I Don’t Like Change!
Perhaps my problem stems from being a product of “The Twelve Year Plan.” An education consisting of a four-year high school, two-year junior college, two-year senior college, and four-year seminary—all in institutions with the brand-name Concordia–could tend to skew one’s perspective.
My perspective on what constitutes the character, quality and charisma of a Lutheran faculty is understandably quite high. All my instructors at every level were similarly trained, thoroughly catechized, and at their core committed to a Lutheran worldview of Law and Gospel, Justification by Grace through Faith, and an understanding of Vocation as God acting through them in order to serve me.
Now, after serving as a pastor for a decade at two locations, each having its own Lutheran elementary school, as a professor for 13 years at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, and now half-way through my 15th year at Concordia University Wisconsin, primarily teaching youth ministry and teaching older adults—I look around me and realize that my high perspective on what constitutes the character, quality and charisma of a Lutheran faculty (save for seminary level education) is no longer tenable.
Nor should it be. The culture has changed. The students have changed. The institutions have changed. Should I be surprised that what constitutes a faculty member has changed?
Yet, in spite of my strong distaste for change, the transformation that is taking place opens new and exciting opportunities for service and outreach at every level. Had I been on the faculty of the old Concordia College in Milwaukee (before its move from downtown out to Mequon to become Concordia University Wisconsin), I would never have had Muslims or a Hindu in my Christian Faith class. I do now. Had I been on the faculty of the old Concordia Milwaukee, I would never have had colleagues whose denominational background was anything other than Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod. I do now.
In fact, the most recent statistics from our Concordia University Wisconsin website indicate that 40 percent of our faculty is LCMS, 14 percent is other Lutheran, and 26 percent is Roman Catholic. Now, let me be clear. Our entire theology faculty is on the ordained roster of the LCMS, and all have passed prior approval from our church governing bodies. I want no confusion on that matter! But what does this diversity among faculty mean for addressing the newly developed diversity of students when only 47 percent of the student body is Lutheran of any kind?!
Here’s what I think it means. It means that we can no longer take for granted that a common theological worldview exists on our campus among students or faculty. Wisely taking this into consideration, it means that the administration of the institution must intentionally, publicly, audibly, and persistently hold forth that we are “a Lutheran institution of higher learning” as announced by our mission statement. This, however, is insufficient. What must follow is a clear explanation of what it means to be a Lutheran Christian. The undergraduate students will find this out when they take their required three religion courses. But what about faculty?
I am forever grateful that our administration is fully cognizant of the challenge and has built into the university a system to address theological needs of the faculty. For example…
- New faculty members are connected with long-term faculty members as mentors to provide insight, explanation and guidance. New faculty meet with their mentors in informal settings to discuss what it means to be a faculty member at Concordia. I’ve been a mentor over the last several years.
- New faculty are also placed in reading groups in order to discuss what it means to be a member of a Lutheran faculty.
- The Faculty Summit (formerly retreat) at the beginning of each academic year has a focus on integrating faith and learning.
- The CUW Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching sponsors regular “Lunch & Learn” opportunities for faculty on integrating faith and learning, as well as several reading groups.
Could more be done? Certainly. But the days are past when our faculty could be both homogenous and competent in every major we offer. Today’s challenge is to grow in our ability winsomely to share Jesus Christ as the heart and center of Christian education to students and faculty alike.
John W. Oberdeck, Ph.D.
Professor of Theology and Director for Lay Ministry, Concordia University Wisconsin