By Joe Isenhower Jr.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Leaders of two Mid-South District congregations told the LCMS Council of Presidents (COP) at its Nov. 16-18 meeting here about their churches’ refocusing efforts to reach unchurched neighbors with renewed Christ-centered witness.
Their two-hour visit was part of the Council’s continuing emphasis on “leadership in the unchurched terrain” during its current three-year cycle. Also addressing that focus at this meeting were a number of presentations by COP members.
Representing Immanuel Lutheran Church, Memphis, Tenn., were its pastor, Rev. Lane Reuter, and Scott Browning, Immanuel’s school principal. Also telling the COP about their congregation’s renewed outreach were Rev. Jonathan Beyer and Amos Gray, the pastor and youth worker, respectively, at First Lutheran Church, Hot Springs, Ark. Both congregations engaged the Transforming Congregations Network (TCN) to reset their priorities and restructure for outreach after realizing the need to reach out to the unchurched in their communities.
Reuter said that Immanuel had experienced such a slow membership decline from the late 1980s to the time he became its pastor in 2007 that members asked “what decline?” when he first brought up the topic for discussion.
“We didn’t lack a vision, but had too many visions,” he said of the congregation.
Reuter added that during a period of intentional prayer and Bible study on how to witness, members realized “we’re all accountable to God” and the need to change the church’s “bureaucratic structure to reach more people.”
That led to engaging the Transforming Congregations Network revitalization process through the district, resulting in “prescriptions” for Immanuel to combat five negative factors, Reuter said — inward focus, the lack of community outreach, a structure full of red tape, poor facilities and lack of proper staffing.
“Now, every event is planned for connecting people to Jesus Christ,” he said.
Reuter said a “watershed moment” for the congregation came the Sunday after Easter — typically known as “low Sunday” after Easter-attendance peaks — when 300 Immanuel members arrived for a community servant event. Activities started that day included mowing lawns and cleaning up in the neighborhood, building wheelchair ramps and making other access improvements at neighbors’ homes, and home repairs for widows and other single women in the area.
He said the church also conducts other “net-fishing” neighborhood events, including patriotic church services and a Christmas cantata.
“There is a new attitude among our members that puts Christlike service and outreach first,” he said.
Browning said that Immanuel school has adopted a vision statement — the same as the congregation’s — that “emphasizes Christian values.”
Beyer indicated that First Lutheran, Hot Springs, had “many of the same inward-focused attitudes” as Immanuel when congregation leaders realized the need for revitalization and also engaged the TCN processes for helping “turn us around.”
Now, he said, “members experience the joy of what God means for them to be — His witnesses and ‘salt’ in the world today.”
“God is opening doors in ways that we never thought possible before,” said Gray.
Like Immanuel in Memphis, First Lutheran in Hot Springs sponsors numerous community outreach and betterment projects.
Montana District President Terry Forke led the COP in a presentation on “Leadership in the Unchurched Terrain,” based on Romans 10, and Rev. Randall Golter, president of the Rocky Mountain District, addressed the same topic as he presented “reflective thinking” on Dr. Klaus Detlev Schulz’s book, Mission from the Cross: The Lutheran Theology of Mission. The COP will continue its study of that book for meetings next year.
Rev. Brian Saunders, president of the Iowa District East, presented a paper, “The Keys: From whom do they come and to whom is the pastor accountable?,” that addressed the positions of C.F.W. Walther and Wilhelm Loehe on that subject.
Dr. Glen Thomas of LCMS Pastoral Education gave a review and update of the Perceptions of Ministry Inventory (PMI). That project “involves a partnership among the COP, the two Synod seminaries and the former Board for Pastoral Education to gather once-a-year perceptions from congregational leaders of the ministry activities offered by pastors who have graduated from LCMS seminaries two years and five years previously,” Thomas said.
He reported that for this year’s survey, 438 randomly selected pastors and congregations agreed to participate. Nov. 15 was the due date for surveys to be returned.
Rev. David Bueltmann, president of the Central Illinois District, presented a list of 31 graduates of Concordia University System schools who have been approved for interim placement as commissioned ministers in the Synod. The council then ratified their interim placement with a unanimous vote.
The COP also ratified President Rev. Matthew C. Harrison’s appointments to the LCMS Commission on Constitutional Matters. Those appointed are Rev. George Gude, Dorsey, Ill., and R. Neely Owen, an attorney from Keswick, Va.
First Vice-President Rev. Herbert C. Mueller said that three candidates have been approved for pastoral colloquy since the September COP meeting.
The 35 district presidents reported at this meeting that there are 198 LCMS congregations calling for sole pastors, 27 for senior pastors, 37 for assistant or associate pastors, and that 396 are permanently not calling and 204 are temporarily not calling pastors. With a total of 262 calling congregations and 600 not calling, that amounts to a grand total of 862.
In September, the presidents reported there were 209 congregations calling for sole pastors, 33 calling for senior pastors, and 33 calling for assistant or associate pastors, for a sub-total of 275. Added to that were 395 congregations permanently not calling and 203 temporarily not calling (sub-totaling 598). The grand total for September was 873.
Later, in a joint session with the LCMS Board of Directors, Dr. Larry Stoterau, COP chairman and president of the Pacific Southwest District, referred to the most recent COP vacancy report. He pointed out that the figure of 600 congregations not calling represents a “flipped” [number] from a 10 percent calling rate to a rate of 10 percent of congregations not being served by a full-time pastor or not even in the calling process.
“A lot of that is reflective of the financial situation,” Stoterau said, adding that most of the 396 congregations permanently not calling pastors “do not have the resources to call a fulltime pastor” or financially support the district and the Synod.
He said that district presidents would “be talking with our seminaries this spring” about the situations of congregations that are permanently not calling pastors and the need for pastors who are worker-priests.
The November Council of Presidents meeting preceded the 2010 Lutheran Church Extension Fund’s Fall Leadership Conference here Nov. 19-21.
Posted Dec. 1, 2010