Let me begin by thanking you for the many interesting and thought provoking discussions on church, missions, and the huge struggle we face today in reaching the next generation as young adults are leaving the church in droves. How do we bridge this gap? Honestly, I don’t know. I do know this, we follow a God who does know, and is orchestrating our lives to blend together with His in a symphonic masterpiece of praise. I feel so incredibly blessed to be at the church I serve, filled with people passionate about serving and loving God with their entire lives and putting voice to the song of grace the Lord has written on their hearts. It is a song penned not with the frailty of human effort but with a cross, a few nails, and some blood. These were the instruments God used to create the notes engraved into our lives.
As we continue our look at missions and the missional church, during the next few weeks we will look at God’s mission for us as individuals and as the community of faith as I set the stage for future discussion. I look forward to the dialogue we will have through this experience, so I hope and pray you engage the process.
It was a Sunday afternoon just before suppertime when the phone rang. I ran over to our caller ID to see who was calling, but I didn’t recognize the number so I picked up the phone. A man with a warm southern drawl greeted me, “Hello, may I please speak with Pastor Kuhlman?” When I responded in the affirmative, he continued, “My name is __ and I’m the congregational president of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Rolla, Missouri. Your name has surfaced from the district office as someone we’d like to interview to be pastor of our church.”
My heart was racing. I was speechless. He went on, “Would you be open to receiving a Divine Call at this time?”
I was caught off guard and stumbled out the words, “Yes, we would be open to considering a Call.” The rest of our conversation was a blur as my mind began whirling in a million different directions.
Little did I know that this brief conversation on the phone would change the entire direction and focus of my life. I soon found myself in the process of interviewing, visiting Rolla, and dropping to my knees with lots of prayerful consideration. We fought the Call for a while, but it soon became apparent that Rolla was the place God desired us to serve the next season of our lives. Not long after the decision over the Call was made I found myself standing before my previous congregation I served as pastor to announce that we had made the decision to accept the Call to serve at Redeemer Lutheran. That was a very difficult day. Soon, the happy, yet sad part of the process was upon us as we said goodbye to a people we had known and loved for eight wonderful years. At the same time, a new door of opportunity, friendships, and growth lay before us in Rolla.
I have been in ministry for close to twelve years. During this time I have served mainly as an associate pastor, specializing in the areas of youth ministry, young adults, school chaplain, small groups, and adult education. More recently, God led me on a path to serve as pastor of a great church in Rolla. As I made the transition from being an associate pastor to sole pastor I have had the privilege of putting to work all the learnings gleaned during the past years of ministry experience as well as through PLI (Pastoral Leadership Institute) and the Doctor of Ministry program I am currently undertaking at a nearby Lutheran seminary. I have had the privilege and honor of either growing up with or serving alongside some incredible pastors – Dean Nadasdy, Beryl Droegemueller, Paul Short, Steve Wagner, Oscar Benavides, John Koczman, Tom Zehnder, Landon Ledlow, and Luke Biggs – who helped shape me into the pastor I am today. I am forever indebted to their mentoring style of leadership. Do I feel equipped as a leader? Am I making a difference? Do I feel ready for the challenges God has placed before me and the leaders at Redeemer? At times “yes” but most of the time “no”. One thing I do know, God is more than the circumstance standing before me. He has not only been preparing me for this moment but also us, as the people of Redeemer, for the next chapter of our life together.
As I think about these next steps, one of the prominent items running through my mind centers on the leadership necessary to take on the rapidly changing mission field standing before us. What does such leadership look like? What should my next steps be in the mission field? How do you best live out missio dei in the congregational setting? What can a pastor do to help align the church he serves to such a vision? These are some of the questions I seek to dialogue about through our time together. First, we will look at missio dei from a broad biblical perspective.
The mission field surrounding Redeemer Lutheran Church is comprised of about 19,000 residents, with the average age being 27.9 years old. Two distinguishing marks of our mission field in Rolla are Missouri University of S&T and Fort Leonard Wood. Redeemer is made up of 400 faithful members who, on a weekly basis, average about 120 in worship and 20 in Bible study with one morning worship service. We have had several hymnals through the years, but the most recent versions used are the The Lutheran Hymnal and Lutheran Service Book. The church itself began New Year’s Day, January 1, 1975 as a mission start from another Lutheran church in town, Immanuel Lutheran. From its humble beginnings in the basement of a Lion’s Club to where we find ourselves today, the congregation is filled with men and women of humble spirit who faithfully come together week after week as a community of faith, to worship and praise the living God.
