• Barlau: Inspired to Teach

  • Inspired to Teach

    Each of us has reasons why we engage in our chosen activities and behaviors day by day. We may not always recognize or give thought to what those reasons are. But we rise each morning and set about our day, whether it’s earning a living, taking care of other obligations, or having some fun. We do what we are moved to do.

    Only two basic sources for the motivation lead us to assume our chosen role each day. If we lack faith in God, we ourselves feel most of the responsibility for making our way through life. It’s survival of the fittest. We need to discover and choose the behaviors and activities that will most likely help us achieve the success we desire.

    We can love. We can follow the example of Jesus on our way through life, and give of ourselves for the needs of others. But if God’s Holy Spirit has blessed us with faith in our Creator and Redeemer, then we have a channel by which we may receive both motivation and guidance in choosing our behaviors and activities. We may be “in-Spirited,” i.e., inspired, by God to work toward the goal and purpose with which He Himself has endowed us. And by God’s grace, we can also begin to live according to God’s commands and desires. We can love. We can follow the example of Jesus on our way through life, and give of ourselves for the needs of others. Jesus has made us “fit” for this, when without faith we can rarely achieve it. We might call this way of life sacrifice of the fittest.

    A Christian teacher is a special gift of God, granted to His Church, the body of Christ, to help us learn and adopt the way of Christ and to live according to sacrifice of the fittest.

    “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds, and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11–13 ESV). (Emphasis the author’s.)

    Christ also then equips those servants that He has given to the Church. We are not born with all the motivation, the directions, and the tools for this service. We ourselves need to be fed and nurtured throughout our life of service in order to accomplish the Savior’s mission most effectively.

    I was born in the bed of a Lutheran pastor and his wife. But this did not make me a Christian teacher. My father baptized me a few days later, and this was the first step toward my eventual calling. There the Holy Spirit came to dwell within me, and He granted me the faith to begin to recognize the existence of our loving God and also to hear and believe His Word.

    When I began to speak as an infant, I was also taught to pray. “Abba, lieber Vater, Amen,” was mine to voice before and after every meal. At bedtime it was,

    “Ich bin klein; mein Herz mach rein. Sol niemand d’rin wohnen, als Jesus allein.”

    “I am little; my heart make clean. Let no one live in it save Jesus alone.”

    Not everyone who had this kind of start in life has become a teacher. But I can now see that Christ did have me in training for my eventual calling. Through regular weekly worship, through daily family devotions, and through the instruction, the training, and the examples of a godly father and mother, I was on my way.

    An Early Ministry Experience

    Looking back, I now realize that it was early in life that I was given the first real opportunity to serve the body of Christ. I was in the fifth grade. It was a winter Sunday morning, and I was seated among my Sunday School class mates in the church basement at the rural congregation Dad was serving in western Minnesota. The worship service was about to begin when I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was Dad. He bent down and asked me if I thought I could play the organ for the worship service. The regular organist was snowed in and couldn’t make it to church.

    Dad had started my sister Bea and me on piano lessons some two or three years earlier, and things had been going quite well. I had found that I could already handle many of the hymns in The Lutheran Hymnal. And more than once I had walked from the parsonage over to the empty church building and tried them out on the electric organ there.

    But play for the worship service? This would be a huge step at my age and level of experience. Yet I hardly hesitated before agreeing to do so. There was a need. I felt moved to try to help meet it. I can now see that the Holy Spirit must have been helping me to answer.

    The service actually went without a hitch, until the very end. When Dad finally faced the congregation and pronounced the benediction, he hesitated for a time before speaking the “Amen.” I learned why when he came home a bit later and joined us at the dinner table. He turned to me and asked, “Sonny, why didn’t you play the ‘Amen’ after the benediction?”

    What a bomb shell for me. It shattered forever any satisfaction I had been feeling from my performance at the organ. But the lessons I gained from this experience have lasted me through a lifetime of service.

    • I am not perfect. As hard as I may try, I will not be perfect in my role or in my service as a Christian teacher.
    • I need to serve with a humble spirit. I am not worthy of the honor to have been chosen for service in the Savior’s mission. And I am not the true source of the grace and mercy that I have been called to bestow upon my students. It is actually the Holy Spirit working through me who accomplishes the mission day by day.
    • In spite of my weaknesses and failures, there is much joy in serving the Savior as a servant of the Word. I experienced some of that real joy as the members lifted their voices in song with me during that worship service.

    A Lifetime of Ministry

    I have found joy in my entire lifetime of service as a Christian teacher. I served as a music director, a classroom teacher, and a school principal during the first 30 years after my graduation from Concordia in Seward. During those years, I also received Calls from a number of other congregations. At first I struggled to decide how to respond to those Calls. After all, both congregations had a need for my service.

    So I came to a point where I simply turned those decisions over to the Lord. In essence, I said, “OK, Lord. If you want me there, then move me.” I wanted Him to make it clear, in my heart, how I should respond to each Call. And if necessary, I wanted Him to pick me up by the ears and drop me at the congregation of His choice.

    In 1987, I was nominated to become the missions executive for the Rocky Mountain District of the LCMS. What is this??? Me… a missions executive? I had served for five years on the district board of directors as a member of the Missions Commission. But what did I, a Lutheran teacher, really know about the work of church planting? Could I really relate to those pastors who were struggling to start new congregations?

