Reflections on Confessional Lutheran Residential Theological Education in the United States, Part 1

The financial state of my national church body (The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod), like the financial state of families and all other institutions in the U.S., is causing us to consider how we use limited resources. The most important resource (If we dare use that term!) for a Christian church is Christ and His teaching (theology); thus, one of the most important functions a Christian church body serves is in the understanding and extension of this teaching. Consequently, the catechizing of a church’s clergy is central to its mission, for pastors are chiefly responsible for corporate proclamation and discipleship.

Holy Scripture does not prescribe a method of catechizing the clergy. In “the West,” as I understand, the Church of the Lutheran Reformation has largely done this through residential theological education. That is, men move (typically with their families if they have them) to a site where together with their instructors they learn more deeply the doctrinal teachings and related churchly practices in a process that prepares them for public ministry. There are a number of perceived problems with residential theological education and this, as I have seen recently, has been a subject of debate across the (all things considered) limited LCMS ideological spectrum. Some argue that it is just too expensive. Others argue that it does not effectively prepare men for congregational life. Some argue both, and more.

I am a product of the Synod’s residential graduate theological (M.Div.) program, though I am not a product of the “system,” i.e., the Lutheran grade school and college system. I am also, by graduate training (Ph.D. candidate), a missiologist, i.e., one who has studied deeply the theory and practice of Christian mission. I have not been a field missionary, so I do not have personal experience with non-residential programs so prevalent on the mission field; however, as a servant of the church who is also deeply concerned and studied in the missional extension of Christ’s Kingdom, I would like to offer some food for thought in a series of “Reflections on Confessional Lutheran Residential Theological Education in the United States.”

Among the topics that I intend to discuss are (in no particular order):

· Removal from environment—the importance of being bi-cultural

· Acquiring a theological vocabulary

· Learning to pray

· Learning to sing

· Challenged by the “system” guys

· Marveling at the diversity of gifts

· Opportunity for deep reflection

· Connection to the local parish

· The challenge of being Midwestern in an increasingly coastal and urban country

· Vicarage

· The challenge of being young in an old church

· Seeing the mountain and getting a map

I suspect there will be a number of others that arise along the way, but I invite others, as I go along, to join the conversation.

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