Lutheran schools will play a major role in the Synod’s Ablaze! initiative to bring the Gospel to 100 million unreached people by 2017, says Terry Schmidt, associate director of school ministry with the Synod’s Board for District and Congregational Services.
“In fact,” Schmidt said, “our Lutheran preschools, elementary schools and high schools in North America are already at the forefront of the LCMS mission field today.”
Of 290,000 students enrolled in schools operated by Missouri Synod congregations during the 2002-03 school year, 46,000 (or 16 percent) are unchurched, Schmidt pointed out.
“What an opportunity for Lutheran schools!” he said.
The statistics for last school year, the latest available, also show that 18 percent of Lutheran-school students are from ethnic minorities.
“Lutheran schools present great potential for introducing cultural diversity into our church body,” Schmidt said, “since many of our congregations already sponsor schools that are racially mixed and culturally diverse.”
“If the LCMS is to survive and prosper in the growing ethnic mix that is contributing to a change in American society, it will have to look different in the next generation,” he said. “Lutheran schools provide an open door for progress in this area.”
Schmidt said that Lutheran schools “provide instant relationships” with unchurched people in their communities.
“Love and concern for our neighbors’ welfare flows from the love that God showed us through offering His Son for the sins of mankind,” said Schmidt. “We need to go farther than the doors of our classrooms to examine these relationships in that light.”
Lutheran schools get the attention of parents, he said, “because the schools play a significant role in their most precious possession — their children.”
He said that the “staggering” amount of time Lutheran teachers devote to each child, from preschool through eighth grade, “presents thousand of opportunities to share the love of Jesus with those who already know Him as Lord and Savior, as well as with those who do not.”
To get the same investment of time in a church setting, Schmidt pointed out, a child would have to attend Sunday services faithfully for 266 years.
The 2002-03 school statistics, released last spring, showed that LCMS congregations owned and operated 2,418 schools in the United States. Of those, 1,361 were early-childhood centers, 1,028 elementary schools, and 92 high schools.
“This mission field exists today because of a huge investment on the part of many of our congregations toward the Christian education of their children,” Schmidt said. “And many families outside our church body are led to take advantage of the high academic quality, good discipline and values-centered education provided by our schools.”
“The LCMS has done schools well from its beginning almost 165 years ago,” Schmidt said. “And the Holy Spirit is already using our schools mightily as a great mission field.
“There is untapped potential for Lutheran schools to set hearts on fire for Christ,” he said, “as we reach out with our Ablaze! initiative.”