ELCA Colleges / Congregation Connections
This article appeared in March / April 2005 — Volume 21, Number 2
Institutions for higher learning in the ELCA do more than educate the students who walk through their doors. Two universities tell their stories of how they are bringing useful resources into area congregations for the equipping and enriching of the saints there.
Equipping God’s People for Mission by Ernst F. Tonsing
Lay Training for Leadership by Richard W. Rouse
Education Study Underway by John R. Stumme
Equipping God’s People for Mission
by Ernst F. Tonsing
In 1998, Reg Schultz-Akerson, the Assistant to the President for Church Relations at California Lutheran University (CLU), voiced a concern to his associates that the congregations of Region 2 of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America were underutilizing the resources in their colleges and universities. More than just shipping students off for four years and then receiving them back into the congregations, Pastor Schultz-Akerson wondered if the rich trove of knowledge and skills could also be tapped by them in order to prepare laity for ministry.
He held a series of ten focus groups for pastors and lay leaders throughout Region 2 to enlist their ideas. The feedback was enthusiastic: they stressed a “pressing need” to “equip, train, and empower the laity” and compiled a list of topics to be considered. They welcomed the possibility of using the talented staff of the university, but only if they could come to the congregations at an affordable cost.
With these insights, a proposal was submitted to Aid Association for Lutherans (now Thrivent Financial for Lutherans) on December 1, 1998, intending to make available professors, administrators, and staff members of CLU to conduct workshops and consultations. The project was named “Equipping God’s People for Mission,” and a two-year pilot project was conducted, with feedback to do some fine tuning. AAL provided the seed money, and the congregations were asked to contribute a modest $125 (it is now $175) for each workshop.
|As of this writing, more than 50 workshops and consultations have been conducted. Universally, the response has been “A delight!” “Superior!” “Wonderful! Can we do it again?”|
With the assistance of Linda LeBlanc in the Church Relations Office, presenters were contacted, and in March 1999 a brochure was distributed to 775 congregations. Copies were given to university representatives with the request that they contact five or six congregations to inform them of the program, and others were issued to those who spoke in churches for “CLU Sunday” in late April. The offerings were listed on CLU’s Web site as well. By the spring of 2000, the program was underway.
Particular care was taken to enable congregations to make their requests as convenient as possible. Four steps were outlined. First, a congregation would select a workshop from the brochure or a topic that was of interest and pick two or three dates upon which the session could take place. Second, the request would be submitted to the CLU Church Relations Office by phone or e-mail. Third, the Church Relations Office would call the presenter, who would contact the congregation directly to make the arrangements. Fourth, transportation and housing would be set up by the Church Relations Office.
The brochure from the Church Relations Office now lists 86 topics offered by 30 presenters. They cover many subjects that challenge congregational members today. For example, under the subject of Administration, one can learn about “Crisis Management: Media Tips,” “Developing and Maintaining Healthy Pastor-Council Relationships,” or “Multimedia in the Church Setting.” Under Bible, Theology and Christian History, congregations can examine the Prophets, the Gospels, and St. Paul, investigate “Early Christian Art,” talk about the “History of Christian Marriage,” find “New Light on Martin Luther,” and sift through “The DaVinci Code: Facts in the Fiction.”
Christian Education and Schools is a category under which congregations can inquire about such issues as “Educating for Character” and “Enhancing the Evangelism Potential of Preschools and Day Schools.” “How to Teach an Effective Lesson for Sunday School Classrooms” is designed to assist preschool through high-school teachers.
Equipping the Baptized for Ministry in Daily Life has 16 offerings, from “Ethics in the Workplace,” “Living the Faith,” and “Women and the Word” to “Cultural Differences in the Community and Workplace.” Evangelism is treated in “I Witness: Invitational Outreach,” and Family and Parenting in “A Parent’s Guide for Managing and Coping with Difficult Teenagers” and “Judicious Parenting.” Prayer and Spirituality stresses practical workshops such as “Defining Spirituality: What Is It? How Does It Work?”
