Sixty Years of Ministry by Directors of Christian Education (DCEs) of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS)

Mar 2nd, 2020 | Category: Columns, DCE Ministry, Research in Education
By William O. Karpenko II

A Very Abbreviated History

This history of DCE ministry provides yet another opportunity to learn of God’s grace and mercy in the life of ordinary individuals pursuing a compelling calling. Hebrews 11 and 12 capture the spirit of this history: it is one long series of enduring and not losing heart. It is “faith in action,” recounting the efforts of imperfect people and flawed happenings that God used to offer a ministry office to the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod during a unique time in the Synod’s life. It is one more story of God inspiring faith in His people so they would say:

1Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12: 1-2. ESV)

The History of DCE Ministry

During the past sixty years at least eight history-type resources have been published. The first, and most often quoted, was written in 1974 by the now Rev. Ted Schroeder, who at the time was a non-rostered DCE attending Concordia Seminary in St. Louis (Schroeder, 1974). Barely 15 years into the DCE movement in Synod, his history attempted to answer three questions (1974). With a forward look, Dr. William O. Karpenko II addressed the future of DCE Ministry in 1983, basing his article on the previous 24-year history (Karpenko, 1983). In 1995, Rev. Dale Griffin, a patron saint of DCE ministry, lent his own analytic eye to the ministry that he had helped foster when he served on the Board for Parish Education/Services staff from 1961 to 1986 (Griffin, 1995). Five years before the 50th anniversary of DCE Ministry, Professor Mark Blanke authored a thoughtful look at DCE Ministry, past, present and future (2004). On the 50th anniversary of DCE ministry in the LCMS there were a spate of history-type articles, two of which were captured in Issues in Christian Education (Weidner, 2009; Wilke, 2009). In 2011, a co-authored piece, appearing in the book “Together,” focused on “Telling the Family History” of DCE ministry (Schoepp & Warren) In August of 2019, the NADCE Quarterly added its contribution to the 60-year history of DCE Ministry (Karpenko, 2019). It is important to note that there are various other capsulated DCE histories that have appeared over the past 40 years in dissertations such as Tony Davison (1978). This article gratefully stands on the shoulders of these prior works and whole-heartedly recommends their reading if other perspectives are desired. 

Every History has a Particular Lens

The individual or team that attempts to capture the history of a ministry like that of the Director of Christian Education inevitably does so from a particular perspective and a particular era. Thus, the author of this history is an 80-year-old rostered DCE who has served as a congregational DCE, a missionary, a counselor with trouble-prone youth, and a university professor/administrator. The lens then through which this history is written reflects his 60-year love affair with DCE ministry as a congregational practitioner, mission field innovator, DCE program director, instructor, and intern supervisor. 

Themes of this History

This History will suggest that…

  • There were a handful of significant pre-1959 happenings that prepared the way for DCE ministry in the LCMS.
  • There have been seven eras of DCE Ministry in the LCMS, each generating its set of lingering questions.
  • When DCE ministry has consistent and collaborative support on a Synodical level it flourishes.
  • Most of the significant happenings shaping DCE ministry took place because of collaborative relationships and actions.
  • The professionalization of DCE ministry is more evident now than any time in its past. 
  • DCE Ministry has become a long-term career for a growing number of individuals.
  • Women are playing a greater role in congregational-based DCE ministry. 
  • Advocacy for DCE ministry within the Synod remains active. 
  • DCE ministry continues to make an impact on LCMS congregations through DCEs who are Biblically-based, lifespan Christian educators. 

Understandings Undergirding this History of DCE Ministry in the LCMS

In 1999, at a DCE Summit held at the International Center of the LCMS in St. Louis, three consensus understandings were forged by those present (DCE Summit, 1999). They included, in descending order, a definition of a DCE, the mission of a DCE, and important values for a DCE. 

A Director of Christian Education is a synodically certified, called, and commissioned lifespan educational leader prepared for team ministry in a congregational setting. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, the Director of Christian Education plans, administers, and assesses ministry that nurtures and equips people as the body of Christ for spiritual maturity, service, and witness in home, job, congregation, community, and the world. DCEs exhibit Christian character; display a spiritually maturing faith; relate well with people of all ages; express a passion for teaching and learning; possess a servant heart; manage personal and professional life effectively; seek to work in team relationships; strive for excellence; operate in a self-directed manner.(Together, 2011, p. 7)

A fourth document that continues to shape the attitudes and behaviors of those in DCE ministry is the Ethical Guidelines for Directors of Christian Education adopted at a DCE summit two years later (LEA, 2002). This history is about an office of the public ministry within a particular denomination, not a history about particular individuals. Secondly, this history will not explore in any depth other DCE-related topics such as the role of research in fostering of DCE ministry, the role of DCE Program Directors in the development of DCE ministry, the impact of various DCE training programs on DCE ministry, the place of Synodical leadership in the history of DCE ministry, and the role of DCE summits in its history. Finally, as the title above notes, this is a very abbreviated recounting of DCE ministry’s 60-year history, which is bound to overlook vital decisions, events, and individual perceptions. 

A Numerical Context for Understanding the Service of Certified LCMS DCEs

1969-to-2019. As of October 2019, there are 2,302 individuals who have been certified as Directors of Christian Education within the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Their service within and outside of the LCMS is vast and multi-faceted, in addition to some 1,000 non-church workers many of whom have served, or are serving, as highly gifted lay people in congregations, agencies, educational institutions, and other settings around the world. 

