Written by: Paul Huneke & Dr. Anthony Steinbronn
Paul Huneke and I always enjoyed a good story, and one of our favorite scenes from a great story takes place toward the end of JRR Tolkein’s The Two Towers. Frodo Baggins, the main character of the story, is extremely tired from his quest to destroy the “one ring of power” in the lake of fire at Mt. Doom. He is so tired and worn out that he tells his best friend, Samwise Gamgee, that he can’t continue in the journey any longer. In response, Sam helps Frodo to understand their story in light of a much larger story that had been going on for ages. In those stories, too, people had plenty of chances of turning back and giving up, only they didn’t because they were holding on to something important, life-changing and worth fighting for – they were part of A STORY THAT REALLY MATTERED. Encouraged by those words, both Frodo and Sam continued their journey to the lake of fire in order to complete their quest and “save the Shire” (along with the rest of middle-earth).
One way that we can explore the question of WHAT IS MISSIONAL LUTHERAN EDUCATION is through the interpretative lens of story. Life is all about stories and every person, and every culture, has a story. Matter of fact, the way we understand life depends on what conception we have of the HUMAN STORY. The challenge for each human being is that making sense of one’s life story is not that easy to do and that the vast majority of the world’s population never does figure out the meaning of life and the way of salvation in Jesus Christ (Matthew 7:13-14; 13:1-9).
There is hope, though, for human beings as they seek to make sense of life: God has a story that makes sense of every human story. The aim and goal of MISSIONAL LUTHERAN EDUCATION is to help people make sense of their story in light of God’s story. In order to accomplish this purpose of God for every human life, it is essential that those who believe in and know Him to HEAR, KNOW, TELL and LIVE the stories that really matter and SERVE OTHERS, as His edifying and missionary priests and people.
MISSION, THE HEARTBEAT AND ESSENCE OF THE CHURCH
Everyone has a mission, that is, everyone is being sent by God to do something, somewhere, at sometime; whether they fulfill the purpose for their sending, that is another matter. Personally we have embarked on many mission projects in our lives. Some of them are rather trivial, such as Tony’s fifty year quest now to get a hole-in-one in golf. But other mission projects are much more important such as earning a paycheck to provide for our families; being a loving spouse and caring fathers to our children; and good friends to many. Yet our primary mission, the foremost reason that we exist according to God’s plan, purposing and sending, is to “go and make disciples of all nations.” This mission is to permeate all of our life and, if you are a Christian, it is to permeate your life as well. Forrest Gump, in the movie Forrest Gump, would periodically ask his mother, “Momma, what’s my destiny?” Your destiny, as a Christian, is to be and live as His disciple and to make disciples of the nations.
Abraham, and his descendants, were blessed by God in order to be a blessing to the nations
This was the missionary call that Abram received from God when God asked him to “leave your country, your people and your father’s household and GO to the land that I will show you” with the purpose that all the nations would be blessed. God is the One in search of the lost and, in His grace He called Abram, the idolater (Joshua 24:2), and placed him into the service of those whom he did not yet know and who lived in places where Abram had never yet been.
After the calling of Moses and the dramatic deliverance from Egypt, Israel’s understanding of its covenant relationship with God as His chosen instrument of blessing to the nations was more fully developed and strengthened. Through Moses at Mount Sinai a covenant was made with Israel, an election not only to privilege but also to service, to further God’s purposes for the nations. God did not choose Israel because they were more worthy than other nations or because He had no interest in the other nations; He chose Israel because He had a concern for ALL THE EARTH.
However, as time passed, Israel neglected her mission to the nations and came to see herself as the sole object of God’s mission. Consequently, they came to see their mission as one of preservation rather than of proclamation; of determining “who was in” and “who was out.” This was a far cry from the conversation, and the sending, that God intended for the descendants of Abraham as His missionary people for, and to, the nations so that they might be blessed (Genesis 12:1-3; Galatians 3:6-9).
