Steadfast in Education: Why Lutheran Schools and Why Lutheran Teachers?

roseWhy do we need Lutheran schools? Why do Lutheran schools need Lutheran teachers? Though these are simple questions, their answers get at the whole reason that the extensive system of Lutheran schools exists in the first place. Lutherans in North America have been school-builders from the beginning. In fact, the opportunity to establish schools apart from the purview of the State was at least as enticing to these first Lutheran immigrants from Europe as freedom from a state religion.

But why? After all, schools are a lot of work. All the planning, budgeting, instruction, assessment, recordkeeping — operating a school requires immense sacrifice of time and money on the part of the congregation. Yet in spite of all that, Lutherans (especially those most interested in a confessional identity) have insisted upon operating schools all across the country. So what drove them to establish all these and work tirelessly to keep them open?

Put simply, it’s all about the gospel. Lots of other sorts of schools can teach lots of different things. Any school can teach children to behave and to be good boys and girls. Any school can dig deep into the wisdom of the ancient Greeks — in fact, there is much we all could learn from the founders of Western civilization. Any school can teach citizenship and character and morality. But all of that is of the Law, and we Lutherans know better than anyone that while the Law is good and wise, it lacks the power to save.

It is wise for us to ask the question “What problem is the school designed to solve?” Naturalists like John Dewey would say that the primary problem that a school is designed to solve is that of ignorance of the world. We Christians, in contrast, might concede that a child ought to know something of the world, but that knowledge is of secondary importance when compared to the gospel, which alone can save us from death. In fact, ignorance is not the greatest problem facing man — death is. All worldly knowledge cannot fix death. Only the gospel of Jesus Christ saves sinful man from sin and death. Lutheran schools do teach math, grammar, and history — and many of them do so quite well. But above all, Lutheran schools proclaim this gospel — that Jesus Christ has taken away death and sin and hell by His atoning death. Many students in Lutheran schools don’t get to hear that on Sunday morning. Many of the children in Lutheran schools are members of the congregation who attend the Divine Service faithfully — but they still need to hear what God has done for them in Christ.

Lutheran schools are in the business of preparing young people for the Last Day when the dead are raised and the saints in Christ stand with Him in eternal peace and bliss. The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews asks, “How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?” Christians must contend with fallen flesh, the world, and the devil — all of whom would snatch the precious gift of eternal life from us were it not for the Spirit’s work through this gospel to keep us firm in the faith until that Day.

But why Lutheran? After all, there are lots of other Christian schools and Christian teachers. Why does Lutheran identity matter? Simply put, it is when Lutheran schools are staffed with Lutheran teachers that the gospel has the best chance of being proclaimed in its purity. (For the record, the word “Lutheran” here refers more to one’s actual confession than simply on which roster one’s name appears.) To be sure, there are lots of Christian schools and Christian teachers and they are dedicated and sincere. But any adulteration of the gospel runs the risk of the Christian doubting — or worse, in causing him to trust someone or something other than Christ for his eternal salvation. The world thinks this is unloving, but it’s why Lutheran schools ought to be for Lutheran teachers. No one else confesses justification the same as the Fourth Article of the Augsburg Confession. No one else’s theology is designed to reflect salvation by grace alone through faith alone in all its articles. No other theology ought to be taught in our schools, and the way to ensure this is twofold: First, the pastor ought to oversee the theological curriculum and instruction of the school (if not outright do all the instruction himself). Second, teachers ought to hold to the confession of the Evangelical Lutheran churches (and remain diligent in the study of that confession) so that any time theological matters are discussed in class, students can be directed to the saving gospel of Jesus Christ.

They seem like simple questions, and they are. But like so many simple questions, they matter a lot. Lutheran schools, at their best, deliver the gospel to students and strengthen them for the Last Day when the dead are raised and the saints stand with the Lord. And it’s precisely for that reason that Lutheran schools ought to care about an unapologetically Lutheran identity.

About Pastor Daniel Hinton

Pastor Hinton is pastor of Christ Lutheran Church in Lubbock, Texas. He is a graduate of the University of Arkansas, having majored in poultry science, and of Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He was ordained on Holy Trinity 2011. He has been married to Amanda for seventeen years, and has five daughters and one son. He grew up in the ELCA, and left in 2004 over issues of scriptural authority. It was because of a faithful Lutheran campus ministry that he was exposed to The Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod. He enjoys old books, teaching the faithful, and things that are beautiful.


