Dissertation Brief

Stueve, H. (2008). Called to serve: The perceptions of the value of theologically trained teachers in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. Fielding Graduate University.

Dr. Heather Stueve of the Concordia University Education Network (CUEnet) completed her doctoral dissertation a couple of years ago.  She tackled a significant issue in Lutheran education today, one that has potential implications for the future of Lutheran education.  Her research focused upon answering the following question: “What are the attitudes of pastors, administrators, and teachers toward the level of theological training needed by teachers in Lutheran classrooms and are these attitudes congruent with what the Lutheran church has historically taught and practiced regarding the ministry of the teacher?”

Statement of the Problem

Stueve notes that, in 2004, the Next Generation Task Force of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod reported that 11,000 of the 18,000 teachers in Lutheran schools were not “certified as Lutherans Teachers either by study at Lutheran Church- Missouri Synod (LCMS) University or by colloquy.”  The task force further noted a decline in the number of teachers who are certified, and expressed concern that this decline risks deteriorating the distinctiveness of Lutheran schools.

Given this problem, Stueve sought out to explore whether or not the decline is partially due to a change regarding the historic value of “theologically trained Lutheran teachers among…pastors, principals, and the teachers themselves.”  She argued that this study has the potential to inform conversations about “the teacher and pastor training programs” in the LCMS, “the future deliberations of Synod regarding policy and doctrine related to commissioned ministers, and the development of the perceptions of laypeople regarding the work of teachers in their midst.”

Significance of the Study

More non-theologically trained teachers are serving in Lutheran schools and there is concern (indicated by the Next Generation Task Force) that this risks preventing achieving the historic goals of Lutheran schools.

Research Method

Stueve surveyed a sample of Lutheran pastors, Lutheran school teachers, and Lutheran school principals.  The survey included the collection of basic data like gender, age, grade level serving (if a teacher), district served, and years of service.  That was followed by a series of eighteen questions, asking participants to respond using a Likert scale ranging from “This statement does not reflect my view” to “I emphatically agree with this statement.”

Research Results

Results were based upon responses from 78 participants (35% pastors, 26% administrators, and 38% teachers).  Stueve notes that 95% of the participants were LCMS church members, so this study does not necessarily represent perspectives of non-Lutherans serving in Lutheran schools.

Following is a selection of results from the survey:

  • 94% of the respondents had some level of agreement with the statement that, “A teacher in a Lutheran school is responsible for teaching his/her subjects from a Christian perspective.”
  • 82% agreed that a Lutheran teacher “is responsible to be able to explain Lutheran doctrine.”
  • A majority thought that the teacher in a Lutheran school may be responsible for teaching doctrine to adults.
  • 24% disagreed that “It is important that a teacher in a Lutheran school be Lutheran.”
  • 11% thought that being a long-term LCMS member was adequate (rather than additional theological training).
  • 22% (40% of administrators) disagreed that college-level Lutheran doctrine training was important.
  • 71% agreed that a classroom teacher in a Lutheran school “needs significantly more theological training that the average laypersons.”
  • 68% disagreed that college-level Lutheran doctrine was necessary for teachers below first grade, where 83% disagreed with the same statement if teaching below sixth grade.
  • When asked to respond to the statement, “It is desirable that a teacher in a Lutheran classroom be ‘called’ or be eligible to be ‘called’”, 22% disagreed.  37% of the administrators surveyed disagreed with this statement, indicating that there is a significant percentage of people in Lutheran education who do not think that it is important for a Lutheran teacher to be “called” or eligible for a call.”
  • When asked whether or not “The LCMS values the role of the teacher in the ministry of the church today,” “53% of the administrators and 45% of the teachers were not sure whether the teaching ministry is still held in high-esteem today.”
  • 52% agreed that “The role of the teacher is less valued today than in former years.”
  • 88% agreed that “A Lutheran school helps a Lutheran congregation achieve its ministry objectives.

Conclusions and Interpretations

Dr. Stueve concludes with a series of six interpretative statements for consideration.

  1. Teachers in Lutheran schools are expected to teach from a Lutheran perspective and to teach Lutheran doctrine and practice.
  2. Lutheran schools are seen as an important part of overall congregational ministry.
  3. There is concern that a significant percentage of administrators in Lutheran schools do not value the training of a called teacher.
  4. Some in Lutheran schools may underestimate the value of teaching the faith by early childhood educators.
  5. Pastoral leadership in Lutheran schools may be lacking.  This was surmised from the fact that pastors valued theological training for teachers more than administrators, and yet the number of theologically trained teachers is in decline.
  6. Theological training leading toward called service in the teaching ministry will likely not be a high priority “as long as the perception is that the teaching ministry is less valued than it once was…”

Remaining Questions

Near the conclusion of her dissertation, Dr. Stueve leaves the reader with three “essential questions.”

  1. “Do pastors recognize their role in shaping the school?”
  2. “Do congregations understand the role and need for called teachers?”
  3. “Why do administrators feel conflicted about the need for called teachers?”