Dear Gulf Coast Colleagues,

We have eight ELCA seminaries. The face of theological education is adapting to new economies and new mission realities. Maybe not fast enough.

We don’t think we want economics to be the determining factor for the shape theological education, but the challenges we’re facing in this economy force us to ask good questions. And leading ministries in a predominantly Christian culture was different than leading missions in an increasingly pluralistic and unchurched context. Before we needed leaders to maintain age old systems to keep things the same. Now we need adaptive leaders to retrofit congregations for outwardly focused evangelism and ministry.

What are your thoughts about our system for theological education? Here are some key questions. Pick those that interest you and respond as you’re interested.

1. What might theological education look like if it was entirely mission-focused? Consider that the Lutheran Church in Texas owes itself in large part to the St. Chrischona school in Switzerland, a missionary school. How might we prepare missionaries for our own culture?

2. We want theological education to be accessible, but not watered down. Thoughts on distributed learning? Education in place? 2-year MA as opposed to 4-year MDiv? What distribution methods maintain high standards and respond to local needs?

3. In 1945 100% of seminary visa were
covered by our predecessor church bodies. There was no cost to students. As costs have risen, denominational support has decreased as a percentage of the total. At the inception of the ELCA the goal was 50% of costs being covered by synods and churchwide. Today there is no goal. 15-20% of seminary costs are covered by synods and denominations, an amount that far exceeds the commitments of other mainline denominations. Any ideas on creating a stable and sustainable economy of theological education? Ideas on how to increase congregational capacity to give generously to TE? Any thoughts about the four current strategies: A. Continue to streamline costs.
B. Continue commitment to programmatic innovation.
C. Expand and diversify revenue streams.
D. Pursue alliances, joint ventures, partnerships, mergers.

4. We currently have a four-tiered governance:
A. Each seminary has it’s own governing board.
B. Clusters of seminaries promote cooperation and efficient interchangeability.
C. Synods are empowered by the ELCA constitution to promote seminaries regionally, raise funds, and keep a vibrant local relationship between synods and seminaries.
D. Churchwide supports a coherent stem of theological education across the church. Candidacy requirements, curricular consistency, governance docs, board representation and more.

This system served us well for a time. Now it seems top-heavy and expensive. What governance would Provide for a strong seminary-synod relationship? Seminary/local church? What will provide for more flexibility/adaptability?

It’s a lot of questions. What are your thoughts?