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Partners in Mission and Ministry

An Interview with President Mark Zarling

Pastor Mark Zarling was called to the MLC presidency in 2007. He has master’s degrees in both divinity and education, and he previously served in congregational ministry and at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary.

The word “partnership” appears repeatedly in the strategic plan. How would you characterize MLC’s partnership with WELS?

The Apostle said, The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts. In the visible church, the Spirit creates wonderful partnerships—not to maximize some financial bottom line but to demonstrate the power of Christ’s love.

MLC trains Christian witnesses to fulfill the ministry needs of WELS. The kingdom does not benefit if we have a strong college but no missions or ministries in which our graduates can serve. Nor does the kingdom benefit if we have missions and ministries, but no college to provide gospel servants. This college does not exist in isolation. MLC is an integral part of a church body that takes the Great Commission very seriously.

WELS Christians are also partners in prayer. Since only the Spirit can convict a soul through the law and then comfort that soul through the gospel, every human whose hand is on the gospel plow begins first with prayer: Hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done. These prayers echo every week in every WELS church and school.

Both World Missions and Home Missions are mentioned in the strategic plan. What is MLC’s role in relation to missions?

First, God uses MLC to prepare called workers for missions. This includes training them to love people: to listen to them, learn their concerns, and apply Scripture to their situations. It also includes a God-given “Here am I, send me” attitude—a willingness to go wherever he wills. Such an attitude necessitates a mental and emotional flexibility. A candidate does not move across the country or the world to replicate “home.” Rather, a mission heart beats with a desire to learn about the new place, the new people, and the new challenges confronting gospel proclamation in that particular culture.

Training also occurs through the experiential learning of Daylight USA and Daylight International. As the names imply, students serve in American missions or overseas. WELS does not count these students as missionaries, yet the Lord does reach people through their witness. Imagine how Jesus can richly bless the kingdom as he sprinkles these experienced workers throughout churches and schools.

In addition to training, might we explore ways to partner more immediately with missions? What if a world mission had a teacher to train indigenous Sunday school teachers in pedagogy? What if a home mission had not only a pastor but also a staff minister to help set up family outreach? The ways pastor/teacher/staff minister teams could jumpstart missions are almost endless.

How is MLC partnering with the Commission on Lutheran Schools?

MLC can be a resource, where appropriate, for the Commission on Lutheran Schools. It’s no secret that financial constraints have reduced budgets at both the CLS and MLC. Partnership demonstrates careful stewardship as we focus together on hurting schools that need help and thriving schools that need continued encouragement. Might an MLC professor serve a sabbatical in a grade school, help the school move forward, and then return to the college classroom refocused on the challenges confronting our schools? Other joint efforts to explore are new teacher induction, veteran teachers’ continuing education, and principal mentoring—so that excellence in Christian education is an expectation for every congregation.

The synod in convention directed MLC to add more continuing education offerings. What steps is MLC taking in this direction?

We’d like to add a professor specifically tasked with continuing education. We’d also like to develop new certificate programs related to congregational needs and expand established certificate programs such as the chaplaincy program, which certifies WELS chaplains for prison ministry, and the Congregational Assistant Program, which trains WELS members in such skills as evangelism, outreach, and visitation. These programs are cooperative efforts with other WELS entities, allowing MLC’s status as an accredited institution to be conferred upon the training.

As God uses you to lead this institution through the next several years, what are you most excited about?

How exciting that Jesus allows our small church body to enjoy the blessing of schools that unabashedly center all teaching on Jesus, who is the Truth. How exciting that the Spirit shows congregations ways that early childhood ministries, Sunday schools, LESs, and Lutheran high schools can be integral components of their missions. How exciting to access new tools to reach non-Christians, which make up 70% of the world’s population. Just as the ancient Roman roads sped the transmission of the truth and Gutenberg’s press propagated the proclamation of peace in Jesus, today technology and telecommunications are in the palm of our hand! Every church and school can be an instant mission blessing, from the immediate neighborhood to nations overseas. At what other time in history have Christ’s disciples been his witnesses in Jerusalem, and in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth simultaneously? What a powerful Lord God we have! What an exciting time this is!


Article taken from the July 2012 edition of the MLC InFocus.