In 1951, WELS member Bruce Thompson and his pastor, Reuben Marti, envisioned an organization in which boys could learn valuable life and leadership skills—but through a biblical, Lutheran perspective. That kernel of an idea began to grow and take shape, and Lutheran Pioneers was born.
Under the motto “preparing boys for life in God’s creation and eternity,” participating WELS churches organize boys into “Trains.” Trains are run by male volunteers from the congregation, who are approved by the Train pastor. Trains are then grouped into districts, all overseen by a national board of directors. Phil Wagie, Lutheran Pioneers historian, says that Pioneers teaches boys skills not always taught in school or in the home, things like basic cooking, survival skills, and first aid. All activities are infused with biblical principles, supplemented by devotions and pastoral oversight.
Seventy years since its inception, the mission of Lutheran Pioneers hasn’t changed—but the organization has adapted. As families become busier and fewer adults are available to run a Train at their church, many boys don’t have access to Pioneers. The solution? The creation of the first virtual Train in 2020.
Through this online option, boys can participate from anywhere and be supported by a Pioneer leader through website content, livestreams, and YouTube videos. They can also participate in person in the activities that are the staples of the Pioneer program—like campouts and canoe trips; rocketry; photography; movie camp; and the hallmark activity of the program, the Pine Car Derby.
Loren Lange and Randy Vosberg have been involved in Pioneers for decades and are both leaders at the national level. They love the flexibility of this new virtual way to share Christ and teach life skills to boys no matter where they are: “Our mission field just increased in size and opportunity,” says Lange.
Through the years, Lutheran Pioneers continues to be an evangelism tool. Lange recently met a boy and his father and struck up a conversation about the organization. Intrigued, the boy started attending Pioneers at Lange’s church. Soon the boy’s father became involved, leading to both parents taking Bible information classes and becoming members of the congregation. Next year, the boy will begin attending the congregation’s Lutheran elementary school. “I could tell story after story like this,” says Lange. This boy—and his family—may not have heard the gospel message if it weren’t for Lutheran Pioneers. “That’s the whole reason we are here,” Wagie says.
Historically, boys who attend Lutheran Pioneers tend to stay connected to the church. Wagie says, “I can’t even tell you how many former Pioneers are now leaders in their churches.” Vosberg adds, “Pioneers benefits boys, families, the church, and the community.” The boys are encouraged to become godly servant leaders wherever life takes them.
Vosberg states that Pioneers is needed today more than ever. “Our society has gone away from Christian values and from basic skills everyone should know. Pioneers teaches both of those things.” He continues, “It offers boys opportunities for Christian fellowship and to learn about Christ. That’s timeless.” Pioneers also provides Christian male role models for boys who may lack them at home.
All three men speak to the need for willing Pioneer leaders. “There is never a lack of boys who want to be in Pioneers,” says Wagie, “but Pioneers is limited by how many volunteer leaders there are.” The Lutheran Pioneers website contains a program start-up guide, and the organization will work closely with any congregation that wishes to start a program.
With God’s blessing, Lutheran Pioneers will continue to influence the next generation of Christian servant leaders through its gospel-centered mission for decades to come.
Learn more about starting a Train at your congregation or joining the virtual Train at lutheranpioneers.org. To learn more about Lutheran Pioneers’ sister organization, Lutheran Girl Pioneers, visit lgp.org.
Volume 108, Number 6
Issue: June 2021