Teaching the Unchanging Truth to God’s Children
At Lutheran schools in California and Wisconsin, students of different backgrounds and abilities are taught many important things, including about the love of their Savior, Jesus Christ.
Lutheran schools are as varied as the students they serve and as vital as the Word of God shared there every day. Throughout its history, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) has treasured its schools. Instruction in the Word of God and about God’s creation, preparing young people for their various vocations, and sharing the Good News with those who come from outside the church remain the heart and soul of Lutheran schools.
On the coast and in the heartland, Lutheran teachers love their students with the love of Jesus. First and foremost, that means communicating the Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection to every child. But that love also includes teaching children to read, write and function in this world for the praise of God and the service of neighbor. In a world advocating worldviews foreign to God’s eternal truth, Lutheran schools base their instruction on the Holy Scriptures.
In La Mesa, Calif.
“Our mission at Christ Lutheran Church and School is to develop dynamic disciples for life,” said Xavria Schwarz, principal of Christ Lutheran School in La Mesa, Calif. “And our vision is to do that through very strategic discipleship in our classrooms, a rigorous academic program so that they are relevant in the world, and then thirdly, [by building] a strong sense of community where teachers really enjoy serving together and where kids and families are known.”
The school has been educating students in the Lutheran faith for 63 years in its current location. Fewer of its 212 students are Lutheran than in previous years, but the ministry of the school remains unchanged. “The school itself is really devoted to being very Lutheran, distinctly Lutheran,” said Schwarz. “That’s why we’re so devoted to having all called teachers.”
But Christ, La Mesa, is more than just a school. The congregation works closely with the school to provide the Gospel to school families and to ensure that the families who send their children for education are connected to the church. Both pastors work closely with the school, as do the directors of Christian education on staff.
Recently, the congregation moved one of its pastors’ offices to the school, so that the tie between the congregation and the school is even more evident. Schwarz describes her working relationship with the pastors and congregation as symbiotic and of one mind. The pastors and church staff work closely with the faculty and school staff to continue to proclaim Christ to the people of La Mesa.
Everyone at Christ, La Mesa, desires that the students and their families would know the love of Christ, and that no matter where they go afterward, their memories of the school would be a blessing. “When they think of Christ Lutheran School, they think, ‘That was a place I was beloved and cared for,’” said Schwarz. “And they associate that love with their Savior, whether they’re in a relationship with Him or not at that time, whether they’ve wandered or [are] walking closely with Him, that school would always be a place that they fondly love and associate with their Savior.”
In Freistadt, Wis.
“Who are you?”
“I’m a child of God, loved and saved by Jesus!”
“What is your purpose?”
“To spread His Gospel with the world!”
“How will you do this?”
“By growing in His Word, serving in His world, joining in His mission — together.”
This conversation is repeated hundreds of times at Trinity Lutheran School in Freistadt, Wis. Dr. Sam Seefeld, principal of Trinity, asks these questions of students at least once a week. And they all willingly respond, often shouting with enthusiasm when appropriate. These questions and responses are not just something to say. They drive the mission and ministry of Trinity’s faculty, staff and students.
Trinity, Freistadt, is set amid farmland and historic buildings that speak to the school’s longevity. Many of the families of the congregation’s founding members still attend the church. Trinity was started by immigrants from Pomerania, Germany, who fled religious persecution and settled in Freistadt to freely practice their faith. This group built the first Lutheran church in Wisconsin in 1840. Trinity, Freistadt, has been a member of the LCMS since 1848 — the year after the LCMS was founded.
Trinity’s history and heritage continue to mark the church and school both physically and spiritually. As its website says, “More than 175 years later, Trinity continues to support families through Lutheran education, worship services, and ministry through our Lord Jesus Christ. To God be the Glory!”
One might expect that a school with deep German roots would be characterized by uniformity and staid programs. But Trinity Lutheran School may surprise those who enter.