Thus, when reading these data below, it is important to keep in mind that:

  • Those who served as a DCE up until 1970 were not certified as a DCE, with the exception of three Concordia Seward graduates of its DCE Fifth Year Program (CUS, 1990).
  • There have been hundreds of individuals serving in DCE-type positions who were not certified for that ministry (Schoepp, 2011).
  • Over the years, while no published data exist at present, there have been a number of certified DCEs who have served in other denominations in church-related roles (Karpenko, 2019).

The following longitudinal data are offered to provide a numerical context for shaping one’s understanding of the historical development of DCE ministry:

Six findings are evident in these data:

  1. The years of most notable growth of certified DCEs serving LCMS congregations were in the 1980s, one reason being the addition of some 146 individuals who were certified as DCEs on the basis of their LCMS congregational service, and the early 2000s, when Concordia Austin began graduating certified DCEs.
  2. The greatest number of certified DCEs serving LCMS congregations was 657 in 2009 (CUS, 2009) 
  3. A mystery remains regarding the drop in the number of certified DCEs serving congregations between 2009 and 2017. An unresearched hypothesis suggests that the financial downturn in 2008 finally had its impact. In addition, some inaccurate tracking of DCEs leaving parish ministry may have occurred previously.
  4. For the first time since the creation of a directory (CUS, 1987), the number of 2019 certified female DCEs serving as a congregational DCE exceeded the number of men. 
  5. Since the mid-1990s, there have been between 225 and 427 certified DCEs serving in related LCMS church-worker roles such as pastor, teacher, principal, professor, camp director, missionary, etc. (CUS, 1995-2019).
  6. The percentage of certified DCEs who are serving in other ministries of the LCMS has steadily grown over the past five decades and now equals 74% of those certified DCEs serving congregations in 2019. 

Significant Happenings and Lingering Questions in the Sixty-Year History of DCE Ministry

In this history, telling the story of the past 60 years will focus on brief era narratives and then switch to a series of significant happenings and lingering questions within each era. Participating indirectly in this historical overview will be a number of individuals who have served as Concordia University DCE instructors since the turn of the 21st century. Each of them was asked this question: 

In your estimation, what are the 8-12 most pivotal events, happenings, decisions in the history of LCMS DCEs in the past 60 years?

Of the 17 former or current professors invited, 15 chose to respond. If a majority of these instructors indicated a particular happening was pivotal, their collective response will appear in bold italics as the author cites various significant happenings. 

Era One: Foundational Happenings in the Pre-1959 History of DCE Ministry. 

There are five significant happenings, all of which come from the histories written by Ted Schroeder (1974) and Dale Griffin (1995), plus an article authored by Lisa Keyne (2011):

  • The first recorded LCMS DCE who was called a “Teacher” In 1916 St. Mark Lutheran Church in Sheboygan, Wisconsin called teacher A.W. Kowert to become their “teacher, organist and choir director” (Schroeder, 1974, p. 4).
  • A visionary whose efforts ended pre-maturely: In Keyne’s valuable exploration of DCE ministry as a profession she uncovered the remarkable work of Rev. William H. Luke “who was hired in the mid-1920s to serve the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod as Superintendent of Sunday Schools,”… and who encouraged in 1928 the ‘calling of teachers or candidates as educational directors in congregations without schools.’” (2011, p. 82). Until his death four years later, at the age of 36, Luke continued to share his vision of a congregational Director of Christian Education. 
  • The initial Synodical convention consideration of the office of the DCE: As a result of a resolution from the Atlantic District in 1934, the Synod in its 1935 convention resolved to study the new office, and in 1938 received and accepted a report from the Board of Christian Education that defined the office of “director of religious education,” enumerating its functions, status, and preparation (Griffin, 1995, p. 138).
  • The impact of field DCEs in the 1950s: Few things get people’s attention more than a horde of spirited teen-agers attending a large youth event all dressed alike, appropriately loud, and open about their faith. As a result of their ability to excite and shape young people, the reputations of three Midwest, middle-aged DCEs and their pastors – Larry Steyer and Rev. Harlan Hartner, Bernie Arkebauer and Rev. Norman Temme, and Del Schulz and Rev. Robert Rosenkoetter – spread around the Synod. They also were making another kind of noteworthy impression, namely, as teams who were modeling effective staff relationships. Soon their “coffee-pot conferences” (Schroeder, 1974, p. 11), were inspiring other church workers as well as young people, like the author, who got to know Steyer at Walther League conventions. 
  • A collaboration results in a precursor to DCE ministry: In 1956, the LCMS’ Board for Young People’s Work, the Lutheran Laymen’s League, and the International Walther League collaborated in the establishment of the Youth Leadership Training Program (YLTP) at Valparaiso University (Schroeder, 1974). Attracting DCE-type students, this training program and its curriculum served as a forerunner to future Synodical‑school DCE programs. After graduating some 145 men and women, YLTP closed its program in 1974 even though a number of its graduates continued to serve as DCEs in the Synod. (Karpenko, 1986) 

The Official History of DCE Ministry Begins with a Simple Resolution

Twenty-one years after the Synod received a report on the “Director of Religious Education” position at its thirty-sixth regular convention, the forty-fourth regular convention in San Francisco, CA on July 26, 1959, passed the following resolution:

Whereas, The development of an organized and systematic program of Christian education is a necessity in every congregation; and

Whereas, Many congregations would benefit from the services of a director of Christian education who would assist the pastor in providing professional leadership for the Sunday school, Saturday classes, and other educational activities of the congregation, therefore be it Resolved, That congregations be encouraged to analyze their parish education program and, where needed, to establish the office of ‘director of Christian education’ in order to provide additional leadership for the education program of the congregation. (Proceedings, 1959, p. 224) 

