May 02, 2022 Print This Article

Decades Making Disciples

Photo: Concordia University, Saint Paul, Minn.

Dr. Robert Holst speaks six languages. Spent more than five decades working in ministry. Raised three children. Served as a missionary, professor and university president. And through all these roles, by the grace of God, he has pointed others to the one Savior.

Holst, a native of Austin, Minn., graduated from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis with a Master of Divinity (1961) and Master of Sacred Theology (1963). He also met and married the love of his life, Lynne, during his time at the Seminary.

In 1962, he received a call to serve as a missionary in Papua New Guinea (PNG), where he and his growing family would live for five years. His experiences included the inaugural translation of Bible stories and even Luther’s Small Catechism into the Ipili language. Holst says that his missionary experience was seminal for his future ministry, but he is quick to say that there are missionaries who have spent far longer working in PNG.

While he deeply values his time in PNG as a missionary, he is passionate about mission work here in the United States. “We are all missionaries,” said Holst. “To me, service in the United States is mission work. In some ways, it is tougher than when you’re in a tribe in the rainforest and you don’t have the distraction of this electronic world.”

After Holst and his family returned to the United States in 1968, he began working toward a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies at Princeton Theological Seminary. While he was at Princeton he taught Greek. He said exegetical study at his St. Louis alma mater prepared him for that opportunity.

In 1970, Holst received a call to teach at Concordia Senior College, Fort Wayne, Ind., where he taught for six years. In 1976, Holst went to Christ College in Irvine, Calif. (now Concordia University, Irvine, Calif., [CUI]) where he was one of the first of five professors when the school began, teaching Greek, Hebrew and Bible classes. While there, he served as the first dean of students and later as dean of diversity.

Every month of the school year, Holst would take a student group to Tijuana, Mexico, to work with Baja Lutheran Mission for a Saturday Bible school in an isolated barrio. During school breaks, Holst would take a group of students to the Lutheran Center in Mexico City for a two-week learning experience.

“What a city! What a history and culture! What great people,” Holst said. “The students learned to treasure the experience and the people. I myself learned Spanish and treasured the experiences in Mexico and Southern California.”

In 1991, Holst was on sabbatical teaching at the Lutheran Seminary in Korea when he received a call to serve as president of Concordia University, Saint Paul, Minn. (CSP).

It was painful for Holst to leave his service at CUI behind, especially his time serving Hispanic communities, but he looked forward to his future — and the diversity of the community — in Saint Paul. Holst notes that in 1991, Saint Paul had more new immigrants than any other city except New York and Los Angeles. “Many of these immigrants had experienced human hate and had not heard about God’s love,” Holst said. CSP was certainly a place for mission outreach and care through the venue of higher education.

“We worked to be theologically strong and open to sharing Christ’s love to all. We developed the mission statement that CSP still uses today, ‘The mission of Concordia University, St. Paul, a university of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, is to prepare students for thoughtful and informed living, for dedicated service to God and humanity and for enlightened care of God’s creation all in the context of the Christian Gospel.’”

Holst was enthusiastic about CSP being academically strong and a mission arm of the church. He also was intentional about developing relationships with the surrounding minority communities and really working with the world and the church.

“Jesus said to His disciples ‘go to all nations.’ God has sent all nations to the Twin Cities. To have people with diverse backgrounds and cultures gathering together was not only Jesus’ will, but it was good education,” Holst said.

At CSP, Holst had the opportunity to lead devotions and Bible studies at many congregations, pastors’ conferences, retreats for lay people and some nearby district conventions. He also was the guest Bible study leader at annual missionaries’ conferences in Venezuela and Nigeria.

“Concordia Seminary blessed my life and … through me, Christ blessed others.”

Under Holst’s leadership, the CSP campus expanded and grew — constructing an addition to the chapel, a theater, library, stadium and an apartment-style dormitory building — and built support for student scholarships. In 2011, Holst retired from CSP.

Today he remains active in his church and community, and he meditates daily on Scripture. He treasures Phil. 4:4ff (ESV), “Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say, Rejoice.”

But the Bible passage that is his “core love and value” is Matt. 28:19-20 (ESV): “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

In that passage, Holst says that “Jesus is blessing His disciples with three ‘Greats.’ Great claim: All power is His. Great Commission: Go and make disciples everywhere. Great promise: He’ll be with you. Those verses call, guide and bless me. They also reflect the education and call that Concordia Seminary gave me. Concordia Seminary blessed my life and I think that through me, Christ blessed others. I pray so.”

Sarah Maney is a communications specialist at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.