By Melanie Ave
The questions started coming in days in advance of LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison’s first live hourlong Twitter discussion (or “tweet chat”) Oct. 23.
When all was said and done, Harrison had answered dozens of questions from LCMS members, pastors, church workers and others ranging from deep theological inquiries to off-the-wall personal trivia.
Installed to his second three-year term in September, Harrison chose to participate in the chat, in which all questions and responses were limited to 140 characters, to hear directly from the people of the church. It was the Synod’s second Twitter chat.
One participant, an educator, asked: “My students want to know: Why did you want to [be] president?”
Harrison replied: “God set a vocation in front of me, & I’m blessed 2 b able 2 serve where He’s put me for sake of the Gospel.”
Another person asked, “How can [I] pray for you?” to which Harrison said, “Pray for my family, my sons, for physical stamina, kindness, and charity.”
Most of the questions came via Twitter, but others were submitted through the LCMS Church Information Center (CIC).
People whose questions were not answered because of the limited discussion time also were encouraged to send their questions to the CIC at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Harrison tweeted his responses from the LCMS Twitter account (twitter.com/thelcms) using the hashtag #LCMSPresident.
Several members of the LCMS Communications staff typed in Harrison’s rapid-fire responses as he offered the answers verbally. Harrison’s Senior Assistant, the Rev. Jon D. Vieker, and LCMS First Vice-President Rev. Dr. Herbert C. Mueller Jr. served as Harrison’s sounding board as he talked through his answers before posting.
The Synod president said he was “surprised at how intense and fast the questions were coming! There is obviously a great deal of interest in this type of communication.”
He told Reporter that he’d “be more than happy to do this again or even regularly,” and suggested the possibility of limiting each discussion to certain topics. “But then again,” he added, “giving folks the freedom to ask anything makes for an interesting event!”
Some participants were curious about LCMS discussions with other non-partner church bodies. They learned the Synod is having “very fruitful talks” with the North American Lutheran Church and that the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus is “asking for formal fellowship talks.”
There were numerous questions about church workers.
One person asked for advice to avoid burnout. The reply: “Regular prayer, study of God’s Word, rest, confession & absolution.”
“Any advice for a young church worker at the very beginning of his ministry?” asked another participant.
Harrison replied: “It’s only as you go through trials & struggles that you become the kind of servant the Lord wants u 2 B. 2 Cor 4.”
Another writer wanted to know what the LCMS was doing to promote “effective team ministry” among pastors and commissioned ministers. Harrison answered: “Visitation! We are strongly emphasizing visitation at all levels to admonish, encourage, and care.”
“Are there steps being taken to eliminate ‘lay ministers’ consecrating the elements?” another asked.
Harrison replied: “We have a task force looking seriously at the issue. Hope to make progress.”
One participant asked for some practical ways for church workers to equip members to embrace their vocations. Harrison wrote: “Teaching the Bible & wonderful Lutheran doctrine of vocation so people rejoice & see where God has put them.”
Here’s a sampling of some of the other questions and answers:
- “Does Jesus care more about social justice or individual purity?” The answer: “Jesus cares about the law but he cares about the Gospel more.”
- “Read that less than ½ of our teachers are rostered. Is there a plan to encourage @thelcms schools to call rostered workers?” The answer: “We constantly encourage calling rostered workers. We encourage non-rostered works to go to colloquy & many do.”
- One writer sought tips for explaining and teaching close(d) communion. Harrison recommended resources from Concordia Publishing House and encouraged the writer to read a report from the LCMS Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR) called “Admission to the Supper.” “Go slow,” Harrison said.
- “What 3-5 things do our youth need to hear or be taught?” Harrison replied: “Law (full force), Gospel (full strength), to know that Jesus, their parents, and their church love them.”
- “What’s the best way to convince families that faith should be a priority?” He answered: “Clear Law/Gospel preaching.”
- “What’s your take on the presence of female deacons (distinct from deaconesses) within the Synod?” one person asked. Harrison said: “Irregular, uncomfortable … this is a CTCR question.”
- “LCMSPresident is there currently any talk in the synod of moving towards paedo-communion.” He replied: “There’s some talk. Confessions say those who receive must be examined & absolved; therefore, I’m not for it.” Paedocommunion is the practice of communing infants and young children.
Some of the questions veered more toward the humorous.
“Would it be fitting to tell the Devil to just GO to HELL?” one writer quizzed Harrison.
Harrison replied: “Absolutely. Luther did it all the time & with more choice words!”
As for personal Harrison trivia, chat participants learned one of Harrison’s favorite hymns, “O, Lord We Praise Thee”; the best book he’s read lately, Hilaria evangelica academica Das Reformations jubillaum von 1717 an den deutschen lutherischen Universitaten; and his favorite U.S. president: “Hard to choose. William Henry Harrison? He had so little time to screw up.”
Harrison’s chat was the second for the Synod. The first was held in June and centered on the topic of marriage and sexuality.
“#LCMSPresident this is fun, at least on our end!” wrote one participant as the chat neared an end.
Another wrote: “I want to say that I am happy to see that the president of LCMS makes a point to connect with the individual sheep of the flock.”
Read a transcript of the entire Twitter chat here.