Era Two: The 1960s – A Halting Launch 

With the Synod’s resolution in place, congregations were encouraged to call graduating seniors from Concordia Colleges in River Forest and Seward (In the 1990s each Concordia with a DCE program will be referred to as a university). Ironic as it sounds, given the perceived threat that DCE ministry could undercut the Synod’s commitment to parochial school education, the growing demand for DCEs was just fine with each school’s placement office since they had a surplus of classroom teachers (Griffin, 2009). Even though a DCE training program curriculum would not be in place for another five years (Seward) and seven years (River Forest), and only a handful of individuals were actually certified as DCEs by the end of the decade, the placement of classroom teachers as DCEs became more and more frequent during the 1960s. According to Schroeder (1974, p. 12) some 149 had received calls as a DCE, a number of whom soon found themselves out of DCE ministry and into the classroom-teaching ministry or some other church-related roles. 

Other significant happenings in the 1960s

  1. First Synodical placed DCE In 1960, after graduating from Concordia River Forest and spending the summer in Europe (Karpenko, 1960), Neal Rabe joined the staff of Grace Lutheran Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma as Director of Christian Education (Griffin, 1995, p. 137). 
  2. Another key Synodical resolution After approving its ground-breaking 1959 resolution, the 1962 LCMS convention addressed the issue of training DCEs by passing the following resolution: “Resolved, That the teachers colleges at River Forest and Seward be encouraged, with the approval of the Board for Higher Education, to intensify the program for training directors of Christian education in their curricula, within the framework of their training as teachers of Lutheran parish schools.” (Proceedings, 1962, p. 84)
  3. Board for Parish Education Staff. A prime mover behind the Synod’s establishment of the office of the DCE was Arthur L. Miller, Executive Director of the Board for Parish Education, who, in 1961, wisely brought Rev. Dale Griffin onto his staff to help nurture this budding ministry within the Synod (Griffin, 2009). 
  4. First female Synodical-School DCE placement. In 1969, Diane Horton Gregory accepted a DCE call to Mt. Calvary Lutheran in Huron, South Dakota, where she remained until 1972 (Schroeder,1974). Several female YLTP graduates were already serving as early as 1960. (Karpenko, 1991),
  5. A new approach to training DCEs approved at CSP In 1969, at the encouragement of the Board for Higher Education, Concordia College St. Paul inaugurated an innovative DCE training program under the leadership of Luther Mueller that did not require its graduates to be teacher trained (Griffin, 1995). 

Some lingering questions

  1. What is a DCE?
  2. Are Valpo’s YLTPers outsiders or part of this growing movement of LCMS DCEs? 
  3. Is there a place for women in this new ministry? 
  4. Are the two Concordia faculties open to allocating resources for a training program that might negatively impact teacher education on their campuses?
  5. Can pastors and DCEs work together in a positive and productive way?

Era Three: The 1970s – Getting Connected 

Given the Synod’s decision to establish a DCE-training program at Concordia St Paul, there were now three schools responding to congregations seeking a DCE. How, if at all, should they relate? What followed was an example of the LCMS at its best as a coordinating agency that set direction without being coercive. On May 23, 1974, the Board for Parish Services, under the leadership of Mel Kieschnick, Dale Griffin, Bud Schultz, and Al Senske, convened a “DCE Ministry Consultation” that brought together Luther Mueller from St. Paul, Walter Wangerin, Sr. from River Forest, and William O. Karpenko II from Seward for several days of information sharing, discussion, and future planning (Griffin, 1995). 

Other significant happenings in the 1970s:

  1. The beginnings of DCE-Director-generated research. In 1974, Karpenko began tracking the call patterns among certified and non-certified DCEs within the LCMS. (Karpenko, 1975) This annual request for call information from the Synod’s district education executives and presidents helped lay the foundation for understanding the number and kind of DCEs that were serving in the LCMS. 
  2. The role of DCE-related periodicals. DCE ministry was blessed over its 60-year history with informative periodicals. Beginning in the mid-1960s, the Board for Parish Education published The Director of Christian Education Bulletin, which kept field DCEs abreast of upcoming events, salient research, and important happenings. When the Bulletin ceased in 1991, DCE Directions had an eight-year run, and in these last 10 years NADCE has offered an electronic Quarterly. Supplementing these offerings over the years has been the Lutheran Education Journal (River Forest) and Issues in Christian Education (Seward).
  3. Signs of further Synodical school collaboration. On April 22, 1978, students from Concordia River Forest, Seward, and St. Paul converged on a retreat center in Guthrie, Iowa for the first annual tri-school DCE retreat. The goal of this event was to help future DCEs get to know each other even though the early retreats held an element of competition between the schools.
  4. Concordia Portland and Christ College Irvine launch new DCE programs. In 1977, the Board for Higher Education granted Christ College Irvine and Concordia College Portland the opportunity to establish a DCE training program on their respective campuses, which they did under the leadership of Rev. Paul Meyer and Glen Herbold, respectively.
  5. DCE Colloquy is established. In 1979, during the 53rd LCMS convention in St. Louis, MO, resolution 6-17A established a DCE Colloquy process (Proceedings, 1979). This decision further formalized DCE ministry’s place within the Synod even though in the same convention the Synod deferred action on a resolution to grant DCEs membership in the Synod. (Proceedings, 1979) Since 1977, some 85 individuals have been colloquized, the largest numbers being from Concordia University St. Paul and Concordia University Nebraska (CUS, 2016). 

