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 Nilson
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 Shared Ministries of the Church of the Lutheran Brethren?
President PAUL LARSON
I believe the vision for the mission of the Church of the Lutheran Brethren is sourced in the gift God has entrusted to the CLB—the intersection of a restful gospel truth, and a restless gospel call to bring Christ to our neighbors near and among the nations.
The three overt departmental arms of CLB mission are Lutheran Brethren Seminary (LBS), North American Mission (NAM), and Lutheran Brethren International Mission (LBIM). To best summarize my vision for these departments, I must first express a foundational conviction:
First, while indeed we have these three departmental entities to accomplish our mission, the CLB is one Church based in North America with the departmental foci of: a) training and equipping leaders for God’s mission among our national and international neighbors, b) resourcing the gospel vitality of congregations, and the multiplication of believers and congregations in North America, and similarly c) gospeling and multiplying believers and congregations internationally. That said, it is not toward individual departmental ends that our Seminary trains and raises up pastors and missionaries, that our North American Mission plants churches, nor that our International Mission sends missionaries. Rather, it is that together with all the CLB we follow Christ in this singular calling: to be and make his disciples.
Furthermore, related but beyond this solidarity of our CLB departmental mission, I believe it is also important to perceive the inter-dependent vitality of Lutheran Brethren Seminary (LBS), North American Mission (NAM), and Lutheran Brethren International Mission (LBIM). Theirs is a symbiotic vitality. None of them grow stronger unless they all grow stronger; none of them exist if any of them do not. Jerusalem is no longer so far from the ends of the earth; and the advancing of the gospel in Judea or in Samaria are not only in no competition with each other, but we see both in Scripture. And in our time, we see how much each mission benefits and is blessed by the other. It is not only that one sends witness to the other, but that one also receives it back. Similarly, without our LB Seminary, in short time we would have no NAM, no LBIM, and no CLB. While the delivery forms and creative stretch of our Seminary have and will continue to flex, still here resides the heartbeat of our theology of the cross that permeates the mission of the whole.
Vision for Lutheran Brethren Seminary:
My vision for LBS is that stronger partnerships would be formed with congregations and pastors, and with young men and women, for encouraging, raising up, summoning, and supporting of new leaders. As part of our new Ministry Advancement Initiative, “Disciple-Making Church,” I am expectant for how this vision is already being served through the new addition of Ministry Call Mentors. Ministry Call Mentors serve the CLB by helping potential seminary students recognize God’s call. The Mentors encourage them to test, be affirmed, and pursue their ministry gifts. It is my belief that the greatest need for the advance of mission in the CLB presently is not for the resource of funds (albeit its own significant challenge), but even more so the resource of new generations of leaders to be unleashed in their gifts and callings, and to be welcomed in their voice and ownership of our theology and our mission.
My vision for LBS is that as it has admirably stretched in its growth in distance learning and in continued expansion of the lay learner Lutheran Brethren Discipleship Institute, it will continue to stretch and flex in how to shape learning and spiritual formation environments in response to the greater complexities and diversity of the lives of students entrusted to us. I believe our Seminary must continue to discern how distance and part-time students, and a smaller percentage of campus students, might gain the benefit of learning in community with both faculty and fellow students, and in continued education (during seminary and following) while engaged in congregational ministry. I envision a partnership of LBS, the Office of the President, and regional and congregational leadership, in forming a gracious and wise plan to help seminary graduates and pastors both in personal development and health, and in continuing education.
My vision for LBS is that Certificate learning programs are created for specialized or supplemental learning to be provided for men and women on various ministry paths, including international mission, North American church planting, bi-vocational or tentmaking callings, and in specialized areas of ministry. It is also my vision that LBS would be a significant contributor to an instructional core for young adult discipleship, leveraging Seminary expertise for Bible College-level training in optional models under consideration by NAM leadership for discipling and mobilizing a new generation of CLB young adults.
Vision for North American Mission:
My vision for NAM is that it would increasingly develop in providing leadership and resources to our North American congregations in growing in their disciple-making fruitfulness. CLB disciple making, as a people under the Word, must always be shaped by the expectancy that it is the Word of Christ that calls people to repentance, new life, and to follow him in his mission. I believe our new NAM structure and staffing is well-suited and making progress toward providing resources and support in partnership with congregational leadership for serving the vitality of our existing congregations, and for resourcing and raising up church planters for a new wave of CLB church planting. As part of the Disciple-Making Church initiative, our restructured NAM has taken significant steps in this direction. Our NAM Director is actively engaged in an aggressive plan to engage twenty-five CLB congregations in revitalization efforts over the next five years, and our Associate Director has provided significant coaching and guidance to four potential and emerging CLB church plants.
The Disciple-Making Church initiative offers a vision for planting three new CLB congregations each year. This will require of NAM and the CLB a new openness to a diversity of models of church plants, church planters, and creative ways to leverage the training resources of our Seminary and supplemental sources. I envision also that NAM will form and oversee the welcome and unleashing of a new generation of leaders, who will learn and form discipleship in community as they take leadership in church planting and mission in our communities.
