I was born in Clearbrook, MN and raised in my faith at Elim LBC. After high school, I attended our CLB Bible College. I graduated from Rocky Mountain College in Billings, MT, where I served Yellowstone LBC as youth director. In 1988 I graduated from Lutheran Brethren Seminary with a Master of Divinity degree. I was a church-planting pastor at Word of Life LBC in Fort Collins, CO. I later served Calvary Community Church in Fullerton, CA. Currently, I am the CLB Council of Directors secretary. My wife Bee and our five children live in Eau Claire, WI, where I have been privileged to serve as senior pastor of Bethesda LBC for eleven years. The CLB has shaped my life; I am eager to see her part in the advance of God’s coming kingdom!
Faith & Fellowship Magazine published the following interview with Rev. Paul Larson
Give an account of how God brought you to assurance of salvation and how the Lord is currently shaping your relationship with him.
My reassurance of being brought to peace with God is an ongoing process, and I anticipate it always will be. My disposition to build my identity and security around my merits (with all the troubling unsteadiness of that) is, in itself, a summons to abide in Christ rather than myself.
My faith story involves the blessing of being moved from infant faith to childlike faith rather seamlessly. My first awareness of my need for salvation and conscious possession of it came as a preschooler sitting in the front pew of Elim Lutheran Brethren Church at some evening “special meeting.” I recall believing the evangelist’s children’s story of sin and grace was for me—was my story.
I had some typical adolescent struggles with assurance that were stirred, and then calmed, through the ministry of my church, Bible camp, parents, and my own interactions with God’s Word. I even recall, with humor now, being so envious of those clear “before and after” stories at the final testimony campfire at Inspiration Point, that I stood and invented some story of a former godless life from which I had been transformed. (My confirmation classes and student groups have loved this story!)
In later high school years and during my two years at Lutheran Brethren Bible College, my faith changed from the more introspective focus of adolescent faith to an adult faith—more preoccupied with Jesus than with me.
As to the current shape and shaping of my relationship with Christ, I am more of a contemplative-meditative personality than a sharply disciplined one. Just recently I came across a quote of G.K. Chesterton, with which I identified considerably (perhaps because it also gives some excuse for my lesser attributes ☺): “The poet only desires exaltation and expansion, a world to stretch himself in. The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits.”
I’m no poet and certainly no Chesterton, but I find that Scripture reading, Scripture meditation, prayer, praying the Scriptures, worship songs and hymns, and a bit of journaling—these remain my regular core sanctuaries where I meet God intimately. I particularly see my relationship with God shaped when I make my way to quiet solitary places outside of routine, on a personal retreat, or in the expanse of some solitary outdoor setting.
God has blessed me with authentic, accountable friendships with several men who, on a regular basis, meet together for study and mutual support. My relationship with my wife and children is a vital part of my ongoing spiritual shaping, as we share Word and faith, and experience forgiveness and grace together.
As a leader, with what unique spiritual gifts has God equipped you?
It is humbling to write of one’s qualification when perhaps the greatest asset of leadership is a steady awareness of one’s shortcomings. (I smiled at God’s word to me this morning when I opened Proverbs 27 and read, “Let someone else praise you, and not your own mouth.”)
That being said, I believe God’s flocks that I have led recognize in me an authentic leader who teaches and leads as a fellow sheep under our Great Shepherd. My predominant spiritual gifts are leadership, preaching/teaching, shepherding, and administration. My disposition is to see things as they might be, to be a catalyst for needed change, and an encourager of people toward kingdom ends.
I like a good challenge and have been known to be resourceful in finding ways to accomplish things creatively. I believe I have a good measure of tact and wisdom in relating to people, and the ability to perceive various points of view. I have long had a heart for pastoral care and congregational health. I like both to see the broad scope while supporting others to pursue goals with great latitude, but also to administrate more detailed plans for areas entrusted to me. I enjoy travel and meeting people, and believe I have good awareness and curiosity to learn the unique contexts and cultures in which churches and their leaders minister. I believe I am a capable communicator, and am energized by opportunities to preach and teach, to express vision, and to engage other leaders in forming shared ownership of it.
Share an experience that shaped your view of leadership. How has this prepared you for this role as president of the Church of the Lutheran Brethren?
