Toward a Common Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod Philosophy of Education

Jun 14th, 2010 | Category: Church Work Professional, Lutheran Education Commentary
By Sandra Doering and Rachel Eells

Ever since The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod was formed, education has been at the forefront of its priorities. In addition to day schools and universities, the Lutheran Church has always valued education in the form of Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, Midweek School, Confirmation instruction and ongoing adult education. Historically, this commitment to education could be attributed to a number of desires, including the preservation of the heritage languages of German or Wendish, and the sheltering and protection of children from any cruelties and sinfulness of the secular world. However, the abiding explanation for a continuing commitment to Lutheran education comes out of a collective response to God’s loving gift of salvation revealed in His Gospel. Sharing the Gospel and contributing to the faith development of all God’s people is the reason for existence for Lutheran educational institutions. In addition, Lutheran educational institutions have the unique opportunity to integrate that Gospel and the accompanying faith development into all aspects of the educational experience. In addressing each person holistically on a daily basis, Lutheran educational institutions prepare people to be in service to God and society by showing them how to lead a sanctified life of discipleship.

As part of an ongoing qualitative study, emails were sent to the principals of all of the LCMS early childhood, elementary, and high schools in the United States, asking for literature describing each school’s philosophy of education. Sixty respondents emailed a variety of artifacts, including mission statements, vision statements, statements of philosophy, and handbook information.

Six common themes emerged from the material upon initial reading:

  1. Teaching God’s word, sharing the gospel: Faith development, justification
  2. Teaching the whole child: Spiritual, intellectual (cognitive), social, physical, emotional growth
  3. Helping families nurture their children
  4. Integrating the faith in all curriculum: Appreciating God’s creation
  5. Academic excellence
  6. Preparing the student to be in service to God and society: Leading the sanctified life of discipleship

The material was then reread by two different coders for evidence of these 6 themes. Rather than count every mention of a theme within an artifact, the presence or absence of the theme was noted.

Each of these themes can be put into three distinct categories that answer the following questions:

  1. For what reasons do Lutheran educational institutions exist?
  2. What are the means by which Lutheran educational institutions accomplish their mission?
  3. To what ends do Lutheran educational institutions nurture their students?

Motivated by the Gospel

Everything that is done at the Lutheran educational institution is a response to God’s gift of forgiveness and eternal salvation. The administration, the faculty and the staff in a Lutheran educational institution are all focused on ministry and mission as a calling from God. And, that underlying passion for ministry and mission is what motivates all who work in Lutheran educational institutions and keeps their passion renewed (Schmidt, 2006 ).

For What Reasons Do Lutheran Educational Institutions Exist?

  • Teaching God’s Word and sharing the Gospel: Faith development and justification by faith.
  • Helping families nurture their children.

Lutheran educational institutions are centered on the Gospel and because of that, the main focus in Lutheran schools is teaching students about the love and grace of God. There is the proclamation of God’s grace for each student, with a proper distinction of Law and Gospel, that all may acknowledge their sinfulness and their need for a Savior. The students are taught the demands of the Law and are comforted by the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ every school day. A careful study of the Holy Bible is at the center of the Lutheran educational institution so that students may fully understand that they are justified by grace and faith alone.

The Lutheran educational institution exists to fulfill the Great Commission that Jesus gave his church to “go into all the world and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19). This is done by sharing with young men and women and, by extension to their constituent families, the truth of grace alone at every step of the educational experience. Following Jesus’ Great Commission, Lutheran educational institutions help people grow in their relationships with God, others and themselves. When students and teachers patiently listen and respond to fellow learners, honestly acknowledge mistakes, failures, and misgivings, and without shame depend on and claim for ourselves God’s forgiveness in Christ, God’s care for all people takes shape.

It is also the belief of the Lutheran educational institution that Christian parents and the Christian Church have been given the responsibility of teaching the Word of God to their young people. The Holy Bible instructs parents to bring up their children “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). One of the basic philosophies of Lutheran education is that parents can be most effective in their God-given mandate when they work together with a Lutheran educational institution and its faculty and staff. The Lutheran education institution works to provide support for families in developing positive, healthy Christian relationships with each other and the people with whom they come in contact every day. Great value is placed on the partnership of the church, the home, and the Lutheran educational institution, so that students are nurtured and strengthened in their relationship with the Triune God and in the cultivating of meaningful, purposeful lives in all stages of growth and development from infancy to adulthood: students are led to know God’s love and His plan for living.

