When the North American Lutheran Church was officially organized in 2010, students were encouraged to attend a seminary of their own choice. However, the reality of theological education in the 20th century was a shift from the study of God, Scripture, liturgy, catechesis and pastoral care toward psychology, sociology, politics and economics. While pastors certainly need an understanding of these disciplines, they are never a replacement for classic, orthodox, biblical theological education in preparation for Word and Sacrament ministry. It quickly became apparent the NALC needed to have its own seminary so future pastors might be educated more consistently and in accordance with the NALC’s doctrinal positions.
Two events occurred early on to confirm this direction. One was a gift of $1 million dollars from Tom and Sandy Smith for the NALC, 40 percent of which was designated for theological education. The second was the formation of a theological center at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina. This theological center included NALC seminarians from Southern Seminary, with three faculty members who formerly taught at Southern.
In 2012, the NALC Joint Commission on Theology and Doctrine recommended a task force on theological education be named to consider the formation of a seminary for the NALC. The executive council approved this recommendation, and the task force began its work with Dr. Roy Harrisville, III as chair.
The Task Force recommended a hybrid design for accountable theological education—not as a free-standing, brick and mortar institution, rather as a Lutheran track grafted within existing institutions. It included placing an administrative seminary center at Trinity School for Ministry in the Pittsburgh suburb of Ambridge, PA, and houses of studies at various locations throughout North America. The design recommended two houses of studies initially, one at Trinity School for Ministry and a second at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.
The 2013 Convocation adopted these recommendations and authorized a special campaign throughout the church to raise at least one million dollars for the effort.
Following the Convocation, the executive council appointed an interim Board of Regents with Bishop Emeritus Paull Spring as chair. The House of Studies at Gordon-Conwell was officially inaugurated in October 2013 with Dr. Mary Havens as director and with Dr. David Yeago and Dr. Lamontte Luker as adjunct faculty. The Rev. Dr. Amy Schifrin was named president of the North American Lutheran Seminary and director for the seminary center at Trinity School for Ministry. Dr. Schifrin served as president until her retirement in 2020.
At the 2014 NALC Convocation, the North American Lutheran Seminary (NALS) was officially formed. The NALC elected the first Board of Regents for the seminary to provide oversight for seminary education. Dr. Schifrin was installed as seminary president in October 2014, and Dr. David Yeago was installed as a full professor at Trinity School for Ministry. Following a series of consultations, the Board decided in 2015 to transfer the House of Studies in Charlotte, NC, from the North American Lutheran Seminary to a Department of Lutheran Studies at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.
Today, the NALS is an interdependent network of five seminaries across North America working together to form leaders for the Church. Students have access to world-class faculty in a variety of locations and offerings. The Rev. Dr. Eric M. Riesen was appointed NALS President by the Board of Regents in January 2020. Together they oversee theological education and formation of pastors and church leaders who are rooted in the Great Tradition of Christian faith and the evangelical witness of the Lutheran Confessions.
To that end, in 2021, the Board of Regents and NALC Executive Council published the Overview of Standards for Theological Education and Pastoral Formation policy, which clarified requirements for all those pursuing Word and Sacrament ministry in the NALC. In the long-standing tradition of life-together formation, every seminarian entranced into NALC candidacy must participate in a residential inter-term that provides the community, relationships and time necessary for a cohesive ministerium and for a lifelong commitment to Christian formation and discipleship.