This is a piece I wrote for a special edition of the Lutheran Theological Journal in August this year. This edition focused on how the Lutheran Church of Australia and its agencies might consider ordering its ministries as it continues into a future where there is a shortage of pastors, chaplains and ministry workers.
What might ministry look like in the Lutheran School of tomorrow? What might ministry look, feel and sound like?
Might it involve church starts and plants within and around the school community that bridges the work of the school with the surrounding community as well as the weekend worshipping community? Could a school be known in its local neighbourhood for more than parking and traffic issues? Might community gardens, contemplative spaces and labyrinths, and natural or reinvigorated vegetation be part of the school’s service to its immediate neighbours? Might the parents, grandparents, and friends of a school be a hub for serving the needs of the wider locality, the poor, the vulnerable, or the homeless? Might students and staff be transformed in their learning to serve intergenerationally with the aged, the early years, or the housebound and lonely? Might a student’s head, heart, and hands be engaged in learning service and faith? Might a Christian spirituality be formed through acts of service to the neighbour and creation as much as what happens in chapel and the Christian Studies class?
How might this ministry be ordered so that God’s Spirit is let loose on his people in missional and life-changing ways?
First, it might be helpful to gift the called. Lutheran schools in Australia have valued the ordained ministry and calling pastors to their learning communities. This is a gift that the church can continue to provide for our schools. In turn, our schools can gift the church with rich learning experiences from gifted educators who are called to grow children and young people in their sense of vocation in the world, their meaning and purpose in life, as well as their spiritual formation. Pastors who are a good fit for a school community and who are open to change, collaboration, and differing mindsets will have the opportunity to grow immeasurably in a Lutheran school.
Second, we can at the same time call the gifted. Many people in our school communities are gifted for ministry. They already serve in informal ways, alongside their normal teaching load. For those who have a heart for ministry and mission, are we providing pathways in the school community for them to serve in more acknowledged ways? Are there people from other Christian traditions or without a church background who have taken on the values of a Lutheran education so much that they want to give back and serve others with this same vision and motivation? With intentional mentoring and theological upskilling are they ripe for God to use to help grow, disciple and form other students and staff in a Christ-centred way?
Third, as we gift the called and call the gifted in our school communities can we also give the ministry worker their recognition as being central to the mission of the church in schools? Can we look at being intentional about ordaining the lay chaplain who is part and parcel of the culture of the school? The lay person who lives and breathes the faith and mission of the church. One obvious way of acknowledging this growing form of ministry is for suitably gifted and called lay chaplains to be ordained as SMPs, Specific Ministry Pastors for their school community.
A practical implication of the above thinking is that chaplains in schools will need to be initially or even largely trained in situ, in their own school learning community. The principle of subsidiarity holds for not only decision-making in governance but also in terms of ministry pathways and training. This certainly does not diminish the need for a solid theological education of chaplains and pastors for Lutheran schools but now more than ever there is a need for ministry workers to be trained locally as much as centrally. Larger Lutheran schools that have the capacity to develop chaplaincy teams of three or more chaplains could include training them with the support of regional educators and partnering with ALC for more intentional learning of school chaplaincy through distributive means.
Further, college pastors in medium to large-sized schools are more and more involved in the formation of staff as well as students. An example of where they and other minister workers are crucial in the life of our schools is their work with the two hundred plus staff in Lutheran schools across Australia who undertake Connect each year. Connect is LEA’s in-service accreditation and formation program for teaching staff new to the Lutheran system. Compare this large number of staff to the negligible number of preservice teachers who undertake the Lutheran strand as part of their educational degree in recent years.
The seeds of this type of vision for ministry are already germinating in some places within our church schools. The question is are our eyes open and attentive to where God is working and growing his word of grace amongst our communities? And is our ordering of these ministries allowing the called to be gifted and the gifted to be called? Are we putting our energies into pathways that are already developing and in which we can intentionally form staff and grow more ministry workers in Lutheran schools?
Senior College Pastor
St Peters Lutheran College
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"Meditations & Musings" is my humble attempt to share what I have found useful in ministry in an Australian Lutheran School setting. It contains chapels, devotions and other resources I have written, used and adapted in my K-12 school context. If you would like to also share your ideas, resources or start a conversation about mission and ministry in your church- school location, feel free to contact me.
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