Deliberate, Intentional and Bold
Staff at Sioux Falls Lutheran School in Sioux Falls, S.D., walk alongside parents to encourage students to consider serving the church as a vocation.
Lutheran parents teach their children the faith in the home and encourage them to consider serving the church as a vocation. But they don’t have to do it alone. A Lutheran school can walk alongside parents to reinforce that teaching and encouragement.
“I look at the kids that have become church workers … and a lot comes from their families,” says veteran middle-school teacher Marli Ockander. “Their parents are church workers, professional church workers — a lot of times pastors — or they’re just part of a family who is regularly at church and regularly serving through that church or even … here at Sioux Falls Lutheran.”
Walking Beside Parents
At Sioux Falls Lutheran School in Sioux Falls, S.D., Ockander and her fellow teachers and the school’s administrative team bring Christ into everything they do with the students entrusted to their care. Ockander works to foster the parents’ teaching of the faith, provides resources such as devotions, encourages her students to serve the church in both a professional and lay capacity, and prays for her students to remain in the faith.
At morning chapel in March, Ockander proudly watched her seventh-grade students assist the Rev. Paul Winckler as he led the service. The students sang and performed a short play, written by the Rev. Dr. Dean Nadasdy, president emeritus of the LCMS Minnesota South District, about their identity in Christ.
“We’re walking beside [the parents],” Ockander says, alluding to the Greek word for “Synod,” which means “walking alongside.” “We’re helping to train them up [in the faith]. And a lot of that foundation is started at home.” She wants to warn parents about how easy it is to forget God and fail to pass along knowledge of Him to future generations.
Ockander recently represented the school and the South Dakota District at the Set Apart to Serve (SAS) pilot program training at the LCMS International Center in St. Louis. Participants came from all 35 of the Synod’s districts, each representing a pilot congregation, school or camp that will be testing SAS materials.
Each site, including Sioux Falls Lutheran School, will use SAS resources to discuss full-time church work with young people and to develop long-term plans for nurturing future church workers. The pilot project will provide feedback before the initiative is launched Synodwide.
The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.
Centered in Christ
Sioux Falls Lutheran School — built recently to house a growing student body — sits outside of the city in a location ripe for development. Down the hall from Ockander, teacher Britney Vercruysse hugs her first-grade students as they arrive. During Bible time, Vercruysse draws from Concordia Publishing House’s “One in Christ” curriculum for her lesson. One of her continuing themes for her students is the importance of pastors in their lives and the life of the church.
On this sunny, cold day, the children read the Bible story of Jesus blessing the children. Vercruysse sits with small groups and goes through their work. She loves her work as a teacher — a path she was guided on by her father — and sees the need for more Lutheran teachers.
There is a joy, she says, in a Lutheran teacher’s freedom to spread God’s love every day. “We are here for the kids. We’re here for the families. We’re here for each other. No matter what the situation or what we’re teaching, [we are here] to share God’s love with those families and those kids.”
During the lesson, Vercruysse crisscrosses the classroom with Brooke Aker, an educational assistant in the first-grade classroom. Aker’s husband is the Rev. Corey Aker, pastor at Faith Lutheran Church, one of the school’s five association congregations. Later in the evening Brooke Aker is present alongside several school families for Wednesday Lenten service at Faith.
There’s a need for Lutheran teachers, says Brenda Bernard, principal for kindergarten through fifth grade. A growing school means a growing need for teachers. She was able to call one teacher, yet more opportunities for called workers remain. Her goal is to teach and prepare young Lutherans for their vocations serving their community and the church, and she wants the school’s teachers to bring their Lutheran faith into the classroom in all that they do to instruct the students.
“Our common thread through everything we do is Christ,” says Bernard. She gives an example of weekly Bible verses and readings. “[We’re] making sure our families understand the Bible through the eyes of their children at different stages of development.” She also invites parents to chapel and brings the association and supporting congregations’ pastors into the classrooms.
There is no age too early to plant seeds with students about vocation and God’s plans, she says. She recalls a young student who was having some challenges in school. She says she told him, “I’m not sure what God has planned for you, but wouldn’t it be amazing if these experiences lead you into being a teacher where you can help somebody through some of the same challenges you’ve had?” It’s being deliberate and intentional with the conversations and being “bold about that,” says Bernard.
The school is full of activity throughout the day. Middle-schoolers build a snowman at recess. Students recite Bible verses from memory. Fourth-grade students create Lenten crosses in art class. Kindergarteners spend quiet time reading in indoor tents. High school students weather their anxiety during a public speaking project. Young musicians rehearse proper form on the violin. After all of these scenes and more, the school day winds down. In the moments before pickup, fifth-grade teacher Jon Pinn quiets his classroom and opens Luther’s Small Catechism. In unison, voices young and older pray Luther’s Evening Prayer before all are dismissed.
Set Apart to Serve
The preparation of pastors and other church workers is of vital importance to the LCMS. That’s why the Synod in convention adopted Resolution 6-01, “To Support and Participate in the Comprehensive Church Worker Recruitment Initiative,” in 2019. This initiative — which is now known as Set Apart to Serve — is led by the Rev. Dr. James A. Baneck, executive director of the LCMS Office of Pastoral Education. It seeks to create a culture of church work formation and recruitment in our congregations and schools, throughout the Synod, and increase the enrollment in our church work programs at our Concordia universities and seminaries to ensure that the saving faith continues to be passed along from one generation to the next until our Savior’s return.
“Nothing is more important in all the world than the forgiveness of sins and our eternal life,” Baneck says. “So, God gives pastors to the church. This is His gift. It’s also His mandate.
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Erik M. Lunsford
Managing photojournalist for LCMS Communications.