inviting Tullian Tchividjian Gave the Wrong Impression." Of course, in June, as the Washington Post article reports, Tullian revealed another legacy.

Rev William Smith Jr said...

I would not be surprised if you are on the money with this comparison, Pastor. And I do appreciate your answer, that yes, and yes, our seminarians should be trained to meet the congregation where it is at, and to guide, teach, shepherd them to where they should be as Lutherans, centered in the Word, proclaiming the Gospel that beckons to them.

As a first-year seminarian at CFW, I am still befuddled by why we separate the two schools into the traditional, stodgy, hymnal camp (yes, we are the ones who use the hymnal, as one member of my home congregation asked me before I came), and into the modern, happy clappy crowd (another member categorized CSL that way). CFW is not stodgy, and although I have never worshipped at CSL, I am sure they are not happy-clappy either.

The musical and congregational diversity at CFW is immense. We have highest of high church, a lot of middle of the road congregations, inner city, rural, missional, and contemporary without a single trapping of our ancient traditions. I am fortunate to serve in a middle of the road congregation.

With just one quarter, not including summer Greek, under my belt, I can assure you that the professors I have worked with all have guided us so far into doing exactly to what you said yes, yes. Meet the congregation where they are, preach the Gospel, expect slow change if at all. But above all, be prepared in season and out to preach the Gospel. And I do think you are right in saying our parishes benefit most when pastors have a clear idea what it means to be Lutheran. It has to be much easier to loosen our collars than tighten them.

Anonymous said...

Fort Wayne/Springfield and St. Louis have always been identified
by their faculty. For better or for worse the faculty has an
impact on the future pastors of the LCMS.

During the Preus Brothers years the Springfield/Ft.Wayne Seminary
upgraded their faculty in order to shed the label as the "practical
seminary". This seminary now has reputation for a competent faculty
with the necessary PH.D professors aboard

The St. Louis Seminary went through Seminex walkout and has survived.
Today, the seminary under Dr. Dale Meyer has become focused on the
task of preparing pastors for the 21st century.

Both LCMS Seminaries are doing their appointed task as they
educate and train future pastors to meet the challenge of today
and tomorrow.

Unknown said...

Hi. Graduate of Concordia St. Louis in 2007, here. This was not my experience at CSL at all. I came to love Lutheran theology, confessions, and worship through the seminary. I disagree with your assessment of CSL and I found that the things you desire from a seminary, related in the last two paragraphs, were exactly what I got while I was there.

Robert Portier said...

Thank you for so clearly stating things as I see them

Mark Squire said...

My experience echoes James Huenink's. I'm a 2011 graduate (MDiv) and had confessional pastors teach me solid Lutheran theology, in order to make sure that the people in the parish to which I was sent would be taught and live "the fullness of Lutheran identity and life." The center of my education was Christ crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2) and risen. If it hadn't been, I would have left immediately.

Also, I'm not sure why the author mentions the Pipe Organ as the "central instrument." It seems to undercut his argument, not help it.