Mission statements are set for the purpose of focus and direction for a school. From curriculum to sports, mission statements should guide decisions in choosing new resources and seeking staff.
Lutheran schools and all involved would do well to lean on their mission statement...and lean hard. The education world offers plenty of distractions and misguided materials that can veer a Lutheran school from its purpose. For us to blindly adopt them because the resource is the new shiny toy will bring failure. Remember, the bright shiny fruit in the Garden of Eden led our first parents into rebellion with their Maker!
We have within our Lutheran heritage a rich treasure. Our founders reformed the Church to a mission statement that moved back to the grace and all-fulfilling work of Christ for the world. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:8-10).
Do we understand this and other teachings' influence on our schools? Just as much, do we treasure the practices and traditions of our Church that reflect and share the precious message of a loving and gracious Lord?
In last September’s inaugural VIP event for The Lutheran Schools Partnership, Rev Greg Seltz, our synod’s executive director for the Lutheran Center for Religious Liberty (http://www.lcrlfreedom.org/), reflected on his treasured faith and how it was fostered by his Lutheran teachers. As he reflected on each individual teacher, he shared one particular teacher who especially impacted his life- the music and choir director. Rev Seltz commented that this teacher “Sang faith into our heart.”
Many of our schools tout a strong fine arts program. In fact, we encourage our students to take up a musical instrument, sing in a choir and appreciate fine music. Purely from an education perspective, music needs a strong focus in our schools. Studies show the academic benefits of music education. Music instruction has been shown to help build reading skills such as vocabulary and verbal sequencing (Science Daily, 2009). A 2013 Northwestern study provides biological evidence linking the ability to keep a beat to the encoding of speech sounds. For all this, many parents look at music as a needed experience for their children to determine what skills and talents God has given them.
But in our Lutheran schools, we do more with our music....and we should realize the treasure music is for our most important goal of our schools- sharing Christ. Before diving into the need of singing what we believe, a quick reminder that our schools need not exist if our goal is to be an excellent academic institution- that’s the goal of any school. Our schools are about Jesus and how His redeeming work penetrates every subject and routine of the school.
Succinctly, the Church sings her theology through our hymns. How many Christians recite the Christmas Gospel via Hark the Herald Angels Sing or Joy to the World? With those hymns and many others, the Christian sings with the angels and joins with the excitement of the shepherds. We marvel with Mary that peace on earth has arrived in her infant Son. The words of Luke 2 spring to life with joy and excitement.
Many do the same during Holy Week. We sing the Hosannas of those greeting Jesus' entry into Jerusalem with All Glory Laud and Honor. We’re part of the crowd, we feel the excitement, we reflect on Old Testament promises. In Stricken Smitten and Afflicted, we confess our own part of Jesus' gruesome death while also hearing the groans of our Savior hanging on the cross. With Christ the Lord is Risen Today, we shout our alleluias of an empty grave, a risen Lord and death defeated.
However, all too often we don’t continue a confession through our hymns during the other parts of our school year....and we could...and should. The Church’s hymns are the Church’s witness and confession. As we sing these hymns, as we teach these hymns for young and old, we sing faith into the hearts of our students.
So let’s do it! Let’s teach faith through our songs and be confident that we are living our mission. Do it as the school confesses that it seeks God’s will and God’s direction instead of a worldly, secular design. Because in fact, only “...one thing is needful all others are vain. I count all but loss that I Christ may obtain” (LSB 536). Let’s seek hymns that remind us how valuable we are, that we are treasured, that we can be confident in all things because being baptized, “God’s own child I gladly say it.” (LSB 594). When things seem overwhelming and hardships occur, we can be certain of the sure foundation of faith found in Jesus and sing “Fear not I am with you, O be not dismayed for I am your God and will still give you aid.” (LSB 728)