By Joe Isenhower Jr. (email@example.com)
On July 9 — a year to the day before the Synod’s 66th Regular Convention is scheduled to start in Milwaukee — LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison sent an email to rostered LCMS church workers announcing availability of the report of a Synod task force that makes recommendations concerning licensed lay deacons in the church body.
The seven-member task force that Harrison appointed in response to Resolution 4-06A of the 2013 Synod convention is simply known as “the Resolution 4-06A Task Force.” Its 32-page report and a two-page executive summary of that report are available for download at the “National LCMS Convention” Web page.
That 2013 resolution asked Harrison to appoint a “task force to address questions about the practice of licensed laymen who are preaching and administering the Sacraments in LCMS congregations,” he notes in the email.
The resolution specifically called for the task force “to develop a plan anchored in the Word, in consultation with licensed lay deacons and those who supervise and are served by them, to resolve questions about the service of licensed lay deacons serving congregations of [the LCMS] with the Word and sacraments of Christ; and “that the plan and its proposed implementation be reported to the Synod one year before the 2016 convention.”
“Our Synod has, for over 25 years,” Harrison writes in his July 9 message, “struggled with the question of how to provide pastoral care for congregations and missions — typically with small numbers of individuals — facing challenging circumstances, such as geographical isolation, limited financial resources, or when a mission or congregation consists of individuals from an ethnic or linguistic minority. These are genuine practical dilemmas, and the church needs to address them with theological fidelity.”
Basically — as outlined in the executive summary of the task force report — that “struggle” centers on questions raised about laymen providing such pastoral care, “often for no remuneration, and under the supervision of an ordained pastor,” and “theological objections raised, primarily on the basis of [Article XIV of the Augsburg Confession].”
The Augsburg Confession is a foundational document of Lutheran theology. Article XIV, titled “Concerning Church Government,” begins with the statement, “Concerning church government it is taught that no one should publicly teach, preach, or administer the sacraments without a proper [public] call.”
“The task force … has addressed this matter,” Harrison states later in the email. “I believe they have done so in a way that holds together both the church’s mission and its theology.
“I commend their report to the Synod for study,” Harrison continues, and then invites readers to submit their reactions to the report at lcms.org/response/4-06A.
Members of the task force include representatives of the LCMS Council of Presidents, the Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR), the Office of the President and the two LCMS seminaries, as well as a licensed lay deacon. The Rev. Larry M. Vogel, associate executive director of the CTCR, is chairman.
“Central concerns for the task force,” Vogel told Reporter via email, “were to proceed in a way that encourages a godly harmony regarding pastoral care in challenging circumstances (which will not diminish in the future) and the importance of retaining both scriptural/confessional theological practices together with an uncompromising commitment to the mission of sharing the Gospel with the nations.”
The task force makes eight recommendations in its report. Summarized in four points, the task-force recommendations include:
“1. Lay deacons who are regularly serving pastorally — as the de facto pastors of LCMS congregations — should be examined by a special LCMS colloquy process, receive further theological preparation where necessary, and be approved for ordination. Their roster status would be that of a Specific Ministry Pastor (SMP). (See Recommendation 1.)
“2. The ongoing reality of geographic, financial, and demographic challenges that make it difficult to fill the calling needs of LCMS congregations and missions should be addressed by means of SMP and various other non-residential pastoral-training programs in which future pastors are identified locally and then prepared for service. Need-based financial assistance for preparation will be available through the Pastoral Education Department of the LCMS. (See Recommendations 2 and 3.)
“3. Districts should not neglect to explore other means of addressing the challenges to provide the ministry of Word and Sacrament for its (sic) congregations and missions. Such means include multi-point parishes, technological aids, and greater use of inactive pastors. (See Recommendations 4, 5, and 6.)
