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Revised curriculum

Ben Haupt holds a Homiletics I class

By Joel Okamoto

We will debut our revised Master of Divinity (M.Div.) curriculum this fall. As chair of the M.Div. curriculum review committee, I have received a lot of questions. Many were about what we were going to teach. How many new courses are there? What courses are you dropping? Will you still teach “Religious Bodies of America”? How many courses on preaching will there be? How will you teach about the Creeds and the Lutheran Confessions? Will you teach about pastoral leadership? Witness and outreach? The cultural situation? And so on.

Such questions are understandable. Throughout formal education, students and teachers are used to thinking about what is taught. Moreover, what is taught really matters to the church and her educational institutions. It is reasonable to ask about what the revised curriculum will be teaching.

But teaching is a means to an end. All of us know students who ask, “Why are we doing this? Why is this being taught?” They don’t see the point. Many of us carry around in our heads a list of subjects that made no difference and of courses that had no point — chemistry, trigonometry, Latin. They didn’t serve an important goal. It is no different with seminary education. Many have said to us, “I wish I had been taught this at the seminary” or “You should be teaching that” or “Course Z didn’t teach me much I needed to know.” They say such things because they believe they can make a difference in ministry. We say and think such things because we know that teaching is a means to an end.

So to understand and appreciate the revised curriculum more fully, you have to understand and appreciate its end, its goal, its point. The end of the revised curriculum is to prepare graduates to serve faithfully and effectively as pastors, deaconesses, missionaries and church planters in the years and decades to come.

But the years and the decades to come probably won’t look like the years and the decades we’ve just come from — and they have been challenging enough! Accordingly, in reviewing and revising the curriculum, we took these core features seriously, but we did not take them for granted. Our approach did not ignore teaching content, skills, etc., but it did not begin with “What should we teach?” and “How should we do this?”

We began by asking questions like “What should a graduate be able to do?” and “What kind of a person should a graduate be?” In other words, we adopted an “outcomes-based” approach. I noted these outcomes in a previous issue of Concordia Seminary magazine. That article focused on how the outcomes inform different aspects of the curriculum. In this article I will point out the benefits this approach will have for pastors and their congregations.

Talk about “outcomes” in education varies, but for us, “outcomes” specify what graduates must be able to do or must be like at the end of their course of studies. The curriculum has four kinds of outcomes for graduates of our pastoral formation programs.

  1. Outcomes relative to the pastor’s theological foundations. Graduates will show they are ready and willing to commit themselves wholeheartedly to the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions, and also that they are theologically capable of entering the ministry.
  2. Outcomes relative to the tasks of pastoral ministry. Graduates will show they are ready for their duties and responsibilities of pastoral ministry, including pastoral care, preaching, teaching, worship, fellowship, witness, service and administration.
  3. Outcomes relative to contemporary culture. Graduates will show their willingness and ability to understand the culture fairly and to engage it faithfully.
  4. Outcomes relative to the person of the pastor. Graduates will show they understand and take seriously well-being and growth in their personal and spiritual lives.

One benefit is that the outcomes ensure that those things that shouldn’t change, won’t change. This is most clear in the outcomes tied to theological foundations and the tasks of pastoral ministry. All congregations need pastors who guide themselves and their service according to the Scriptures and the Confessions, and who are well-equipped in the classic theological disciplines. They all depend on pastors to preach the Word and teach the Christian faith, to administer the Sacraments and lead the worship, to care for souls and prepare members for service and witness in their everyday lives. The curriculum explicitly sees to such things.

Another benefit is that the outcomes make sure that all graduates are prepared for what today’s congregations often expect or need. The outcome on administration is an example. Many congregations today are experiencing or will experience significant changes. They can be positive changes or negative changes or just perplexing changes, but plenty of churches are or will be facing them. Their pastors will be expected to lead congregations through them. This means knowing something about budgets, organizations and long-range planning. The measure of successful preparation for serving as an administrator calls for graduates to “demonstrate the ability to lead a congregation in administrative practices that carry out the goals of a Christian congregation,” which sees to this increasingly common expectation.

The measure of successful formation for ministering in a contemporary culture is another example. “Culture” is a complex word and so is this single outcome, but one reason for this outcome is that cultural conflicts are increasingly significant for the life and witness of congregations. If you call homosexuality a sin in public, you may be understood as expressing personal disdain, not making a theological judgment. Recently U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders criticized a nominee in a confirmation hearing who had written how Muslims did not know God because they did not acknowledge Jesus Christ as His Son. This was a theological point, but the senator took it to be an expression of bigotry toward Muslims. Whether and how Christians can participate as citizens and for the common good are not simple matters any longer, and pastors need to be ready to help their congregations to engage the culture clearly, honestly and faithfully. The curriculum explicitly sees to these emerging factors.

A third benefit is that the outcomes give definite attention to the pastor as a person. “Healthy” is a trendy word now, and so some people don’t want to use it. But “healthy” is in vogue partly because “unhealthy” too often is an apt description. Today’s political climate is “unhealthy.” The atmosphere in the workplace is “unhealthy.” That way of life is “unhealthy.” Moreover, “healthy” connotes something living, not something mechanical. Telling someone, “Your life exhibits machine-like efficiency” is not the same as saying, “It looks like you have a healthy life.” Congregations can and should be “healthy,” but their health depends to an important extent on the health of their pastors. If some aspect of a pastor’s life is seriously unhealthy — spiritually, emotionally, relationally, physically — then it eventually will affect the health of his family and the congregation, too.

The revised curriculum addresses the personal and spiritual health of each student and future pastor with seven desired outcomes. The goal of these outcomes is that each student shows that he understands and values well-being in his personal and spiritual life, and that he is committed to work toward maintaining health in all its aspects.

We look forward to rolling out this new theologically rigorous curriculum, which we believe will better prepare pastors to lead congregations in the 21st century. We want our graduates to make a real difference in the communities and in lives of the people they are called to serve in the name of the Lord and His church.