What if…Lutheran seminaries were hotbeds for Missional leadership development?

empty_classroomIt is no secret that seminary education in the mainline church is facing tremendous challenges.  Fewer people enrolling, tighter budgets, and so on.  Those challenges make us ask the big question, is Lutheran seminary education properly forming the leaders needed for today’s church? 

I recently read a remarkably inspiring article by Leonard Sweet, written as the forward for a book by Carl Savage and William Presnell.  It is called, “18 Rungs in The New Ladder of Learning.”  You can find the article online here.  In the article, Sweet offers 18 “transformations that are changing the nature of how we prepare leaders for the church.”  Many of the ideas directly challenge how our seminaries currently operate – numbers 8, 9, and 14 seem particularly poignant.  I found this article to be very cogent and concise – a helpful tool for examining norms in the ELCIC.

I would like to know, what do you think of Sweet’s offerings?  Which point seemed particularly inspiring for you?  Please post your comments below.


8 Responses to What if…Lutheran seminaries were hotbeds for Missional leadership development?

  1. ryancandersen says:


    You keep using great images. Where do you find them?

  2. Sharon says:

    AWW! What a refreshing look at how the “church” will train its present and future leaders. Thought I’d give just a few thoughts on those points that moved me to blog.

    There have been numerous times where I have been challenged by church leaders, I have not acquired the collar and therefore, who am I to suggest and/or challenge. To quote Sweet: “The ultimate credentialing is not “Do you have a degree?” but “Can you do ministry?” Or in terms of the language of the emerging culture, how good a network portal are you? Can you provide direct hyperlinks to the divine?” I wish I could have had these words.

    Personally, I do strongly agree with Sweet: “One’s baptism is one’s ordination into ministry and mission. Every baptized disciple has both a ministry to the body and a mission in the world.” Oh, only if the ELCIC would fully admit that all have been called to ministry!

    Sweet: “The accumulation of knowledge does not lead to the formation of a person; the accumulation of courses does not lead to the formation of a preacher.” I prefer to hear God’s people telling their own personal stories, how God is working in their lives. I believe you cannot form a preacher, I preacher must be given the gift of teaching. Give me a heart that’s been changed/impacted by Christ from the pulpit anyday!

    Sweet: “We need to make the congregation into a learning organism: organize the congregation’s learning around mission and ministry arts rather than teaching and programs.” When God’s people are removed from their comfy, known environments, then we realize how much we need God, AND how much God can do through us. I do not necessarily mean we need to go across the world, just out of our comfy pews and homes. Go see God at work at a local homeless shelter!

    Father, you have made each and everyone of us, may we all continue to strive to be the person you have made us to be!

  3. Preston says:

    Thanks for your great comments. Now, how do we bring about change? In 2024, our leadership development system will still produce the same results if local churches are not asking for something different. What do we need to do now to bring these parts of Sweet’s vision into reality tomorrow?

  4. Sharon says:


    Really… is it possible????

    I believe, change is Possible IF all people really want change. This includes the local churches AND those teaching and leading in the seminaries.

    So, perhaps the real question is do people want to change the current Lutheran seminaries to be hotbeds for Missional Leadership development?

    If ALL people don’t want change–it ain’t gonna happen!

  5. Preston says:

    Perhaps I’m naively hopeful, but our Faith is built on the idea that God can work wonders, often through ordinary people, to change His people in spite of themselves.

    Here’s the recipe for change (from my mother’s cookbook):
    1. God can do big things, even if people are apathetic about it, and even if church politics are thick.
    2. God uses ordinary people; I’m pretty ordinary, so are the people I serve at Lutheran Church of Our Saviour.
    3. Ask God to come and work through us.
    4. (This is the best part) Enjoy being part of God’s work, dig in wholeheartedly – there is no more satisfying place to be!

    I believe in grass-roots movements to affect change. Let’s do coffee and ask God. It starts here.

  6. Sharon says:

    Funny, after I posted my blog, God gave to me His word Hope! Amazing, He gave you the same thing!

    May we all continue to hear God’s call for us.

    Coffee, always!

  7. Elaine Sauer says:

    I read Leonard Sweet’s article a long time ago and I keep a copy on file. It’s a reminder that someone does think along the same lines I do- congregation’s are a hotbed of formational training for future leaders in the church. Abigal Johnson wrote a book called “Shaping Spiritual Leaders” which provies a model of how congregations can supervise and provide formational training for our leaders. She says that the primary purpose a pastor is to serve the sacraments, and in order to do so, we require a “learned clergy”. Another purpose is to be a resident theologian, and for that you need learned clergy. Professor Johnson says that “using one’s own brain to grapple with what life throughws and to discover a theological interpretation of it are among the most important reasons that people turn to religion”. She says that members of the congregation, and not just their ministers need to make theologians and leaders in their communities.She says we are workign with a moving, changing organism and so we need to “go with the currents, sometimes across them or against them as well”. We need different strategies for leadership development. One way, the residential way, is not the only way to do theological education and train up missional leaders in today’s context. Food for thought for those of us who work at the judicatory level of the church. Your thoughts???

  8. Preston says:

    Thoughts? You bet. I’ve been speaking with leaders from other denominations who find that in their context seminary is only part of the equation, there needs to be a whole new level of education, and I’m not talking about mere study conferences. We need onging intentional gatherings that shape pastors and church leaders in meaningful ways. Forge Canada is a missional training network, I like them. Vantage Point 3 has a great approach to formation also.
    Moreover, we would do well to tap the minds of creative non-Lutherans who have a proven track record of shaping the church in healthy ways. I have Mennonite, Missionary Alliance, Baptist, and Evangelical Missionary friends who are trying effective strategies for leadership development and church vitality. We need some of them on staff, or at least as facebook friends, to help us think anew. But as long as we hold to our limited system of training, we restrict the flow of ideas and innovation – that’s the last thing we need right now. I have more thoughts, but we’ll have to do coffee for that! Thanks for posting Bishop Elaine.

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