An Interview with Rev. Dr. Troy Troftgruben
Wartburg Seminary has grown significantly in the past few years. Enrollment continues to rise, new technologies are introduced regularly, and the new curriculum which integrates all learners (distance, collaborative, and residential) into one classroom has been implemented. Much of the success of each of these growth metrics can be owed in part to the flexility, energy, and faithful leadership the Wartburg Seminary faculty model daily as they teach, advise, preach, and lead the student body here. We sat down with Rev. Dr. Troy Troftgruben, Associate Professor of New Testament, to get his perspective on how the changes at WTS have impacted his work in and beyond the classroom. His reflections are below.
ON THE FACULTY
Something I value most about Wartburg is its strong sense of teamwork among faculty, staff, and administration. We know none of us can approach theological education as a Prima Donna if we are to be faithful. Our collective work calls for all of us to pitch in.
As faculty, we are quite different—we are not carbon copies of each other. But we have a high level of respect for one other’s contributions. I think a major reason we work together so well is we all share a deep love for the church. None of us would sleep at night if we were not giving our best to be faithful to the church’s needs. We also realize how rapidly changes are happening in church and society, calling for us to innovate and respond. We do not do so perfectly, but we are aware of the challenges—and need for us to give our best in response.
Especially with our new curriculum, we faculty devote regular, intentional time to learning about new technologies, refining them for our particular needs, and sharing best practices with each other as we go. As a faculty, we talk increasingly often about our successes and flops in teaching, because we all know teaching with technology today is like paddling an uncharted course—we are experimenters far more than experts.
ON THE NEW CURRICULUM
Many people think teachers—including seminary professors—spend most of their time in front of physical classrooms. That is hardly the case today, certainly at Wartburg. With new ways of teaching and learning, I spend probably the majority of my time in my office—organizing digital resources, preparing instructional media, communicating online, and meeting with students by web-conference and face-to-face. Isolated as my office may seem, the lion’s share of my time there is devoted directly to engaging students. When I host a web-conference meeting, respond promptly to student emails, and engage distance students online, I am being present to learners in ways no less than when I’m in front of a classroom. In this sense, my office has now become a primary “classroom” of mine—one that most of my students know firsthand.
Wartburg’s new curriculum creates a profounder sense of unity across our student community. Beforehand, distance students and residential students had no need to cross paths. Now they have virtually every class together. And this integration is not merely enforced. Residential and distance students today know, interact with, and care about each other in ways that are organic and genuine. We have professed for years to offer the same educational experience to both distance and residential students, but today it feels far truer than ever.
As a faculty member, this integration can be a tricky balancing act. Each learning mode is unique, with distinctive benefits and needs. As faculty, our ongoing challenge is to appreciate the distinctions (vs. gloss over them) and to address them deliberately. But we work very hard at Wartburg to be faithful at doing so.
I sometimes liken my role to a music director. Each musician I teach has distinctive needs and a different instrument to play. Some of them need lots of one-on-one tutoring and small group work. Others just need to practice with the band at large. My job is to carve out time to understand their needs, engage them in their progress, and help them make more beautiful music—whether they play with other band members, by themselves, or in places I’ll never see.
ON CURRENT STUDENTS
At the risk of generalizing, our current students bring increasingly more to the classroom. They take more initiative in their education by raising questions, challenging conventional narratives, and seizing opportunities for creative exploration. Some of them even come with assets we faculty lack: technology expertise, distinctive cultural experiences, and specific ministry skills. As an instructor, I am regularly challenged and enriched by these students. They introduce me to new digital platforms, voices I have overlooked, and imaginative pathways of ministry—and I am a better teacher because of it.
There’s a great vibe at Wartburg these days—and all of us faculty feel it. There’s an energy around the castle (physically and virtually) that is inviting. Our students are not naïve to the challenges and changes afoot in our church and society—if anything, they are more aware than most. They know it’s an age of great instability for the church, but they believe the Holy Spirit is up to something underneath it all.
ON SERVING THE CHURCH
My calling is to be a pastor of the larger church. So my job is not simply to teach New Testament and Greek: it’s to tend to the spiritual formation and discipleship of people—especially church leaders—through the community at Wartburg Seminary. In short, I am called to mentor faith, in ways not unlike what other pastors and deacons do every day.
Something I think about a lot is the ways I model spirituality and faith. As those in ministry know, like it or not, people watch us. They watch for how faith plays out in our lives—how it enlivens us, changes us, and frees us. It’s no different with being a seminary professor. Just ask anyone who has been to seminary. They will gladly tell you the professors from whom they learned the most. And chances are high it had less to do with classroom content and assigned readings than with character and embodied faith. Yes, I teach New Testament and Greek, but I strive to make sure my classroom discussions and interpretive work serve to model authentic spirituality and faithfulness. I hope what we do at seminary is a model of community formation that shapes people in great ways and blesses the church directly.