STM Handbook for Pastors

Master of Sacred Theology Handbook for Pastors

The purpose of this handbook is to help pastors who are taking Master of Sacred Theology (STM) courses through Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary (WLS) to understand how the WLS STM program works. Whether or not a pastor is pursuing the STM degree, this handbook applies to all STM courses offered through WLS whether those courses are offered on campus in Mequon (during summer or Winterim), at various satellite locations around the country, or online.

As has been true since Summer Quarter first began in the 1970’s, pastors are always welcome to take any of the formal continuing education courses that WLS offers without pursuing the STM degree. The primary purposes of every continuing education course that WLS offers for pastors is for those pastors to grow and be encouraged in their own faith and to grow in the pastoral heart and skill for gospel ministry for the benefit of those inside and outside the flock. WLS has never focused first and foremost on the pursuit of degrees for their own sake. Growth in the gospel of Jesus Christ and in ministering with that gospel has always been front and center.

However, the structured pattern that the STM degree offers to a pastor can be a very useful discipline. The pursuit of such a degree gives the pastor a sense of order and focus in his studies. Many pastors who have begun with a more random approach to taking courses have found that they later benefited from turning that random selection of classes into the focused goal of pursuing the STM.

Purpose of the Revised STM Degree

The purpose of the STM degree is to help pastors develop God-given gifts in a specific area of theological study with a clear application to advancing the cause of the gospel in the specific call in the public ministry in which they are currently serving. The degree program also helps pastors develop skills in making effective use of the tools and results of theological research for the benefit of gospel ministry.

WLS degrees aimed at entrance into the public ministry (Master of Divinity, Bachelor of Divinity, or Bachelor of Theology) are intentionally broader than the STM. The initial degrees that prepare men to enter the pastoral ministry must treat broadly the many different areas of pastoral ministry in which a pastor will be expected to have achieved basic competency.

Unlike those initial degrees, the STM is meant to provide an active pastor with the opportunity to pursue a much more focused course of study. Since our Lord Jesus measures into the lives of each pastor a unique gift package (Ephesians 4:7), and since Jesus through his people calls each pastor to a unique place of service, it can be a rich blessing to be able to choose a focused course of study that mirrors his unique gifts/interests and his unique place of service.

Eligibility for the Degree

The STM degree is open to pastors serving in the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) or in sister churches of the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference and who hold a MDiv, MTh, BDiv, or BTh degree.

The WLS director of continuing education and the faculty Continuing Education Committee would deal on an individual basis with special requests by other called workers (teachers, staff ministers) or lay leaders who would like to take a course along with their pastor. Such special requests would typically be handled as a request to audit those courses.

While WLS and its faculty are eager and willing to confess the truth of Christ beyond our confessional fellowship with all who ask about what we believe, WLS is not staffed nor chartered by the WELS to be a general school of theology offering training to any who desire it. It is also true that there is a great value in the bond of fellowship of an already established common confession of God’s truth that enables our classrooms to be places where those in the same calling and who share the same conviction can serve as iron to sharpen iron.

General Overview of Requirements for Pursuing the STM Degree

The degree requires the earning of 32 academic credits.

Core Course Requirements

4 credits must be earned in two courses required of all STM students

Once a pastor has decided to pursue the STM, he is encouraged to take both courses as soon as possible. Both courses will be offered as regularly as manpower permits.

Declared Areas of Focus

16 credits must be earned in one of nine areas of declared focus:

Before this revision, the STM had required 45 total credits. All the requirements of this revision of the STM would apply to those beginning their formal course work from the summer of 2015 on. Those who are already well on their way to the STM can follow the old guidelines or this new handbook, whichever would prove most advantageous to them in pursuing their degree. For example:  those who began their course work before the Summer of 2015 do not need to take the two new required STM core courses. Those who have already completed 32 credits of course work under the previous STM guidelines could also move quite quickly to finish their degree work with a final thesis or test.

At least 9 credits in the declared area of focus must be earned from the established repeating core curriculum in that area.


At least 6 credits must be earned in areas of focus other than the student’s declared area. This does not count the 4 credit hours in the two courses required of all STM students. Counting those two courses, a total of at least 10 hours must be earned outside his area of focus.

General Requirements

Up to 9 credits can be earned in directed study under the guidance of a faculty advisor.

At least 9 credits must be earned in face to face courses taken either on campus or at satellite locations.

Up to 21 credits can be applied to the degree from online classes.

If a student sought to gain maximum credits to be applied to the degree from both directed study (9 credits) and a thesis (6 credits), then only up to 8 credits from online courses could be applied to the degree.

Credit from other institutions

Students enrolled in the STM may apply to transfer up to 6 credits from accredited institutions. The man’s faculty advisor, in consultation with the relevant department chairman (if necessary) and the Grow in Grace director will consider the syllabus and/or the course description. If deemed worthy, the Grow in Grace director will present the credit transfer recommendation to the faculty for approval. No Grow in Grace financial aid would be available for credits earned at other institutions.

Degree Completion

Credits being applied to the STM degree need to be taken within 12 years of completing the degree.

Those desiring to pursue the STM will be encouraged to declare a focus of their study and receive an assigned faculty advisor once they have reached 10-12 credits. Students can also declare an area of focus and receive an advisor earlier in their program if they so desire.

Candidates for the degree will demonstrate their growth in ministry knowledge, skill, and ability in one of three ways:

  • Candidates may choose to earn up to 6 credits by writing a that demonstrates growth in the stated objectives in their chosen area of study and passing an oral exam on the completed thesis, or
  • Candidates may choose to write a comprehensive written exam that demonstrates growth in the stated objectives in their chosen area of study, or
  • Candidates may choose to assemble a portfolio of ministry tools and resources developed as a result of their course of study that demonstrate growth that matches the stated objectives of their area of focused study and pass an oral exam on the basis of that assembled portfolio.

Certificate Completion

Those not wishing to complete all the requirements for the STM, but who complete 16 credits in one of the nine areas of declared focus (including at least 9 credits in the established repeating core curriculum in that area), can apply to receive a certificate in that area.

  • Certificates can be earned either entirely through online courses or entirely in face to face courses, or any combination thereof.
  • Certificates can be earned with 10 credits of online or face to face instruction combined with 6 credits of directed study.
  • Those who desire to pursue such a certificate would request a faculty advisor in that area of study.
  • Those who complete all sixteen credits in their area of focus would work with their faculty advisor to take and successfully pass a comprehensive exam that demonstrates growth in the stated objectives in their chosen area of study.
  • Those who later determine they would like to pursue the full STM degree would not need to retake a comprehensive exam at the conclusion of their program. They would only need to complete the rest of the 32 required credits as described above.

Where and When STM Courses are Offered

WLS offers its STM courses at multiple times and places.

On campus courses are offered in Mequon during the summer of even numbered years and each year during Winterim (early to mid-January).

  • In order to make sure a pastor is able to focus sufficiently on the courses for which he has enrolled, when studying on campus a maximum credit load during any one Summer Quarter or Winterim is 5 credits.
  • A pastor who has already enrolled for 5 credits during Summer Quarter or Winterim could also simultaneously take one online class, but it would be wise to consult with his STM advisor before making that decision. The pastor and advisor could discuss what the workload would be for this many simultaneous courses.

Online courses are offered at three different times during the year: fall semester (mid-September through mid-November), spring semester (mid-January through mid-March), and Summer Quarter (mid-June through mid-August).

Satellite courses are offered in all districts of the synod (other than the Southeastern Wisconsin District) during odd numbered years.

This handbook already reflects a change in how Summer Quarter and satellite courses are organized that has been approved by both the WLS faculty and Governing Board. That proposal would make on-campus Summer Quarter an every other year event (only even numbered years). In the “off” years (odd numbered years), the seminary will offer regular satellite courses in every district of the synod (other than the Southeastern Wisconsin District in which the seminary is located). This proposal would begin with Summer Quarter in 2018. There would be no on-campus Summer Quarter in 2019.

Availability of Resources for Research

With the emphasis on doing theological research incorporated into this degree, WLS has taken steps to provide all students enrolled in each course (or who are pursuing directed study or a thesis) with access to online theological databases. These databases frequently provide users with full text availability of essays and articles discovered in their searches.

For those studying online or at satellite locations, the WLS library will seek to make digital versions of books available in keeping with the unique needs of each course.

Those doing directed study or working on a thesis are also reminded that the WLS Library provides a free service of shipping books at the request of those doing this study. This same service is also provided to any pastor who is doing research and study for a writing/presentation assignment for a pastoral circuit, pastoral conference, or district meeting.

Knowledge, Skill, and Attitude Objectives and Repeating Core Course in Each Area of Focus

In each of the nine areas of focused study in the STM, the WLS faculty departments responsible for that area of study have established knowledge, skill, and attitude objectives as well as a repeating core curriculum. While various electives will also continue to be offered, it is the repeating core curriculum that is the heart of each of these areas of focused study. Below you will find those knowledge, skill, and attitude objectives and the core curriculum in each of those areas.

It should be noted that the seminary will continue to seek input from brothers serving in the field to make sure that the core curriculum and electives offered are meeting the needs of gospel ministry in the 21st century.


Tuition Costs, Scholarships & Travel Assistance

Beginning in the 2017-2018 fiscal year, the cost per credit for STM courses is $250.

The same cost per credit applies to all for-credit courses whether the course is taken on the WLS campus, online, or at a satellite location. The cost to audit a course is the same as taking the course for credit.

The cost per credit for all directed study projects and for the STM thesis is 2/3 of the tuition rate at the time the work began.

The only exception to the cost per credit is at officially sponsored and supported district-wide satellite courses. There the cost per credit is $125 (essentially granting everyone at that district-wide event the matching grant scholarship discussed below). The other exception to the above policy is that at such large district satellite courses, there is also an auditing option offered. The cost to audit is half the cost of the for-credit option.

Retired pastors of our fellowship are invited to attend any course without tuition. This will be considered as an audit and no academic credit will be granted. However, if a retired pastor is seeking to complete his STM degree or a certificate, and therefore needs the course for academic credit, then the per-credit cost listed above would apply.

Scholarships and Travel Assistance are available.

Using Seminary Online

Courses taught either on campus, online, or at satellite locations make use of what is called Seminary Online. Seminary Online is the digital network that provides a course page where all pertinent course information will be located and where assignments can be turned in electronically. For those familiar with what are called Learning Management Systems, the software that runs Seminary Online is Moodle. Once you have enrolled for a particular course(s), you will be enrolled in Seminary Online so that you have access to the course page(s) for your chosen course(s). You will be supplied a user name and password that gives you access to those course pages. If you need assistance with Seminary Online, WLS director of technology integration and support, will be glad to assist you.

Taking Online Courses

The advent of online courses makes it possible for a pastor to enroll in a course even when travel to the seminary or a satellite location is not convenient or possible. Since taking an online course is a new experience for many pastors, we have assembled some frequently asked questions – and answers – about taking an online course through WLS.