What is the nature of Christian ministry? What forms of ministry will best serve the mission of the Church in the world today? How can this Church in all its expressions work together for ministry? These are the questions before the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America today. They arise out of three contexts: 1) the formation of this church in 1988, 2) the changing world in which the Church serves, and 3) the ecumenical relationships this church has with other churches. The first context is the uniting of three closely related but not identical Lutheran church bodies — The American Lutheran Church (ALC), the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches (AELC), and the Lutheran Church in America (LCA). All three had identical patterns for ministry by ordained pastors. The other forms of ministry were not identical in the past — ALC commissioned church staff, AELC deaconesses and deacons, ALC and LCA deaconesses, AELC commissioned teachers, and LCA lay professional leaders, together with interim ELCA associates in ministry. Should these be retained, combined, or replaced? The second context is the world in which the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is called to serve today and in the coming years. This context is global in scope and is oriented toward the present and the future. What forms of ministry will this church require to serve its mission from God most faithfully and effectively today and in the years to come? The third context is the need for shared witness among the Christian churches throughout the world. To what extent can officially recognized forms of ministry structured according to churchwide standards contribute to or detract from that common mission? These questions reflect the challenge and opportunity for renewal in ministry before us.
The Constitutional Mandate
This report and its recommendations are directed at fulfilling the mandate which this church established in 1988. They are not an attempt to answer every important question about ministry which faces the Church. From its beginning, the Study of Ministry has been charged by continuing resolution 10.1l.A87 of the Constitution of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America:
During the same period of 1988-1994, this church shall engage in an intensive study of the nature of ministry, leading to decisions regarding appropriate forms of ministry that will enable this church to fulfill its mission. During the course of such study, special attention shall be given to: 1) the tradition of the Lutheran Church; 2) the possibility of articulating a Lutheran understanding and adaptation of the threefold ministerial office of bishop, pastor, and deacon and its ecumenical implication; and 3) the appropriate forms of lay ministries to be officially recognized and certified by this church, including criteria for certification, relation to synods, and discipline.
In addition, the proposal developed by the Division for Ministry [now the Vocation and Education unit] and approved by the Church Council of the ELCA (July 1988) added specific consideration of the ministry of all the baptized people of God to the scope of the study.
This study has been broadly consultative. Church-wide hearings (1989) and forums (1991) were conducted to give concerned members of this church direct access to task force members. Regular reports from the task force to all rostered persons and others interested in the process have been distributed. Consultations with a wide variety of experts and those most directly affected by the study, persons rostered in previous churches, were held. The preliminary report of the task force (1991) was distributed to more than thirty thousand persons. Each person receiving a copy was invited to share his or her response with the task force. Seminary faculties and other teaching theologians have been invited to contribute and respond to task force work. Preliminary recommendations from the task force have been available to the church within weeks of the time they were made by the task force, beginning in January of 1992. Task force members and the director have been available for presentations and consultation with interested groups throughout the process. (A fuller account of the process employed for the study is found in Appendix A .)
Part I of this report is a study of ministry which provides a context and foundation for Part II which sets forth rationale and specific recommendations on ministry within this church.