Residential education in LCMS seminaries has formed pastors for more than a century-and-a-half. Learn how studying on a seminary campus fills the church’s future pastors with a thirst for and love of God’s Word.
by Roland Lovstad
Residential educationbringing students and faculty together in one place for a fixed time of concentrated studyhas existed in The Lutheran ChurchMissouri Synod as long as it has had seminaries to form pastors.
In many ways, residential education has carried the tradition forward for more than a century-and-a-half. Yet the two LCMS seminaries Concordia Seminary, St. Louis (CSL) and Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne (CTS) have seen change and will continue to as the complexity of the world and the needs of the church change.
Among those changes are alternate processes for pastoral formation, which rely heavily on courses taught via the Internet for men who are already serving in a specialized ministry context. Yet the majority of today’s pastoral ministry candidates continue to study on the campuses. Both seminaries also now enroll women in deaconess-studies programs.
Tim Fraker, who began his second year at CSL last fall, summarizes the benefits of residential education with one word: community. Fraker comes from a more traditional route, enrolling after receiving his bachelor’s degree from Concordia University Wisconsin in Mequon. His father is a pastor, and he attended a Christian high school; both were influential in his decision to study to become a pastor.
“Ministry is about people,” says Fraker, quoting his father, the Rev. Donald Fraker, pastor of Cross Lutheran Church in New Braunfels, Texas. “The community is a big part of seminary education because not only are you able to talk about the theological things, but the community aspect really shows and helps build how pastors relate to people and how pastors relate to one another,” he says.
At age 50, the Rev. Cullen Duke, a recent graduate of CTS and pastor of Zion Lutheran Church, Pittsburgh, left a successful career as a certified public accountant to enroll at Fort Wayne. Being on the seminary campus, he says, allows students to “be immersed in study of God’s Word, the Gospel of Christ, and the practical aspects,” not to mention the fact that the “chapel is available every day.”
The community of students and faculty stands out in this immersion, Duke says. In the natural course of being in conversation with each other, personal identities are strengthened. “It’s not just talking about theology, but talking with each other about what we’ve been learning and what that means to us personally and how we will apply that in our vocations as called workers.”
Installed in September 2011 as the 16th president of CTS, Dr. Lawrence R. Rast Jr. emphasizes the dynamic that personal human interaction brings to higher education, particularly in the seminary setting. Within that community, students are required to articulate what they learn from their teachers and are challenged by their peers, he says.
Dr. Dale Meyer, president of CSL since 2005, observes, “The great virtue of the residential formation program is that it brings together students for an intensive, limited time. They interact with one another, and they interact with the whole faculty.”
The seminary, Meyer says, is a “seedbed” for the formation of pastors and deaconesses. Rast resonates with the idea: “The seed that is planted begins to grow and is nurtured through ongoing study of God’s Word, through systematic consideration of the doctrines that are revealed in the Holy Scriptures and in the doctrines of the Lutheran Confessions and then working through that with a community of peers.”
From those experiences, students form habits, Rast adds. They are habits that become part of the ongoing life of the pastor or deaconess in the church.
The seminary seeks to form “a different kind of people,” Meyer says. While that can happen in all formation programs, he says, “It can really, really happen through the residential program because you’ve got a concentration of seminarians and schools in one time and one place for a limited period.”
Meyer believes the seminaries must be intentional about building community, which will extend to the well-being of the church. He emphasizes that pastors in the field need to be able to meet together in a trusting, open environment where they talk and share. “There has been an erosion of trust in the Missouri Synod going back decades. How is that going to be turned around? I think it’s going to happen through all our formation programs,” he says.
As a first-year student at CSL, Fraker enhanced his understanding of community by playing basketball where “I really built a connection with those guys” and realized “the fun side of enjoying the game and the camaraderie with all the other players.”
CTS graduate Duke adds, “The seminary talks a lot about formation, and I really think that’s the main benefit of being on campus and being immersed in study of God’s Word, the Gospel of Christ and the practical aspects of the ministry.” Daily chapel services and worship at local congregations on the weekend “just add to this overall immersion in God’s Word.”
Incidentally, Duke can cite another benefit of residential education: marriage. He met his wife, Jacqueline, studying to be a deaconess at the seminary, and they have been married for two years. (Jacqueline serves as a deaconess at Concordia Lutheran Ministries, a large, elder-care organization in the Pittsburgh area.)
Meyer reflects on change as he notes that the culture has changed. “We grew up in a biblically literate, go-to-church-on-Sunday society, and it’s not that way anymore. When I was formed as a pastor, it wasn’t the same curriculum that was used before. What our future students are going to receive in the residential formation can’t be the same that I received.”
Rast observes that the diversity among today’s seminary students is both a challenge and a blessing. He says they come from a variety of backgrounds: Some are familiar with the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions; some are not.
“Here again is where residential theological education is so important,” he continues.
If theological education was just delivering facts, Rast says, students could be sent lists of Bible passages and doctrines to memorize and then take a test. “This is where interacting personally with professors and with other students to enhance one another’s knowledge so they are well-informed in respect to the nature and character and teaching of the Church as well as the Lutheran Confessions comes in to play. That community of learning that is collaborative in character and flows both waysfrom professor to student and back to professoris just a remarkably dynamic setting in which to live and work.”
> “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few” (Matt. 9:37).
> On the web: Go to whataway.org to learn about supporting and recruiting pastors.
> To learn more about seminary education, go to http://ow.ly/7Zl5J
> Interested in becoming a pastor or deaconess? Go to www.ctsfw.edu or www.csl.edu for more information.
About the author: Roland Lovstad is a member of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Perryville, Mo.
Quick Facts on CTS
>In Sept. 2011, the campus was granted a Certificate of Occupancy for Walther Library’s new 45,000-foot expansion.
>Based on affordability, crime rates and schools, Fort Wayne, Indiana, made BusinessWeek’s 2009 list of Best Places to Raise Your Family.
>Listen to the daily worship services that take place at Kramer Chapel by visiting www.ctsfw.edu and clicking on Chapel.
Quick Facts on CSL
>In April 2011, CSL launched a major renovation campaign, focusing on a new campus entrance, the addition of extra space in some buildings and the relocation of others.
>Concordia Seminary Library includes the personal libraries of many of the LCMS’ founding fathers and theologians, such as C. F. W. Walther and Franz Pieper.
>CSL is America’s second-oldest Lutheran seminary.