The class entitled, Social Issues, tackles thorny problems in “The Changing American Family,” “Civil Rights and Religion,” “Homosexuality: A Second Look,” and “Violence and the Media.” Those responsible for Worship and Music can learn “How to Hear God’s Word in Sermons” and explore “Using Drama to Communicate the Gospel.” Youth is the focus of “Getting to Know the Youth of Today — The Millennial Generation,” and “The ‘Non-Negotiable’ Priority of Youth and Family Ministry in the Life of Every Parish” (also titled “How Many Handles Are on the Inside of the Church’s Bathroom Door?”).
As of this writing, more than 50 workshops and consultations have been conducted. Universally, the response has been “A delight!” “Superior!” “Wonderful! Can we do it again?” As one presenter remarked, “When 50 people gather for a day-long workshop on a Super Bowl weekend, you know that something important is going on.”
Ernst F. Tonsing is professor emeritus of religion and Greek at California Lutheran University and an ELCA pastor. For further information, visit the Church Relation pages on California Lutheran University’s Web site at www.clunet.edu/Administrative_Offices/Church_Relations/Workshops.htm or contact the Church Relations Office at (805) 493-3936.
Lay Training for Leadership
by Richard W. Rouse
“I feel like my faith has really come alive since I’ve learned how to connect it with my daily life,” exclaimed a 40-year-old medical technician and confirmation teacher. “I now understand that God is calling me to use my gifts to make a difference in the lives of others,” gushed a 30-something single mother, bank clerk, and part-time youth volunteer. They were among 60 lay and clergy participants who attended the annual Summer Theological Conference held at Pacific Lutheran University (PLU) in July 2004.The topic was: “Is There Faith in our Future? Nurturing Leaders, Youth, and Families for Purposeful Living.”
|“I feel like my faith has really come alive since I’ve learned how to connect it with my daily life,” exclaimed a 40-year-old medical technician and confirmation teacher.|
For more than 25 years, pastors and lay leaders from congregations in the Pacific Northwest and beyond have gathered on the PLU campus each summer to grapple with the issues of faith and life. About ten years ago, the summer conference that had served primarily as a continuing education event for clergy was re-purposed as a congregational leadership training program. Pastors have since been encouraged to bring teams of laity so they can learn and grow together by thinking theologically about their work in the church and in the world. They have been challenged by such speakers as Douglas John Hall, Tim Lull, Leonard Sweet, Luke Timothy Johnson, Dan Erlander, as well as members of the PLU religion faculty.
More recently, the PLU Institute for Clergy and Congregational Renewal was established with the purpose of equipping all the baptized for their ministry in the world. The premise of the institute is this: “It is important for the church to have a theologically trained laity who are enriched and empowered for ministry in the world.” As the program arm of the Office of Church Relations, the institute now provides a variety of continuing theological education opportunities for laity and clergy alike such as the annual Winter Theological Conference, lectures, workshops, and training events, as well as online learning options such as live and archival video streaming which features seminar speakers over PLU’s LUTECAST.
In addition, the institute works with PLU’s new Center for Religion, Cultures, and Society in the West, a research project directed by professor of religion, Dr. Patricia Killen, and coeditor / author of the book Religion and Public Life in the Pacific Northwest: The None Zone (Altamira Press, 2004)
All of these educational efforts are in concert with PLU’s mission: “educating for lives of thoughtful inquiry, leadership, service, and care.” As a university of the church, PLU, like its sister colleges, is proud of a rich legacy of leadership and service based on Martin Luther’s theology of vocation. Luther believed that all Christians are called in baptism to love and serve God and the neighbor in all arenas of life — in the workplace, in church, at home, and in the community. The PLU institute seeks to help the baptized people of God live out their faith in daily life and to be more effective “front line missionaries” of God’s love in the world.
One of the institute’s strategies is to help congregations change their culture and become training or discipling centers that will equip and empower laity for ministry in daily life. The Transformational Leadership Project has been proposed as a joint venture of PLU, Luther Seminary, Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, and other partners to assist congregations with this task.
The ELCA recently adopted five strategic directions to guide its work in the coming years. Its fifth objective is one that lifts up the ministry of all the baptized: “Assist this church to bring forth and support faithful, wise, and courageous leaders whose vocations serve God’s mission in a pluralistic world.”
