A Culture of CallAs God creates and sustains faith in each of us, God also calls and claims us. VE wants to encourage a culture of call in the church. Let’s live together believing that every person is called — to share the faith and to serve in daily life.Learn more about A Culture of Call
Theological Conversation for AllChristians worship, they think, they put faith into words. VE thinks people do those best when they are in continuing conversation together around God’s word and God’s world.Learn more about Theological Conversations for All
Cadres of Servant LeadersGod works through all people and always calls some women and men to guide, proclaim, teach and support others as servant leaders. VE helps the church call forth and support pastors, diaconal ministers, associates in ministry, and deaconesses — and the many other servant leaders God raises up.Learn more about Cadres of Servant Leaders
Fruitful InstitutionsGod works through earthly means, including human institutions like congregations, seminaries, committees and policies. VE aims to help the church be a good steward of its institutions so that they may be continually fruitful.Learn more about Fruitful Institutions
Millions of people are doing ministry in Christ’s name through the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. They are guided and served by more than eighteen thousand rostered deaconesses, pastors, associates in ministry and diaconal ministers and by many thousands of others elected or selected for various leadership roles.
The small staff in the Vocation and Education unit works from Chicago and in the nine regions. Simply stated, our responsibility is to be for ministry in the ELCA. In this, we have many co-workers — the rest of the churchwide units, synods, congregations, seminaries, and other institutions. It is a vast and capable partnership, so we try to focus on the aspects of the mission that can best be done from here. We measure our work by progress toward the following inter-connected outcomes:
1. A Culture of CallAs God creates and sustains faith in each of us, God also calls and claims us. Every Christian is called to proclaim the good news of Jesus so that faith is nurtured in others. Martin Luther insisted that God’s call also shapes our living in every sphere of life — family, citizenship, culture, daily work. Growing a crop, doing chemical research, preaching a sermon, changing a diaper, and giving a concert can all be godly roles. Christians of every ethnic and economic group and of all ages are called to nurture faith and serve others.
Lutheran theology speaks clearly about the priesthood of all believers and the vocation of every Christian, but these themes are not always reflected in our practical understandings and actions. The Vocation and Education unit is charged with supporting all our members in these two arenas, sometimes described together as “ministry in daily life.” I am convinced that we need to deepen awareness of these rich teachings. More and more ELCA members can live with a sense of call to demonstrate faith through proclamation and service in their everyday roles.
The ELCA uses the term “rostered ministry” to identify those called to particular roles within and on the edges of the institutional church. This narrower use of “ministry” has a foundation in our broad understanding of call. Rostered leaders can serve best if the ELCA has a culture of call that affirms the work of every Christian.
The Vocation and Education unit staff wants to help rostered leaders renew their own sense of call and enlist them in efforts to enhance a culture of call in our church.
2. Theological Conversation for AllThe faith God gives is expressed in worship and in the articulation of our beliefs. To do each, Christians need an understanding of God that is sufficient to the demands of their daily callings and to the reach of their minds. Those who are called to public proclamation, interpretation and teaching will likely need broader and deeper understandings to fulfill their specialized roles. Those who serve on behalf of the church through social ministry organizations, colleges and other public ministries will require knowledge and insight for articulating the meaning of their work. Yet, theological conversation is for all.
The ELCA directs the Vocation and Education unit to support and encourage this theological conversation. Learning and teaching happen in many arenas with diverse participants and for various immediate purposes. The underlying goal is always that Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions will guide the church — in its gathered life as institutions and in its scattered life as individuals in the world. Authoritative interpretation and application happen as the church’s members converse theologically, respecting the insights of those with expert knowledge and also the privilege and obligation of every Christian to grasp and share the meanings of faith.
The staff of the division will look for opportunities to undergird healthy, lively theological conversation throughout the church.
3. Cadres of Servant LeadersGod works through people and has always called some women and men to guide, proclaim, teach and support in ways we now call leadership. Since that term never appears in the Bible, I find it more descriptive to speak of the church’s need for servant leadership. The call to servant leadership is parallel to other Christian callings. These are not roles that are holy in themselves. They are places where one can serve God.
The ELCA has an ongoing need for persons to serve as pastors, diaconal ministers, associates in ministry, and deaconesses. Rostering these leaders enhances mutual accountability and support between the institutional church and its leaders.
The coming decades will likely see continuing evolution in these rosters — in discernment, preparation, accountability, partnerships, and deployment. There will also be growth and change in our use of synodically authorized ministers and other servant leaders who are called to service in the church, but not to rostered ministry. The ELCA will affirm its historic strengths in educating, affirming, deploying and supporting people for ministry. As Lutherans have always done, we will also seek to be flexible and adaptable for the sake of mission. Experiments in the preparation, authorization and linking of leaders will help us test new possibilities. Our multi-cultural society and pluralistic world will continue to draw us toward greater diversity in the background, style and skills of our servant leaders.
The Vocation and Education unit has particular responsibility to help ensure that Christ’s mission has ample and adaptable cadres of faithful servant leaders. The unit’s staff will be listening to the church to help it know better how to call forth leaders for familiar ministries and for new ventures in congregational life, evangelical outreach, global mission, ecumenical partnerships, education and service.
4. Fruitful InstitutionsGod works through earthly means — through words, bread, water, wine, but also through institutions such as congregations, synods, denominations, colleges, seminaries, social ministry organizations, programs, committees and policies. In each age the church must steward the structures it has inherited, use them well, evaluate them, adapt them, perhaps lay some to rest and create new ones. The ELCA is blessed with thousands of these institutions that mediate the call of God, enable theological reflection, connect servant leaders with opportunities, and engage in self-study and mutual evaluation.
With various partners, the Vocation and Education unit has oversight and support responsibilities for a theological education network that has lively nodes at our eight seminaries, for a candidacy system that centers in synodical and regional committees and for support and life-long learning programs that involve synods, centers and programs around the world. There is amazing commitment, innovation, flexibility and collaboration among the leaders of these institutions, including you who read these pages. Unit staff members are challenged to help these partnerships stay mission focused, well funded, adaptable and fruitful individually and as networks. We need your ideas and energy to enhance this teamwork.
Thank You!We on the staff of the Vocation and Education unit thank God for all of you who are the ELCA’s rostered leaders and for your partnership in sustaining and enhancing the ELCA’s culture of call, its theological conversations, its servant leadership and its fruitful institutions. Late last year I accepted the call to serve as head of the unit’s excellent staff. In this essay I have shared a general sense of the mission you and we share. Within this Web site and in the journal Lutheran Partners I will be offering more specific comments and proposals for strengthening the work we do together. Your insights and concerns are always welcome here.
The Rev. Stanley Olson, executive director