Some lingering questions

  1. Is DCE ministry a short-term transition ministry or is it a career that can last for 30 years or more?
  2. Don’t all male DCEs end up becoming pastors?
  3. How best can the two new west coast DCE programs be wedded into the existing DCE community?
  4. What will it take to get DCEs on the Synod’s roster as DCEs rather than teachers?

Era Four: The 1980s – The DCE Community Network Coalesces for Collaborative Action

Some people have referred to the 1980s as DCE ministry’s “Golden Era.” Whether this assertion is true or not, it certainly was a heady time in which a number of highly significant happenings took place in the history of DCE ministry. There was a constellation of individuals and groups who willingly contributed to the development and furthering of DCE ministry in Synod. Of particular importance was the support of the Board for Parish Education (changed to Board for Parish Services) and its staff liaison Rev. Dale Griffin, the dedicated efforts of field DCEs through LEA-TEAM, the collaborative spirit of the DCE program directors, a cadre of supportive district education executives, and Concordia Colleges willing to support the training of DCE students. 

Other significant happenings in the 1980s

  1. Synod launches triennial National Youth Gathering (NYG). Starting in Ft. Collins in 1980, each gathering has been a “show case” for the creativity, skills, and commitment of scores of DCEs who have played various major leadership roles in planning, implementing, and evaluating the NYG, and who were still very much in evidence during the 2019 National Youth Gathering in Minneapolis, MN (LCMS NYG Program Book, 2019). 
  2. The forging of a new DCE director team. Vital to the success of future DCE ministry endeavors was the development of a trusting relationship with the now five DCE program directors. Through a series of face-to-face meetings that produced a strong personal bond and productive working relationship, LeRoy Wilke (St. Paul), Glen Herbold (Portland), Paul Meyer (Irvine), Lyle Kurth (River Forest), and Bill Karpenko (Seward) would achieve a number of desired results on behalf of DCE ministry and the Synod. 
  3. The vital role of LEA-TEAM. In 1973, the DCE organization entitled Department of Pastors and DCEs merged its efforts into the Lutheran Education Association (LEA) and, in the process, established LEA-TEAM (Theological Educators in Associated Ministries) (Keyne, 2011). Over the ensuing years the leadership of LEA-TEAM worked tirelessly to spearhead various initiatives that furthered the ministry of congregational DCEs. 
  4. Membership in Synod finally happens. On July 12, 1983, the LCMS in convention voted to include the Director of Christian Education, whether teacher-trained or not, on the roster of the Synod. Resolution 5-08 simply read: 

Whereas, Directors of Christian Education have made excellent contributions to the life and work of the parishes of the Synod; and

Whereas, They have received thorough training for education service in the church; therefore be it

Resolved, The word ‘teacher’ in the Constitution of the Synod be interpreted to include Directors of Christian Education who have been trained and certified by the Synod; and be it further

Resolved, That such Directors of Christian Education be eligible to apply for membership in the Synod; and be it finally

Resolved, That all noncertified Directors of Christian Education be encouraged to seek the certification of the Synod. (Proceedings, 1978, p.178)

  • Certification on the basis of field experience. Ever since the creation of formal DCE training curricula at Concordia River Forest, Seward, and St. Paul, and the related move to certify its graduates, there was a bifurcated DCE community, some 200 of whom were the non-certified pioneers of the ministry. As a result, in 1983 the five training schools collaborated on a process that would grant certification on the basis of field experience (Karpenko, 1983). This remarkable process, which had to obtain the approval of the respective school’s faculty, resulted in 146 individuals receiving DCE certification over the next three years (Karpenko, 1986).
  • Collaborative research around DCE roles and sub-roles. In the early 1980s, it became clear that the five DCE training programs would benefit from a common understanding of the roles and sub-roles of a DCE. After extensive field testing of a survey tool, Karpenko engaged some 320 field DCEs in a three-step research process (1986). The result was the identification of the three most prevalent “functional types” of DCEs and the 10 DCE roles and 52 sub-roles that could form the basis for the ongoing training of LCMS DCEs (1986). Three years later, phase III of The DCE Curricular Development and Validation Project was launched, involving 258 certified congregational DCEs (Karpenko, 1990). This study addressed whether DCEs were Generalists or Specialists, whether there were any significant role differences between female and male DCEs, and the most essential ministry abilities of a new DCE graduate (Karpenko, 1990).

Some lingering questions

  1. Is DCE ministry in a congregation a viable long-term career for women? 
  2. Will all of the schools build their curricula around the newly identified DCE roles and sub-roles?
  3. Will the next cohort of DCE program directors continue to work collaboratively?

Era Five: The 1990s – A Further Maturing of DCE Ministry

With the coming of the 1990s, a third generation of DCE Directors – Steve Christopher (Irvine), Mark Blanke (Chicago), Steve Arnold (St. Paul), Bill Cullen (Portland), and Lisa Keyne (Seward) – found themselves poised to further the maturing of DCE ministry. This august group, along with the leadership of LEA-TEAM, key Synodical executives, and various District Education Executives, continued the pattern of DCE summits, conducted pertinent research, and graduated even larger numbers of DCEs. In 1997, the directors, joined once again by Karpenko who began serving Concordia Chicago in 1995, were operating out of an extensive covenant (Karpenko, 1997) that included mutual ministry understandings, common curricular commitments, and DCE internship agreements. 

