By James Heine
The LCMS Council of Presidents (COP) has approved the placement of 214 church workers. The number includes 34 pastors and 180 commissioned ministers. Also, the council assigned 29 men to vicarages, including 23 men engaged in the Specific Ministry Pastor program.
The COP met Sept. 11-14 in St. Louis. On Sept. 11, it participated in the installation of new LCMS President Rev. Matthew C. Harrison, other members of the LCMS Praesidium, the LCMS Board of Directors, the new boards for National and International Mission and other Synod entities. The installation took place at the Chapel of St. Timothy and St. Titus on the campus of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.
Also, the COP continued its discussion of revitalization and heard presentations by LCMS Iowa District East President Rev. Brian Saunders on the office of public ministry as viewed by J.A.A. Grabau, Wilhelm Loehe and C.F.W. Walther; by South Wisconsin District President Rev. John Wille on the importance of having “Reduction in Force” guidelines in place; and by Dr. Bill Cochran, LCMS director of school ministry, on the current state of LCMS primary and secondary schools, including early-childhood centers. Chaplain Mike Moreno offered an update on Operation Barnabas and Dr. Reed Lessing, director of the graduate school and associate professor of exegetical theology at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, presented a report on the activities of the seminary’s graduate school.
Witness, Mercy, Life Together
As part of the regular report from the president of Synod to the COP, Dr. Albert B. Collver III, director of church relations and assistant to the president, presented an overview of “Witness, Mercy, Life Together,” the new emphasis of Synod.
“These words describe virtually everything the Church does,” Harrison told the COP before Collver made his presentation.
Regarding the restructuring of the national offices of the Synod mandated by the 2010 LCMS convention, Harrison said that he and his staff were facing “a steep learning curve.” He noted also that his staff had met at length with the staff of outgoing LCMS President Dr. Gerald B. Kieschnick, as well as with Dr. Thomas Kuchta, the Synod’s interim chief financial officer.
In other action, the COP submitted to Harrison two lists of nominees for appointment to the LCMS Commission on Constitutional Matters. One list contained the names of five ordained ministers approved by the COP; the other, five LCMS lay members who are attorneys. From the lists, Harrison, in consultation with the Praesidium, will choose one ordained minister and one attorney to serve on the CCM. Those selections will then be ratified by the COP.
The procedure for the selection of these nominees is outlined in the LCMS Bylaws.
In a wide-ranging discussion on revitalization, members of the COP offered insights on how congregations in their districts are approaching (or not approaching) the issue.
The discussion was a continuation of the COP’s “Ecclesiastical Leadership in a Post-Church Culture” working theme.
While districts approach the issue of revitalization from a variety of perspectives, the issue is one that concerns everyone, observed Rev. Keith Kohlmeier, president of the Kansas District and facilitator for the discussion.
“There are a variety of settings in which it occurs, but the setting seldom changes the reality,” Kohlmeier said.
Whether the Transforming Churches Network or another program or emphasis is employed, or a district has its own approach in place, “if it’s going to be successful, there has to be a good trust relationship between the pastor and congregation,” said Rev. Ken Lampe, president of the Mid-South District. He noted also that the process often takes longer than anticipated. “We have to work with the people that are there,” he said.
In the Mid-South District, the process seems to follow a pattern, Lampe added. Initially, a congregation may see a decline in worship attendance, but that decline reverses itself and attendance grows after 12-18 months.
Often, however, the dynamic in small congregations is very different from that of large congregations, Lampe said, “and we are trying to develop a different model.”
Atlantic District President David Benke offered a similar insight: Sometimes, he said, “the focus is institutional survival when you have 35 people in worship.”
Others noted that, not only are congregations struggling, but often the communities they serve are struggling as well, sometimes simply to continue existing.
“Fifty percent of my congregations are in dying towns,” said Montana District President Rev. Terry Forke. The challenge, he added later, is to recognize the sin of fear. “We have to recognize that the Word of God is more powerful than our enemies.”
In urban communities, the problem might be different. The community may not be dying, but the church is a “drive in” congregation because most of its members do not live in the community, but somewhere else, which leads to a marginal connection to the neighborhood, Benke said.
At its core, revitalization is an “inside out” view, said Northwest District President Rev. Paul Linnemann, whose district employs a home-grown emphasis called “Tracking the Spirit.” It’s in “internal motivation” that he finds the energy, he added. “Personal motivation leads to organizational motivation. … It’s discovering that this is a pretty awesome way to live,” he said.
Although his district is not involved with the Transforming Churches Network, it is working with congregations to do new things, including new starts, said Northern Illinois District President Rev. Dan Gilbert. Sometimes, he added, the first step is as simple as “finding out who lives in that house over there” and discovering “what their needs are.”
In summarizing the discussion, Kohlmeier identified three points: the significance of coaching and encouragement (for both pastors and congregations), the understanding that revitalization is an “inside out” view and the recognition that one needs to be connected to the world outside. It is important also to acknowledge that fear is often present, he added in follow-up email.
“Too many pastors fear that the congregation will not be able to support him and his family in the future. Too many congregations fear that ‘our pastor will leave if things don’t change, and then we are here alone.'”
“We’re all trying to tackle the same issue,” said Pacific Southwest District President and COP Chairman Dr. Larry Stoterau at the end of the discussion.
RIF guidelines: not optional
In his presentation on Reduction in Force (RIF) guidelines, Wille noted several things: First, it is important for congregations, schools, and other agencies, including districts, to have RIF guidelines in place before they are needed. Second, a reduction-in-force procedure should never serve as an easy out for dealing with staff or personnel problems. (Attempting to use RIF in this manner almost always fails, Wille explained, and often results in significant legal expenses or penalties.) Third, if you have RIF guidelines in place, it is important to follow them at every step.
