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The educational system of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod is a precious jewel, priceless not only to the synod itself, as it raises up future church workers and faithful congregation members, but valuable also to the communities that LCMS schools and churches serve. Lutheran educators are able to present a full vision of what it is to be a faith-filled human being in diverse communities, embodying the role of the Christian in both the secular and spiritual functions of a society. Lutheran curricula are capable of providing a framework that allows exploration of all subjects, while finding firm foundation in the doctrines of the faith. Lutheran schools teach students and parents alike to live in vocational service to the church and world. And they do so, always, with the intent to share the love of Christ to all people in their community. In other words, Lutheran schools establish God's Word and Christ's redeeming work as the center of all things.

Lutheran educators are able to present a full vision of what it is to be a faith-filled human being in diverse communities, embodying the role of the Christian in both the secular and spiritual functions of a society.A few weeks ago, our offices at CUEnet received a message from a colloquy student named Debbie Coughlin, a teacher from Christ Lutheran School in Overland, Kansas. She wrote:

[My colloquy mentor] Dr. Halm stated that “It is a shame for a teacher to be in a classroom and waste an opportunity to witness and share the gospel of Christ.” As a public educator for many years, the academic side of teaching came quite naturally to me, but after three years of teaching at Christ Lutheran School, I continued to feel the prompting of the Holy Spirit to better weave the Gospel and faith into my daily classroom life. Initially, I signed up for the colloquy program thinking that I would grow in my personal knowledge of the Lord, the Bible, and Lutheran church history. Colloquy has far exceeded this expectation. Not only has the program turned out to be a blessing to me [personally], I have also grown in how I work with students and families on a daily basis. My morning prayer is now, “Please, Lord, do not let me waste an opportunity to share Your love in my classroom.” I no longer want to simply weave faith into my classroom alongside academics, rather my mission has become to share the love of Christ always.

Debbie has developed a firm grasp of the mission and ministry of a Lutheran school. How can we encourage all teachers in LCMS classrooms to embrace this full understanding of the teaching ministry? Perhaps first we must clarify why it is important that they do so.

Lutheran schools stand apart within a community specifically because the teachings they present are based upon the riches of Lutheran doctrine and a Lutheran worldview.Lutheran schools stand apart within a community specifically because the teachings they present are based upon the riches of Lutheran doctrine and a Lutheran worldview. These schools are distinct from other schools not only in name or ownership, but in what is taught in the classroom, in the soundness of its theology, and the practice of its faith and values. I am confident that you, too, can recognize how invaluable this distinction is! The Lutheran understanding of sin and forgiveness is different from that of Catholicism; its expression of justification and sanctification is different than that of a Calvinist, and its articulation of justice and morality contrasts with that of the secular humanist. The Lutheran approach to citizenship is different than that of the Methodist, different than that of the neo-evangelical, different than that of the Mormon. Lutherans teach science and art without the trepidation that can exist among Baptists, but with a confidence regarding the centrality of faith even as one explores with great curiosity any subject. Such differences are not just incidental—rather these distinctions are essential to the community and congregation and deserve to be valued deeply.

For 180 years, Lutheran schools have communicated these distinctive perspectives and doctrines to the community with excellence—and they continue to try to do so now. Such excellence does not come easily, however, and it is certainly made more challenging when the teachers who staff the classrooms of Lutheran schools have not been specifically equipped in Lutheran doctrine and perspectives. The growing number of publicly-trained teachers in LCMS classrooms causes concern for the church-at-large. Not because they aren't great teachers! Not at all! Like Debbie, these teachers are usually excellent and experienced academicians and pedagogues. But, to an increasing extent, many teachers find themselves struggling to meet fully the Lutheran mission of their school with a frustrating deficit in understanding Lutheran theology. It is not a lack of dedication to the faith that hinders their ministry in the classroom; it is simply a lack of training. Unless teachers have an opportunity to achieve the same high standard of expertise in matters of doctrine as they possess in other subject areas, soon the doctrines of the church will no longer be shared well with coming generations. The LCMS will find itself in danger of losing the precision and richness of its theology, and with it, the precious contribution that Lutheran schools can make to families and communities.

