Last Monday through Friday was the DMin (Doctor of Ministry) Residential Week. The DMin Program is a practical degree designed for working pastors, which is why much of the coursework and study is accomplished on their own with the support of online resources and faculty mentorship. A handful of intensive weeks are held throughout where the students gather on campus for five days at a time in order to attend classes with one another.
There is a distinctly different feel to the DMin Program, especially when these men gather on campus with their brothers in ministry. While there is a definite camaraderie among the MDiv students who are learning to become pastors (sharing inside jokes and commiseration over classes, professors, and fieldwork) they are still looking beyond Seminary; the DMin students have both that shared background as former seminarians and are also living in the “beyond Seminary.” They have an immediate connection as fellow laborers in the Lord’s harvest fields. There’s a depth to the laughter that these men share as they navigate their classes and their experiences as sinner-saints called to serve as Christ’s undershepherds to other sinner-saints.
Pastors in the DMin Program choose their concentration from the first day of their entry, either on 1.) Pastoral Care and Leadership; 2.) Teaching and Preaching; or 3.) Mission and Culture. Each pastor develops a project that is the focus of his degree, tied to their parish or other ongoing ministry at home. Thus the practical aspect of the program: they don’t first earn a degree and then apply their learning, but rather apply their learning as they serve their congregation/ministry, eventually earning the degree.
Last Friday, one such student, Rev. William Keller II, defended his dissertation project. A dissertation is a couple of hundred pages long, written on the research done throughout a student’s years in the program. His faculty mentor/reader offers suggestions before the dissertation is presented to the committee. At the defense, the DMin candidate introduces his topic, explaining his research, methodology, and conclusions, after which several faculty members and occasionally ordained guests ask follow-up questions. The committee then has all but themselves withdraw so that they can discuss the dissertation (which they have read ahead of time) and decide whether the student has successfully defended his topic.
As Rev. Keller’s defense took place during DMin Residential Week, his fellow DMin students were invited to his dissertation defense on “Evaluation of the Accountable Leadership Model of the Governance at Concordia Lutheran Church.” When called to Concordia Lutheran, Rev. Keller inherited a governance model as it was about to be implemented in his new congregation, inspiring the project. However, though the topic is narrow (specifically involving his parishioners), it’s also broad: he used his findings to take a wider view of the topic of church governance.
Ultimately, the study brought up a number of practical questions tied to deeper theological questions on authority and role of the pastor in governing a church. Should the pastor strictly serve as a shepherd? Is he also called to run his church? What are the impacts to his pastoral duties when he is called to counsel and guide his members but may also be tasked with firing them as church staff? Did this new governance model promote a healthy relationship between a pastor and his congregation? And even: what is scriptural and what is adiaphora (neither mandated nor forbidden by Scripture)?
In very short: he concluded that any governance model is a tool that cannot solve underlying problems in a congregation, but can be used to either help or exacerbate issues. The study highlighted the importance of understanding your congregation before making changes, from the church’s culture to the gifts of members and the challenges and history at the heart of any issues the congregation may be dealing with. It was also an examination of the role of the pastor and the Office of Holy Ministry.
Dr. Gifford Grobien, Director of the DMin Program and member of the Dissertation Committee, asked Rev. Keller to expound on the theological understanding he applied to the situation. Rev. Keller explained that he looked back at how the Church and past theologians handled it, starting with Luther. Summarized here:
- Martin Luther argued that Scripture is where the authority of a pastor lies. He wasn’t focused on structure, save for that applied through preaching. For example, the key interpretive principles that Rev. Keller found useful were the teaching of the two kingdoms and the theology of the cross.
- Martin Chemnitz defined the Office of Holy Ministry through its functions; as a practice of the ways and means.
- Johann Gerhard taught that you should take three things into consideration: necessity, usefulness, and dignity. How will a proposal impact the Office of Holy Ministry as it fits in that paradigm?
- F.W. Walther was the first Lutheran theologian on American soil who had to grapple with the separation of Church and state. As such, he is the first on this list to speak specifically on church administration. He suggested a board of directors to support the pastor and to govern the church. He was also the first to suggest the adoption of church constitutions (preferably short ones). Walther’s suggestions on church administration essentially provided a dynamic in which the governing duties came out of the congregation and allowed the pastor to stay focused on the duties of the Office.
- It was also important to read contemporary authors, because they better understand our times, such as the impact of sentimentalism on the Church (that moral sense is based on feelings over reason). These and other “isms” popular in our times will affect even how (and why) a church does business. “A congregation has to identity these idols and repent of them,” Rev. Keller explained. These types of idols are difficult because they grow in the heart, versus the idols set up in a temple that can be physically thrown down.
In very, very short: his dissertation was about pastoral care. In studying governance models, Rev. Keller found that often congregations want a single solution to fix what they see as a single problem, hoping that a new governance model is that fix—when in fact it is the age old problem of sin, compounded over years and generations. And no matter what else a pastor is called to do (whether he has much governing authority or little, whether the congregation tasks their pastor with intimate involvement in its administration or prefers a separate governing board), that pastor is called by Christ to serve his people, calling them to repentance and comforting them with Word and Sacrament.
After the presentation, the Dissertation Committee—Dr. Grobien, Dr. Detlev Schulz, and Dr. Charles Gieschen—asked all to withdraw from the room so that they could confer. Their conclusion was unanimous: a successful defense. Congratulations, Rev. Keller!
To learn more about the DMin Program (tuition is still locked in until March 15, 2020, after which it will increase), go to www.ctsfw.edu/DMin. You can also contact the Graduate Studies Department with specific questions at [email protected] or (260) 452-2203.