President Paul Larson
President Paul Larson was raised in the faith at Elim Lutheran Brethren Church in Clearbrook, MN. He has served CLB congregations in MT, CO, CA, and WI in youth ministry, church planting, and as pastor. He is blessed to be husband to Bee; and father to Gabe (Mikelle), Gracia, Nick (Tessa), Karina, and Nate (Julia). On December 23, 2021, he welcomed his first grandchild (Eleanor), and is eagerly awaiting the arrival of a second in early 2022. He has served as CLB President since 2014.
Dr. Ryan Nilsen
Greetings, CLB family! It is the honor of a lifetime to have received this nomination from the Council of Directors to serve you as a candidate for President. I’m a fourth-generation member of this movement. My faith and life have been shaped by the people of the CLB. I’m looking forward to sharing my vision for the CLB in future communications like this, and to hearing your thoughts and dreams for our Church body. I seek to be a servant of the Church and I am excited to be a choice for this role in God’s work. Please pray that, as we consider together where the Lord is leading the CLB, he will guide us in our dialogue now, as well as in our voting this summer.
Q: What is your vision for the CLB as a disciple-making movement?
President PAUL LARSON
I believe the Church of the Lutheran Brethren has a gift, and with it a humble calling as expectant stewards of it. We have a gracious gospel truth by which we are saved and in which we rest; and we hear an expectant and restless call to be joined to God’s mission in bringing that gospel of Christ to our neighbors near and among the nations. We follow Christ with a solitary focus and a solidarity of purpose: to be and to make his disciples.
In answer to the question regarding my vision for the CLB being and becoming more a disciple-making Church, I hesitate in caution, knowing an incumbent’s answer can soon devolve to defense or boast or campaigning. I desire to avoid this. Incumbency also carries its own humility. This said, I am honored to serve the CLB, and hold a vision of her as a disciple-making Church. This vision has been renewed and formed collaboratively by the departmental directors of the CLB Mission Team, the CLB Council of Directors, and myself.
For the last five years this vision has been the central guiding preferable future we believe God is leading us toward in stewardship of his gifts and calling, and has been the foundation for our core priorities, decisions, and shifts in personnel, strategy, and resources. It was this vision that guided our leadership over the last several years as we reconstituted our Finance department, restaffed our North American Mission team to a church planting and vitality priority, shifted responsibilities in the CLB Office of the President, supplemented the energies of our Communication department, and re-summoned our International Mission department and Lutheran Brethren Seminary toward the focus of this vision. Departments and their team members have been called to support and advance this vision in departmental strategic plans and priorities.
For the past year, the CLB Mission Team and I, with the review and input of numerous congregational leaders, and the affirmation of our Council of Directors, have formed four senior objectives of a Mission Advancement Initiative called “Disciple-Making Church” that will give shape to CLB ministries and strategies for the foreseeable future:
Call to Follow
We are a people called, shaped, and sent under the Word. We must hear this Word again to repent, trust, and follow Christ in sacrificially loving, serving, reconciling, and connecting our neighbors with Jesus, his community, and his mission.
Under the Word. We are not postured above the Word, as its examiners and extractors, but just the opposite. This vision means we must value, nurture, and perpetuate the ministry of God’s Word among us—again. Familiar and fresh means and platforms must be utilized as we seek what only the Word can do in calling, shaping, and sending Jesus’ disciples. As we approach the suffering and lostness of our neighbors, it will be the Word that moves both them and us to repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation. As a disciple-making movement, this will mark us unique. Primarily, our discipleship is not rooted in methodology nor obedience of practice, but it is ever always a work of God’s Word.
Partner in Mission
Foster the interdependence of individuals, congregations, regions, and synod in disciple making and in achieving these objectives.
I believe the needle has moved. Through the crucible of the Church during the pandemic, we have advanced significantly in our abilities to create and share resources, and also in our inclination to receive and utilize them. The identity and energies of the local congregation understandably are often encompassed by the local ministry context. I believe we are at a time when we must explore and accentuate how we might be better postured to know our identity and engage in ministry partnership with a broader part of our Church. One example of this is the systems resource called The Forge, which was formed out of this vision. We are stronger and better together.
Unleash New Leaders
Call, empower, and support young men and women to lead in making disciples and forming disciple-making communities.
It is our vision to take greater initiative to welcome and summon young women and men as developing leaders among us, to affirm their vision and gifts, to open seats at the table of dialogue and mission, and everywhere possible to seek to raise up and unleash new leaders among us.
Within this vision, there are several models currently under consideration. Among them, gap-year ministries or local congregation internships. Also being considered is a possible new form of Bible school that would be lithe and scalable, and perhaps reproducible in multiple locations. Another variant being discussed is the model of discipleship houses in CLB university communities. It is also part of this vision that a leader and networker of this vision to unleash young adult leaders may be sought and called.
Multiply New Disciples
Mobilize our people and our congregations to disciple neighbors near and among the nations so new churches are planted and established congregations are revitalized.
We have prioritized and changed our staffing and strategic paradigm to advance congregational vitality and church planting. In addition to resources already functioning in support of this vision—The Forge, LBDI, Pastors Network, Forge podcasts, NAM pastor cohorts, and ministry specialization networks—we are also developing a model for congregational coaching and support, utilizing NAM staff and leading disciple-making pastors.