Other significant happenings in the 1990s

  1. Presence of DCEs in Synodical leadership roles. As noted earlier in this article, certified DCEs have continued to serve in many non-congregational roles within the LCMS. Some of those roles included Synodical executives and district education executive positions. A particularly significant illustration of this fact was that two certified DCEs – Rich Bimler and Les Stroh – served in the office of LCMS President Ralph Bohlmann as his assistants during the late 1980s and early 1990s (Stroh, 2019).
  2. Ongoing professionalization of DCE Ministry. In the middle of the 1990s, Lisa Keyne completed a doctoral dissertation that addressed the question “Who do you say that I am?” (1995). In outlining the nine criteria of a profession – a clear function and mission, a theory base, preparatory schools, certification or accreditation process, distinctive culture, Code of Ethics, process of evaluation to develop the field, professional organization, and power – she was able to both inform and challenge DCE ministry. In a later article (2011), she clarified that DCE ministry continued on a positive professionalization path, even though it still needed to mature further on several criteria. 
  3. The emergence of the Karpenko Institute for Nurturing and Developing Leadership Excellence (KINDLE). During an LEA-TEAM board meeting in February 1998, it was announced that a scholarship honoring William O. Karpenko II was being established. After several months of negotiation between the honoree and the board, it was decided that a leadership institute that provided continuing education for DCEs would be a superior endeavor. In May 1999, KINDLE’s Board of Directors launched, with the encouragement of LEA-TEAM’s leadership. The early mission of this organization was “to enhance the church through the ministry of DCEs who foster servant leaders.” Since its formation, some 301 individuals have participated in KINDLE’s multiple training initiatives (Schuessler, 2019) 
  4. The arrival of Concordia Austin’s DCE program. In the 1990s, the number of certified and noncertified DCEs serving congregations of the Texas district expanded dramatically. (CUS, 1999) Given the intensifying need for congregational DCEs who understood the Texas culture, and who were willing to remain “down south,” it seemed natural that Concordia College in Austin (now Concordia University Texas) should have a DCE training program. Initially led by Dr. Jim McConnell, this 20-year old program has flourished under Directors Jacob Youmans and Grant Carey, and now has the second largest number of DCE students in preparation for service as DCEs (Lutheran Witness, 2019).
  5. Pivotal DCE summit concludes the century. As described in the “Understandings” section of this article, those gathered for the 1999 DCE Summit reached a consensus regarding the definition and mission of a DCE as well as the values that undergird the position. These hard-earned agreements have continued to guide DCE ministry over the past 20 years (DCE Summit, 1999). 

Some lingering questions

  1. Is there a guiding image that describes the ministry of a DCE?
  2. Will a stronger case for DCE ministry as a profession emerge in the coming years?
  3. Will KINDLE play a useful role in the continuing education of DCEs?
  4. How will the DCE program at Concordia University Texas be received within the Synod? 

Era Six: The 2000s – More Growth and a Celebration

At the turn of the century, DCEs were being trained at six Concordia universities. Enrollments were sturdy and some 40-50 interns were learning their craft in congregations around the Synod and beyond. In 2000, there were some 454 certified DCEs serving congregations of the Synod, 166 of whom were women (CUS, 2000). Another 254 certified DCEs were serving in other ministries of the LCMS, 90 of whom were in parochial school-related ministries. More collaborative actions driven by LEA-TEAM, various District education executives, the DCE directors, and LCMS International Center staff, as well as more pertinent field-based research, were happening as the new century opened. 

Other significant happenings in the 2000s

  1. Ethical guidelines for directors of Christian education. In 2000. a group of certified DCEs in the Twin Cities, under the steady and thoughtful leadership of Dr. Steve Arnold, began the arduous task of creating a DCE Code of Ethics (Carter, 2011) After many meetings, several listening posts, an extensive survey of 302 DCEs under the leadership of David Rahberg (Brantsch, 2001), and a thorough airing of the proposed guidelines at the 2001 DCE summit in Austin, TX, the guidelines were ready for distribution (LEA, 2002) 
  2. Shedding light on noncertified lay practitioners. Over the past 60 years, there have been several thousand non-certified individuals who have served LCMS congregations in full or part-time DCE-type roles. Paul Schoepp’s seminal dissertation (2003), which identified some 500 “lay practitioners,” who were uncertified but serving in DCE-type congregational positions, offered a profile of these church workers as well as their level of involvement in the 10 roles of a DCE described earlier in this article. One key finding, implemented by Concordia St. Paul in the mid-2000s, suggested that the best way to support, and even certify these individuals, was to offer distance-learning courses (Schoepp, 2011). In 2012 Concordia University Irvine followed up on this recommendation and began using this certification approach, including on an undergraduate level. As of 2019, nine DCEs have graduated by this route and another 14 students are in the pipeline (Duport, 2019).
  3. DCE Career Path Project. Ever since the 1960s, questions have arisen whether DCE ministry is a short-term transitional career or something more long-term. A desire for answers to this question and others resulted in the DCE Career Path Project in 2007, when the DCE Summit endorsed the idea. (Karpenko, 2011) A team of six veteran DCEs tackled this task with Dr. Jack Giles serving as convener and Dr. William O. Karpenko II serving as the lead researcher. Other participants included Dr. Debbie Arfsten, Dr. Steve Christopher, Mr. Ben Freudenburg, and Mr. Bob McKinney. The project turned out to be the largest research effort ever conducted on certified LCMS DCEs. The data from the 802 respondents provided a picture of the many and varied career paths of LCMS DCEs. Results of this massive 420-page study are captured in a 24-page monograph. (Giles & Karpenko, 2009)
  4. Kieschnick proclamation. In 2009, in honor of DCE ministry’s 50th anniversary, Gerald Kieschnick, President of the LCMS, issued a proclamation that June 26th should henceforth be recognized as a day to celebrate the ministry of Synodical DCEs, concluding with these words: “Directors of Christian Education have been serving the church with vibrant energy and tireless dedication since the office was originally designed…and our Church remains as much in need of ongoing effort in the area of Christian education as it was 50 years ago.” (Kieschnick, 2009) 

Some lingering questions

  1. What impact will the financial downturn in 2008 have on DCE ministry?
  2. Will the number of certified DCEs serving the Synod continue to grow?
  3. What impact will the Specific Ministry Pastor (SMP) initiative have on DCE Ministry?