We now turn our attention to the first part of our time together as we look at the theology of mission from a broad perspective. As we do this, I want to be up front in recognizing that the topic is one that has had fluidity through the years. I do not have the time and space to discuss the origin and hermeneutic of missions, but I do plan to briefly look at its biblical origin as well as a few of the key events that have shaped how we look at missions today, especially as it relates to missional living. Once a basic understanding of mission from a theological perspective is grasped, it will help shed light on how to live out the missio dei in the congregational setting. I don’t pretend to have all the answers when it comes to best practices in regard to missions and missional living; if I did I could certainly have written a book about it by now and become extremely rich. I am but a mere cracked vessel, like yourself, on a journey with Jesus, of knowing Him and making Him known. But since no book deals are in the works, I am content in scribbling these few thoughts for you. After the theological groundwork for missions has been cast, I will shift gears into the practical realm and highlight what it looks like to live missionally as an individual and as a church.
Stepping into any new mission field, one has a certain set of values and expectations they bring to the situation. Before continuing, I think it appropriate and helpful to give my thoughts regarding the values and expectations on missions as well as an initial definition of mission which will be the basis we use throughout our time together. One of my favorite pieces written on mission is from the Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR) which came up with a succinct document on missions today from a Lutheran perspective entitled, A Theological Statement on Mission. Within this document the commission gives a wonderful definition of mission, saying, “Mission begins in the heart of God and expresses his great love for the world. It is the Lord’s gracious initiative and ongoing activity to save a world incapable of saving itself.” (7) What a great definition! The reason I like this definition is because it roots the missional activity squarely on God. After all, missions begin in the heart of God and extends outward to a broken world needing its healing salve – it is not something a committee creates. Thus, the CTCR definition will be the definition of mission we will work from in the remainder of our discussion.
The CTCR definition of mission raises some great questions for us to wrestle with. What is missions today? Where does its practice find its source, in man or divine origin? Who defines or creates our mission? If we go back in time to find the origin of missions, it quickly becomes apparent that it has a cloudy and shifty past to say the least. It is surprising that such an important issue for the church did not gain traction in terms of thought and scholarship until the sixteenth century. At this time in history mission began shifting to a different hermeneutic and gained more purposeful attention from the church in thought and practice. Until this time the term was used in reference to the sending activity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit performed to save humankind. The Jesuits were first to take missions and apply it to the activity of the church in reaching those outside the faith (Bosch, Transforming Mission, 1). Since that time, missions has taken on various nuances and meanings depending upon the culture, era, and people in which the term is used.
What about Martin Luther, who is arguably one of the most influential men ever to live (besides Jesus, of course), what does he say about missions? One would certainly think Luther, the impetus of one of the greatest reformation movements in all of human history would have something to say on a theology of mission, but in fact, he does not. This should not surprise us, however. We must keep in mind that Luther did not set out to create a systematics for the Christian faith. He certainly had much to say and was not afraid to step on toes in the process. One of the endearing things about this man is that the lessons he taught and preached on from the pulpit or in a lecture hall, he lived and breathed in his daily life. This being said, he certainly does have a missional feel to his way of thinking. It may not be formalized into a treatise or article on mission, yet the theology is there. Listen to a thought from a sermon he once preached on the Good Shepherd in 1523, “One must always preach the Gospel so that one may bring some more to become Christians. The kingdom of Christ stands in becoming, not in being.” (Volker Stolle, The Church Comes from All Nations, 26) One cannot help but walk away after hearing words like this from Luther without hearing missional talk all over the place! It oozes missional thinking and living! Luther is not saying that all will be compelled to believe and thus have saving faith. Rather, he is pointing to our task of missional living which in turn, through the Spirit’s power, may result in more becoming Christian.
I’d like to close with a few challenging words from Paul Foust, a Lutheran pastor who served in the Michigan District. He wrote a booklet on missions and evangelism in 1973 in an effort to mobilize and engage the church around missions. He writes:
It would actually be far better for all of us Christians if God would move each one into heaven the very day we become Christians. We would never have to run the risk of losing our faith, nor bear the heartaches and tears of this life, nor endure the lonesomeness and rheumatism of old age. But if God took every Christian into heaven today, not another person would be led to Calvary! You see, He leaves us here to be witnesses to His grace. Are you just marking time or are you actually witnessing? (Foust, Reborn to Multiply, 54-55)
Let’s push the pause button here and take a breath before moving forward in our look at missions and missional living. Just a little disclaimer (so to speak): The thoughts raised above are not meant to be a comprehensive, all-encompassing look at missions, but designed to hopefully open up dialogue on where God might be at work in your life and/or in the life of your church. In order to understand missions, we need to go back to the root of it all … to God and His Word on the matter. I look forward to talking with you on the question interwoven throughout this blog series, “What on earth are you earth for?”
Seeking the heart of God