We Make this Road by Walking: Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) Diaconal Ministers as Emancipatory Educators of Adults

Open Access
Gable, Nancy E
Graduate Program:
Adult Education
Doctor of Education
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
March 03, 2014
Committee Members:
  • Elizabeth Jean Tisdell, Dissertation Advisor/Co-Advisor
  • Elizabeth Jean Tisdell, Committee Chair/Co-Chair
  • Edward W Taylor, Committee Member
  • Gina Brelsford, Committee Member
  • Charles David Kupfer, Committee Member
  • emancipatory education
  • Teaching Perspectives Inventory
  • adult education
  • diaconal ministry
  • Paulo Freire
  • Myles Horton
The purpose of this mixed method study was to discover how diaconal ministers in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) practice their ministry and describe and understand their role as educators of adults. The theoretical framework of the study was informed by the intersection of critical theory, feminist theory, and liberation theology. Ten diaconal ministers, who serve in a variety of roles, participated in in-depth qualitative interviews exploring how they view their work in ministry and as educators. Several also completed Pratt and Collins’ Teaching Perspectives Inventory, a validated quantitative instrument exploring teachers’ educational philosophy and perspectives on teaching. There are three major qualitative findings of the study. The first focuses on their role in dealing with the whole person in community, and was manifested by: meeting people where they are at; being present to emotions; attending to spirituality in community, and capacity building. The second focuses on building relationships and partnerships, by following the bishop’s charge to “empower and equip”, and by developing partnerships with institutions. The third focuses on educating and working toward social transformation by: nurturing a faith based consciousness; educating for a faith that does justice; developing a sense of emancipatory education; and working for a better world. Findings in the quantitative area illustrate how these diaconal ministers understand their practice of the education of adults using the lens of the TPI. The study ends with a consideration of findings in light of the theory, particularly around the limitations of critical theory and the important development of critical spirituality, and offers implications for theory, practice and suggestions for further research.