Words for Thought

Mar 2nd, 2020 | Category: Columns, Words for Thought
By Shirley K. Morgenthaler

It Was a Good Year

A good year. 1959. Think about it. Training for Directors of Christian Education. There were a few teachers in congregations already serving as DCEs. In July 1959,

the LCMS in convention approved the beginning of DCE programs in synodical schools, as well as the calling of DCEs by congregations. Thus, this new ministry finally had a name and official approval.

A good year. 1959. This new thing called rock-and-roll music was becoming popular. Elvis Presley was a new phenomenon, changing the sound of music forever. 1959 was the year that Buddy Holly died in a plane crash after a seven-year career in rock-and-roll music. College students, even at Concordia Teachers College, were listening to Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley.

1959. The presidential campaigns of Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy were getting started, with both of them becoming front runners for their respective political party. And when President Kennedy was assassinated less than three years after taking office, VP Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ) moved into the presidency. It is no accident that Johnson had been trained as a teacher, and that he had taught in a one-room school on the southern border of Texas. His concern for the children of Texas resulted in his War on Poverty. I have a hunch that that national perspective had an impact on the focal lenses through which DCE ministries have been developed.

Now fast forward to 2019. Sixty years have passed. DCEs are now called and commissioned, and are a visible force of ministry in Lutheran churches across the country. DCE programs are offered at five of the nine Concordia Universities of the LCMS. It’s an impressive growth Dedicated majors in the fields of faith formation, spiritual development, management, and leadership. All of these are vital foundations for the person in the ministry of Christian Education.

DCE ministry was initially envisioned by the synod as particularly important for congregations without Lutheran schools. That concept even made its way into the language of the 1959 synodical resolution. But not all DCEs serve as stand-alone congregational servants under the pastor of a congregation. Some, maybe even many, serve as commissioned ministers alongside the also-commissioned principal and teachers of a congregation.

DCE ministry is a cradle-to-grave approach to congregational ministry. There is no limit, except that adopted by an individual congregation, for the range of age levels and program foci for the DCE. What a buffet of options! Live in a congregation for a year, and you will have a good idea of where the ministry focus needs to be. But the buffet goes on. Only the pastor and DCE have the focus to limit their buffet choices; to limit them into a ministry that builds on congregational strengths and needs.

It took almost a decade for official DCE programs to be in place at CUChicago and at CUNebraska. DCE ministry and ministers often take a path of creativity toward solving the challenges of their ministry. Preparing future DCEs for this ministry with a moving target of needs and solutions is a challenge that all five of the DCE programs face. This is not a ministry for the follow-all-the-rules person. It is not a ministry for the person who expects a 9-to-5 schedule. It is not a ministry for the person who would like a roadmap, or at least a curriculum, to show the way for ongoing and emerging ministries. The congregational DCE must be able to dance between the lines of the curriculum, the congregational needs, and the possibilities of new responses to those needs.

And now we come to the preparation of individuals for this DCE ministry with so many options and possibilities. Those at our Concordia Universities who have been called to the academy for leadership toward DCE ministry must themselves be creative and courageous. Their challenge is to form young Christians into leaders and doers. What a challenge! Maybe that’s why it took River Forest and Seward half a decade or more after the first resolution of the LCMS in convention to put DCE preparation programs firmly in place.

It is with awe and gratitude that I lift up the leaders in DCE ministry over the first sixty years. They are not named here because Dr. Karpenko has done a great job of naming both current and former leaders in this field. These leaders began with a need. They saw how creative teachers-turned-DCEs were already meeting congregational needs. They identified and developed courses that would help future DCEs prepare for these new roles. They became experts in communicating the faith and its formation to new and future DCEs so that they would do the same in their ministries. They modeled leadership for these future leaders. They showed servanthood and servant leadership to these emerging servants for their entry into ministry. 

Their work provided the template for the leaders who have followed them. Their courage has instilled courage in those they taught and those they mentored into the leadership of these fledgling programs. Their servant leadership has provided the model for future servants and leaders, especially those on university campuses. I thank God for these courageous leaders and servants and for the preparation of DCE ministers for this important congregational need. The saints in heaven rejoice with me. LEJ