Take, for example, the child who is placed in a Lutheran Early Childhood or Elementary School. His parents may have put him in that school for safety and academic reasons. However, through the work of the Holy Spirit, that child might become a vehicle through which the parents and the rest of the family are brought into an active relationship with the Gospel. A child who is used to beginning and ending each day and each lunchtime with prayer will begin to see the need for prayer outside of the school. This is especially true if the Lutheran teacher uses prayer throughout the day as a way of understanding how God works in all aspects of our lives. The child who is accustomed to praying at school for people who are sick or in danger may start asking that those prayers take place in the home as well.

What Are the Means By Which Lutheran Educational Institutions Accomplish Their Mission?

  • Integrating the faith into the entire curriculum: Appreciating God’s creation.
  • Teaching the whole child: Spiritual, intellectual (cognitive), social, physical and emotional growth.
  • Academic excellence and integrity

What makes Lutheran educational institutions unique? It is the influence of Christian values, motives and convictions throughout the day. The Gospel is a part of every academic discipline, permeating the school with His intentional presence throughout each day (Black, 2006). Faith and education are blended together. When this happens, an academic atmosphere emerges which challenges students to stretch their abilities so that all students in the Lutheran educational institution can be inspired to take pride in glorifying God with their efforts and accomplishments. There is a commitment to developing the God-given intellect and talent of each individual to the fullest potential so that he or she will be responsible stewards of time, abilities, income, influence, and possessions.

When faith and learning are blended together, the student is challenged to view the world, despite its imperfections, as part of God’s creation in which he or she has been placed as a redeemed child. This worldview enables the development of knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors so that young believers can function effectively as children of God. In addition, Lutheran education leads to an understanding that the human body is the temple of the Holy Spirit and therefore responsibility for its health, safety and welfare lies within the person. Lutheran educational institutions also plan curricula that will develop logical, scientific, and creative thinking skills, along with communication skills and an awareness of the world that God has created. Social skills are taught so that students will be better equipped to have healthy relationships with all people. This makes for a healthy and vibrant church body, capable of carrying out its ministry and mission focus. Finally, Lutheran educational institutions seek to help students understand and control their emotions, find security through their trust in God, and practice Christian love toward others. A strong emphasis in Lutheran education is placed on helping students see Christianity as an all-encompassing worldview with something to say about all of life, including the secular realms of work, family and public life.

It is also a philosophy in Lutheran education to strive for the highest possible standards of education from both a secular and the church’s point of view. Most Lutheran educational institutions go through rigorous accreditation standards and review to insure the public that they meet or exceed all secular benchmarks for academic excellence. For Lutheran educational institutions, pursuing academic excellence in all areas of education is done to the glory of God. This is done to help students develop God-given talents and to achieve their potential to be life-long learners who are able to make positive contributions to their families, communities and churches. To the teachers and the students in Lutheran education, academic excellence and Christian education are seamless and fully integrated.

As academic excellence is stressed, there is also an emphasis on integrity in learning. The curriculum is designed to encourage students to think on their own, allow for different growth rates among students, and to provide for special needs of individual students. Students are encouraged to build relationships within diverse populations, cultivating mutual respect. Students are taught to look at all people as children loved by God. As they are taught these interpersonal skills, they are encouraged to take the knowledge they have about faith and God and apply it to their interactions with people everywhere. In this way, the students in Lutheran educational institutions can become fully integrated, whole people who not only have knowledge about God, but also live it out in their everyday lives.

To What Ends Do Lutheran Educational Institutions Nurture Their Students?

  • Preparing the student to be in service to God and society: Leading the sanctified life of discipleship.

The calling of every Christian is to be about the Father’s business: This is the concept of vocation.