Era Seven: The 2010s – Off the Synod’s Radar but Not the Local Congregation’s

After 60 years, DCE ministry has established deep roots in most LCMS districts. Yet as the 2010s opened, DCE ministry, the Synod, and the rest of the country for that matter, found themselves caught up in massive change. Not only would this decade experience continued financial uncertainty, increasing technologically driven innovation, and rapidly changing social norms around human sexuality, but, more close to home, there was a Synodical leadership change in the offing, declining numbers of students attending DCE training programs, and LCMS congregations having to or choosing to remove second-chair staff more frequently than in earlier decades. 

Other significant happenings in the 2010s

  1. Ministering in a very different world. How does one minister in a culture that is becoming increasingly toxic to organized religion? (Borchers, et al., 2011). As Bolsinger outlined in his provocative book Canoeing the Mountains (2015), a new style of adaptive leadership was needed to address the changing ministry scene. Confronting DCE ministry, especially the training schools, was a mindset that no longer responded to an attractional model of doing ministry. Adding to this complicated milieu, those in DCE ministry were also navigating the negative impacts of social media, truth understood subjectively, and a mentality that one could be any one of many gender designations. On the other hand, there was a fresh millennial emphasis upon being real, using social media to stay connected, addressing climate change, and supporting celibate gays (Yarhouse & Zaporozhets, 2019). 
  2. National Association of Directors of Christian Education (NADCE).The long wait surrounding the establishment of an independent professional organization for DCEs ended in March 2010 when chairperson David Weidner announced the launching of NADCE. (Weidner, 2010). Less than a year later in Orlando, FL, NADCE held it first of five well-received biennial conferences. As an organization, NADCE’s mission continued to focus on advocacy, professional connections, and resources.
  3. A shift in the Synod’s vision. With the election in 2013 of Rev. Dr. Matthew Harrison as the President of the LCMS, a new vision emerged for the Synod that emphasized “Witness, Mercy, and Life Together.” Within the latter aspect of the vision, catechesis as well as parochial school education were being encouraged. What was missing was a comprehensive emphasis on Christian education that speaks in Biblically relevant ways to all ages, and is anchored by a Synod staff person whose portfolio is parish education. 
  4. Advocacy efforts increase. One of the themes of DCE ministry’s history centers on advocating for initiatives that enhance its opportunity to serve faithfully and effectively. Whether it was the Synodical membership push of the early 1980s or the Nomenclature debates of the 1990s (Arnold, et al., 1995), LEA-TEAM lent its voice to commissioned ministers’ concerns. With the launching of NADCE, various individual and group initiatives emerged. One of these efforts was the July 2013 consultation entitled “For Such a Season as This,” which gathered 21 DCEs of varying ages from around the country to address a perceived diminishing Synodical emphasis on congregational lifespan Christian education. A current advocacy effort is focused on Synodical convention Resolution 9-17 that passed in July 2019 (Proceedings, 2019, p. 201) entitled “To Study Voting Privilege in the LCMS.” 
  5. Increasing number of long-term DCEs retiring. Even though the numbers were not massive, they did begin to address questions about DCE longevity that were raised in prior decades. By 2019 some 140 certified DCEs had served congregations for 30 years or more (Karpenko, 2018), and of that number 26 had careers of 40 years or more (Karpenko, 2019). It also bears mentioning that DCE Bob Ewell retired in July 2019 after serving 50 years at Christ Lutheran in Lincoln, NE. (Karpenko, personal conversation, July 25, 2019).
  6. Closing of the Concordia Portland DCE program. In 2018 after a series of consultations, faculty discussions, and administrative decisions, Concordia University Portland closed its 37-year-old DCE program for reasons of under-enrollment and lack of needed income. Over the years the program had graduated 132 DCEs, 26 of whom were still serving the congregations of the LCMS (CUS, 2019).

Some lingering questions

  1. Will congregations continue to eliminate DCE positions for questionable reasons?
  2. Can DCEs be trained in a new style of leadership that is both acceptable to congregations and addresses the current culture?
  3. How will the mindset and attitudes of millennials impact their DCE career? 
  4. Will DCE program enrollments continue to diminish?
  5. Will NADCE be able to impact positively DCE ministry through its advocacy efforts?
  6. Will DCE program directors be able to maintain their history of cooperation and collaboration amid declining budgets, multiple institutional roles, and fewer students?
  7. Will the 2019 Synodical convention resolutions regarding Commissioned Ministers being eligible to vote at Synodical conventions receive any kind of a positive hearing?
  8. Will any other LCMS DCE programs close or be established?
  9. Will the Synodical convention resolution designed to study the future structure of the Concordia University System impact the training of DCEs? 