Steadfast in Education: Why Lutheran Schools and Why Lutheran Teachers? — 28 Comments

  1. Consider a community where:

    (1) the public school system is weak,
    (2) Lutherans and non-Lutheran Christians, working together, could maintain a Christian school,
    (3) neither group has the resources to maintain a school on its own, and
    (4) the most ardent supporters of Christian education are doctrinally conservative within their own denominations.

    If the choice were between:

    (1) supporting a doctrinally conservative Christian school that was not distinctively Lutheran, and
    (2) having no Christian school at all,

    which alternative would you support?


    Here’s a true story:

    A once-prosperous K-8 Lutheran (LCMS) school had seen several years of declining enrollment and growing financial difficulties. The situation had become critical due to a variety of factors, including demographic and economic changes in the area. Another Lutheran school in the region had already closed.

    The school board called a special meeting of the voting members of its sponsoring congregations. To no one’s surprise the meeting was long and difficult.

    Among the proposals discussed, I urged consideration of a Christian academy model, whereby LCMS congregations would cooperate with conservative evangelical churches in the area, pooling resources (money and leadership) and drawing enrollment from across a broader base. Doctrinal oversight, I suggested, could be provided by one of the LCMS pastors with reference to a concise statement of faith to which faculty and school leaders would commit themselves.

    My reasoning, I explained, was influenced by a real situation where an evangelical school association that enjoyed a broad base of support had built a school precisely where an effort launched by the smaller Lutheran community alone had failed.

    While a few heads in the assembly nodded in appreciation of my remarks, among some outspoken church members the idea of cooperating with other Christians was a non-starter. By the end of the meeting, the congregations had voted to invest still more of their resources in an effort to turn the school situation around. Passion for distinctively Lutheran education had prevailed.

    But within two years, the school closed. Some students transferred to public schools, others transferred to a Catholic school, and the Lutheran school building itself was put up for sale.


    Of course, that outcome by no means proves that pursuing the Christian academy model ultimately would have served our Lutheran families better. Nevertheless, the posture of “just us, or bust” seems to have left that Lutheran community with far less influence over its children’s education and spiritual growth than a Christian school largely shaped by that same Lutheran community would have offered.

  2. Our LCMS colleges are still a battle ground. Some of them are still controlled by apostates and promote higher criticsm, homosexuality, abortion, Leftist politics, etc.

    Just search “concordia chicago” and “concordia portland” on BJS for some articles about this.

  3. Communists terrorists William Ayers and Angela Davis each have supporters among faculty at our Concordia universities as we speak:

    I hope that all of our Lutheran K-12 schools are orthodox and without any heretical faculty, unlike some of our universities. I believe that the Synod should stop giving any money to the Concordias of Chicago, Ann Arbor, and New York until we can do some “spring cleaning.” But our leadership has to have the will to do it. So much of our “conservative” leadership is soft. Others (like Paul Linnemann) are directly sympathetic to and protective of heretics (like Matthew Becker).

  4. @Carl H #1
    Personally, I would have favored an unmentioned third alternative–retaining the Lutheran distinctives AND marketing to the broader community, both churched and unchurched. I have seen that work quite well both for the longevity of the school and the opportunity to provide Christian training to the parents of those school children, in addition to the obvious advantages of providing a great Lutheran Christian education to both churched and unchurched children.

  5. According to Korcok (“Lutheran Education”: CPH, 2011), education was the primary factor leading to the Saxon immigration.

  6. “Many students in Lutheran schools don’t get to hear that on Sunday morning. Many of the children in Lutheran schools are members of the congregation who attend the Divine Service faithfully — but they still need to hear what God has done for them in Christ.”

    That is truly why the teachers need to be Lutheran and that the Pastor should be working closely over the theological teachings. Many of those students never get to hear the Gospel anywhere else but in the classroom and in chapel. A handful of times I have been able to take students to church on Sunday mornings one of them every Sunday, but that has not been often in my career.

  7. We have a succesful, growing, and vibrant Lutheran School in the midst of arguably one of the best public school systems in the state of Illinois – Naperville.

    We are successful by the standards outlined by Rev. Hinton in the post. The school is liturgical, has all three pastors teaching year round and doing weekly chapel, and the spiritual aspects are supervised by our elders, not the School Policy Board.

    In a day and age when Lutheran schools are fading fast, we have grown by 15% in the last few years and have 275 students in pre-k – 8th grade.

