With discussion of “Church in a Post-church Culture,” to a historical perspective on structure, to proposals for restructure, the Feb. 21-24 meeting of the LCMS Council of Presidents looked at several facets of how the Synod assists congregations in effective mission and ministry.
During the study portion of its meeting in St. Louis, the council heard Dr. Robert Newton, president of the California-Nevada-Hawaii District, compare his missionary experience to the challenge facing the established church is it seeks to be in mission in a post-church culture. The adjustment, he said, is like finding one’s way through a city by using a street map of a different city.
“Most of our churches and our pastors are struggling with what map they are to use,” said Newton. Efforts to be in mission can be frustrating when knowledge and experience is grounded in a past era, he said, adding that the church is confronting a post-church society and dealing with past assumptions such as “everyone is a Christian.” That results in confusion characterized by questions like “Why can’t we post the Ten Commandments?” or “Why, after 6,000 years of common understanding, do we have to define marriage?”
“It’s happening aggressively,” he said. “The non-churched are reclaiming ‘cultural insidership,’ saying they — and not the church — will be the brokers of our culture’s value system. There is increasing suspicion on both sides.”
He drew from his missionary experience in the Philippines in a “pre-church” culture where the church had no identity or credibility and the missionary was a cultural outsider. As a missionary, he learned the most effective mission was to get the Gospel message to “insiders” — people with influence in the culture, whose word was trusted, and who can effect change.
He said pastors who are faithful to the mission in post-church society are teaching their people to function outside of the church-culture realm. Newton said they are teaching their members to be intercessors for un-churched neighbors, to pray for the harvest, to study the Bible with an unchurched friend, to listen, walk beside, and be close for when opportunities come to witness.
Introducing a presentation of recommendations from the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Synod Structure and Governance on Feb. 23, Dr. Will Sohns offered a historical perspective: “Polity … is to serve none other than the eternal purpose: the honor of God and the salvation of men …,” he said, quoting President H.C. Schwan’s words to the 1896 convention which focused on constitution and ecclesiastical polity.
“The Synod’s only power is the Word of God; it is not hierarchy,” said Sohns, a member of the task force and a member of the Commission on Constitutional Matters. “We organize around the power of God’s Word. … That must permeate everything we do in terms of restructuring.”
The council heard and discussed the proposals the task force is bringing to district conventions for feedback. The proposals are now posted under the “presentations” segment of the task force’s “Walking Together” pages on the LCMS Web site.
As it considered another draft of its document and letter on “Theses on Worship,” the COP heard from Rev. David Johnson, executive director of the Commission on Worship. Following a conference of colleges and seminaries, Johnson observed that the Synod has “a multiplicity of repertoires” of liturgy, hymnody, songs, and psalms — “a matrix of extreme diversity.” The polarity, he added, has resulted in “brothers and sisters grieving over the life of the church,” adding “… we have not treated each other well.”
The Synod needs to manage the literature and “in a caring Lutheran way” provide tools so congregation worship leaders can make informed decisions on the repertoire they are using, Johnson said.
Rev. Terry Forke, Montana District president, led discussion of “Theses on Worship.” He commented, “We need to make some healing happen and it’s on the basis of the Word of God.” Forke will bring another draft of the document to the next COP meeting.
The council also heard brief presentations on a Lutheran Church Extension Fund program to match parish pastors with a mentor-coach, progress of the Fan into Flame campaign, LCMS World Mission, and a “Next Steps” project to match retired church workers with service opportunities.
The presidents also reviewed the implications of a Commission on Constitutional Matters ruling on call eligibility for workers on non-candidate status. Members also reviewed discussion points for interviewing pre-Specific Ministry Pastor candidates and pre-alternate route seminary candidates.
The next COP meeting will be April 17-22, with spring candidate placement at the seminaries in Fort Wayne and St. Louis.
Posted April 1, 2009