By Pamela Nielsen and Stacey Egger
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) Board for International Mission (BIM) and Board for National Mission (BNM) met in person in St. Louis for the first time since early 2020. The BIM met May 27–28, and the BNM June 10–11.
Board for International Mission
At its May meeting, the BIM welcomed the Rev. John Zwick, pastor of First Lutheran Church in Harrison, Ark. (appointed January 2021), and the Rev. Limakatso Nare, pastor of Mount Zion Lutheran Church in New Orleans, as new board members. The board also met the Synod’s new director of Church Relations, Chaplain (Col.) Jonathan E. Shaw, U.S. Army (Ret.), a recently retired U.S. Army chaplain who concluded his 32 years of active service as the director of operations for the U.S. Army Chaplain Corps.
‘Great leadership, great people’
“This is a golden moment for LCMS international work,” said LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison in his remarks to the board. Harrison emphasized that, amid ever-present challenges, “we have great leadership and great people.”
Recounting events of the past year and the uncertainty that pandemic-related lockdowns created for international mission, Harrison thanked God for those in the LCMS who supported the work of the church with prayers and gifts.
“Lutheran missions lead to Lutheran churches,” said Harrison, as he reminded the board of the LCMS Office of International Mission’s (OIM) intentional focus on theological and seminary education, which prepares pastors to plant and then serve congregations in their regions. Harrison also spoke about the benefit of the lay and rostered missionaries, such as deaconesses, who provide human care on the field. “A lot has been accomplished. We have more laypeople as missionaries. The priesthood of believers is strong,” said Harrison, who underscored that the church consists of both pastors and laypeople. “When we denigrate either, it hurts the church.”
Harrison thanked the board for their service and leadership, noting their work “is having an eternal effect on people.”
In his brief remarks to the board, Shaw said, “It is a great time for confessional Lutheranism, where people are looking for the conversation and consolation of the brethren, united in the confession of Christ. It’s a time when people want and seek that brotherhood in Christ.”
In his report to the board, LCMS Chief Mission Officer Rev. Kevin Robson likewise underscored the faithfulness of God’s people in supporting the church and zeroed in on what that meant for 110 called missionaries, plus spouses and children, during a worldwide pandemic. “Not a single network-supported missionary is in any financial distress,” said Robson, noting the great speed at which new missionaries reach full funding and are able to deploy.
The Rev. Daniel McMiller, OIM executive director, reported on a new missionary partnership with a daughter church body of the LCMS, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazil (IELB), and on the use of some IELB pastors as “alliance missionaries” who serve in other parts of the LCMS Latin America and Caribbean region. While the use of alliance missionaries is not new, McMiller expressed the desire to review the present status of alliance missionaries throughout the OIM.
McMiller encouraged the board to weigh the priorities the OIM should pursue. “We should ask ourselves, what is worth dying for? What is worth spending money on in the mission field? … We need to measure what matters.” Church partners want peace and collaboration in their church bodies, and “they know the good things that happen when pastors are well formed in the Scriptures and Confessions. … That’s what they want,” said McMiller.
Confessional Lutheran seminary education continues to grow worldwide. The new online Livonian Lutheran Project reports over 50 students, including 10 from Latvia. Some students face significant challenges to participate, such as those studying in Pakistan. Read more in the Spring/Summer issue of Lutherans Engage the World at engage.lcms.org.
Christian Boehlke, OIM associate executive director, reviewed the work of the support staff and organizational and system changes that will free up time, add efficiency and provide better care for the missionaries on the field. The ever-changing global political landscape is cause for constant vigilance to ensure LCMS missionaries are safe and secure. The addition of a Global Safety and Security director and the services of a firm with expertise in assessing risk will provide a greater level of care for field missionaries.
The board endorsed two pastors for service as military chaplains, one of whom will serve in the Army, the other in the Air Force.
The board also made the following missionary calls/appointments, upon the recommendation of OIM, following a careful vetting process:
- An ordained career missionary to the Eurasia region;
- A career missionary to the Eurasia region;
- A GEO missionary to the Eurasia region; and
- A part-time deaconess career missionary to the Latin America and Caribbean region.
