How One District Is Transforming Their Leaders

June 1, 2018 | Posted by Demian Farnworth

Editor’s Note: 

To celebrate the announcement of the 2018 Kaleidoscope Fund grant recipients, we are sharing the 2017 recipient’s stories over the next two months. See all 2017 stories here as they are published.

-LCEF Editorial Team

Transition rarely happens without complication. The way Rev. Robert A. Schulze sees it, it’s also ripe with opportunity.

Schulze, who graduated from Concordia Theological Seminary in 1975 when it was in Springfield, Mo., spent 17 years in the western part of British Columbia, Canada. He was involved in outreach and mission, helping churches grow. Eventually, God called Schulze back to his home state of Minnesota, where he was privileged to serve three different congregations. In total, he served as a parish pastor for 41 years.

Two years ago, he ended up as executive assistant to the president of the LCMS Minnesota South (MNS) District, Rev. Dr. Dean W. Nadasdy. From the beginning of Nadasdy’s time as president, the district had a mission centered around the idea of “cultivating leaders engaged in the mission of God.”

Schulze describes the opportunity that presented itself, saying, “There are lots of willing workers who are ready to serve and to lead, but who may not have received much training for the task. Sometimes we need to know how to best help people, how to help them serve more effectively.”

What was needed was different levels of training for different leadership roles in the Church. This is where Emergent Leadership Training comes in.

Building confidence in leaders

Emergent Leadership Training (ELT) might ring a bell. The LCMS Florida-Georgia (FL-GA) District received a Kaleidoscope Fund grant in 2016 to offer a series of scholarships to sponsor ELT candidates. The MNS District caught wind of the success of these events and approached Kurt Bickel from Cornerstone Consulting Group.

Bickel, a resident of the FL-GA District and former director of Christian education (DCE) in the LCMS, understood the Church. With 23 years of consulting experience, he understood leadership as well. A few years ago, Bickel and FL-GA President Rev. Gregory S. Walton, the two kicked around the idea of a leadership program that was designed not just for pastors, but church workers and the laity as well.

Eventually, ELT was born.

Emergent means the capacity to tap into someone’s potential to lead and grow in one’s capacity and competency to lead. The training was meant to be intense and “fully focused on leadership,” instead of an array of concepts, Schulze said. “Participants engage in small group interaction, explore their own core principles regarding leadership, to learn how to respond appropriately and effectively to conflict. They dig deeper into what leadership looks like in the family, church and community.”

Bickel said, “People leave with practical skills. They are transformed. They are better at facilitating church meetings, working in teams and organizing people and resources.”

Schulze added ELT would bring, “A confidence in one’s own leadership ability in the parish and insights into the organizational challenges and opportunities in the parish.”

One lay leader, a person who was high up in the General Motors Company, said he had attended many sessions of leadership and management training over the years and the FL-GA sessions were some of the best leadership training he’d ever been through.


The two concerns

Nadasdy and Schulze, along with District Staff looked for ways to encourage candidates to step forward, develop their skills and take advantage of the training. Pastors, DCEs, members of the District Board of Directors, principals, teachers, lay members and administrators were invited to consider the training, based upon recognized leadership skills. There were, however, two concerns to resolve.

The time commitment was the first. Training is divided into three events: one four-day retreat and two three-day retreats, for a total of 10 days of training. There is only a month-long gap between each session.

Affordability was the second concern. While seeking to keep costs low compared to similar programs, Schulze was wondering how ELT could be funded since the program costs, plus lodging, meals, materials, travel and the training staff was probably beyond the reach of most congregations and church workers. Kurt Fuhr, who at the time was the LCEF district vice president of the MNS District, recommended the district apply for Kaleidoscope Fund grant.

The district did, and in Nov. 2017, they learned that they received a grant.

“We are blessed with the Kaleidoscope Fund grant,” Schulze said. “It makes all the difference in a congregation’s ability to be able to send someone for training.”

What the future holds

As of May, the district has completed the first and second rounds of the three-event ELT training cycle. A total of 17 people are participating. So far, according to Schulze, “evaluations have been great and participants are finding the challenging training to be immediately helpful.”

Despite the fact that the training began with a mixed group of strangers from different backgrounds, the group bonded quickly. “Imagine the connections and encouragement and networking that occurs when you are open to honest sharing and learning together in Christ,” Schulze said. “By the end of the third session participants will have formed deep connections over their shared experiences and personal reflections.”

District leaders are confident the synergy formed through these sessions will continue past the final meeting in June. That’s important, Schulze suggests, since we are in a season of transition and change, both as a synod and as a district (at the end of June the district will have a new president as Nadasdy retires).

Schulze is confident this initiative will bear fruit in the future. “It’s a great foundation to build upon,” he said.

Join us as we pray for God’s grace upon the Minnesota South District, Nadasdy, Schulze and all the ELT participants, that they may serve You in steadfast faith and abide unto the end; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Demian Farnworth
Senior Content Writer for the Lutheran Church Extension Fund.