    The credit goes mostly to our principal, teachers, and half-time (soon to be full time no doubt) recruiter.

    Here are some other things that have been crucial for teh success.

    1. I, the head pastor, am thoroughy committed to Lutheran education.

    2. The other pastors are so committed.

    3. Twenty years ago I faced a school that had 2/3 of its teachers untrained in Lutheran theology. We made a commmitment 2o years ago to all synodically trained and called teachers and have been there for the last few years.

    4. We interview the crap out of prosepective teachers. Many of the rostered teachers out there are not committed to being Lutheran and we weed them out aggressively.

    5. The principal and I have countless mini-meetings each day and the principal is apart of our program staff that meets faithfully two hours every week. (If you just have a principal and one pastor I suggest you still meet at a scheduled time each week for at least an hour and have the daily informal meetings as well).

    6. When our principals are males, they are automatically on the Board of Elders. Female principals (as we have now) are expected to attend elder meetings even though they have no vote. Wether male or female, their input is cherished by the elders.

    7. We have a unified budget.

    8. Non-member tuition is set at the actual level of cost of educating the child.

    9. Member tuition is approximately half that cost. The parish supports the school every year with about $350,000 plus building the school buildings.

    This is not a guaranteed recipe but darn close.

    Forgot #10. During that same twenty years I have worked hard to catechize the parish and from that have been able to recruit solid, confessional elders. How many elders should a parish have? No more than the number of solid, confessional men that it has.

  8. Here’s for your no-longer-distinctly-Lutheran Day Schools:

    My congregation’s Lutheran day school was a battleground. It was established in 1950 mainly as a Lutheran school for the congregation youth (Baby Boom) with a new two-story building next to the church, six grades (seven if you count Kindergarten), weekly morning chapel in the church nave by the pastor, and used rostered Lutheran teachers and principals for decades. It was closed upon the suggestion of our board of elders in 2003 with no Lutheran children in attendance, a bunch of Baptist kids whose parents wanted a non-Lutheran private school, no unchurched children attending at all, no Lutheran curriculum, no chapel, no theology class by the pastor, and no Lutheran teachers. Apparently the elders and pastor paid no attention to the school for some time. The last pastor before the school was shut down home-schooled his own children while living next door to his own Lutheran day school. When the motion passed to shut it down part of the resolution was that it would not be re-opened without real Lutheran teachers.

  9. Tim,

    That is a sad story. As you know, you are not alone. It is clear that we are losing our Lutheran identity and our healthy parochial character. The reaction to Newtown is proof of that. Until we restore that, it will be really hard to have Lutheran teachers in Lutheran schools.

  10. Rev. Hinton, thank you for this article. On Monday morning, I’ll post it on the bulletin board where I teach: Lutheran High School North, Macomb, Michigan. My wife will also post it on the bulletin board where she teaches: St. Peter Lutheran School, Macomb, Michigan. I will also send it to my daughter who is studying to be a Lutheran elementary teacher.

  11. look at what is going on in the LCMS-fewers leaders want to defend truth-congregations die,souls are lost and the faithful servants and members are destroyed

  12. restore our true defenders-faithful members and pastors who have been betrayed by LCMS leaders and clean out the apostates from the grand 35 who have no allegiance to their oaths before God. Bless the faithful who sacrifice all for HIS truth

  13. “And it’s precisely for that reason that Lutheran schools ought to care about an unapologetically Lutheran identity.”

    That is for sure. The temptations to go astray from that are so strong. The largest temptation is retention of students at all costs and it comes in so many ways. Here are just three ways it may happen.

    It is tempting to become a secular school with a veneer of generic Christianity. There is enormous pressure in some schools to compete with the public schools.

    It is tempting to change the theology to fit the students. Students come from so many backgrounds and in an effort to reach more it is easy to dump Lutheran and change to Christian.

    It is tempting to hire non Lutheran teachers because the call process is sometimes difficult.

    There are times when a Lutheran school is in survival mode on that front and on the church front as well. Whether the congregation is antagonistic to the school it created or a Pastor is not fully on board with the school, the school can face enormous challenges.

    There are those who fully support Lutheran schools: congregations, teachers, Pastors, parents, and students. I am eternally thankful for those who taught me what it is to be Lutheran and helped to form me as an adult and Lutheran teacher.