Acting board chair John Edson commented on the meeting, “Our first live face-to-face meeting in over a year was very productive, and it was a joy to actually be with our fellow board members instead of meeting by Zoom. The Synod’s international mission is wonderfully positioned to further our Lord’s work through planting of churches and educating international pastors with our partner churches.”
The BIM will next meet Sept. 23–24 in St. Louis.
Board for National Mission
Meeting in June, the BNM heard reports from various ministry directors and LCMS executives and discussed several matters of policy and board work.
The Rev. Robert Zagore, executive director of the LCMS Office of National Mission (ONM), detailed the many ways in which the ONM adapted and worked creatively to meet the needs created by the COVID-19 pandemic, including Soldiers of the Cross—Amplified grants given to over 900 church workers and Esther 4:14 technology grants distributed to 225 congregations; a virtual/hybrid learning platform purchased by LCMS School Ministry and used by Lutheran schools across the country; and “Take Heart” respite retreats hosted in partnership with DOXOLOGY: The Lutheran Center for Spiritual Care and Counsel, which will have welcomed over 1,000 LCMS clergy by the end of next year.
Zagore also highlighted major upcoming ONM projects, including the Child Protection Project, an initiative to implement training and screening practices to prevent abuse of children in congregational and school contexts across the Synod. “I don’t think it’s a mistake that Jesus refers to us as children, or that God refers to Himself as Father. … If we aren’t working to protect these kids, we aren’t living in the heart and mind of Jesus,” said Zagore.
Good financial news
Robson updated the BNM on “one of the best financial situations that the Synod has been in in years” — a combined result of controlled underspending versus the FY21 budget and “splendid giving” by donors over the past year.
Robson also reported on:
- The return of the full staff of the LCMS International Center in St. Louis to in-person work;
- The Church Worker Recruitment Initiative being developed out of the LCMS Office of Pastoral Education, which will provide resources for congregations, parents and others to encourage young people to consider the vocation of church work; and
- The reduction of LCMS Mission Advancement’s 13.5% contributor services expense allocation ceiling in FY21 to a budgeted ceiling of 10.5% in FY22, reflecting increased contributor generosity combined with disciplined management of Mission Advancement’s expenditures.
Also discussed was the board’s ongoing work in response to 2019 Resolution 4-04A, which added to BNM and BIM duties a responsibility to evaluate the effectiveness of the Synod’s mission priorities and propose a joint overture to the convention offering any beneficial amendments to those priorities. It also called on the boards to prepare resources in advance of each LCMS convention, offering guidance for proposing mission priorities.
The Rev. Peter Bender, a member of the board’s subcommittee on Res. 4-04A, reported that a Bible study and other catechetical resources have been prepared on the Synod’s seven mission priorities in partnership with the BIM. He also noted a plan for district visitations by board members to gain input from the various districts of the LCMS on the mission priorities of the Synod.
The Rev. Dr. Alfonso Espinosa stepped down as vice-chair of the board (while remaining a board member), handing over his duties as vice-chair to the Rev. Dr. Dien Ashley Taylor.
The board also discussed:
- Its monitoring of the work of the ONM in accordance with the ends policies set for it by the BNM, streamlining this process to receive a report from Zagore on each of the BNM ministry areas two weeks prior to each BNM meeting; and
- The need for more discussion time during its meetings, voting to add a fourth BNM meeting each year, to be held via Zoom.
The Rev. Michael Meyer, director of LCMS Disaster Training, gave the board an overview of a new organizational software that Disaster Response is using to keep track of its volunteers across the country, and to disseminate information to these volunteers about upcoming volunteer opportunities and training opportunities. (More information can be found at lcms-lert.org.)
The Rev. Dr. Ross Johnson, director of LCMS Disaster Response, provided a survey of the various disaster responses that Lutherans across the country have carried out over the past year — after a derecho wind storm in Iowa, four hurricanes across five states last summer, the “Texas freeze,” tornadoes in Northern Alabama, and a tornado in Nashville.
The board also heard a theological presentation from the Rev. Dr. Thomas Egger, president of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, on the centrality of the Word in the training of pastors. “If we are going to form men as Christian, Christ-like persons and as competent pastors … they have to be rooted in the Scriptures.”
The BNM will hold its next meeting Oct. 14–15 in St. Louis.
Posted June 29, 2021