In establishing RIF guidelines, Wille said congregations and others should seek the help of legal counsel. He also pointed to the resources offered by the Synod’s School Ministry office, which offers suggestions on how to design appropriate RIF policies.
Wille noted that his own district employs RIF guidelines. Well-designed guidelines will take into consideration the Synod’s position on the divine call as well Christian compassion and legal considerations, he said.
Yet, even if you have an appropriate policy in place, and your economic realities dictate that a position be eliminated, the hard part is “sitting across the table” and telling someone you no longer have a job for them, Wille said. Often, you are losing not only a colleague or co-worker but a friend, and resulting pain and grief extends beyond the individual to the rest of your staff and to the individual’s family.
According to current statistics, more than 255,000 students are enrolled in Lutheran schools, Cochran reported. The number includes more than 129,000 children enrolled in early childhood centers, some 107,000 in elementary schools and more than 18,000 students enrolled in Lutheran high schools. Based on district totals gathered from the Lutheran School Portal, the total number of schools is 2,444, including 1,400 early childhood centers, 945 elementary schools and 99 high schools, Cochran said. He reported also that for the 2009-2010 school year, schools reported more than 2,700 children baptized, as well as more than 1,900 adults baptized or confirmed.
As with many areas of church life, and life in general, Lutheran schools are being challenged by the recession, Cochran said. “The economy is a big issue, and for some schools, the final issue.”
Cochran encouraged members of the COP to be “intentional advocates” for Lutheran schools, to be a voice for children, and as they have time, to be available to their schools. “As outstanding leaders in the LCMS, you can promote and model professional leadership development,” he said.
Operation Barnabas: creating chapters
In his update, Moreno, the project manager for Operation Barnabas, reminded the COP that when the project began in 2007, he promised three things: (1) care for returning chaplains, their congregations and families; (2) workshops to train congregations to care for military families; and (3) a website.
“All three are up and running,” Moreno said.
Moreno also informed the COP of two new Operation Barnabas initiatives: Barnabas chapters and partnerships with deaconesses.
Often, we present a workshop; yet congregations struggle with the next steps,” Moreno said. To help with those next steps, “we want to create Barnabas chapters at the congregational level,” he explained.
Moreno said his hope is that congregations, and especially veterans in congregations, would “take this and run with it.”
The chapters would serve a twofold purpose, Moreno explained: care for military families and outreach to veterans with the Gospel. “We hope to roll out the new program in January,” he said.
Regarding partnerships with deaconesses, Moreno said “there are two groups in the military that have garnered our attention the past year. One is the spouse left behind when a service member deploys, usually a female. The other is the female service member. We believe that deaconesses have a unique ability to minister to other females in ways that a male cannot. We hope to work with the deaconesses throughout the Synod to work with our spouses before and during deployment.”
Deaconesses may be able to help in another way, Moreno added. Often, after a service member returns home, the spouse is the first to notice struggles with mental-health issues or even brain injuries.
“We believe that if a deaconess has the opportunity to bond and create a relationship in the months leading up to the service member’s return, she is well positioned to offer help in a crisis. If a mental-health issue presents itself, hopefully before the situation escalates, the spouse can turn to the deaconess and seek support.”
Moreno reminded the council that as a nation we face a level of Guard- and Reserve-unit mobilization unknown since World War II. Many times, members of the National Guard and the Reserves have faced not one but multiple deployments overseas.
Recruiting students from developing countries
In his report on Concordia Seminary’s graduate school, Lessing noted that the school actively recruits graduate students from around the world, and especially from developing countries, in the hope of furthering Christ’s mission of sharing the Gospel with all nations.
“The graduate school’s Adopt-A-Student program enables partner churches of the LCMS to send candidates to Concordia Seminary for the purpose of forming them as teachers and leaders. Upon graduation, these candidates return to guide, lead and serve in their own countries,” Lessing said.
He noted also that by partnering in this effort with the graduate school, individual donors share in the joy of a good work already begun – forming indigenous teachers and leaders trained at the highest level of theological scholarship to share the message of salvation in Jesus with all the world.
“To date, generous donors have pledged to provide $12,750 to support Reverends Sam Thompson – from our partner church in India – and Tom Omolo – from our partner church in Kenya – both in the Ph.D. program for doctrinal studies.”
While the seminary pays these students’ tuition, anticipated living expenses total $15,000 per student, Lessing said.
“To finish what each has started, Sam and Tom will need to remain on Concordia’s campus for three additional years,” Lessing said.
In the future, the graduate school of Concordia Seminary hopes to have “students like Sam and Tom on its campus from all of the international partner churches of the LCMS,” Lessing said. “The graduate school’s capacity to achieve its international objectives depends very much upon the generosity of its international Adopt-A-Student sponsors.”
COP Secretary Rev. William Klettke, president of the New Jersey District, reported that, as of September, 209 LCMS congregations were calling sole pastors; 33, senior pastors; and 33, associate or assistant pastors. He also reported 203 congregations with temporary non-calling vacancies and 395 with permanent non-calling vacancies.
As a frame of reference, Klettke also listed the numbers for September 2007: 349 congregations calling sole pastors; 58, senior pastors; and 83, associate or assistant pastors. That same month, there were also 418 congregations listing non-calling vacancies, compared to the total of 598 in September 2010.
In 2007, the report did not distinguish between temporary non-calling and permanent non-calling vacancies, Klettke said.
“There is not a lot of mobility these days,” said LCMS First Vice-President Rev. Herbert C. Mueller Jr., referring to the report and the state of the economy. He also added, “This is the lowest number of calling congregations that I remember and the highest number of non-calling congregations.”
The COP’s next meeting is Nov. 16-17 in Nashville, before the 2010