In baptism God reaches into the life of the baptized and claims him or her to be His own. The newly baptized is commissioned into His service and mission with the words, “through baptism God has added you to be His own people to declare the wonderful deeds of our Savior, who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” Every baptized believer has been called, and set apart as the temple and instrument of the Holy Spirit, to be a Kingdom of priests and to be His light to people walking in darkness so that they might know Him who is the Light of the world (Matthew 4:13-16; John 1:9-14; 8:12).
Our God is a missionary God
From the very beginning of time and history, God’s fundamental mission is to SAVE HUMANKIND for God wants all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of their salvation in Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 2:4). This mission of God began in a beautiful garden many, many years ago. Adam and Eve walked with God in an intimate relationship of love and fellowship. They knew God not only as their Creator, but also as their friend and close companion. But Adam and Eve were not alone in the garden. Satan was there and he came to Eve (and to Adam also, for he was standing there with Eve) and shared with them a vision of a different way of life and tempted them with a different story.
To change a life, you have to tell a different story
TO CHANGE A LIFE, YOU HAVE TO TELL A DIFFERENT STORY and that is what Satan did; he wanted to change their relationship with God, and their eternal destiny of life with God, so that they would die physically and perish eternally. Tragically, Adam and Eve embraced Satan’s story and believed that they could be like God if they disobeyed God’s command; instead, they brought about a “3-D world” filled with DESPAIR, DARKNESS and DEATH.
In response to Adam and Eve’s sinful rebellion God, in His grace and love, came to them. He came to have a conversation of JUDGMENT, by confronting them with their wrong actions against Him but, more importantly, He came to have a conversation of HOPE – for TO CHANGE A LIFE, YOU HAVE TO TELL A DIFFERENT STORY. He promised them a Savior who would destroy the work of their enemy Satan and bring RESCUE and SALVATION to all who believed in that Savior (Genesis 3:15; John 3:14-18). Adam and Eve believed this promise and their lives were changed for eternity. As a result of this conversation of hope with God, they began to have conversations of hope, and of life, with each other and with their descendants about this Promised Savior.
When the proper time had come, this Promised One walked the earth and fulfilled the promises that God had made with humankind. Just as God walked with Adam and Eve in the garden, and changed their lives through a conversation of hope, so God became flesh in the Person of Jesus Christ and had many, many conversations of hope with sinners. In the days of Jesus’ ministry, as people heard His words about the Kingdom, and saw His loving and caring actions, many sinners repented of their sinful and perishing way of life, put their faith in Him as the world’s Savior, and followed Him as His disciples.
BIBLICAL FOUNDATIONS OF MISSIONAL LUTHERAN EDUCATION
There are many Biblical passages that could ground our understanding of missional Lutheran education but the primary passage is 2 Timothy 3:14-17. Missional Lutheran education is predicated upon:
1: making known in the lives of all people the holy Scriptures which are able to make a person wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ (for it is in the stories of Scripture that we are able to see His heart revealed, and His saving intentions made known, through His words and actions);
2: thoroughly equipping, from infancy, God’s people for every good work that God has prepared for them to do through the use of Scripture for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.
In other words, Lutheran missional education seeks to make disciples through EVANGELISM and EDIFICATION. In this passage from 2 Timothy we have the testimony of Paul that ever since Timothy was an infant, Lois and Eunice were active in making known “the stories that really matter” in the life of Timothy so that he could know of his Savior Jesus and be thoroughly equipped for his life as a disciple. Just as Jesus grew “in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men,” so Lois and Eunice, along with other believers in Lystra as the body of Christ in that place, taught and modeled a way of life for young Timothy so that he could grow “in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13) and live a life that was pleasing in the presence of God (coram Deo) and a blessing in the presence of others (coram hominibus) as a disciple of Jesus.
Lois and Eunice understood and lived out the admonition that Moses gave to God’s people during their wilderness journey. As the Israelites journeyed toward the Promised Land, they were to “love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength” AND to impress His commands upon their hearts and upon the hearts of their descendants (Deuteronomy 6:5-6). Wherever the Lord led them, they were to talk about the stories of the sacred Scriptures and impress His design for living upon one another as they sat in their homes and walked along the road, when they laid down and when they got up (Deuteronomy 6:7).
