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Dr. Rance Settle had always aspired to be a priest. Since he was little, he was involved in his Roman Catholic parish, and participated in Catholic youth and young adult groups throughout high school and college. He knew that was his path in life yet he constantly wrestled with the question, “Am I doing enough to be saved?”

While in college, he met a Lutheran young woman who later became his wife. She shared the teachings of Martin Luther, the Small Catechism and the Lutheran faith. His eyes were opened to grace and salvation through faith in Christ and, in December 1998, Settle was confirmed into the Lutheran church.

Settle found his path to priesthood sidetracked. While he wouldn’t be a priest in the Roman Catholic Church, he felt that pastoral ministry was still his calling, and in 2001 he began classes at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.

The Settle family, from left: first row, Tressa; second row, Brett, Addisyn and Chloe; and third row, Leslie and Rance. Photo: Courtesy Dr. Rance Settle
Fast forward to today and Settle has earned not only a Master of Divinity (M.Div.) from Concordia Seminary but a Doctor of Ministry (D.Min.) as well, a degree he earned over the course of 10 years and three different calls. “Initially it started with Pastoral Leadership Institute’s (PLI) five-year program,” Settle explained. At the time, PLI offered a parallel track to participants that incorporated extra readings and assignments to prepare for doctoral work. Upon completion of PLI, students would begin the four- to five-year D.Min. Program. “The practical angle of the D.Min. really appealed to me, carrying forward what I was learning with PLI while getting the good balance of academia that you can only get from Concordia Seminary,” he said. “It helped me manage everything I had learned thus far and benefit my church the most.”

Reflecting on his very first year at Seminary, Settle remembered, “Dr. Andrew Bartelt gave a great presentation about the pastor’s head and his heart. The heart is the center of emotion: You need to care about your people. But how do you care for them rightly? And that’s where the head comes in, knowing theology, Lutheran doctrine and application. This is what was so great about my experience at the Sem, from the M.Div. through the D.Min. My Seminary education taught me how to reach the hearts of my people, as they think about the Gospel leading the way, tempering emotions and filtering them through our theology — something that’s lasting rather than chasing after the latest thing.”

“MY SEMINARY EDUCATION TAUGHT ME HOW TO REACH THE HEARTS OF MY PEOPLE.”

With a concentration in missional leadership, Settle used his D.Min. Major Applied Project (MAP) to care for his congregation by helping members understand hospitality. “They were wanting to reach out into the community, but they didn’t know how,” he said. When he published his MAP in 2020 as the book, Wholehearted Welcome in a Brokenhearted World: Rethinking Dinner Tables, Hospitality and Community, One Welcome at a Time, he found it to be very timely as the coronavirus pandemic hit. “I really wanted to equip people first to be welcoming to their own families,” he said, “then show them how that translates into congregational life.”

Dr. Rance Settle after the virtual 2020 Concordia Seminary Commencement ceremony. Photo: Courtesy Dr. Rance Settle
Since Settle’s graduation in 2020, the D.Min. Program has undergone a curriculum update and moved fully online. “This will be so helpful for guys who can’t get to campus,” Settle said excitedly. “Global community has been opened wide since the pandemic. The way we think of collaboration has been altered. People have more experience and comfortability doing things online, and it’s easier and more personal than before. Concordia Seminary continues to be cutting edge, engaging with contemporary culture with the tools available.”

Settle says the D.Min. Program has improved his ministry immeasurably. “If there is any way you can do it, it is so worth it,” Settle said. “Not only for the betterment of yourself, but also for the practical side of helping your ministry to flourish, building on the strengths already in your unique context, equipping your ministry — head and heart — for even better service to the glory of the kingdom.”

Since releasing his book, congregations, pastors, podcasters and intrigued individuals have reached out to him to learn more. “It gives me joy to know this work has not only enriched me, but that it is bearing fruit in my congregation as well as other congregations. It is helping them learn how to engage the head and the heart, being more like Jesus to each other and to the community around them.”

Deaconess Rebekah Lukas is a communications specialist at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis