An Interview with Dr. Kristi Meyer, MLC MATS Student

Why would a professor with her PhD in math go back to school and pursue another degree . . . a degree outside her field . . . a degree in theology? We wondered too.

So we talked to Dr. Kristi Meyer (pictured), a calculus professor at Wisconsin Lutheran College. Dr. Meyer is a WLC graduate who earned her PhD in mathematics from Iowa State University. And as you read this, she is just finishing her thesis for her master’s degree in theological studies (MATS) from Martin Luther College. Why?

We’ll let her provide the details, but the short answer is that she may teach math, but theology is her field. It’s all our fields.

Martin Luther College: Why did you decide to enroll in MLC’s Master of Arts in Theological Studies?

Dr. Kristi Meyer: I typically tell people that the MATS program gave me the opportunity to earn my “mid-life crisis degree.” Being serious, I’ve had an interest in theology for quite a while. I toyed with the idea of pursuing staff ministry certification through MLC, but that didn’t feel like quite the right fit. When the MATS program first started in fall 2018, it was the right fit and gave me the opportunity to study both theoretical and practical theology and earn an advanced degree.

MLC: What were your goals? How were you hoping to grow?

KM: As a college professor, I always try to instill an attitude of life-long learning in my students—and I also try to model that attitude in my own life. The WLC theology professors have been incredibly gracious in allowing me to sit in on some of their classes. But those classes are taught at the undergraduate level, and the graduate-level classes in the MATS program fulfilled one of my main goals: to continue learning about theology in a deeper way, a more focused and intentional way.

Our ministerial education schools are blessed with amazing professors, and I was hoping to grow in my knowledge of God and his Word by sitting at their feet—an opportunity that likely would not have been possible for me without the MATS program.

MLC: You’re very busy. How did the coursework fit into your schedule?

KM: The structure of the program is fantastic for called workers. There have been a few synchronous assignments and assessments here and there, but the vast majority of the program has been asynchronous. This allows me to do my homework when it’s convenient for me (which is often at 6:30 am). The professors are also really good about posting materials and assignments in advance. As someone who likes to work ahead, I find this very helpful. If I know I have a busy couple of days coming up, I can plan out when I’m going to do my homework and not have a deadline sneak up on me.

MLC: What kind of impact have the courses had on you—spiritually, personally, professionally?

KM: Interestingly, one of the biggest impacts has been on the relationship with my WLC students. I don’t talk about my MATS classes super often with my students (remember that I teach math), but I do occasionally bring it up: an interesting assignment, an explanation that I am a little behind on grading because I had a paper due, etc. My students have been extremely supportive and interested in what I am studying, and this has led to conversations that allow me to witness in a new and unexpected way.

Professionally, I’ve also gotten much better at navigating an online learning management system (Moodle), which was invaluable during spring 2020 when all our WLC classes shifted to online.

Personally, it’s been so much fun being a student again. There are certainly frustrations—when I’m struggling with an assignment or when I’m short on time and am trying to figure out when I am going to get everything done. But those frustrations are by far the exception rather than the norm. Working on homework and writing papers has greatly enhanced and honed my writing skills, which is useful in other areas of life. I’ve also gotten back into the swing of academic reading, another skill that is helpful and transferable.

And spiritually? The best way I can describe it is to call it a mindset shift. I wouldn’t necessarily say that I pray more or read my Bible more. Instead, I tend to carry theological concepts with me all day long. When I have an assignment due or when I’m working on a paper, my topic is always there even though I’m not actively writing. It’s not always at the forefront of my brain, but it is always there in the background. And it’s really neat to have theological ideas and concepts always there in the background.

MLC: Can you tell us about your thesis?

KM: I’ve always been interested in headship and the roles of men and women, so that was a natural direction to pursue with my thesis. That’s an awfully broad topic, though, so I had to figure out what specific direction I wanted to go. After consideration and conversations, I decided that I wanted my thesis to be a mix of academic and personal. I narrowed the topic to “women in church leadership,” and I’m looking at that topic from two different perspectives: a) What leadership roles did women play in Acts and in Paul’s ministry—during the earliest days of the New Testament church? (That’s the academic part.) And b) What has my own personal experience been with leadership positions in the WELS today? (That’s the personal.)

Most of the confessional Lutheran writing on the doctrine of headship comes from our WELS pastors and professors: well-trained pastors and professors who have produced well-researched writing. But up to this point, the writings of confessional Lutheran women have largely been absent. This absence is not intentional or malicious, but it is still an absence. Through my thesis, I am seeking to show how the doctrine of headship affects one real WELS female—hopefully in ways that are both faithful to Scripture and that allow women to serve the church in the fullest way possible.

MLC: What would you say to encourage others to pursue this kind of advanced theological degree?

KM: Start by taking just one class. Even if you’re not sure that you want to pursue an advanced theological degree, you can still take one class. If you decide the program isn’t for you, that’s totally fine. But I’m guessing you will decide that the program is for you, and you’ll want to continue taking more classes!

One of my pastors is fond of a saying I also love: “Time spent in God’s Word is never time wasted.” And the MATS program most definitely has its participants spending time in God’s Word. Yes, it’s a commitment; yes, it’s work. But it is incredibly beneficial in so many ways, and that’s the thought I’d like to leave with people, especially potential MATS students.

Written by Laurie Gauger-Hested

A Little Bit More about Dr. Kristi Meyer

Family: My entire immediate family lives in the Milwaukee area, and it’s always fun to spend time with them.

Serving WELS: I’ve had the privilege of serving on the WELS Women’s Ministry Executive Team since January 2020, and I’ve been truly blessed by the women I’ve gotten to know and work with in this capacity.

Interests: In my spare time, I enjoy being outdoors, especially running, hiking, and biking. I direct the handbell choir at my church and also play solo handbell pieces from time to time. I also like to write—anything from church newsletter articles to Women’s Ministry devotions to Advent by Candlelight programs.

Something we’d never guess: I have a hidden talent: I can recite all 66 books of the Bible in a single breath—a talent that I put on display every year for the catechism class at my cousin’s church in West St. Paul.