My vision for NAM includes that it will continue and grow in resourcing CLB congregations and pastors in our post-Christian setting, to advance in mission from the fringes of culture rather than the privileged center from which the Church is accustomed. As people of the Word, with our unchurched neighbors more hesitant to first be “churched” by entrance to the church building, I envision NAM assisting our congregations in seeing their neighbors “churched” by the love and Word of the local church reaching them as the church dispersed as well as the gathered church.
Vision for Lutheran Brethren International Mission:
My vision for LBIM is to raise up, train, and send CLB missionaries in disciple-making mission among unreached people groups in (presently) Taiwan, Japan and Chad. This vision includes for us to advance our mission in Taiwan through exciting and stretching transitions as one missionary family has been placed after language training in a local mission setting, and another prepares for retirement. Also, my vision includes ongoing engagement with the LBIM Director and the leadership of the Japanese Church. Here also we seek our harvest Lord for the raising up, supporting, and unleashing of new leaders. Our Disciple-Making Church initiative considers a renewed vision for our partnership with the Japanese Church. One way this renewed vision is evidenced is by the recent calling of a Japanese church planter to work alongside our missionaries to plant a church through the House of Hope in Ishinomaki, Japan. The Lord is opening doors in Japan, and there is reason to be hopeful about our mission there. There are many conversations and decisions that need to be made, but in anticipation of the Lord’s call and provision, a young couple is currently learning the Japanese language in hopes to one day serve as missionaries on our behalf in Japan.
This Disciple-Making Church vision, in partnership with our international sister Churches, means ongoing investment in our Chadian mission with international missionary partners, as together we engage unreached Muslim people groups in a mission context that is growing in momentum and expectancy of a Church being born. Serving that vision, we currently have six Chadian missionaries from our southern Chadian Church working alongside our CLB missionaries in Muslim communities. Additionally, in 2021 our sister Church in Taiwan sent its first international missionaries to join this partnership in Chad. The Taiwanese Church hopes to send a second team by the end of 2022.
I believe my vision is in keeping with the history of CLB mission nationally and internationally: that while we set fitting and faithful targets, and plan and pray and proceed, we also respond to God’s leading in those whom he has raised up and is calling, and seek and trust him in the support of their training and sending. We desire never to be postured to say “no” to God.
My vision is that LBIM would continue to partner with LBS for primary training of our missionaries, and also seek supplemental partnerships with like-minded ministries for the support and training of our missionaries. I believe there is also merit in further seeking of collaborative efforts with sister Churches internationally, and other sending agencies for the support of our missionary teams.
I also envision, as in my initial thoughts above, that the nature of our disciple-making mission nationally and internationally is becoming more and more similar in terms of how God’s people as a missionary people will be the ones to travel, sacrifice, learn the culture and language of their neighbors without Christ, and learn to minister more as an alien people from the fringe of culture and community. I foresee that LBIM and NAM will continue to grow in partnership and shared learning, while our Seminary grows in creative ways to resource that partnership.
And so, we see before us and pursue this vision. The Church of the Lutheran Brethren has always sought to follow Jesus in reaching others to trust and follow him; and in this new day of challenge and opportunity, we seek even more to be: a Disciple-Making Church.
Dr. RYAN NILSEN
Throughout our history the CLB has rarely been characterized by who was serving as president. What defines us is our shared ministry—especially our three primary ministry arms: North American Mission (NAM), International Mission (LBIM), and Lutheran Brethren Seminary (LBS). We always recognize that our ministry together is the sending and equipping of workers for the harvest. From early years, that included World Missions and Lutheran Brethren Schools. Over the decades, we’ve handled North American Mission (Home Missions) in many different ways—sometimes guided by denominational leadership, sometimes left to the grassroots efforts of our congregations. When it comes to the future ministry of these three ministry arms, these are the ideas I would bring to the table with the Council of Directors and our staff team.
Vision for Lutheran Brethren International Mission:
International Mission has been at the heart of the CLB for over 120 years. Our Church body first united around shared theological convictions, but it grew around a passion for mission. I am excited to see our work in global mission continue in Asia and Africa. I love the partnership that we have with our sister denominations in Taiwan, Japan, Chad, and Cameroon, and desire to see those relationships continue to grow. We have focused on a unique calling to hard-to-reach places in the world. In Asia, our mission work is centered in Taiwan, where less than 4% of the population are Christian, and in Japan, where less than 1% are Christian. I see our ministry to the Bagirmi, Bilala, and Fulbe people groups in Chad as multi-generational work that we should continue and pass along to our children and grandchildren. To best support our long-term goals, we need to expand our teams, from one or two missionary families among each group presently, to three or four families serving with each group. I would like to see us double the number of missionary families we deploy over the next 30 years, from 10 at present, to 20-24. This would allow us to increase the size of our current teams in Chad, as well as bolster our work in Asia, and/or venture into new mission fields.
Our greatest need as a denomination is to engage all our mission fields, both here in North America and to all nations, to make disciples. I believe the key to that is leveraging our missionary heart that has traversed the globe toward the communities we live in. The gifted leaders and missionaries of International Mission will play a crucial role in helping us understand how to do that.
