I have spent much of my career in Lutheran education. Indeed, Lutheran education has profoundly formed and shaped me, and I have been privileged to serve alongside many thousands of dedicated, consecrated colleagues in our Lutheran schools for many years. Collectively, Lutheran educators are a truly remarkable group of people and an amazing blessing to the Lord’s Church.
Most people who know me are aware that I am an adult convert to Christianity. Many of us cannot recall a time in life without knowing the love of God in Christ Jesus, but this hope was once an entirely foreign concept to me. On a Lutheran college campus, faculty mentors and Christian friends shared their lives and the Word of God with me, and the Spirit worked faith in my heart.
Should Lutheran schools be for Lutheran students to help catechize them in the faith? Certainly, but not only so. Our schools provide an exceptional opportunity to welcome others, drawn by our excellent education and co-curricular programs, to learn about Jesus. Through the years, more and more non-Lutherans and unchurched families have sent their children to our schools. The Lord is bringing these folks to and through our doors where, perhaps for the first time, they encounter Jesus — “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”
My wife, Tammy, and I sent our five children to a Lutheran grade school in Milwaukee and from there to Lutheran high school. Each of them earned undergraduate and / or graduate degrees at one or another of our Concordia University System institutions. Our family has been committed to Lutheran education because we have been blessed by our experiences in Lutheran schools in innumerable ways. None has been more appreciated by us than the teachers, pastors, and other church workers who have supported us in nurturing our children’s faith. What a joy now to observe my grandchildren also being molded by the love of Jesus in their Lutheran grade school in Austin, Texas.
There is a great concern in our church for our children and our grandchildren. We see the “graying” of our congregations and are rightly concerned about passing along our Christian faith to the next generation. This has also been my concern for the entirety of my career as a campus pastor, college teacher, and university administrator. Closer to home, it is what matters most to me as a parent and now a grandparent. Our schools — early childhood, grade schools, high schools, colleges and universities, and seminaries — are a gift given by God to help us teach our children about Jesus.
Our Lutheran schools have set apart The Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod as exemplary centers of excellence. We are justifiably proud and give glory to God for all the good that has been and continues to be accomplished through Lutheran education. From my experience, I am convinced that much more could be done to champion and cheer on our schools. We can do so much more to highlight the incredible work being done within our schools to educate and edify our children, and to reach out to our neighbors. The moment is propitious to redouble our support for Lutheran education. There is a lot at stake.
My concerns about reaching the next generation are not new. As a convention essayist, I addressed the plenary assembly of the 61st Convention of The Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod in 2001 on the topic, “Telling the Good News About Jesus in the Year of the Child.” Some of the data points have changed in two decades, but the critical thesis has not. I pray there is energy and a sense of urgency for our church to be there for our children, our grandchildren, and for generations that follow. Read the essay here.