Concordia Seminary announced the placement of 19 men as DELTO pastors on Friday, February 10, 2012. These men are members of the Seminary’s Distance Theological Education Program (DTEP), which is the designation for the course of study that has served as a transition from the DELTO (Distance Education Leading To Ordination) program to the Synod’s Specific Ministry Pastor Program (SMP). The DELTO program has now come to an end.
DELTO was begun in the mid-1990s by Concordia Theological Seminary, Ft. Wayne; Concordia Seminary, St. Louis offered its first DELTO classes in 1999. The original purpose of DELTO was to provide a path to ordination for the lay deacons who often served in situations where a called and ordained pastor was unavailable. This category of service was authorized by the 1989 Convention of the LCMS in Wichita, Kan.
DELTO classes were originally offered using the “Theological Education by Extension” model through which instructors met with students in the field and students would submit their work through the mail for grading. Over the years DELTO became more of a distance education (DE) program which also required regular study visits to the campus, and the Seminary and the students became more engaged. It took more than six years to complete, during which time the men often served in Word and Sacrament ministries without the benefit of a regular call and ordination.
There remained a genuine concern for our Lutheran Confessions and especially Article XIV of the Augsburg Confession which says that only those men who are “rightly called” (rite vocatus) should serve as pastors. This tension led to further study by the DELTO Oversight Committee, established by Synod in 2001. Following years of study and work by this committee, the LCMS in convention in 2007 acted upon its recommendation and established the SMP program in response to the needs of the Church. A complete listing of the admission and academic requirements of the SMP program is available at: https://www.csl.edu/admissions/academics/altrt/specific-ministry-pastor-smp-pastor/
When asked how the SMP program has been received by the church, Dr. David Wollenburg, director of the SMP program at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis points to one of the “whereas’ s” of the Synod resolution which says,
The great strengths of this proposal bring together several issues that have concerned our Synod for many years as it seeks to
- find a way to meet the existing and expanding needs for pastoral ministry, especially in the variety of contexts of mission and ministry in today’s church;
- respect our commitment to the doctrine of church and ministry, especially in light of AC XIV;
- honor our commitment to responsible theological education that provides the church with well-educated pastors, who as missional leaders are faithful to Lutheran theology and practice;
- retain our commitment to the importance, need, and great strengths of residential pastoral education at both the certificate and M.Div. level, along with a commitment to the continuing education of all clergy;
- restore our past creativity in recognizing the importance, need, and great strengths of alternative models of pastoral education leading to ordination, including a commitment to continuing education;
- utilize the advances in educational technology that allow for responsible pastoral education and formation through distance-education models; and
- develop a more coherent and comprehensive model for pastoral education by which various routes leading to certification, call, and ordination are coordinated and potentially interrelated, so that, for example, a student in a nonresidential certificate route might be able to engage also in a residential degree program.
“As I look back on these words and reflect on the current state of the SMP Program at our Seminary in St. Louis, I give thanks to God for the many opportunities He has provided us to meet these purposes,” Wollenburg said.
“We are thankful for the tools God has provided which enable us to offer a distance education program of formation for the pastoral ministry,” he continued. “We learned from DELTO, we learned from the experience of others, and we are blessed that even though this is a distance education program, the students, pastor mentors, and instructors of our SMP program experience a degree of community that would have been impossible in the past.”
The courses of the Specific Ministry Pastor Program are supported by state-of-the art technology which engages the students and instructors with fellow students and builds an interactive learning community. Each course includes a blend of Internet-based instruction, mentor interaction, practical ministry application, and two hours each week of live instruction by the instructor and interaction with fellow students. The courses are taught at the M.Div. level so that, in the future, students may apply this work to an M.Div. or other degree offered by the Seminary should that become desirable and possible in their situation.
“The SMP program is designed to meet the needs of the church for pastors in mission and ministry opportunities where a pastor with a seminary degree may not be available,” Wollenburg added. “And it is doing so in surprising ways: new missions have begun; previously failing congregations are being revitalized; and staff members are now able to serve their congregations as called and ordained servants of Christ, under the supervision of a general pastor.
“It is humbling to see what God has done and continues to do through ministries of all of these men. Some of them are engaged in full-time ministry; others serve as ‘worker-priests’ who continue to hold full or part-time jobs while also ministering to the people of the Church; some have even retired from other professions in order to serve the people of God as pastors.”
With the placement of these 19 men Concordia Seminary will have formed 78 men for pastoral ministry in the Lutheran Church through DELTO. We thank God for his goodness.
For more information on distance education programs at Concordia Seminary, including SMP, please call 314-505-7764.