It would be easier to relate a number of more “positive” leadership experiences, but I sense instead I am to relate a difficult experience in leadership and how it has shaped me. I always seem to grow most in difficult.
Over a several year period of assessment, listening, discerning, praying and planning, I and our church leadership became convinced that a facility expansion would best serve the mission of our church. A mountain of preparatory work had been accomplished: a successful debt retirement campaign, formation of various workgroups, townhall meetings, listening sessions, consultation with architects, construction firms, and capital campaign consultants.
It came time for the vote. I believed I had listened closely to God and people, communicated thoroughly, cast vision ably, and led the overall process well. And yet, for whatever reason—likely for a variety of reasons—the vote to build fell several votes shy of the necessary two-thirds majority.
A greater leadership challenge confronted me following the vote than preceding it. I had to choose repeatedly not to take things personally. I had to remind myself not to be too possessive of the church. I needed to struggle against a false sense of responsibility, yet at the same time assume valid responsibility for areas in which I was accountable. I needed to open myself to other ideas, understand others’ perspectives. I needed to be humble (I was humbled), and yet be resolute, gracious and composed, seeking and modeling unity. I needed to recall the subtle misleading bents of both criticism and compliment: that always there is something to be remembered and something to be forgotten in each. I needed to trust that God has great and certain plans to advance his kingdom, that our “failed” vote will somehow serve this advance, and that leaders who go through adversity become better prepared to lead and minister.
I believe this experience will equip me (I will “boast in my weakness”) to better lead in whatever capacity the Lord places me in the future. I believe it shapes me to be a stronger leader in wisdom, humility, understanding, graciousness, resilience, faith, and resolve.
How have you encouraged your congregation to be part of the larger mission of the Church of the Lutheran Brethren?
I have always been an eager partner and promoter of the CLB mission. I have aspired to connect my congregations to the CLB mission by example and influence, having served on either the LBS Board, Synodical Council, or Council of Directors for most of the past 20 years.
I have worked for our church’s partnership with CLB International Mission in support of several CLB missionary families. In partnership with CLB International Mission, our church has adopted the unreached Fulbe people group of Chad, and has raised support for numerous mission trips to befriend and build bridges of compassion and witness. Presently our congregation is seeking the Lord for our next Fulbe missionaries. I have, with other church leadership, encouraged and supported six young leaders to enter our seminary or seek colloquy with the CLB. Additionally, our church has embraced its role as a receiver of our seminary’s ministry, and been a first ministry setting for five of our seminary’s graduates.
We have encultured a rich partnership with both Inspiration Point and our YC (youth convention) ministries, in sending and supporting students, and in supplying leadership. I have been privileged to accompany groups, and have been a speaker at both. Our congregation had the privilege of releasing a nucleus of lay leaders and an associate pastor for the rebirth of our sister congregation in Colfax, WI. Our congregation frequently highlights CLB ministries in our communications, and utilizes CLB leaders as teachers and speakers. I embrace the understanding that the local church is the CLB, and have been deliberate in influencing that ownership.
What is your vision for the Church of the Lutheran Brethren?
We have a treasure to share, a grace-centered Gospel to share with the world and the Church. Rather than a protected box in isolation, we must envision ourselves and our theology as a magnet, inviting people to come, explore, dialogue, and gain life. We must remain biblically and theologically solid, while freshly learning to extend the Gospel both as a gathered and dispersed Church in an increasingly post-Christian culture. We have a great opportunity to minister to and alongside generations growing up among us, shaping a more defined CLB identity as these young adults choose churches, missions and further education.
The CLB must invigorate our mission to plant churches nationally and internationally. And, we must do so considering the challenges and opportunities of our day such as cost, partnerships, planting teams, tentmaking, and distance learning.
We must seek to nurture healthy leaders and churches where ownership and community trump consumerism. We must aspire to bring the varying character and convictions of our denomination together. We must be authentically humble and servant-hearted in our theology and character, defined neither by legalistic negatives nor by theological swagger. While we brace against any voice that makes the Law our Gospel, we also anticipate that the Gospel calls people to “gospel lives.”
We do have a treasure to share! I do not believe our mission is simply to survive. However God would expend or expand us for His Kingdom’s sake, we are stewards of his Gospel, with unique gifts and strengths to bless his body and the world.