Revisiting the “Lingering Questions” from a 2019 Perspective

Over the past 60 years, numerous questions have arisen regarding DCE ministry in the LCMS. Looking back, many of them have been answered while others still linger. What follows is a brief response to the questions arising during the first 50 years. The nine questions related to the current decade will be left to simmer for the next person who writes about the ongoing history of DCE ministry. 

  1. What is a DCE? As David Weidner helpfully pointed out (2009) this question was often mixed with two other questions: “What does a DCE do all day?” and “Aren’t DCEs just a bunch of youth directors?” While this latter question belied the crucial role that DCEs played with congregational youth, there were some early uncertified DCEs whose ministry vision was fairly unfocused. Over the ensuing years, various DCE-related field research repeatedly demonstrated that, on average, a DCE’s major responsibilities lay in parish education and that youth ministry often formed what was called a “dual-function” role for a significant number of DCEs (Karpenko, 1990) 
  2. Are Valpo’s YLTPers outsiders or part of this growing movement of LCMS DCEs? Some were a part but most were not. Becoming rostered by the LCMS proved to be a difficult barrier for those YLTPers serving congregations. Six did choose to be certified as DCEs through the 1980s field certification process (Karpenko, 1986). That said, in the 1960s, female YLTPers opened the eyes of numerous congregations regarding the value of a woman DCE serving on a congregation staff.
  3. Is there a future for women in this new ministry? Clearly. Besides the forerunner role of female YLTPers, Concordia St. Paul graduated an equal number of women and men in the 1970s, further cementing a woman’s role in this ministry (CUS, 1990). Over the next 40 years, the steady and dedicated ministry efforts of hundreds of congregation-based female DCEs further demonstrated the value of women as staff colleagues, educators, volunteer coordinators, and role models. Their leadership role in LEA-TEAM, KINDLE, NADCE, district DCE conferences, the triennial National Youth Gathering, and many other church-related settings has been impactful.
  4. Are the CUC and CUN faculties open to allocating resources for a training program that might negatively impact teacher education on their campus? It appears that they were when studying curricular changes and staffing patterns in the 1960s and 1970s (Griffin, 1995) even though it was often painful for teacher-education advocates to watch students with relational and leadership skills select to train as DCEs rather than teachers and principals.
  5. Can pastors and DCEs work together in a positive and productive way? Beyond the “coffee pot conferences” of the 1950s, which fostered a positive and productive vision for pastors and DCEs working together, there were ample situations where a pastor and DCE could not function together effectively. Yet, over the ensuing years, more and more strong, long-term teams emerged. This perception was further solidified in a 1992 survey of district presidents and education executives, which found that “a) the number of strong teams was growing; b) less time was being spent in responding to problematic staff relationships; and c) the number of gender-related staff problems was much less than three years ago.” (Karpenko, 1992).
  6. Is DCE ministry a short-term transition ministry or is it a career that can last for 30 years or more? It is turning out to be both. For some DCEs their career vision clearly has been to do DCE ministry for 3-5 years and then move on to another form of service either inside or outside of the church. On the other hand, as noted earlier in this article, there is a growing stream of male and female DCEs who have careers that span 40-plus years. 
  7. Don’t all male DCEs end up becoming pastors? No, they do not. Most DCEs are individuals with a passion for second-chair ministry as Christian educators. During the first four decades of DCE ministry this was certainly true. In the past two decades, as recent DCE certification directories point out, the number of certified DCEs becoming pastors has grown, especially stimulated by a more amenable Specific Ministry Pastor (SMP) process. The 2019 percentage of eligible DCEs who are pastors, is 17% (CUS, 2019). 
  8. How best can the two new west coast DCE programs be wedded into the existing DCE community? This question was answered fairly quickly in the early 1980s because of the issues facing DCE ministry at the time, and the urgency of conveying a united front when seeking to be recognized as members of the Synod’s ministerium. Also, while being the “new kids on the block,” there was an openness to collaboration by Glen Herbold (Portland) and Paul Meyer (Irvine) that soon resulted in both growing friendships and a capacity to link arms on common projects and goals.
  9. What will it take to get DCEs on the Synod’s roster as DCEs rather than teachers? This question had haunted DCE ministry ever since a 1967 conference asked this question for all DCEs, whether teacher-trained or not (Board for Parish Education, 1967). Finally, what it took, as described earlier, was the concerted collaboration of all the major players in DCE ministry. Pivotal in this process were the efforts of LEA-TEAM’s leadership, the relationships between Synodical staff, particularly Rev. Dale Griffin and Rev. Herbert Mueller (Secretary of the Synod at the time), and the DCE program directors, and various district executives and presidents. A common voice for a common cause. 
  10. Is DCE ministry in a congregation a viable long-term career for women? During the past 40 years an extensive amount of research has been directed toward women serving in DCE Ministry. These efforts were summarized in an extensive article on female DCEs (Arfsten, Duensing-Werner, & Karpenko, 2011). In essence, the article concluded that a) the amount of time that female and male DCEs spend pursuing the 10 roles of a DCE are quite similar; b) the majority of female DCEs are married; c) while still present, the number of gender-related staff problems are lessening; and d) the majority of female DCEs are congregational DCEs. Given the dramatic cultural shifts generated by the MeToo Movement, a re-visiting of the aforementioned findings would be instructive. 
  11. Will all of the schools build their curricula around the newly identified DCE roles and sub-roles? Without a thorough examination of what is being taught at each Concordia, it is difficult to answer this question in 2019. The author’s impression from numerous conversations with fellow directors in the 1980s and 1990s was that those schools who were a part of the process that researched and identified the roles and sub-roles integrated them into their curricula in ways that served their training approach. 
  12. Will the next cohort of DCE program directors continue to work collaboratively? This sensitive question can finally be answered only by today’s DCE directors. Over the years, collaboration was a hallmark of the directors’ common efforts. That said, it was a miracle that DCE program directors were able to collaborate as much as they did, given the competitive dynamics around student recruitment, branding, unequal resources, and curricular differences. Today, the financial, organizational, and personal obstacles to collaboration are more formidable, requiring even more sacrifice and effort. 
  13. Is there a guiding image that describes the ministry of a DCE? Over the past 40 years the title of Director of Christian Education, while not amenable to some congregations and DCEs, has come to be an acceptable generic title for this ministry. What continues to percolate from era to era has been the guiding image of a DCE. In the 1980s a commonly-used term for a DCE was parish educator; in the 1990s it was teacher of the faith; then came the term lifespan educator, which remains the parlance of today. Alongside of this discussion there was the ever-present issue of whether DCEs were “generalists” or “specialists” (Blanke, 2011), which DCE-related research has clearly found to be the latter. (Karpenko, 1990). 
  14. Will a stronger case for DCE ministry as a profession emerge in the coming years? If one works with Keyne’s nine criteria of a professional organization, there continue to be solid signs that each of the criteria is being addressed, particularly the most challenging one, namely “power.” Given the current study initiative emerging from the 2019 LCMS convention around who can vote in district and Synodical conventions, this criterion may finally be realized. 
  15. Will KINDLE play a useful role in the continuing education of DCEs? Now entering its 20th year of service to DCEs, and other Commissioned Ministers of the LCMS, KINDLE continues to offer training experiences for three distinct populations – new graduates in their first four years of public ministry, those in the full bloom of their ministry career, and those who are 50 and older who desire to finish their public ministry well. If KINDLE’s extensive evaluation data are valid, it appears that the organization is addressing a critical continuing-education need within DCE ministry (Pavasar, personal communication, October 18, 2019).
  16. How will the DCE program at Concordia University Texas be received within the Synod? Quite positively. The DCE program has tapped into a very vibrant, innovative district, which currently has some 86 certified DCEs serving in its midst (CUS, 2019). Graduates now serve in many of the Synod’s districts. 
  17. What impact will the financial downturn in 2008 have on DCE ministry? There are no solid data with which to answer this question other than a handful of anecdotal stories where DCEs have appeared to be terminated for congregational financial reasons. Otherwise, congregations continue to seek DCE interns, call new graduates, and pursue field DCEs (CUS, 2019).
  18. Will the number of certified DCEs serving the Synod continue to grow? Combining the number of DCEs serving in all ministries of the LCMS, the answer is “Yes,” although within this gradual growth there have been some years when the total dipped below a previous year. (CUS, 2017) 
  19. The impact of the Specific Ministry Pastor (SMP) initiative upon DCE Ministry: Since its inception in 2007 some 30-35 certified DCEs completed the program and became LCMS pastors. (CUS, 2019) While this is fewer men than one might have imagined, the impact has been dramatic given that many of these individuals were veteran, highly gifted, and well-regarded DCEs. Their departure from local and district DCE ranks has been a significant loss for those remaining in DCE ministry. 