Vision for Lutheran Brethren Seminary:
I’m an LBS graduate and I’m grateful for the education I received, the lifelong friendships I made, and the mentoring I experienced. I’ve gone back to my seminary professors for advice countless times over the years. I’d like to work with our faculty and board to facilitate what I think would be some helpful changes to meet our challenges and vision. With that in mind, here are some ideas that I would present to our LBS leadership teams:
- Review and adapt the current Master of Divinity (MDiv) program to provide more ministry skills relevant for our rapidly changing mission field. The demands placed on pastors have changed significantly in the past generation. Our mission field is changing, and our congregations’ needs have changed. We need to identify ways to allow for an increased focus in areas such as disciple making and ministry leadership.
- Create new ministry preparation pathways. Right now, there is one main pathway to ordination as a pastor—the MDiv. This is a time-honored pathway for ministry preparation that will always be important for our Church body. Knowledge of original languages, extensive theological preparation, and biblical training—this adds up to a tremendous blessing for pastors and the churches they serve. The time has come, however, when we need to reckon with our shortage of pastors and the limited number of seminarians pursuing the MDiv. We need to increase the overall number of pastors on our roster. Creating an additional preparation and credentialing pathway will be an important part of this. Part of the solution lies in making the pastoral vocation accessible to a greater variety of qualified candidates. We have an opportunity to reach new pastoral candidates who might not have the time, resources, passion, or aptitude for a three-year graduate degree. I can envision a shorter up-front ministry preparation, with a longer season of ongoing education, then mentoring—once serving a church. It’s possible that pastors who do not go the MDiv route could be credentialed and supported under the guidance of an MDiv pastor-mentor in a similar way that physician’s assistants operate under the guidance and license of a supervising physician. The point is, we want to find creative ways of meeting our needs without sacrificing quality or undermining the preferred MDiv route.
- Contribute to the training of multiple levels of congregational leadership. One of the challenges facing the CLB (and many other denominations) is that we have become over-dependent on paid clergy when it comes to training disciples and other aspects of ministry. We need to be able to train elders and other lay leaders within our congregations—in discipleship ministry leadership, biblical knowledge, and our theology. We must find new ways to equip non-pastors, as our Bible School did in the past. The Seminary’s LBDI program is a great example of the potential for training lay people.
- Support a gap year Bible School/discipleship program. There is a growing grassroots movement in the CLB to launch a new Bible School or gap year program to provide discipleship training and biblical teaching for new generations of young adults, and Gen Z is looking for this. A ministry equipping young adults for a life of discipleship and mission engagement would be a huge blessing to our Church body. Seminary professors, CLB pastors, and other leaders could teach parts of these programs. I can see the acronym “LBS” once again standing for “Lutheran Brethren Schools.”
The history of Lutheran Brethren Schools is marked with continual adjustments for the sake of God’s mission. We would not have a Seminary today if Drs. Veum, Boe, Bjerkaas, and the LBS board and faculty had not introduced the innovations of long-distance education a decade ago. I am fully confident that the Seminary and its skilled leadership and faculty can continue to adapt for our future needs.
Vision for North American Mission:
In my last article I wrote quite a bit about my vision for the CLB and much of it focuses on our ministry here in North America. I believe we need to significantly increase training for disciple making, strengthen established churches, start new churches, and empower young leaders at every level of our denomination. Much of this relates to the ministry of North American Mission.
We must focus energy on equipping churches to make disciples. I would dedicate a staff position to training pastors and churches for disciple making. We could provide training and resources to help established churches regularly evaluate and strengthen their ministry. With a new focus on disciple making, combined with continuing our current church planting strategy, we should aim to plant 100 new churches over the next 30 years.
NAM, LBS, and LBIM Working Together:
We were once an immigrant Church, and we are called to be that again. The lines between North American Mission and International Mission are no longer as clear-cut as they once were. God is bringing people from all over the world to Canada and the US, and the number of people with no religious preferences grows every year. As we move into the hard-to-reach places in North America, this work is more and more a missionary effort. I can see a day when LBIM and NAM partner to start new churches in immigrant communities here in North America. I see a time when LBS will be needed to provide new ministry tracks for those emerging leaders.
Our three ministry arms are truly interdependent, and many of our dreams for the CLB are tied to what we do in North America:
- To address our pastor shortages, we should plant churches because many new pastors and leaders in a denomination come from new churches.
- To double the number of international missionaries we send, we should start new churches to expand our sending base.
- To reach and empower young adults, we should plant churches.
- To make disciples, we should train our established churches and start more churches.
My wife Kjirsti and I prayerfully accepted this nomination because we believe the Lord has been preparing me for a role like this—for years I’ve studied the challenges facing the Western Church and I’ve spent considerable time with our congregations on the growing edges of the mission field across North America. Now we wait to see if that internal sense of call will be confirmed by the external call of the Convention delegates in June.
Let’s take this leap of faith together, always relying on the Holy Spirit as we enter the next chapter of the CLB’s ministry. It’s time to take action. God is calling us to join him on mission!
Let’s never give up answering that call!