In the CLC we generally look at overseas outreach as the job of the Board of Missions. And when it comes to a sending agency, a synod-supported mission board is one traditional way of doing overseas work. But some Christian churches have opted for more of a congregation-based outreach.
When we look into the first history book of Christian outreach, the Acts of the Apostles by Luke, we see that congregational sending and support was practiced. When the Jerusalem congregation under the apostles learned of the work of Philip the evangelist in Samaria, they sent Peter and John there. Paul in his outreach was supported time and again by the Philippian congregation. The prime example of this congregational approach is Antioch in Syria, which sent out Paul and Barnabas. God gives us freedom in how we can do outreach beyond our geographical limitations.
Our fellowship, too, has made use of congregation-based outreach:
• CLC congregations have frequently sent literature to overseas contacts. Sometimes this has meant a lot of material, in bulk and/or over a lengthy period of time. Naturally, the Bible is usually at the top of the list of needed materials.
• Sometimes immigrants and visitors to our country will come into contact with a CLC congregation, resulting in the congregation gladly working with these individuals. This has often led to further contacts in a foreign country.
• In our Phoenix congregation, contact with a Kenyan visitor to church eventually led to the congregation supporting mission work in Mois Bridge, Kenya.
• A few years ago, a Liberian man’s attending our Minneapolis church led to his membership, and to the congregation’s supporting work in Monrovia, Liberia.
• Our Mankato, Minnesota congregation has had contact with Sudanese refugees, as well as with a Peruvian man; both led to mission visits in those countries.
• Recently one of our congregations has seen a Nicaraguan visitor in church. We pray that this may lead to contacts in Central America.
One historic example of the congregation as a mission society was the Lutheran congregation at Hermannsburg, Hanover, Germany. The Hermannsburg Society was founded by Pastor Ludwig Harms in this village in 1849. He rejected the rationalism of his youth. Near the end of his university training he was reading John 17:3, “And this is life eternal that they might know Thee, the only true God and Jesus Christ whom Thou has sent.” (RSV) This was the turning point in his life. Under his ministry at Hermannsburg, the whole congregation became a missionary society; not merely a few members. The congregation was known as the “Farmers Missionary Society.”
One of the founding pastors of the CLC, George Tiefel, held this view of the congregation as a mission society in itself. He said, “Every congregation is and must be according to its very nature a mission society. If we of the Church of the Lutheran Confession would bear that always in mind, our work would flourish. . . . Every Christian, every pastor, teacher, laymember is a missionary. He or she cannot be anything else, as that is the new nature of the believer.”
Based on our Lord’s command and the privilege given to us by the Lord Himself to preach and teach the Gospel of salvation, we have a pure goal: the little girl telling of the prophet, the aged woman cradling in her arms the precious gift, the young man refuting errors and speaking the truth, the husband and wife working together for Him in their home and on the road, and the list goes on and on.
David Koenig has served as a foreign missionary in Africa, India, and elsewhere. Though officially retired, he continues to be active in the synod’s mission endeavors.