  14. @Andrew #16

    Some of our Concordia universities give priority in hiring graduates of liberal seminaries like Fuller, and don’t even care about hiring Lutherans:

    Here are some examples of the kind of people teaching at our Concordias:

    The above are just examples from Concordia Chicago, the same school where the majority of its faculty signed a petition in support of communist terrorist William Ayers.

    I think the Concordias of Chicago, New York, Ann Arbor, and Portland have essentially become, as you said, secular schools (with the exception of costing more in tuition). More examples are given in my previous comments on this thread.

  15. did we hear correctly that the synod president stood for truth out east and was criticized by some servants and leaders out east? Newtown? if so,what decay from within-as the Lord weeps

  16. so what is to be done when the faithful are shunned by cc and dp apathy and indifference after much has been shared with the hope of action to save churches?

  17. Having served for 10 years in Lutheran schools, no one in this post has touched on the single greatest threat to Lutheran education: sports. They are the panacea for more and more Lutheran schools: it is believed that if you are good at THEM, then students and parents will choose to enroll. If you’re not, then they won’t. I cannot read minds- and therefore I cannot verify or refute the truth of that belief. But I think most of us would agree that that “business model” is not Lutheran. When academic and spiritual life activities take a back seat to athletics- among the leadership of the school… or when the leadership actually encourage students to put academics and spiritual life into the backseat, so that athletics can drive… I fear we have completely lost our way. But this way of doing things is far more common than people realize. One administrator actually told me that our school needed to be more like the local Catholic school. Why? Because their football team practiced-full pads, whistles, the whole 9 yard- on Sunday afternoons. THEY were committed to winning… and we needed to do those kinds of things too, if we were going to win… I mean, be able to share the Gospel. Sad. That’s why I’m a “former” Lutheran teacher.

  18. Former,
    I think you are correct in your assessment. How can we go about changing this?

  19. Dave,
    Great question. I wish there was an easy answer. I think one place to start would be in the colleges. Train Lutheran teachers to be LUTHERAN… and teach them what it means. A 2nd place to start would be by giving some real authority to ordained ministers connected to the schools. I am an ordained pastor and my “opinion” on school / spiritual life matters had about as much authority as that of the part time janitor. The athletic director made most of the “real” (important) decisions. And he told me- and this is a direct quote: “I got into Lutheran education so I could coach.” I wish that administrators could be trusted to “run” the schools, but the ones that I have known have neither the education or inclination to be “Lutheran” administrators. Thirdly, it might be time to have a heart-to-heart with administrators (from the Synodical level downward) as to what it means to have a Lutheran school. It is an AWESOME blessing- if it is, in fact, Lutheran. If it is just a “private” school where (occasionally) morality is taught… it really isn’t worth it. Sometimes it has seemed to me that the whole purpose for a Lutheran school- was to give Lutheran teachers a place to work. I hope that I have simply been unfortunate in my own experiences… that its really not that bad in other places. But I have spoken to plenty of folks (teacher and pastors) who have indicated to me that its this way everywhere. There are exceptions, to be sure- but, unfortunately, they ARE the exceptions- NOT the rule.
    I’m open to listening to other ideas. I think we need to do something, though- or Lutheran schools will be about as useless as Catholic schools. (Not trying to attack them unnecessarily, but when they don’t even read the Bible, I’m at a loss to understand what purpose they serve)

  20. @Former Lutheran teacher #22

    What you describe is incredibly disheartening. For a school to lose its way such that the peripheral activities take precedence over learning is (or ought to be) unthinkable. There may be an answer, but like a lot of answers it may not be an easy one.

    I’ve been involved with a movement in Lutheran education to restore our roots as classical educators. This means in intense focus on the liberal arts, on the teacher as teacher (not facilitator, guide-on-the-side, or anything like that), on direct instruction, on classical literature and classical languages, and on requiring increasing amounts of memorization in classroom work. The curriculum is challenging — by today’s standards, anyway — and structures learning on the trivium. While this is as basic a description as is possible, I commend to you the website of the Consortium for Classical and Lutheran Education, a group dedicated to restoring classical education in Lutheran schools. While I cannot in good conscience claim this to be a panacea for all of the problems facing Lutheran education, I think a classical model might remedy this sort of problem in two ways: First, it cannot help but focus the attention of administrators, teachers, and parents back to the classroom. The approach is so divergent from the John Dewey/Horace Mann approach found in most public and private schools that it requires intense concentration to maintain it faithfully. Second, it does have the effect of creating an environment where there is a real pride in learning and academic accomplishment. What other kindergarteners can recognize basic Latin vocabulary? What other fourth grader can memorize and recite the entire Gettysburg Address? Yet that’s the sort of think we’ve been able to do in our school.