All the other things we do in life are subservient to the business of being children of God who have been called in our baptism to proclaim the good news. We follow Christ because he has called us—not because of something we have done, but because He incorporated us into Himself. Thus our vocation is not merely a job—it is an adventure of faith in which we rely on God to provide us with what we need even when the world tells us that we are stupid to do so. Those who have heard the call of God through faith in Christ live differently. (Burkhart, 2008 )

Lutheran educational institutions are about the Father’s business when they are nurturing confident, caring, healthy, and respectful people who are developed and maintained for service to Christ. The curriculum in a Lutheran educational institution is designed to help students discover and develop their relationship with Jesus and the purpose God has for them so they might dedicate their lives to giving God all praise and glory.

Students in Lutheran educational institutions learn their proper relationship with God and others by sharing and living the Word of God in love, patience and forgiveness. By the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit, they become blessings in their homes, joyful servants in their churches, and active citizens of their communities. When Jesus Christ is known and proclaimed as Lord and Savior and when Christ-like living is modeled, student learning and development can be greatly affected. This servant lifestyle becomes a great treasure taught to students as it informs their vocation and leads each to live as a disciple of Christ. This notion of vocation provides a lens through which all of life is viewed. The students are taught that they can serve God wherever they are and whatever they may be doing, whether it is in the home, the work place, the community, or the church. They are taught to trust that God, in His grace, will see them through every life experience, whether blessing or trial. The ability to discern God and His grace in our past, present and future allows students to envision their lives dedicated to God. They develop “ears of faith so they can respond to God’s call to service with the works “’Here I am, Lord’” (Burkhart, 2008)

Lutheran educational institutions equip students to live their lives as God’s baptized people and to carry out Christ’s command to “make disciples of all nations” so that eternal salvation for humankind can be attained.

Conclusion

When the six common themes found in the philosophies and/or mission statements of Lutheran educational institutions are combined into an overarching philosophy of Lutheran education the following statement of philosophy emerges.

In response to the Gospel message of forgiveness and eternal salvation, Lutheran educational institutions exist to nurture students through a partnership with their families and an integration of faith into a carefully planned curriculum which addresses the spiritual, emotional, intellectual, social and physical needs of the students with academic excellence and integrity as students prepare for sanctified service to the Lord and His world .

This common philosophy reflects what it means to be a Lutheran educational institution. It highlights what a sample of the Lutheran educational institutions (early childhood—high school) in the United States believe is important for their educational ministries to keep in the forefront as they go about their mission of preparing students for service for His Church and the world. Lutheran educational institutions have a common goal of responding to God’s loving gift of salvation and preparing students for life here on Earth and eternal life in Heaven. However, each individual educational institution within the Lutheran tradition must examine its own answer to the question “How will we implement a Lutheran educational philosophy in this mission field?” This is where the dialogue needs to begin. LEJ

References:

Black, D. (2006). “Real Benefits of Colloquy.” Shaping the Future. River Forest, IL: Lutheran Education Association. Summer, 2006.

Burkhart, J. (2008). “I Have Heard You Calling in the Night.” Shaping the Future: River Forest, IL:  Lutheran Education Association. Fall, 2008.

Doering, S. & Eells, R. (2008)  “What Do Lutheran Schools ECE—12th Grade Profess as Their Philosophy of Education?” Unpublished manuscript.

Schmidt, T. (2006). “Lutheran Schools are M & M Schools.” Shaping the Future. River Forest, IL: Lutheran Education Association. Summer, 2006. (p.18).


Author Information

Sandra K. Doering, Ed.D. is a Professor of Reading instruction at Concordia University Chicago. She just completed 25 years working and teaching in the Concordia University System including Concordia, Bronxville and Concordia, Texas after receiving her Doctorate in Education from Oklahoma State University. Dr. Doering may be contacted at Sandra.Doering@CUChicago.edu.

Rachel Eells taught for 12 years in Lutheran Elementary schools before teaching in the psychology department at Concordia University Chicago. She has a Master’s degree in Gifted and Talented Education, and is currently working on her dissertation to complete a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology at Loyola University Chicago. She may contacted at Rachel.Eells@CUChicago.edu.

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