THE MISSION AND MINISTRY OF THE CHURCH’S EDUCATIONAL AGENCIES
The mission and ministry of the church’s educational agencies is to make disciples1 of all nations. The Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) lays the double obligation upon His educators: the strengthening of present disciples in their already existing discipleship AND reaching out to those who are not yet disciples with the hope that they will become His disciples.
Therefore, every task of the church makes sense only if it serves His mission of making disciples of all nations whether this ministry takes place in the home, in the Sunday school classroom, in catechetical instruction for all ages, or in the classroom and hallways at one of our Concordia Universities or Seminaries.
THE INTEGRATION OF MISSION, MINISTRY AND EDUCATION
Missional Lutheran education understands the importance of, and is committed to, a proper balance between EDIFICATION (building one another up in the Christian faith and becoming mature in Christ), and EVANGELISM (proclaiming the Good News about Jesus to those who do not believe in Him), and fostering a HEALTHY, VIBRANT ORGANIC BODY LIFE.
This integration is achieved through the counsel and practice of the five-fold gifts given to humankind from our ascended Lord (Ephesians 4:11-13) and was clearly seen in the life of those who followed Jesus after His resurrection and ascension. Day after day they met together and devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer (Acts 2:42), and being of one heart and mind (Acts 4:32). Because of their message, and their way of living together, the Lord added daily to their group others who were being saved. Their mission was not to preserve institutions and buildings, forms and structures, fill slots on various boards and committees, but to live His design for living and proclaim the Good News to those estranged from the God who loved them and gave His life for them.
There is not sufficient space in this article to present a comprehensive examination of their counsel and practice but only a cursory introduction into their wisdom for our edifying and missionary endeavors:
Apostolic and prophetic counsel and practice
Apostolic counsel and practice answers the big questions2 that every person has in life; examines and discerns the condition of the lamp stand (Rev. 2-3), that is, is it built upon the foundation3 of the apostles and prophets, with Christ being the cornerstone; putting the members of the body in their proper condition for their works of service so that the body is built up and edified; fostering an organic, healthy body life; engaging in indigenous church formation; equipping and sending workers into the harvest fields; and advocating a missionary posture by God’s people as they interact with the nations so that they might become all things to all people that they might bring some to a saving knowledge of God’s grace in the person of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).
Prophetic counsel and practice would seek to help God’s people remember who God is and what God has done for us and all people; to remember who they are and why they are in the world; to keep themselves free from idolatry; to engage in knowing the belief systems and life ways of the non-Christian nations and peoples who dwell in their mission context; convicting national, congregational and individual sins; communicating a living hope in Jesus Christ; and to use their lives to prosper the Master’s business of making disciples (Matthew 25:14-30).
Evangelistic counsel and practice
Evangelistic counsel and practice would encourage and equip God’s people to reach out to others with the narratives of Scripture so that they can help those who do not know God’s story to make sense of their story in light of His saving story.
This is what Philip, the evangelist, did with the Ethiopian official as he had opportunity to talk about these things on the road from Jerusalem to Gaza (Acts 8). The official could not make sense of the passage that he was reading from Isaiah so, beginning with that very passage, Philip “told him the good news about Jesus.”
It is our understanding from God’s Word that every person is precious to God and that every person’s life is like a “text.” Evangelistic counsel and practice would encourage and equip God’s people to understand and interpret the “text” of another person’s life in light of His “texts,” the sacred Scriptures, especially the saving “text” of the Word become flesh, Jesus Christ (John 3-4) so that those who do not have a saving relationship with Jesus might come to know and believe in Him.
Pastoral and teaching counsel and practice
Pastoral counsel and practice would focus on feeding and caring for the body of Christ; guarding and keeping the one true faith; forming and equipping God’s people to be able to test the spirits for not every spirit comes from God (1 John 4:1-6); guiding and exhorting God’s people to be faithful stewards of the Gospel, and of His many physical blessings, so that they might be a blessing to the nations through their Gospel proclamation and their deeds of love and compassion within the body of Christ and in the world; and cultivating a biblical spirituality4 in God’s people.
Teaching counsel and practice would communicate His Word, and His way of life, so that it forms and shapes the believer’s entire existence through the daily, intentional, socialization of the Christian faith in Christian homes and in the ministries of the church.