    It happened that I had also been nominated to serve as the director of congregational services, which meant dealing with Christian education and other ministries of existing congregations. This seemed more fitting. So I finally asked the district president whether I should withdraw my name from the nominations for missions executive. He encouraged me to leave it in place, and the board of directors ended up choosing me for that position.

    I Was Blessed With Another Mission Partner

    At the start of my service to the district in 1987, the Lord also blessed me with a new partner in ministry. I had lost my first wife in 1981 to a hit-and-run driver, and I had remained single until now. But one of the first evenings in this new position, I came home from my new office clear across town and stepped into my home in Lakewood. None of my children were there at the time. And separated now from all the wonderful people at Bethlehem who had been caring for us, I began to feel more lonely than I had ever felt in my life. So I stood in my living room, folded my hands, and prayed, “OK, Lord; if you have someone else in mind for me, I think maybe I’m ready.”

    In less than a week, I came home again from my new office and retrieved my mail. There was a letter from someone in Loveland, Colorado, that I did not know. Jean Marie (King) was serving then on the board of directors of the Rocky Mountain Synod of the Lutheran Church in America and also as the secretary of her LCA congregation in Loveland. She had learned of my installation as missions executive for the Rocky Mountain District, and was moved to write a letter to wish me God’s blessings in my new position. She had lost her husband to divorce in 1984, and so before long we began to explore what God might have in mind for a relationship between us. Eventually, we were “moved” to become one in marriage, in September 1988. And we became one in ministry as well.

    A Short Aside from Another Teacher

    What keeps me going as an Early Childhood teacher in a Lutheran school?

    Knowing that there are children in my class that have never heard about Jesus and hearing them say as the year progresses: “I love Jesus!” or “Jesus died for me.”

    I just came to a new school and was in charge of summer camp. The first day, I asked some of the elementary kids to tell me about Jesus. One boy, who had just finished first grade, said, “Jesus is when God became a human.” Then he added, “I didn’t know about Jesus until I came to this school.” He is now moving on to a public school, but even having him for a short time was enough to let the Holy Spirit begin its work.

    Julie Bedard is child care director and preschool 3’s teacher at Pilgrim Lutheran Christian Church & School in Beaverton, Oregon.

    Did You Say Retirement?

    In the year 2000, I reached the normal retirement age of 65. And even though I retired from my district position and enrolled to begin receiving Social Security and Concordia Retirement Plan payments, it turned out that my divine Employer was not ready to let me go just yet. Rather, He assigned me to a new role as the first executive of the Open Arms Institute.

    We district mission executives had previously discovered that a new congregation could be planted by beginning a Christian early learning center in a new community and calling a pastor to shepherd the staff and the families. He could also begin worship in the multi-purpose room of the center. We used this approach successfully in three locations in the Rocky Mountain District.

    The Open Arms Institute had been formed to promote and facilitate that process throughout the synod. And now the Open Arms Board of Directors chose me to begin leading that mission. Jean Marie and I spent our next thirteen years in this role. It took us all over the United States, from Fairbanks, Alaska to Fort Myers, Florida.

    On one occasion, we visited a new Open Arms Early Learning Center and worshiped with the congregation on a Sunday morning. After the opening hymn, the pastor conducted the baptism of a four-year-old child from their Open Arms Center. He followed by baptizing the mother of the four-year-old. Then He baptized the grandmother of the four-year-old.

    To this day, I remain somewhat astonished to consider that this four-year-old may well have introduced that family to prayer.To this day, I remain somewhat astonished to consider that this four-year-old may well have introduced that family to prayer, after having learned to pray from her Christian teacher. In that child’s home, there likely came a mealtime when the child said, “Mommy, we have to pray before we eat.” We learned that this happened quite often among the unchurched families we were serving in our centers.

    Christ gave “…some teachers to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” That little four-year-old saint was likely applying the tools she had been equipped with by the Holy Spirit through her teachers.

    • What keeps you going as an educator in a Lutheran school?
    • What events in your life led you into this ministry/career?
    • What one thing would you say to anyone considering Lutheran education as a vocation?

    All the “Saints” can Work in God’s Mission

    Our students do not have to become pastors before they can go to work in the Savior’s mission. Those saints can be at work in every realm of life, whether as children, or parents, or neighbors, or employees, or as leaders in the community, the government, and the Church. What a joy it is to watch how God uses them to grow His family of faith.

    When we continue to share the gifts God has given us, …we can be ever at work to invite others to enjoy life with God more deeply and richly. It is primarily this joy that inspires me to continue to serve in some way as a Lutheran teacher, even after years in retirement. When we continue to share the gifts God has given us, as He guides and enables us to do, we can be ever at work to invite others to enjoy life with God more deeply and richly. We can be gathering others to come with us to heaven one day, and to experience the fullness of that life for all eternity.

    Our deepest thanks to You, oh Lord our God, for calling, preparing, and guiding us to serve you and your Church as Christian teachers.

    Martin Barlau served as a teacher and principal in Lutheran schools in Nebraska and Colorado for more than 25 years. He also served as the missions executive for the LCMS Rocky Mountain District and as executive director for the Open Arms Institute.

    Photos courtesy of the author.

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