Boldness in Ministry

credit: YouTubeNumbers 1-3.

Yeah, I’m pulling out the Old Testament for you this week. Numbers 1-3 is a section that, if you’re like me, you’ve skimmed through (at best) rather than ponder and meditate upon. These chapters share the instructions God gave for the Israelites in pitching their tents around the tabernacle. Three chapters of explicit details! At first glance, it might make your eyes glaze over and you may end up zipping carelessly through the chapters.

Upon further review, and with your imagination, you can see the picture that Moses describes here. One can imagine Israel camped in the morning, the banners for each tribe flying in the dawning sun. The tabernacle in the middle of this army of tents–the cloud of God’s presence right there in the middle of the camp. Remember, this isn’t a small group of 10 to 15 tents. This picture is of thousands of tents; it takes a little imagination to consider what this looked like. No doubt, it had to be a strong and impressive sight for all who were part of these gatherings. When they camped, they had the power of knowing they were together as God’s chosen people and they knew that God was in the midst of their camp, taking care of them in every way. God has a way of taking something rather detailed and mundane and provide through it implicit and explicit strength.

Throughout our country (and beyond),  there also appear  small armies of folks. They are people who are part of Lutheran schools, places where God also tabernacles (a word that means “dwell”). Those who are part of these schools often seem to be timid in their individual actions as they operate their schools, as they worry about enrollment, express concern about meeting budgets and are bothered by the politics of the secular world they live.

But God is boldly reminding them of His promises. Just as He lived with the Israelites, God also lives with us now. We know this, not because of a cloud or pillar of fire but, because He promises such. “Lo I am with you always,” and “Where two or three are gathered in my name,” are promises that ring in our ears. We gather for worship, for Divine Service, and receive God’s gifts. Our schools are places where these promises ring clear and where we receive God’s gifts  and so these little armies teach and serve throughout the world.

But look outside of your tent and reflect on the collective impact Lutheran schools have in each of our little parts of the world and beyond. Let’s look beyond our church, our school and instead consider what it looks like for us to fly our banners together.

  • There are 1,173 LCMS early-childhood preschools, 804 elementary schools, 91 domestic high schools and three international schools, with a total of some 200,000 students attending these schools (statistics as reported at convention this past summer).
  • Hundreds of teachers, pastors and support staff serving Christ in their vocation.
  • Lay leaders who serve on boards and committees that provide organizational support.
  • Parents and grandparents who support and encourage students, teachers, administrators and boards with money, prayer and words of support.
  • Seminaries and the CUIS that provide training for future pastors and other church workers for worldwide influence in Christ’s name.
  • Worldwide effect of social media and other communication

Are you getting it? We’re not a ragtag, little group. While we may not have the numbers of our Catholic brethren in terms of schools and enrollment, the individual and corporate impact of Lutheran schools are far-reaching.

When we get caught up in numbers games, we lose the perspective of Lutheran school ministry. Might we do well to look out of our tents and realize the full power of Christ’s work in Lutheran schools everywhere? It would help us gain back a perspective that God is in control and that we are humbly a small part of something so much bigger. While Lutheran schools and churches have a fierce individuality and unique cultures, I wonder if it might be wise for us to not just look at our own flying banners but rather consider the way in which we need to be sure of our oneness. I’m sure each of tribes of Israel had their own individuality. Yet God always reminded them of their certain identity- “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” God was constantly reminding the Israelites of who they were, the promises that had been fulfilled and the promises that were still to come to fruition. All those past experiences of God’s grace and providence still needed constant reminders. And now, God was positioning them so they would be reminders to one another of God’s grace and care.

We have identity issues as well and forget who we are- even though we are children of Promise, too. It’s for this reason that Divine Service includes reminders. Our tribes are gathered together around God’s gifts of Word and Sacrament, His very presence in our life. And as we gather for these reminders, we commune and fellowship with one another, gathering the certainty that we are indeed a part of something bigger and that God has it under control. We leave with our banners flying and energized for another week of service.

This article was published under the title of “Professionally Speaking.” What’s been shared may not seem directed toward our professional efforts as educators, it does speak directly to our vocation as church workers. Three areas of concern come to mind:

  1. Our ministry area may be big or small, placed in an urban setting or rural. However, it is gathered around Christ’s presence and we are need of regular, personal connection with Christ. The fact of a crucified and risen Lord who came to earth for you and me is cause for excitement. This is life changing news that affects beyond this time and space. It’s always been true but with the devil and the world around us causing us so much dismay, temptation and trials in ministry, we need to be encamped around Christ and be able to rally together as one. Look outside your tent and see the banners of your congregation, your daughter and sister congregations. We’re not alone. God’s promises are sure. He’s right here with us–Immanuel.
  2. This is no time to cower away from the opportunities that are in front of us as Lutheran schools. We will continue our challenges of funding and enrollment. We will continue to work to determine the addressing of the ever-changing world of education. It appears that the challenge of calling and staffing our schools with excellent teachers and administrators is going to grow. But just as God provided leaders throughout Old Testament history, we must trust the Lord of the church to continue to do the same. At the same time we need to encourage our students through word and action to consider Lutheran school ministry vocations.  
  3. What’s the excitement look like in your place? Do we share an excitement for sharing Jesus with friends, family and neighbors? Isn’t Jesus a tad bit more important than population growth and economic growth? If you agree that the message of our crucified and risen Lord is worth some excitement, doesn’t it also make sense for us to be even bolder? After all, the impact of the Gospel goes beyond a couple of decades of growth. The impact of the Gospel goes into eternity! We may have a temptation to not fly our banner boldly due to the legal and cultural challenges of the day. However, we need to use the resources given to us, including Protecting Your Freedom (https://blogs.lcms.org/2016/synod-provides-legal-guide-amid-increased-intrusions), and be confident that Lutheran schools will continue to be blessed and be a blessing.

Join me in being bold.