From the President – Sending out leaders
Under the sunny skies of a beautiful, warm (but not too warm!) May day, and in the beautiful sanctuary of Trinity Lutheran Church in Lansdale, Pennsylvania, the staff, faculty, and Board of Trustees of The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia were pleased to send fifty-two leaders into lives of service and ministry.
As we were lining up and getting ready to process, I thought about the number of lives these fifty-two graduates would touch over the course of their careers through their leadership in congregations, social ministry agencies, Synod staffs, seminaries, advocacy groups, and more. We’re talking, quite literally, about hundreds of thousands of people who will be touched by the Gospel through the words and deeds of these leaders.
I also thought about the number of people it took to support each of these fifty-two graduates in getting to this point. Parents, spouses, friends, children, pastors, camp counsels…. Behind each graduate stands a crowd of witnesses who have supported and encouraged them.
In fact, when you talk to almost anyone who is attending seminary about how he or she arrives at the decision to begin theological study, he or she usually references one or two key persons who not only saw that they had the gifts for ministry, but told them about it. While we think of a calling to ministry — whether ministry in the church or beyond — in fairly personal terms, it turns out that calling is a highly communal event. Someone told us we have what it takes to be a leader. Someone else suggested we go to seminary. Another person still affirmed our gifts. Others stretched us. Still more supported us through their gifts of time and finances. If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a whole church to raise up leaders.
Our commencement speaker, Dr. Mitri Raheb, pastor of Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem (the one in Palestine, as he reminded us, not in Pennsylvania☺) shared with our graduates the three most important things he has learned through his life of service and leadership: 1) You need to listen to people before speaking. 2) It’s simply crucial to identify the gifts of your members and encourage them to use them. 3) Leaders need to be open to God surprising you with a larger vision than you’d imagined.
I think Pr. Raheb’s advice applies not only to new graduates but to seminaries and the larger church as well. As you likely know, there is a fair amount of hand-wringing these days about where the next generation of leaders will come from given the decline in seminary enrollment across the church. Indeed, some ask whether or not we will find enough leaders for this church we love so much. Frankly, and taking a cue from Pr. Raheb’s wonderful address, I think the answer to that question is easy. If we continue to listen to the faith journeys of our people, identify those with gifts for ministry and encourage them to use them, and be surprised by what God will do with our efforts, we will have no problem finding plenty of leaders.
That’s work that each of us can do. And I give thanks to be joined with you in this way in the task of identifying the leaders that will process with us in commencement in the years to come.
Yours in Christ,