It is important to recognize that PLU, along with other educational partners, will play a key role in helping the larger church achieve this strategic outcome. All of us are part of a growing system of training and support of laity for their leadership in the church and the world. In the Pacific Northwest, PLU has already collaborated with the Affiliated Learning Partners — who include Concordia University, Trinity Lutheran College, and the Lutheran Educational Network and Support (LENS) — that is the coordinating board for continuing education programming for both ELCA and The Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod. In addition, PLU is part of a larger theological education network called the Western Mission Network. This network involves all ELCA colleges, seminaries, continuing education centers, campus ministry sites, synods, and others in Regions 1, 2, and 3. This year the network held its annual consultation in January using the theme “Re-Visioning Theological Education for the Sake of the Baptized in the World” and also conducted a one-day conference on “Faith in Daily Life.”
PLU is committed to serving the congregations and synods of the church in the Pacific Northwest. While the university has provided some staff and program funding through the Office of Church Relations, financial support comes largely from registration fees as well as grants from institutions such as the Templeton Foundation and Thrivent Financial for Lutherans. Recently, PLU received two grants from Thrivent, one to help launch a new Youth Leadership Institute and the other to help fund a charitable-giving educational program for congregations.
What have we learned over the past ten years of our work with pastors and congregational leaders?
- It was important to survey what congregations perceived they wanted and needed to strengthen their ministries. Initially, PLU and LENS co-hosted a series of synodical meetings with pastors and key lay leaders as a follow-up to a mailed questionnaire. We also relied on national surveys such as one conducted a few years ago in Seeds of the Parish by the Division for Ministry and ELCA Lifelong Learning Partners.
- It is crucial to provide a learning environment where pastors, church staff, and congregational members can learn and grow together. We have discovered that it is especially effective and transformational when parish teams are able to wrestle with theological issues and seek practical solutions to the challenges of ministry in their particular cultural context.
- Congregations have discovered that the university has rich resources to share with the church. PLU, along with other learning partners, have a treasure trove of faculty, research, technology, and educational programs, combining the best of current scholarship with faith-based values and tradition.
Richard W. Rouse is Director of Church Relations at Pacific Lutheran University, Tacoma, Washington.
Education Study Underway
by John R. Stumme
A new study on education, Our Calling in Education: A Lutheran Study, has been published in print and on the Web. This is the first publication in the development of a social statement on education that will be considered at the 2007 Churchwide Assembly. ELCA leaders are encouraged to read, discuss, and respond to the study as a way to contribute to the development of the eventual social statement.
The study, comprehensive in scope, deals with education in both our church and society. It offers a basis for members to reflect together on our calling to educate in the Christian faith and to work with others for good educational institutions and just educational policies in our society.
Our Calling in Education is intended for congregations, groups of pastors, educators in ELCA early childhood education centers and elementary and secondary schools; public school educators; parents and older youth; professors, students, and boards in seminaries and church-related colleges; campus ministries; and other individuals and groups in our church.
A 16-member ELCA Task Force on Education, named by the board of the Division for Church in Society, prepared the study. The Division for Higher Education and Schools as well as the Division for Ministry work closely with the task force. Task force members represent individuals from a range of experience, expertise, and perspectives.
The six parts of the study include: Introducing the Study; Education in Light of Our Faith in God; Educating in the Faith for Vocation; Educating Children and Youth in the Faith; Educating Young People in Public Schools; and Our Church in Higher Education.
Groups may study the whole of Our Calling in Education or select parts of it. A response form with questions is provided to encourage readers to share their ideas with the task force. Individuals, as well as groups, are invited to respond to the study. The deadline for responses is October 1, 2005.
In light of comments submitted by readers of the study, the task force will then prepare a first draft of the proposed social statement for distribution throughout the ELCA at the beginning of 2006.
Our Calling in Education may be downloaded in its entirety from the Web at www.elca.org/socialstatements/education. It may also be ordered from Augsburg Fortress Publishers (800-328-4648), ISBN 6-0002-0196-6. Cost is $3 plus shipping. Single, complimentary copies may be obtained by calling the ELCA Division for Church in Society resource request line (800-638-3522, ext. 2996).
For further information, visit the task force’s Web site at www.elca.org/socialstatements/education. You may also direct your questions to the Rev. John R. Stumme (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; or 800-638-3522, ext. 2704)
John R. Stumme is director for the Department for Studies, the Division for Church in Society, ELCA, Chicago, Illinois.