The LEM - Past, Present and Future

Back in 1936 something remarkable happened. God began to stir in the hearts of a small group of Lutheran pastors about the need for renewed focus and energy around evangelism within the Lutheran family of churches. Thus was born the LEM (Lutheran Evangelistic Movement). It quickly grew into a movement with scores of Area Conferences each year, thousands attending Deeper Life Camps, hundreds of Evangelistic Meetings each year, and wonderful leaders—Pastors Conrad, Gisselquist and Klawitter, to name a few. There was a clear sense in those early days that God had planted something that could not be uprooted. Pastor Conrad, LEM’s first director, wrote in 1952, “The most notable thing about the Movement is not its organization, its budget, its offices or any of its machinery, but that it is a tree planted by God.” It has been enjoyable and deeply humbling to read through 70 years of LEM history from our archives. I must admit there is a part of me that wishes we could go back and resurrect some of the wonderful dynamics and ministries LEM enjoyed during the first 40 or so years of its existence.

Reflecting on the past has led me to ask the question, “Are we still a Movement?”  Times have changed and circumstances have changed and the reality is that we can’t go back and resurrect the past – as much as I would like to do so.  But there is an evangelistic movement that is older than the LEM and that yet continues to this day.  In fact it’s a movement that the LEM tapped into and that we can still tap into today.  2000 years ago, the Son of God invaded our world and started this movement.  Jesus, the God-Man, the rightful king began a counter-revolution, to win back this rebel planet to Himself.  The LEM has always been a part of that movement which is much bigger than itself and it continues to be a part of that movement today. 

The LEM defines itself in this way: “Being a free, spontaneous Movement within Lutheranism, the Lutheran Evangelistic Movement has as its purpose by God’s grace to revive and deepen the spiritual life and fellowship of believers, to save the lost, and to encourage the use of spiritual gifts for the extension of Christ’s kingdom” (LEM Constitution, January 25, 1951). It sounds to me like those godly men and women of 60 years ago understood the heartbeat of God. As I’ve poured over the LEM Annual Reports from those early years, as I’ve been in earnest prayer with our staff and Board about LEM’s future, and as I’ve cried out to God asking Him if there are new directions we should be taking, I continually come back to the realization that the purpose statement LEM first adopted in 1951 is just as sound today as it was back then. And so are the means.

One thing that struck me is that historically the LEM has sought to fulfill its purpose as stated above through three chief means: retreats, media, and evangelists. And in fact, each of LEM’s current ministries falls into one of those categories. Our Doorway to Discovery Silent Retreats, Cleansing Streams gatherings, and Pastor’s Place Retreats all aim to deepen the spiritual life of believers. And just as the LEM has always had a focus on evangelism through media, so it is today. This is especially evident as we consider the third historic means—releasing a team of evangelists. Today we call them “Ministry Partners.“ Allow me to introduce you to just a few of them. In addition to being the editor of the LifeLines, our communications director, Sharon Knudson, is the author of an inspiring new book entitled Starting From Scratch When You’re Single Again (see page 2 for more). A second author who is a part of our LEM team is Pastor Tom Hilpert, a writer of Christian fantasy (see LEM Board member, Pastor Jim Johnson, has a weekly radio program. And Board member Pastor Kurt Linn is part of the music group “River,” which for the past 19 years has been touring and making CD’s that present a clear gospel message in churches around the country ( For my part, I have been creating video games that communicate the gospel, and have had those efforts spotlighted on CNN and ABC News. Last year our team’s first game, “Truth Seeker,” won the Christian Game of the Year Award at the Christian Game Developers Conference (learn more at In future editions of LifeLines we’ll be featuring the work of these LEM Ministry Partners and others as we share how each is “doing the work of an evangelist.”

So the LEM has always ministered through three chief means – retreats, media and evangelists.  But I would like to add a fourth to the list which had its birth in the heart of our Director Emeritus Pastor Bruce Kotila and continues to germinate in a team of us today – the planting of new churches.  House church networks, cell churches, congregations planting new church services to reach a new target, churches planting satellite campuses – it doesn’t really matter much what kind of church you plant – the important thing is to just do it!  When churches get planted, people get saved – even if the new churches ultimately fail.  The point is not creating new structures that last, but rather saving human beings from an eternity in hell.  The world is like the Titanic which is sinking.  We as the church are on a rescue mission and the rescue mission requires that more and more lifeboats be let down into the waters to pull people from the freezing water.  That’s what church planting is – the launching of more lifeboats.  God has been laying the foundation for this new focus of the LEM on church planting for a number of years now.  There is a team of us that is now planning a national strategy for moving forward with it.     

So the LEM is indeed a part of a movement – a “free, spontaneous Movement”.  It’s a part of that great movement that God began 2000 years ago and the LEM is committed to networking with other networks and church bodies and local congregations to help carry this Jesus Movement forward.  The LEM does not own the Movement.  The Movement owns us.  The specific means that we believe God has given us as the LEM are through retreats, media, evangelists and church planting.  Please pray for us.  Please pray for an increase in both financial and people resources.  And pray too how you personally can become more involved in this great movement of Jesus the King to win back this rebel planet to Himself!

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