Go to school

At the recent annual conference of our church body – the Association of Free Lutheran Congregations – there was some discussion about education. There often is. People have strong opinions about whether kids should be homeschooled or in Christian schools or public schools.

I know it’s not the case with every public school, but the elementary school that is a block away from our church here in Astoria has been great to work with. For a number of years we have been involved with an afterschool Good News Club. We meet in the school cafeteria. The staff at the school has always been real helpful and supportive of what we’ve been doing.

Sometimes Christians have assumed they’ll face opposition from the local public school, and so they haven’t even asked if they can do something like have an afterschool club.

As an encouragement to pray the Bible says, “You do not have, because you do not ask God” (James 4:2). It is possible that sometimes we miss out on opportunities to serve because we don’t ask. We assume the school will say no, so we don’t ask. Or when the request is made it is not done so in a respectful manner, but the assumption exists that the church and the school are adversaries.

I would encourage Christians and congregations to view their local public school not as an enemy to run from but as a mission field to go to and pray for. Where parents choose to have their own children educated is, of course, their own individual decision. Whatever their decision may be, I would hope Christians would not ignore the needs of the kids in their local public schools. Those kids need to hear the good news about how Jesus loves them.

By the end of this past school year we had around 40 kids coming to our Good News Club. Some of those kids were from our church. Some go to other churches in town. Some of them, though, don’t go to any church. I don’t think they are hearing about Jesus any time during the week, except for that hour at Club. If we didn’t have anything to do with the public school, how would those kids hear that Jesus loves them, died for them, rose from the dead and wants to be their Savior, Lord and Friend? Those kids aren’t going, at least not yet, to any Sunday school or midweek church activities. But their parents let them stay after school for an hour once a week. They might be hesitant to enter a church building, but they’ll stay at the school.

In the story of David and Goliath it tells about how Goliath would shout out his threats and “When the Israelites saw the man, they all ran from him in great fear” (I Samuel 17:24). David, though, had a different spirit. He had confidence in the Lord and knew God was far greater than Goliath. “As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him” (I Samuel 17:48).

Serving kids in the public schools can present challenges, but instead of running from life’s challenges in fear, let us run toward the challenges with faith in what God can do.

Remembering Fran

I was just looking over some of the reports that will be shared at the AFLC Annual Conference next week. There was the report Dr. Fran Monseth prepared as seminary dean. Fran submitted the report a week before his sudden heart attack and death on March 29. It is not surprising Fran got his report done in time to be included with the other reports. Being disciplined and fulfilling his commitments was part of who Fran was.

In his report Fran writes about “a hope founded in Christ and grounded in God’s Word;” a hope that “sustains and comforts our spirits.” That hope, that our sin has been paid for by Christ and we have eternal life by faith in Him, does sustain and comfort us. We miss our friend, but we are comforted by the hope that what ended on March 29 was not his life, but only his time on this earth. In some ways, on that day life full of joys beyond our imagination began for Fran.

Fran’s report is full of hope and thankfulness. That was Fran. I first started going to annual conferences in 1985. Fran reported as seminary dean at every conference I went to, and each report was full of thankfulness. There were times I kidded him a little before he’d give the report. “I bet it was a good year at the seminary this year.” He’d smile and say, “Well, actually it was.” There were years of trials and challenges, but by God’s grace, there was always reason to rejoice.

I had the privilege of being a student under Fran when I was in seminary and friends with him ever since. I got to travel with him to his beloved home state of North Dakota. I got to ride in an oxcart with him in India as part of a parade before the dedication of a new church building. I got to listen to and laugh at a whole lot of corny jokes he told over the years. I got to have him in my home when he came to be the guest speaker at a Bible conference our congregation hosted a couple of years ago. I got to hear him teach the Word of God and see him live it out over the years.

Nobody is irreplaceable. God’s church is bigger than any one individual and His work will continue on. Fran, being the humble servant of the church that he was, would most certainly agree with that. “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” (Matthew 24:35).

I appreciated a number of things about Fran, but maybe at the top of the list was what a humble servant he was. One time when I was in seminary, him and I and some others were helping a fellow student move into a new apartment. Fran was carrying boxes just like the rest of us. There was a neighbor kid in the apartment complex who wandered over to watch what we were doing. Fran smiled at him, stuck out his hand and said, “Hi, I’m Fran, what’s your name?” He had degrees and titles, but he didn’t make a big deal of them. He was just God’s humble servant, Fran.

As we think of the next generation of leaders in our church body, I pray God will continue to give us humble servant leaders. It is tempting to look for the one with the powerful presence, the dynamic personality, the overflowing charisma.  I pray, more than those traits, as we vote for leaders we will value humility.

Possibly the greatest leader in the Bible, other than Jesus, was Moses. Numbers 12:3 says, “Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.” Moses himself said he lacked any real skills in the area of public speaking. In Exodus 18 it tells how the administrative responsibilities of his position were getting to be overwhelming. But he was an effective leader. The core reason for that was his humility.

I give thanks for the humble, godly leader God graciously gave our church body, and the mentor and friend He gave me in Dr. Francis Monseth.