“4. The role of the royal priesthood of baptized believers is not demeaned, but enhanced by a right understanding and practice of the Office of Public Ministry, for as believers share the Gospel in their daily lives and vocations, they are and always have been the primary arm of Christian outreach to an unbelieving world. This evangelistic or witnessing role should be emphasized and enhanced, not diminished. (See Recommendations 7 and 8.)”
The task-force report also will appear in the 2016 Convention Workbook that will contain reports and overtures (proposed actions) to be considered by floor committees meeting next May that will draft resolutions for the convention. The convention is set for July 9-14 at the Wisconsin Center in Milwaukee.
Posted July 13, 2015
Over the past 5 years since its implementation, how many Pastoral candidates have enrolled in the SMP program and how many have completed the SPM program and gone into congregational ministry or missionary service?
What are the “various other non-residential pastoral-training programs in which future pastors are identified locally” ?
Who creates them?
Who administers them?
What are the requirements for completion?
The guidelines for lay training at the wide walk/street level seems to constantly being moved farther and farther away from where the people in need of encouragement through Word, Sacrament and service actually live.
Point 2 – “Need-based financial assistance for preparation will be available through the Pastoral Education Department of the LCMS.”
So let’s follow the money on this one.
How much does the proposed training cost someone to enroll and live at or near one of Seminaries during the training process ?
Are the funds to be barrowed and a repayment burden placed on a candidate who currently may now and in the future be serving without compensation?
How does the cost of certified Ministry training today, compared to the financial cost at the time of the founding of the LCMS over 150 years ago; or for that matter over 1900 years ago when Overseers, Bishops, and Elders were selected/elected by the people/communities they served with guidance from the Apostles and other Disciples.
I am not a pastor. I am not a seminary graduate. I am a wife….and this truly breaks my heart. Ten years ago, while our small rural church was in vacancy, my husband was called to be a lay deacon. I remember the day well. I entered his office and I noticed that something was terribly wrong… he was sitting there crying. It was then that he told me how he had been fighting God’s call for him to be a lay deacon for a long time…he compared his journey to the story of Jonah. The tears that were flowing from his eyes were tears of joy, relief and fear of the unknown at the time. It was then that he began the lay ministry program in our district and it has been a wonderful blessing to him, our church and our community as he has helped spread the Gospel in so many different ways, using the teachings and practices that he learned through the lay ministry program. It will be heart wrenching for him and our church if the synod chooses to not support the lay deacons of the LCMS.
We have had a Deacon who was sanctioned by LCMS to serve our congregation about 5 years ago. He traveled to various meetings for training etc. at his own expence for the required time. He was such a blessing to us during the time we were without a full time Pastor for three years. He loves The Lord and the ministry he has done and is broken hearted that he may not be able to continue. Why are you attempting to ” pull the rug out from under “these faithful servants?
Where is the scriptural basis for requiring these servants to complete ordination? Acts 6 clearly provides for the use of deacons in ministry without the requirement of this position as a stepping stone to full ordained pastoral status. Some servants have no interest or calling to be ordained and are perfectly suited to placement as a lay deacon in a congregation.
Secondarily, how does the synod plan to deal with the lay deaconesses in districts? Can this be a pathway to ordination for those God serving women to be ordained as a Special Ministry Pastor?
It seems that this task force has raised more questions than it answers.
The report outlines the concerns that many have regarding the use of Deacons in the church. Overall it provides much good Scriptural information regarding how men who preach need to be properly trained and recognized as such by the church at large. The recommendation to address the current concerns by eliminating many Deacons from formal ministry while allowing some of the current Deacons to become Special Ministry Pastors does not address the dilemmas that led to the establishment of Deacon ministry within the LCMS originally. The same dilemmas will result in the use of men other than ordained pastors in many ministry situations. An alternate solution, which will hopefully be seriously considered, is to make Deacons rostered Ministers of Religion – Ordained. This will address the requirement that those who preach have a proper call from a congregation, while continuing to recognize that Deacons serve under the direction of a Pastor as a way of extending his ministry when he is unable to be present. This addresses all the situations that Deacons currently serve in, at the same physical location as their supervising pastor or at a remote location from where the supervising pastor is at the moment.
