Story Magazine - Second Quarter, 2008

Notes from the Mission Field – Luther Seminary: Training Missionaries for Ministry in North America

by Richard H. Bliese, President, Luther Seminary

The Bliese family (from left, Stephanie, Richard, Aaron and Nina) at their home in Bukavu, Zaire, in 1987.

Luther Seminary's mission statement focuses on equipping leaders for Christian mission. Translated today, this means training "evangelical missionaries for North American communities." As I reflect on my own training for work as a missionary, I have come to realize that what I needed for ministry in Germany and Zaire was, strangely enough, exactly what I needed for ministry in the United States! Let me explain.

First, our U.S. context has changed, becoming both more secular and more spiritual. Neighbors no longer know the inside of a church or the contours of the Christian story. Consequently, Christians must become skillfully adept at communicating the gospel as genuine "good news" to a whole variety of different people who may be: a.) thoroughly secular, b.) hostile to the church or, c.) following other "gospels." Evangelical proclamation has never been more challenging.

Second, cultures are changing in your neighborhood, and so too are languages. Pastors used to be surrounded by people from their own cultural backgrounds. Such homogeneity is becoming rare. Pastors now are sent into communities very different than their own. Cross-culture ministry is the "norm." In fact, to be faithful and effective, leaders may need to learn a language other than their own to proclaim the gospel. Third, new ministry situations demand new strategies. Congregations are breaking old patterns and trying creative forms of ministry in order to be faithful witnesses of Jesus Christ. As they return to Scripture and catechism--that is, to the basics of their faith--they are discovering new impulses for in-reach and outreach.

Learning to do ministry in new contexts, cultures and situations was the basis of my own missionary training abroad years ago. Now we need this training at home! We are re-discovering the truth that mission--everywhere!--demands missionaries, even in our own neighborhoods. We have been called to a missionary existence within our own country, culture and context. Congregations are the new mission stations. That changes everything about how we "do church" and how we equip pastors for leadership. Pastors are called to be missionaries, and they are called to be trainers of missionaries within their congregations. It's a new day! But it's the same calling from our Lord.

Speak, Lord, for your servant(s) [are] listening. -- 1 Samuel 3:9

Richard and Nina Bliese visit a Bukavu woman and her family.