Currently, the diverse student body at Trinity is 60% Caucasian and 40% minority. In 2012, Trinity saw an opportunity to serve the refugee Karenni population, who were immigrating from Myanmar and Thailand. Trinity was one of the leading groups that helped the Karenni in Milwaukee adjust to life in America. The pastors, staff and members of the congregation all worked to help them feel at home and, most importantly, to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Trinity Lutheran School also welcomed the Karenni community. At first, the school had a grant to bus Karenni children from Milwaukee to Freistadt. When the grant ended, the congregation decided to continue to serve the Karenni families through both the congregation and the school.
Though the school suffered through some years of decreased numbers, Trinity’s current enrollment of 270 reflects a 122% growth over the last three years. Currently, Trinity serves families from 32 zip codes across five counties. One decision that aided this diverse reach was participation in the Wisconsin school choice program, wherein families can choose to direct their education dollars to a private school.
The recent growth and diversity have not changed Trinity’s mission. The school’s values and goals begin with Christ and take seriously each sinner’s identity in Him as a result of His death and resurrection. To this end, Trinity was the first Lutheran school in Wisconsin to adopt the national LCMS theological standards. Along with this important and explicit focus, Trinity seeks excellence in academics and development of the whole person.
“We teach Jesus. We are unashamedly Christian. … We talk about how the saving grace with the Gospel is a message that will never change,” said Seefeld. “Even as many of the school districts in our area and really around the country continue to kind of ebb and flow with the tide of the changing social landscape, we will not change and our message doesn’t change, because it’s rooted in Scripture.”
In Hales Corner, Wis.
“Centered in Christ,” the mission of Journeys Lutheran School in Hales Corner, Wis., is to “[prepare] students with unique learning challenges to maximize their God-given spiritual, academic, physical, emotional and social potential.”
Journeys Lutheran School began in 1958 by a group of concerned parents who desired a better education and alternative for their children with unique learning challenges. The school was first located within Milwaukee Lutheran High School and therefore had limited space and resources. God provided a school building that could accommodate more students when Hales Corners Lutheran School moved into a new building, thus leaving their old building vacant.
Now located in Hales Corners, Wis., Journeys serves over 80 students who range in age from 8 to 21. Journeys fills a unique need in the Lutheran school system as the only school whose student body is comprised solely by those who have special needs. Unlike many schools that focus on a student’s special needs, Journeys provides both excellent academic teaching and nurture through the Word of God and prayer.
“Everything with Jesus in the middle,” said Kathy Siegel, who works as a music therapist at the school. “Everything with prayer.”
Journeys provides specific and necessary settings for children and young adults with different needs. Teachers are trained and experienced in helping students as they encounter difficulties in learning both academically and socially. Sometimes this means providing a room where a student can go to work out anger or frustration.
“They don’t come here because it’s a Lutheran school. They come here because of the needs of their children,” said Michael Oldenburg, executive director of Journeys. “But we are sharing the love of Jesus with them every day.”
Journeys cares for the whole person and encourages each student to see their potential and to know that they are loved by God through His Son, Jesus Christ. During their time at Journeys, they hear the Gospel and learn God’s Word in the classroom and in chapel services. The faculty and staff pray for their students and work to equip them for life through academic training and life skills.
It’s not always easy. Yet through it all, the faculty and staff consider their role essential. Oldenburg said that the best thing about working at Journeys is “sharing the love of Jesus. It’s who we are and who we should be and who the world needs us to be.”
- About LCMS School Ministry
Pray with Us
Almighty God, Your Son instructed His disciples during His earthly ministry and commanded them to teach all nations the things He gave to them. As Your church continues to teach the truth of Your love in Jesus Christ and the goodness of Your creation, bless both teachers and students, that all who teach and all who learn will trust in Jesus Christ as their savior and learn to serve their neighbor according to Your holy will. Encourage and strengthen our Lutheran schools, that they may be places where Your Word is truth and Your Son is glorified. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
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Dr. Kevin Armbrust
Director of Editorial for LCMS Communications.