What is the difference between a certified Lay Minister and a Licensed Lay Deacon? If a Certified Lay Minister is to aid the pastor in equipping the congregation for works of service how can he do that with publicly speaking the Word?
Various written reactions to the news about a report and the report itself, in addition to these, have been received by the 4-06A Task Force. Some have stated disagreements with the report, others have expressed appreciation.
The Task Force appreciates the interest of those who have responded. Our prayer is that the Lord would use our efforts to bring about a God-pleasing consensus on a matter that has divided our Synod and diminished its focus on the work of sharing the Gospel. To that end, we would like to try to clarify a few misunderstandings about our report.
1. The report is genuinely appreciative of the work of deacons. Almost without exception, the men serving as deacons are humble servants of Christ who were asked to provide a genuine practical answer to genuine practical challenges. They are dedicated, serve in most cases without any or with minimal remuneration, and deserve our thanks, not our criticism. Having said that, the sad reality is that these men are in a position of uncertainty in the LCMS, through no fault of their own. We have sent them to go and do pastoral work but we have not recognized them as pastors. The people of the congregations they serve often do call them “pastor,” but the question remains—are they in the public ministry or not? They serve in a pastoral role, but they are not included on any of Synod’s public ministry rosters. Both they and their congregations deserve to have this uncertain status addressed by the whole Synod. Anyone who on an ongoing basis is preaching and administering the sacraments in an LCMS congregation should be a member of the Synod – that is, a “rostered” public minister, a pastor recognized by the Synod as a whole, and not simply a deacon licensed by a district (a local portion of the Synod). While the details of how this is done are a matter of human order (see #2 below), to fail to do this inevitably results in confusion or worse.
2. The report is not in any way unsympathetic to the plight of those small congregations that are served by lay deacons. Our recommendations seek to provide a way of providing the public ministry—pastoral care—that is scriptural and affirmed not by part of Synod, but the entire Synod. The time-honored Lutheran means of providing the ministry has involved three aspects:
a. first, examination of the doctrine and life of the man who will preach and teach and administer the sacraments (1 Cor 4:1-2; 1 Tim 3:2-3; 2 Tim 2:1-2, 24-26);
b. second, the public acceptance of a local congregation for the individual to serve them (Acts 20:28; Titus 1:5); and
c. third, public recognition of the ministry of the individual by the rest of the church, which is what ordination represents. This aspect is attested to in Paul’s warning not to “be hasty in the laying on of hands” (1 Tim 5:22) and his reminder to Timothy of its importance (2 Tim 1:6).
3. The report seeks to uphold both the importance of the priesthood of believers and that of the office of the public ministry. Neither must be minimized, confused, or neglected.
4. The report addresses practical concerns such as:
a. By a special colloquy process that involves representation from the Synod, the District, and area pastors, those deacons serving as de facto pastors of congregations will be able to become rostered LCMS pastors whose ministry is affirmed by the whole Synod. Their work will essentially remain the same and they will continue with the same supervision as they had as deacons, but their work in the ministry will be fully recognized by the Synod as a whole.
b. Any financial challenges posed by the colloquy process will be addressed, with funding assured wherever there is legitimate need.
c. Future candidates for challenging circumstances will still be identified locally, just as the current deacons have been identified given initial training locally, while the further training programs for these men that enable them to be rostered members of the LCMS are already in place. Financial obstacles will be addressed with the assistance of the LCMS Office of Pastoral Education.
d. Individual congregations have always been and will continue to be free to have lay men assist their pastors in various ways (by whatever title a congregation may use for such lay service) and also to provide emergency service in the pastor’s absence (for example, giving a sermon prepared by or approved by a pastor).
Pr. Larry M. Vogel
Associate Executive Director
Commission on Theology & Church Relations