Life is all about stories and life is all about hermeneutics – that is, making sense of life’s story. Thus every person who dwells upon the face of the earth has a need for some kind of interpretative story line, a METANARRATIVE if you will, that is able to help them make sense of their story, AND to live out their story, in ways that are pleasing in God’s sight and a blessing to others.
Consequently, missional Lutheran education knows and believes that:
1: the most important place for discipleship formation is the Christian home as parents are equipped to teach and model the Christian faith and life AND to instill a Biblical worldview and live God’s design for living;
2: to change a life for eternity, you have to tell a different story (John 3:1-8) -- we know from the Scriptures, and from human experience, that a person cannot by his or her own reason or strength come to Jesus Christ nor believe in Him but must be called by the Gospel and enlightened by the gifts of the Holy Spirit; therefore someone must be sent, and someone must preach the Good News, for “faith comes from hearing the message and the message is heard through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:11-17);
3: it is the mission of every believer to pray for the lost and, like their Lord who came to seek and to save the lost, to be the friend of sinners so that they may hear the Good News, confess by the power and work of the Holy Spirit that Jesus is their Savior; and join His people in the continuing search that “the found” undertake by God’s grace for those whom He loves – “the lost”; and it will be those congregations, schools, and church’s educational agencies who, being led by missional Lutheran educators, will equip His servants for personal proclamation of the Good News as His living letters and ambassadors to the nations;
4: just as faith constitutes the proper relationship of the Christian to God, so good works and love exercised in vocation5 define a person’s relationship to one’s neighbor; the Christian life can be summarized in two words: FAITH and LOVE whereby every believer is placed midway between God and one’s neighbor, becoming God’s instrument of blessing as His missionary priests and people to the nations;
5: missions is a test of our faith and an expression of our hope and of our love -- the modern Church follows in a long succession of bridge-builders since throughout history Christians have tried to relate the Biblical message to their particular cultures; yet if we are to build bridges into the real world, and seek to relate the Word of God to the hearts and minds of people in our day, we must be committed to three things:
1) a lifetime of studying God’s Word;
2) a lifetime of studying and listening to the peoples whom we are seeking to edify and evangelize;
3) being His “incarnational bridges6” as we communicate His Word and message of hope in words and ways that the hearer can understand (Romans 10:11-17).
1 What does it mean to be a disciple? A disciple is a believer in Jesus Christ who is an active student of God’s Word, building one’s life on the person and word of Jesus Christ. A disciple does more than just master the Word, a disciple is stamped and fashioned in the mold of Jesus Christ and is a living witness to Him. Jesus identified two fundamental marks of a disciple: (1) if you hold to My teaching, you are really My disciples (John 8:31-32); and (2) if you love one another (John 13:34-35).
2 Who is God and what is God like; how does God feel toward me and the rest of humankind; how did this world come into existence and for what purpose was it created; who am I and why am I here; what will happen to me when I die; what is true and what is false; what is right and what is wrong; and what role does religion play in the organization of life.
3 There is only one foundation upon which a person can build one’s life now and for eternity and that one foundation is Jesus Christ; consequently, apostolic counsel and practice is concerned about what kind of foundation (Matthew 7:24-27) will be built upon and what kind of building (1 Corinthians 3:11-15) will be constructed in a person’s life.
4 Luther’s understanding of a Biblical spirituality consisted of prayer (oratio), meditation upon God’s Word (meditatio), and trials/struggles/temptations (tentatio). Life is filled with tribulations, trials and temptations; these drive us to prayer, asking God for His help, counsel and strength; and these drive us to His Word for counsel, wisdom and consolation.
5 The purpose of our callings in life is that one’s neighbor is served as God reaches down, through His servant, for the well-being of humankind. Thus God clothes Himself in the form of an ordinary person who performs His work on earth. Through vocation each believer serves as a “mask of God” behind which God can conceal Himself as He scatters His gifts, and proclaims Good News, to the nations.
6 Each believer is His disciple, witness, ambassador, priest, servant, steward, salt and light in the world.