Monday, October 26, 2009

Time for an LCMS Safety Pause

Every once in a while when I’m at work I take what I call a “safety pause.” We might be taxiing out getting ready for takeoff and things just don’t seem right. There’s a nagging feeling that we’re forgetting something or there’s just too much of a rush going on. Those are the times when it’s most likely that you’ve missed something that could influence the safety of the flight – it’s time to take a safety pause. Stop the jet, set the parking brake, and analyze what’s going on. Review your plan, confirm that you’ve completed the appropriate checklists, and step back and take a broad look at what’s happening inside and outside the jet to make sure you’re good to go. In much the same way, the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod needs to take a safety pause.

When you look around the Synod, one of the things you’ll notice is how much of our focus is now on mission. Everywhere you turn we’re talking about mission. Millions of dollars are being spent on programs such as Ablaze! for the sake of mission. Congregational governing structures are being reshaped for the sake of mission. A mission focus is certainly a good thing when it’s balanced with an appropriate diet of Law and Gospel, something which arguably isn’t happening. One of the ironies here is that with all the talk of mission, our mission work in the world through the use of missionaries is steadily declining. From 1968 through 2004 our number of clergy and non-clergy missionaries has dropped a whopping 79% (LCMS statistics courtesy of Pastor James Tino on his blog The Mission Phoenix).

In 2009 the LCMS has a total of 123 missionaries in the field. This number includes 37 spouses with missionary solemn appointments and 9 missionaries from international partner churches. One way to see how we’re doing is to see how that number stacks up against other Lutherans. I emailed the Church of the Lutheran Brethren (CLB) to ascertain how many missionaries they have in the field. The CLB is a small synod in the U.S. and Canada that places an emphasis on missionary work. They have a total of 123 congregations, and a total of 46 missionaries in the field. That’s a pretty big number for such a small synod. For the LCMS to match their number of missionaries in terms of missionaries per congregation, the LCMS should have 2,460 missionaries, not the 123 we actually have. That’s a stunningly abysmal number of missionaries.

Setting the LCMS parking brake, it seems that things have gone awry. Talk of “mission” is at an all time high, but our synodical membership and work abroad are in steady decline. Have we lost the “edge?” Are we all “talk” and no “do?” A quickie drive-by Gospel presentation (when it’s the Law an unrepentant sinner really needs to hear) a la Ablaze!, or a church who’s all about questionable billboards or novel approaches used to attract the “seeker” are the fast food of our time, lacking the meat and potatoes of solid Gospel sustenance.

Missionary work is hard work. It doesn’t promise to put up big numbers. Maybe that’s why we’ve lost interest in sending pastors and teachers to the four corners of the earth to preach the Gospel to those who otherwise may never hear it. We’re more interested in reading about the latest evangelical method on church growth than in reading about the Baptism of a handful of natives on the dirt floor of a grass hut on the opposite side of the globe. Maybe we need to keep the parking brake set for a while in the LCMS, until we’ve got the Synod pointed in the right direction. While the brake is set, we can refile our flight plan so that it is solidly on the Biblical mission route – to Baptize and teach. And while we’re at it, we can get those missionaries back off the shelf and send them out to preach Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

“How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?" (Romans 10:14 ESV)


photo credit: gbaku

3 comments:

Rev. Thomas C. Messer said...

Great post, Scott! Things have most definitely gone awry.

James Tino said...

Thank you for your thoughtful post. My site that you referenced, TheMissionPhoenix.com, is all about promoting some real, honest, critical reflection of our Synod's mission program. You used the statistics I provided carefully and thoughtfully. I hope that we do exactly as you have suggested - a "safety pause" is in order!

Dennis Peskey said...

A sure sign you've on the wrong flight is when your pilot boards, suddenly leaves and returns wearing a new parachute. This is not good.

The BRTFSSG is nothing less than a new parachute for a failing leader. While it may allow his survival, the sheepish passengers are at grave risk.

At one time, the LC-MS had a clear flight plan: Get the message straight; Get the message out. Since our synod.inc abandoned first getting the message out, getting the message straight is failing as well.

Its Time for a new pilot - Its Time to roll out the Welcome-Matt!