The singular task of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, ever since our synod established it in 1863, has been to prepare pastors for service in the parishes and mission fields of our Wisconsin Synod.
Ever since that beginning, the seminary has understood that this singular mission has two emphases. One emphasis is to get theological students ready for their first call into the public ministry. The other emphasis is to offer assistance to those already serving in the parish ministry as they seek to grow in their ongoing service to the gospel and the people they have been called to serve.
There is much evidence that the seminary has always understood this dual emphasis of its singular mission. Consider, for example, that the Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly—a theological journal for pastors produced and edited by the faculty of the seminary—celebrated its 110th year of operation in 2013. During those same years, countless essays and presentations were made by seminary professors to circuits meetings, pastoral conferences, district conventions, or synod conventions. Again and again the seminary faculty was testifying in these ways that they understood that the importance of growth for pastors did not end when their students crossed the stage at graduation.
Listen also to these words from one of the Wauwatosa fathers of our church, then seminary president August Pieper, in an essay published in the Quartalschrift (the original German name for what we now call the Quarterly) in 1906:
In no calling is anyone less a master after completing his apprenticeship than in the holy ministry. To be sure, not every candidate believes that; but the conscientious and humble young pastors very soon recognize daily how much they still lack in knowledge and ability for properly carrying out their ministry. The three years of theological study could only offer them that which is most necessary in doctrine and practical skills. Therefore our candidates are never released into the ministry without the earnest admonition to diligently continue their studies. For the faithful pastor, study is not suspended when he enters the ministry; rather, it first properly begins. (“Scripture Study as the Special Task of the Pastor,” The Wauwatosa Theology, Volume 1, p. 119)
For the faithful pastor, study is not suspended when he enters the ministry; rather, it first properly begins.
August Pieper, 1906
Pieper certainly grasped that much of that needed ongoing study and growth certainly can and does occur without anything being supplied by the seminary as pastors study by themselves and with one another. However, WLS has also always recognized that our professors can play a vital role in providing resources and encouragement for growth.
As decades passed, other additions were made to what WLS offered to pastors for their ongoing growth. In keeping with a general trend of more formal continuing professional education developing among all professions in the United States in the 20th century, in 1974 WLS added Summer Quarter as an annual on campus event in which pastors were welcomed back to campus. Pastors were able to choose from an array of classes offered in the various theological disciplines or follow a more focused course and pursue an additional degree, the Master of Sacred Theology (STM).
As the years passed, Summer Quarter courses were regularly taken on the road. Professors were asked to teach courses at various satellite locations out in the districts, bringing summer quarter to pastors rather than only inviting them to return to Mequon for a course. This became a popular alternative for a pastor’s continuing education. So often pastors remarked that they are interested in participating in continuing education but taking time to travel to Mequon can present a challenge. As a response, Grow in Grace was eager to find a way to bring more continuing education classes to pastors in their area. Beginning in the summer of 2019, Summer Quarter will travel to outlying synodical districts in alternating years. On campus Summer Quarter will be held in Mequon in even numbered years. The goal of the traveling Summer Quarter is to make a variety of courses accessible to pastors across the country while still including the intensity and variety of the on campus experience.
In 2010, in order to raise the encouragement to ministry long growth to even greater prominence, the seminary received a generous grant that allowed it to establish Grow in Grace: the Institute for Pastoral Growth at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. For the first time, a significant portion of Professor Richard Gurgel’s call was devoted to organizing and administering WLS’s program of continuing education. The goal was to expand (online courses), strengthen WLS’s more formal course offerings (for credit courses), and help facilitate informal growth resources that pastors can use individually or with other pastors in study groups, circuits, and conferences. In addition, new efforts were developed (mentoring, retreats) that sought to bring pastors together for mutual encouragement in their shared callings in the pastoral ministry.
Since its inception, a key part of Grow in Grace’s work is to keep the understanding alive in the hearts of pastors that such growth is as important as President August Pieper suggested it was. In the midst of the never ending tasks and opportunities that confront a shepherd of souls, it can be easy to lose track of his own growth in faith as well as his growth in all his callings—as a pastor, husband, father, etc.
Grow in Grace realizes that lifelong ministry growth for pastors also needs the support and encouragement of synodical leaders such as circuit pastors and the district presidia. What is more, it is critical to help congregational lay leaders understand the importance of investing in the gospel ministry of their pastors by providing encouragement, time, and financial resources for their pastors to pursue spiritual and professional growth.