The LCMS has taken this concern seriously and provides an excellent opportunity for all teachers in all classrooms to receive collegiate-level training in Lutheran doctrine. The original colloquy program was created many decades ago to allow publicly credentialed educators access to the same theological training as professional church work students from LCMS colleges. This allowed the educators to be called to their teaching position by their congregation and placed on the roster of synod as a Minister of Religion, Commissioned. This alternative route was only necessary for a few in the early years—in the ’60s and ’70s, most LCMS teachers were synodically-trained through the teacher education programs of the Demographic trends in the hiring of Lutheran teachers have made the program absolutely essential to meet the needs of Lutheran churches and schools.Concordias. Now, however, demographic trends in the hiring of Lutheran teachers have made the program absolutely essential to meet the needs of Lutheran churches and schools. According to the most recent statistics provided by the synod’s School Ministry Office, 50 percent of teachers in Lutheran classrooms (11,000 out of 22,000) are not on the roster of synod and have not been trained in Lutheran theology.

In response to this rapid change, the LCMS moved its colloquy program online, increasing its accessibility so that all teachers who need doctrinal training can access the program anywhere, at any time. Provided by CUEnet on behalf of the entire Concordia University System, the Online Colloquy Program consists of eight collegiate courses covering biblical literature and hermeneutics, church history, Lutheran doctrine and the Lutheran Confessions, world religions, the ethos of Lutheran education, and the pedagogy of faith. These courses are taught through video lectures provided by many outstanding Lutheran theologians from the seminaries and the Concordia universities, such as Rev. Dr. Robert Kolb, Rev. Dr. Larry Rast, Rev. Dr. Reed Lessing, and Rev. Dr. Patrick Ferry.

More than 2,000 teachers in Lutheran schools have participated in these courses from across the country and around the world, and their review of the education they receive in the program is stellar and has been consistent for years. Consider that back in 2006, Mark Tooley wrote of the program, “I can't tell you how much I have been blessed by this study. It has truly opened my eyes to the depth of God I never knew—His love, complexity, and compassion.” Later, in 2015, this comment came from Rev. Daniel Brammeier regarding one of his school's teachers in colloquy: “Ellen is a great teacher here. It's been so much fun watching and listening to her growth as a teacher and theologian as she worked through the classes for the colloquy program. Her learning has been so exciting; it's spilled over into the classroom and to other teachers.” The colloquy program has received such applause from hundreds of participants.

The thorough theological education a teacher receives through colloquy, and her/his subsequent call and commissioning into the teaching ministry, results in many benefits for the teacher, school, and congregation. CUEnet's research and assessment of colloquy students clearly demonstrates that the theologically trained and called teacher:

Could not all Lutheran churches and schools benefit from teachers so well-equipped? Could not yours?

The teachers of the synod are essential to the ministry of the synod, both now and in the future.In his Large Catechism, Luther wrote, “That to which your heart clings and entrusts itself is...really your God.” For those who followed Luther, this created the impetus for the establishment of parochial schools, in order that children might receive a formal education grounded firmly in the faith of the church—for this is where children's hearts should cling. In today's world, the impetus remains the same. The teachers of the synod are essential to the ministry of the synod, both now and in the future. We must find the means and the will to encourage and equip these teachers as fully as they, and their students, deserve.

If you are a teacher, speak with your administrator and pastor about colloquy and your desire to be fully equipped to fulfill your role. If you are an administrator or a pastor, speak to your congregation about the need for trained and called teachers and ask the congregation to make this concern a priority. And if you are a congregation member, consider the ways in which you can support teachers, both financially and spiritually, as they engage in the work of the colloquy program. Your congregation, school, and community will be blessed when all of your teachers have a clear and confident understanding of Lutheran doctrine. More information about the online colloquy program may be found at www.cuenet.edu/colloquy or by emailing info@cuenet.edu.

Dr. Heather Stueve is the chief operating officer and colloquy director at CUEnet. She is deployed to CUEnet from the faculty of Concordia University, Portland, Oregon, where she began her career in higher education 30 years ago as a theatre and English professor. She entered the teaching ministry of the LCMS through the colloquy process.

Photos courtesy CUEnet.