The Future in Perspective

There is much in the future of DCE ministry that suggests exciting opportunity, robust challenge, and ample chances for collaboration, if the past 60 years are any indication of what is ahead. Yet who is not sobered by the current polarizations that are devastating community within and outside of the church? Who is not daunted by the seemingly endless concoctions beckoning people to individualistic declarations and pursuits? Who is not drawn to technology’s seductive offers of a better, fuller life? 

All who follow Jesus are living in a special time when running the race of faith is full of distraction, godless panaceas, and disconcerting change. It is into this season that DCE ministry continues to send its band of laborers. Amid the lingering questions noted for the 2010s, can DCE ministry survive, and more importantly, thrive with an adaptive leadership style that effectively addresses the needs of a “me first” culture? The author believes that it can and will. 

If its history is any predictor, DCE Ministry, and its 1,000-strong cohort, will need to keep its eyes on Jesus. As Hebrews 12:3 invites, “Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” May this reminder and promise fuel DCE ministry in the coming decades to offer Christ-like servant leadership that engages, enlightens, and encourages those whom the Holy Spirit inspires to be like Jesus. In the decades ahead, to God Alone Be the Glory! LEJ


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*For those interested in a more expansive 60-year history of DCE ministry in the LCMS you are welcome to send that request to 

**The figures for 1969,1979, and 1989 are approximations built upon Karpenko’s annual DCE Call Trends documents and the 1990 Comprehensive Directory of DCEs who have been certified by a Synodical school of the LCMS.

William O. Karpenko II or “Karp” was on his DCE-type internship in July 1959 in Los Angeles, CA, some 500 miles south of where the LCMS was voting to encourage the calling of congregational DCEs. After graduating from the Youth Leadership Training Program at Valparaiso University in 1961, God led him into parish ministry in Cheektowaga NY and onto mission fields in Japan and Nigeria. Chicago was his next base of operation where he drove a taxi, achieved a Masters degree in counseling psychology from DePaul University, and worked with trouble-prone youth in community and high school settings. The next 35 years, which included a PhD from the University of Nebraska, were spent in Lutheran higher education at Concordia University Nebraska, Concordia University Chicago, and Valparaiso University.  Currently he is an adjunct professor at Concordia University Nebraska and is secretary of the KINDLE Board of Directors.