By Melanie Ave
ST. LOUIS — Three years after it was created as part of the 2010 Synod convention-mandated restructuring, the LCMS Board for National Mission (BNM) says it has a much clearer understanding of its role.
The bottom line: The BNM creates policies for the LCMS Office of National Mission, which in turn works with districts to help congregations and schools in their various domestic ministries. That clarification of the BNM’s purpose was one of the highlights of the board’s Sept. 12-13 meeting held at the Crowne Plaza St. Louis Airport hotel in St. Louis, said the Rev. Steven C. Briel, board chairman.
“I think there’s much more clarity as to what our focus is and what our business is,” he said.
“We now know what we are about,” agreed the Rev. Samuel Cosby, board vice-chairman.
The BNM tweaked some of its policies, making sure they were in line with the Synod’s Bylaws, per feedback from the LCMS Commission on Constitutional Matters (CCM). The board received feedback from the CCM on its role after new Bylaws were passed at the 2013 Synod convention.
The board will continue to revamp its policies before resubmitting them to the commission for further review.
LCMS Secretary Rev. Dr. Raymond L. Hartwig reviewed the commission’s recommendations with the board, saying the BNM primarily relates to and supports districts.
“How you do that, I think, is up to you, up to the board,” he said.
In other business, members elected Briel and Cosby to a second term as chairman and vice-chairman, respectively, and chose Linda Stoterau as secretary. She replaces the Rev. C. Bryan Wolfmueller, who asked not to serve again.
Board members also approved a process for extending calls to those endorsed for Specialized Pastoral Ministry after a presentation by the Rev. John A. Fale, associate executive director of LCMS Mercy Operations.
The BNM will now serve as the calling agency for institutional and agency chaplains and other non-foreign specialized ministers such as Veterans Administration, prison and hospital chaplains, after consultation with the appropriate district president. This includes deaconesses who are endorsed for such ministries.
The board heard presentations from the Rev. Todd Kollbaum, director of LCMS Rural & Small Town Mission, and the Rev. Dr. Terry Dittmer, director of LCMS Youth Ministry.
Kollbaum briefed board members on the work of the newly created Rural & Small Town Mission, part of the LCMS Office of National Mission. The department aims to help rural and small-town congregations with aging and shrinking membership rolls by providing monthly webinars, events and other resources.
He said the ministry tries to help congregations overcome attitudes of self-preservation and hopelessness.
“How do we address that mindset?” Kollbaum said. “We address it by saying they do have value. There is something that can be done.”
Kollbaum said the department keeps Law-and-Gospel and Word-and-Sacrament ministry at the very heart of everything it does. “We’re not trying to be fancy,” he said. “We’re not trying to be some concert hall in the middle of a corn field.”
The Rev. Bart Day, executive director of the LCMS Office of National Mission (ONM), said the monthly webinars offered through the Rural & Small Town Mission department have worked so well they are being used as a template for developing webinars for other ministries.
“The work in Rural & Small Town Mission has not gone unnoticed in the Synod,” Day said. “It’s been very well received.”
Dittmer touched on what he described as a “great year” in LCMS Youth Ministry, saying that about 30,000 youth and adults connected to youth ministry in the last year through the National LCMS Youth Gathering in San Antonio, Servant Events, the “Unwrapped” campus-ministry conference and other events.
He highlighted a poll from Lutheran Youth Fellowship that surveyed teenagers at the National Youth Gathering. The poll, which will be released in October, found that 77 percent of Gathering attendees live with both natural parents and 75 percent go to public schools. While only 7 percent said they are planning to go into a church career, 27 percent said they would consider it.
“That represents 6,200 kids at the Gathering,” Dittmer said. “They’re right there at the Gathering but nobody’s talking to them. Nobody’s asking them.
“I think we have our work cut out for us there when it comes to recruiting.”
In Day’s report to the board, he said that ONM staff members plan to visit 20 of the Synod’s 35 districts in the next year so his office can learn how better to support them and their ministries.
He added that the ONM also plans to partner with 10 districts to develop “intentional” revitalization resources for churches and schools that are in line with the Synod’s mission priorities and centered on the theme “Strong Faith, Fervent Love.”
“We want to develop things that are needed and are helpful,” Day said.
Day said that other priorities on the horizon include releasing statements on scouting in light of policy changes by the Boy Scouts of America, studying the “real issues” of recruiting and retaining church workers, evaluating and planning for future national Youth Gatherings, and improving communication to the larger church about the work of LCMS national ministries.
The last three years have been “rough” as the Synod went about a restructuring process mandated by 2010 LCMS convention action, Day said. The staff and services of seven program boards and two of six commissions were melded into two offices, the Office of National Mission and the Office of International Mission. About 70 jobs were eliminated.
“I don’t think anyone fully understood the magnitude of the restructuring of Synod and what all of that would mean,” Day said. “It has taken an entire triennium to take everything apart and put it all back together again.”
Day said he believes the ministries are now settled and people have a better understanding of their duties.
“This is really where the rubber hits the road this triennium,” he said. “The new triennium I think is significant. I’ve talked with my staff, and this is the time for a new beginning for the Office of National Misson.”
The next Board for National Mission meeting is scheduled for Feb. 7-8 in St. Louis.
Melanie Ave is senior writer and social media coordinator for LCMS Communications.
Updated Sept. 26, 2013