"Heavy metal rock star is Lutheran seminarian." That grabs your attention, doesn't it?
On January 19, 2012, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch ran a feature about David Ellefson, a founding member of the "thrash metal" rock band Megadeth, who is now a student in the Specific Ministry Program at Concordia Seminary. Ellefson, who is 47 and lives in Scottsdale, Arizona, is an active member of Shepherd of the Desert Lutheran Church, where, with his pastor's encouragement, he started a new music ministry called MEGA Life. Now Ellefson is preparing for ministry through a program at Concordia that allows him to take courses mostly online.
Why should I care about this? I'm not interested in heavy metal music, but I am interested in how seminaries communicate. And from what I can see, this unlikely story has been a winner for the school.
On January 20, the day following the original Post-Dispatch article, Rolling Stone posted an article about the "rock star who wants to become a pastor." The Associated Press picked up the story, too, which then ran under the AP byline in newspapers like the Washington Post. And by the end of the month, the news had appeared on blogs, in newspapers in Canada and the United States, and all over the internet.
Is there a lesson here for other schools? I can think of one: Encourage your public relations people, if you have them, to think beyond your normal denominational newspapers and religious magazines. Feed local newspapers and TV stations human-interest stories about notable on-campus visitors and people at the seminary who are making a difference beyond the school's walls. Cultivate good relationships with the media by taking calls immediately, setting up interviews, and providing photos. Be sure that the board chair (or another board member) has been designated as the official spokesperson in the president's absence, just in case a crisis demands an authoritative voice.
Once in a while, befriending the media may pay off. Now everyone knows that Concordia Seminary in St. Louis has a rock star among its student body -- which is confounding stereotypes about both Lutherans and rock stars. As Ellefson told Canadian news agency QMI,
"You let, for lack of a better term, God's spirit pass through you. People will see that. If they want to inquire, they know where to go. If someone ain't asking, you don't need to be telling. But if they start asking, that's an opportunity to share what your life was like. The testimony-based approach comes from a place where it's genuine."
Sounds about right to me.