Series editor’s note: Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton and other leaders have invited our whole church into a conversation about future visions, directions and priorities for our work in the years ahead (elca.org/future). Here the presidents and chief administrative officers of our eight seminaries offer their brief perspectives. They are donating the author stipend to the ELCA Fund for Leaders, which provides scholarships to seminarians. —Michael Cooper-White, president of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg (Pa.).
As I look to the future of our church, I see the good news continuing to claim hearts, lending us courage and freedom to take our love of neighbor on the road. I see at the same time God enabling us to pay attention to acts of love that come to us. I see us changing behaviors, being captured by gratitude and wonder, living more simply so that others may simply live. I see healing of spirit and body in Jesus’ name. I see more sharing of authority and responsibility in our institutional church. I see joy in serving.
—Brian Stein Webber, chief administrative officer, Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, Berkeley, Calif.
The future of the church of Jesus Christ is exciting. Yes, there is decline in places. But that decline doesn’t mean that the Spirit is idle. In fact, I always like to say that the Spirit has no maintenance program. God is mightily on the move in the world. There are more Lutherans in the largely Muslim populated country of Indonesia than in North America. And the Lutheran church there is growing. Nothing can prevail against Christ’s church, which is growing faster today than in any previous period in history. As the ELCA, it’s time for us to reclaim the “E” word and reassert Martin Luther’s identity as the first evangelical.
—Clay Schmit, provost, Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary/Lenoir-Rhyne University, Columbia, S.C.
The future of our branch of the church will need clarity about who we are and where we serve. I hope we can reclaim a more robust confessional Lutheranism that doesn’t use that as a veil for ethnic biases but impels a truly evangelical witness in our actual setting. That will require us to honestly name our sins of racism and white privilege as a church because Christ has first set us free to admit that evil and will empower us to change our ways. I also hope we can embrace a humble role alongside the growing Christianity of the Southern Hemisphere, learning from them how to bear the wounds of others with the resources we already have at hand. They can show us what it now means to bear the cross.
—James Nieman, president, Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.
Our vision as an institution is a shared vision as we lean into a new future. Aware of an ever more pluralistic, environmentally challenged and globalized context, we will be a learning community where sound Christian scholarship meets creative practices to address the traumas of our times and witness to a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). In confident hope for the Spirit’s renewal (Romans 8:26-39), we will embody the Lutheran confessional witness for the sake of the mission of the whole church. Our prayer is that God’s work through faithful, innovative and collaborative Christian public leaders will inspire others to live a faith active in love in a church and world beset by multiple injustices.
—Robin Steinke, president, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minn.
It’s a great time to be the church. This time to reflect upon the theological underpinnings of the Reformation serve to remind us of the power of the gospel not only to transform the world but also as the very hope for the world. Because God carries out God’s very best work under the most challenging of circumstances—raising the crucified Jesus from the dead—we are entering into a time where God is making all things new, and we get to be “in” on it.
—Rick Barger, president, Trinity Lutheran Seminary, Columbus, Ohio.
When I consider the one who formed us, gave us Jesus Christ and moves among us now by the power of the Spirit, I’m hopeful for the future. But this same future evokes in me deep disquiet about the church we are today. Can we learn new ways to live the old, old story so new people may come to know and trust God? Can we learn new ways of being church that aren’t intertwined with racist systems and economic privilege? I’m eager to participate in what God is doing with us.
—Louise Johnson, president, Wartburg Theological Seminary, Dubuque, Iowa.
This year marks the 40th anniversary of my ordination. I’ve never been more hopeful about the future of our church. In many ways we are more challenged than when I became a pastor in the turbulent mid-1970s. But we also have more opportunities to sound “grace notes” in a culture where so many grope to find reason to hope. We have fantastic leaders, both lay and rostered, and more are equipped to proclaim the eternal word in this world that changes at warp speed. We will continue to grow into the fullness of God’s mission, which includes the quest for greater justice.
—Michael Cooper-White, president, Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg (Pa.).
The future is God’s. How can it not be hopeful? Our call is to discern where God is leading us, and our prayer is to have the courage to follow. Will we be a smaller church, a larger church, in decline or growing? None of that ultimately matters, as the church has experienced periods of growth and decline before. Our mission is to boldly declare the promises of Scripture, to stand in solidarity with those who suffer or are oppressed, and to embody Christ’s love to our neighbors in need. God will take care of the rest.
—David Lose, president, Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia.