“I wish you an enriching experience in this program, but don’t come back too learned for us!” With these words, I was jokingly admonished by a member of the congregation before I left for the first unit (of a total of six) of the training, Lutheran Leadership Development Program (LLDP).
Wise words that I have taken to heart. Words that I always have in my ear as a reminder. For what good is the further training of a pastor, if it is not for the good of the congregation, the service of the church, the building of the kingdom of God!
Today I look back on three units of this program with great gratitude for this wonderful opportunity. The preparation and follow-up work is intense to fit in alongside church work and family life. Also filled with much reading and studying during these two-week units. But in my opinion, this program is especially meaningful, profitable and worth the effort – even for the professors who give a lot of their time for this. This program, Lutheran Leadership Development Program (LLDP), is an initiative of the ILC (International Lutheran Council) in cooperation with Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS), Concordia Publishing House (CPH) and Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne (CTSFW). It is committed to provide Lutheran churches around the world with the opportunity to develop leaders with both sound confessional Lutheran theology and practical skills in leadership and resource management, such as organisational dynamics, task management, budgeting, strategic planning and accountability.
Twelve participants, all from Lutheran churches in Africa, form part of the first group. The first unit of two weeks took place in mid-February 2019 in Wittenberg, Germany, at the International Lutheran Centre. Here the Lutheran confessional writings were studied intensively. Once again it became clear to me that pure doctrine and a clear confession of faith in Christ is absolutely necessary and important, not because of obstinacy and looking down on others, but out of love for Christ and his Church, out of love for one’s neighbour, for the consolation of a troubled conscience. In a further unit, different approaches of different church bodies, especially the ILC and the LWF (Lutheran World Federation), were examined more closely. In addition to instructive classes and fruitful exchange at the dining table or during a walk, various excursions in the Lutherstadt Wittenberg as well as to Torgau and Eisleben formed a multifaceted learning experience.
The second and third sessions took place in Fort Wayne, USA, during July and November of the last year. Here too, the classes and the exchanges were very fruitful. The history of the Lutheran Church, especially that of the USA, was covered in more detail. In times like the Corona Pandemic, we may again be grateful for the richness of history and the treasure of tradition that is accessible to us, which are great resources to tap into. Those who know history, who learn from the experiences of men and women of the past, who learn from their faithfulness, but also from their failures, who are aware that issues and crises and many more come to the surface again and again, with which others have long since dealt with, become humbled also in view of their own wisdom and limited knowledge. Current crises in the teaching and life of the church thus were also deliberated on, and consideration was given to how Holy Scripture provides answers to such questions. Further courses on accountable leadership and credible leaders were also offered, which is particularly relevant in Africa.
Especially valuable were also the insights that participants in this group gave into their lives as leaders of their churches, where they shared experiences of success, challenges, joy and suffering. I was humbled to realise how small the FELSISA is, compared to such large – though relatively young – Lutheran churches in Africa. For example, the Mekana Yesus Church in Ethiopia (EECMY), represented by 3 participants in our group, which is currently going through an extraordinary time. While the number of members is currently growing at almost one million per year, these churches are facing the challenge of filling newly established congregations with competent leaders, with faithful pastors who do not simply offer the people a proclamation that their ears itch for, but the pure Gospel that they desperately need.
During the course of the program the exchange with the colleagues of our sister church, the LCSA, is also of exceptional value. I was able to get to know my colleagues very well during this time, Bishop Modise Maragelo and Deputy Bishop Mandla Thwala – who could only start from the second unit onward. Here one has the opportunity not only to meet briefly like at a synod or an upcoming meeting, but to walk a common path of learning over two weeks respectively.
Through such initiatives as this program, bridges are built between churches of the same confession and one gets the opportunity to learn from others and to share one’s experiences with others. Friendships are also formed, and various professors, who are experts in their fields, become familiar to you, and thus in future will be available via email, where you can tap into their knowledge.
During the exchange with the entire group, I experienced anew great gratitude for the richness of our church. Once again, I became aware of the fact that much is entrusted to us by God. The FELSISA can look back on a long and blessed history. We can be thankful for competent, well-trained pastors and experienced church leaders, past and present; for many parishioners who bring so many gifts with tireless dedication to their congregations; for thorough congregational and confirmation instruction; for the rich knowledge of Lutheran theology that is present in the FELSISA, with almost everyone having learned the contents of the Small Catechism off by heart. One can also be very thankful for the rich tradition of choirs in our church. Furthermore, for a well-established and firm church structure, as well as stable financial systems. Furthermore, for our present situation, that the FELSISA has no vacancies, which is a great luxury worldwide! All of these are rich gifts from our gracious and generous heavenly Father. But they come with great responsibility! For, “to whom much was given, of him much will be required; and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more” (Lk 12:48).
May God grant that in times of current crisis and the evident decline of membership in our Synod, we do not despair and act timidly and hesitantly, but that we may pursue with generosity and confidence to commit ourselves fully to the mission of Christ. As one person in class put it so well: “We carry out with firm confidence the task that Christ has given to His Church, not only knowing him at the finishing line as the one who is waiting for us, but knowing him, Christ, at our side, Christ for us, Christ with us, but also Christ in us, who strengthens us and sustains us through all that we do!”