My vision for this has collaborated with and supports the intended pace and target of our NAM and LBIM departments in planting disciple-making congregations, and in sending disciple-making church planters to the unreached people groups engaged by our LBIM.
When the first disciples heard John the Baptist’s testimony about Jesus, they followed him. “Come and see… Follow me,” Jesus called. And they did. When one congregational leader heard these four objectives (Call, Partner, Unleash, Multiply), he said, “It sounds like what Jesus did.” True. These are only what Jesus does and ultimately can do. It is our vision to follow after Jesus in making others his followers.
Dr. RYAN NILSEN
The focus of the Church of the Lutheran Brethren should be to serve and support the disciple-making mission of our local churches. I believe God is calling us to re-examine and adapt how the synod serves the churches of the CLB in their efforts to make disciples in a rapidly changing mission field. Time is of the essence, but we can navigate these changes if we work together.
We call ourselves a disciple-making movement, but this is still an aspirational vision. Someone once said that a denomination can’t start a movement, but it can serve one. We need to shift our attention from trying to start or direct this movement from our headquarters, and instead serve and resource the grassroots passion for disciple making already emerging from our congregations. When many of us are personally involved with disciple making, and when our disciples are making disciples, then we will have a movement.
The synod exists to connect churches with the greater mission, which includes international missions, church planting, and meeting the needs of our local churches—which is where disciple making happens. The synod is meant to serve the local church, but when we get that backward, we invite discord and lose sight of God’s mission. I want to see our churches regard the synod more as an equipping association and less as a denomination.
Here is my vision for our disciple-making mission and a summary of how we could fulfill it:
1) Strengthen Established Churches: Invest resources into our established churches to help them make disciples and engage their local mission fields. If the Lord wills it, we could work closely with every CLB church within a decade.
- Work with ten churches per year in the development of new discipleship ministry or church vitality.
- Equip churches to train laypeople to lead Bible studies, small groups, and discipleship groups so that there are three or more “generations” of disciples in every church.
- Provide resources, facilitate leadership development, and help churches discover new ministry pathways.
- Train twenty pastors in leading disciple making every year through learning cohorts.
2) Start New Churches: Coordinate our efforts in making disciples and starting new churches in North America and around the globe. If the Lord wills it, we could plant 100 new churches in North America over the next thirty years. This would allow us to double the number of missionaries serving unreached people groups around the world. We should continue increasing our church planting so that, within a decade, we are consistently planting three or more churches per year.
3) Empower Young Leaders: Identify, equip, and empower young leaders. We need to encourage these men and women to lead new disciple-making ministries and join in regional and national leadership roles.
- Mentor young adults in discipling relationships.
- Establish a new Bible school and/or gap-year program.
- Develop additional pathways beyond the traditional MDiv. for pastoral ministry preparation, and train laypeople in our theology and practical ministry skills.
- Uphold our existing schools and camps.
- Involve young adults in the leadership of our church plants, established churches, and the denomination itself.
4) Reach New People and New Places: While we continue to go to unreached places around the world, we need to go into the hard places in North America. We need to start multi-ethnic and minority churches to reflect the mosaic of our mission field. I’m excited for the day when we’ve translated our Explanation of Luther’s Small Catechism into Spanish and other languages.
5) Shift the way the synod staff team serves our churches: While churches serve in ever-changing mission fields, the denominational ministry created to serve them changes at a slower pace. We need to regularly evaluate and adapt how we can work together effectively.
- Engage more people across the CLB in the leadership of our denomination.
- Merge some departments in order to increase synod staff supporting frontline ministry, including creating a staff position to catalyze disciple making.
- Decrease synod staff representation and increase pastor/elder representation on the Theological Council.
- Focus the role of president on leading the synod team, communicating with the denomination, and spending time with congregations to help with strategic vision planning and equipping them for disciple making. The president would serve as an equipper and visionary for disciple making, personally mentoring disciples and training others to train and coach disciple makers—in other words be a “sleeves-rolled-up” president.
- Expect all synod staff to be personally involved in disciple making.
- Work closely with the Council of Directors (COD) to ensure that their vision, priorities, and values are guiding the strategy of the CLB’s ministry.
6) Maintain our theology and message while we change how we express it: We need to use tools and ministries that will be effective today, but our message, our beliefs, and our dependence on Christ must not change.
- Keep the various arms of the CLB in balance. I believe that our Church body consists of at least three groups: 1) those who identify strongly with orthodox Lutheranism, the Lutheran confessions and view of sacraments; 2) those who uphold the expression of living faith in line with our pietistic roots; and 3) those who hold to the outward focus of an evangelistic body. I love this diversity and believe it is one of our strengths. However, sometimes one of these groups exerts more influence than others, impacting our theology and polity in a way that weakens our ability to work in harmony. I believe that we need to resist narrowing our doctrine, so that we do not exclude any of these groups.
- Engage in conversations about cultural issues from a discipleship-oriented perspective so that we better understand those we are called to reach with the gospel.
God is at work all around us and he is calling us to be a part of his mission. I look forward to serving the Lord together with you as missionary disciples in our backyards and around the globe!