Sunday, September 16, 2018

Entrepreneurially innovative leaders for the church. . . yeah, right. . .

So this was in the news:
Luther Seminary receives $21.4 million commitment to pilot a two-year Master of Divinity program

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Luther Seminary has received the largest single donation in its history: a $21.4 million commitment to pilot a two-year Master of Divinity program.

The two-year degree program, covering tuition and some living expenses for students, will launch in fall 2019 and enables students to shorten their education to two years from the current three to four years and ensures that they take on no new personal debt.

Dean Buntrock, the founder and former chairman and CEO of Waste Management, Inc., and long-time benefactor of Lutheran higher education, made the donation covering the five-year pilot program. The donation includes a year of planning and resources to add faculty and staff.

“This pilot project is designed to inspire and support innovative leadership development churchwide," Buntrock said. "It will attract exceptional candidates from across the nation who show potential to be spiritually strong, theologically faithful, and entrepreneurially innovative. The outcomes will lead to further church leadership innovation for years to come. It is also my hope that others in the church will step up and ensure the long term and broad sustainability of education for our church. ”

Buntrock’s gift builds on Luther’s new vision, new curriculum and, starting in fall 2018, the new Jubilee full tuition scholarship for all Master of Divinity and Master of Arts students admitted to Luther Seminary.

“This transformative investment by Dean Buntrock promotes game-changing innovation in educating church leaders, ultimately serving the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and church bodies across the nation,” said Rev. Dr. Robin J. Steinke, president of Luther Seminary.  “Luther Seminary’s new vision calls us to undertake exactly this kind of leadership formation, embedded within some of the most adaptive congregations we serve.

Students enrolled in this newly designed Master of Divinity will work through the curriculum year-round for two consecutive years while completing concurrent part-time congregational internships that provide high-impact learning experiences through real-world application. They will receive full-tuition scholarships, living expense stipends, books and other learning materials, computer software, and travel expenses for immersion experiences. They also will be paid for their internships in accordance with ELCA standards. In addition, by reducing the time spent in seminary to two years, students will realize a significant savings in living expenses, estimated at more than $100,000 per learner.

"Identifying, inviting, equipping, and supporting leaders is one of the highest priorities for our work in the ELCA,” said Presiding Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton, who launched the ELCA Leadership Initiative in November 2016. "We are thankful for Dean Buntrock's generous investment in Lutheran theological education and the benefits this innovative pilot program will have across the church."

Founded in 1869 by Norwegian Lutheran immigrants, Luther Seminary currently educates nearly 40 percent of the ELCA’s pastors and church leaders, provides continuing education to more than 3,000 pastors each year, and supports more than 50,000 pastors every week through our Working Preacher digital resource.

Our vision is this: the Holy Spirit calls Luther Seminary to lead faithful innovation for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in a rapidly changing world.
Okay so you read the press release.  Now, count how many times the term leader or its derivatives were used and then compare it to how many times the term pastor was used.  Get the picture?  This is less about preparing pastors than about leadership.  The pastoral office so highly esteemed in the Lutheran Confessions is being reshaped into primarily a leadership office and one that bears striking resemblance to the mainline and evangelical descriptions of a pastor but has little in common with the pivotal Lutheran texts of our history AND the historic understanding of the priestly office and the pastoral task.

Notice the emphasis on entrepreneurial leadership -- business people trained in marketing, visioning, positioning, and leading transformational change to meet the needs of a rapidly changing market world.  Ahhhhh, that about says it all.  The failure of the Church is its ability to catch the wind of change and capitalize on it, to rescue moribund congregational structures to rapidly adapt to the newest, latest, and freshest trends.  Yup, that is exactly the problem.  For example, the ELCA's problem is that it did not jump on the GLBTQ bandwagon fast enough or react to the diversity, coexist, and relativism of truth quickly enough.  If only they had leaders who could have switched gears more quickly.... Yes, that was/is its problem.  Take note, Missouri.  Your problem is you are too stodgy.

Did you read about connecting those short term students (two years vs three in classroom education) to an adaptive congregation while in seminary (what was once vicarage or internship over a whole year under the tutelage of a seasoned pastor)?  In other words, Luther Seminary will be looking to find those congregations that are adaptive to changing beliefs, practices, cultural trends, and social movements and connect these students to them in the hopes that they will learn how to bring change to the congregations they will begin serving in half the time it once took to prepare them to maintain what they found.  Half the time, greater expectation, and a higher bar set for them.  No matter what your theology, this is an odd development.  If doctors did the same, we would cut a few years off medical school and dispense with an internship and stick them in a clinic as soon as possible in places where they meet the greatest diversity of needs and ills.  But why is medicine NOT doing that?  Could it be that the change all around us requires more from those who must meet that change (much less manage it)?

I applaud the concern for student debt and the commitment NOT to finance seminary education on the backs of the seminarians.  Absolutely.  Missouri is trying to do this right now without shortchanging our students.  But the Church does not need faithful leaders from those who go to seminary.  The Church needs pastors.  Until we learn that lesson, we will mirror every business or social strategy while starving our people to death from bread that feeds the body without the Word and Table of the Lord to feed the soul.  And if we are producing good and faithful pastors and they are good and faithful in their callings, these are exactly the leaders we need (with, of course, the good, informed, and solid leadership of our gifted folks in the pews!).   


Ted Badje said...

It’s sad that people and congregations revert to marketing nonsense than the word of God.

ErnestO said...

Unlike the stodgy MS you can be sure the ELCA will have a proper percentage of gifted gender confused students enrolled in their new two year program. (What could go wrong?)

Anonymous said...

There is still a need for a residence program at the seminary
with 3 years on campus and 1 year of vicarage. The strong academic
curriculum and strong spiritual formation for our future pastors is
still needed. Seminarians do not need a condensed and compressed
experience to prepare for pastoral ministry. They need all 4 years
to be prepared for the rigor of being a parish pastor.

Anonymous said...

Church marketing? Ah, you mean the kind of "church growth" advocated by Fuller, Willow Creek, Saddleback, et. al. Do the ELCA leaders really believe that if they were to disguise their congregations as non-denominational that people would suddenly become interested in the ELCA? When will ELCA seminarians have time to study the authors of the Book of Concord when precious time and resources are needed for studying social justice topics? At this point, the best thing they could do from a marketing perspective is to drop the name "Lutheran" and adopt a "more inclusive" label.

If the seminaries are having trouble attracting students now, how many LGBTQ people are interested in going into the ministry. Even if the ELCA eventually succeeds in replacing all rostered pastors with LGBTQ people through attrition, how many laymen are actually interested in hearing social justice "sermons" in church every week. Despite what most universities and the "mainstream" media tell us, most Americans are conservative and are not interested in social justice topics. What good is 24 million dollars when the church buildings still remain empty?

By the way, regarding a quick and more cost-effective jump into the ministry: Isn't that what Missouri has done with various SMPs?

Anonymous said...

That’s all the world needs is an acceleration of mass-producing ELCA false prophets promulgating error. I wonder if Dean Buntrock is a personal friend of Peter Drucker and George Soros.