    Again, I’m not convinced this approach can solve every last problem. But I am convinced that it is a superior model of education, and I think it can succeed in refocusing schools back to the classroom. The commitment required is not easy, but then again, few things worth doing are ever easy.

  21. I love your ideas, brother Daniel; but I’m pessimistic that your approach would work. Not because the material, itself, is lacking in any way, but because our schools are lacking in those who are willing to “work hard”… and leaders who are willing to lead. The motto these days seems to be: don’t rock the boat… and don’t bite the hand that feeds you. Unfortunately, it seems like *some* (too many) teachers are more interested in being friends with students than their teachers… and *some* (too many) administrators have ears only for those with deep pockets. Like I said, I hope I’m wrong; I hope that what I’ve experienced is rare. But I don’t think so. What you propose is actually doing something that will make a difference in a child’s life for a lifetime of learning and walking with their Lord. Lutheran schools just aren’t interested in that anymore. 🙁

  22. I am not a Lutheran teacher, but I have served on a number of boards of education and a couple of building projects for schools. All of the criticisms noted above I have seen with my own eyes. I recall after a move to a new town my wife and I met with the pastor and I remarked how nice it was to have a Lutheran Day School. His comment startled me, but it was correct, “It is a Christian School, housed at a Lutheran Church.” Not one teacher was Lutheran trained, and only three of the six teachers were Lutheran. There was a lot of Baptist theology on the loose. Things did get better when we called a legitimate LCMS trained Lutheran teacher as Principal and the next year called a LCMS teacher. Things were improving and the school was expanding with a new building, etc. Then our principal had to move because her husband’s job moved. The next LCMS Principal was poorly trained, and did not work hard at this job, in the end he put the whole school down the tubes and to this day it has not recovered, even after he was long gone. It now does not have one trained Lutheran teacher and is worse off than before.

    What can be done? The suggestions above are all good, and yes, they all take hard work by those involved. Plus it takes time to make a good recovery. To me, I believe the two biggest school internal problems are a lack of Lutheran religious training in the schools and principals who can’t administer or manage properly. The model most schools use do not provide enough clergy influence in activities and curriculum. The other trend that really frightens me is the lack of commitment by the average Lutheran layman concerning the need for Lutheran education for their children or grandchildren. There are way to many schools whose enrollment has been dropping, and dropping, over the past 10 years and when there is a high school involved it too will fail because of low enrollment from the “feeder” schools, even if everything else is good.

    I believe the Synod needs to make of a study of this problem and come up with some answers and fast.

  23. I taught in the Lutheran School system for 27 years and the public system for 14 years so I have had the opportunity to experience both at their best and worst. It is NOT a Lutheran teacher’s duty to make little Lutherans out of these children. We must share and live the Gospel. Many teachers and pastors and leaders fall short at Living their Faith but do well at teaching it. I think it is more important to teach these children “how” to learn and the excitement of “desiring” to learn. Then as we live the Gospel we can easily teach it to them. Notice which came first…”living the Gospel.”

    I see too many Lutheran Schools following the lead of the Public system by involving “Common Core” and other curriculum. Please STOP this nonsense. I firmly believe that the Lutheran School system can be an awesome leader in the education process. I feel if we do what Pastor Hinton is advocating non-Lutheran students will be excluded and not welcome…which has happened in the past.

    Pray for reform…but pray for teachers who have passion and a love and relationship with Jesus Christ, regardless of their denominational affiliation.

  24. My wife and I have long been supporters of true Lutheran education. There also seems to be a growing thought that the classical education model should be used in Lutheran schools to avoid some of the problems noted above and to provide students who are thinkers instead of followers. A revamp of our teacher training process would also seem to be in order. Having said that it is always good to see what Martin Lutheran said. Here is one of his on education.

    I am much afraid that the universities will prove to be the great gates of hell, unless they diligently labor in explaining the Holy Scriptures, and engraving them in the hearts of youth. I advise no one to place his child where the Scriptures do not reign paramount. Every institution in which men are not unceasingly occupied with the word of God must become corrupt.

    –Martin Luther

  25. This is one of the best, if not the best explanations of what it means to be in Lutheran education, and why I became a Lutheran teacher.

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