By Pamela Nielsen and Stacey Egger
The LCMS Boards for International Mission (BIM) and National Mission (BNM) held their first gatherings of 2021 via all-day virtual meetings on Jan. 28 and Feb. 26, respectively.
LCMS Chief Mission Officer Rev. Kevin Robson reported on the Synod’s mission and ministry.
“It’s just been a whirlwind of activity … dealing with the contingencies brought on by COVID and other changes going on in virtually every part of the Synod,” said Robson. “I’m extremely thankful for the blessings that have emerged from these challenges. … The fruit of our work continues to shine through in every corner of our life together.”
Speaking to ongoing concern regarding financial support for missionaries during the pandemic, Robson underscored that, thanks to the many individuals, congregations, LWML groups and others who form the networks of support for each missionary, “there is no underfunded missionary” on the field at this time.
This past year, however, has not been without challenges for LCMS missionaries. Robson and OIM Executive Director Rev. Daniel McMiller both expressed concern about the length of time that many missionaries have not been able to travel home on furlough, which typically includes time to visit family, attend to personal needs and connect with their support network. The OIM is working to inform supporters about any changes to this furlough season due to COVID-19.
Robson also reported on the three LCMS international schools, providing information on enrollment, staffing and the challenges brought on by the pandemic.
McMiller emphasized the continuing need to fill two OIM positions: director of Global Safety and Security and director of Missionary Retention and Recruitment. McMiller underscored the workload on the staff based in St. Louis, noting that staffing has been at an “unsustainably low level” for some time. The challenges in filling these positions relate to budget and the identification of qualified people.
McMiller also updated the board on:
- The Livonian Lutheran Project, an online, bachelor’s-level confessional Lutheran theology curriculum developed with the Synod’s partner church in Latvia. This Eurasia region initiative offers online seminary training across Europe under the direction of the Rev. Dr. John Bombaro. Following the pilot session last fall, the program now has some 30 students taking courses online.
- Missions Unpacked, an effort to raise awareness of the mission field via a virtual immersion
experience for all ages.
- Ongoing work to ensure the safety and security of LCMS mission staff. McMiller described current operations with a “well-known and respected” agency that provides pre- and post-travel briefing support and precise security information within a close radius of the places where our missionaries work and travel.
- Calls extended to nine new LCMS missionaries.
The board heard various reports on the work of the Office of National Mission (ONM).
The Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison, LCMS president, reported on the Synod’s finances. Harrison said that, in spite of the pandemic, the Synod is in “the best financial position we’ve been in in years” due to proactive budget-cutting in 2020 and donor gifts remaining steady. He also reported that attendance numbers in congregations across the country are trending toward their pre-pandemic levels.
“We’re in the midst of many challenges, but the blessings flow,” said Harrison.
Harrison also mentioned the vote by LCMS member congregations to extend the triennium by an extra year, reporting that the vote was almost 91% in favor of the extension and that 63% of congregations participated, “a tremendous turnout.”
BNM member Rev. Dr. Alfonso Espinosa asked Harrison about how the LCMS should respond to the growing onslaught of legislation and cultural shifts that are discordant with Christianity, leading to some discussion.
“We have got to be the church, and the church’s forte is not political action, although we certainly want our membership to be active politically,” said Harrison. “But our forte is prayer, and catechizing our own, teaching the faith. And that will become more and more difficult. The Missouri Synod will become smaller. But the question is, will we be stronger or not?
“We simply will face a situation where we either confess the faith or we don’t. … I think we need to concentrate on the New Testament … the Small Catechism … responsibly being Lutherans, recognize the catholicity of the church, and that while there are all kinds of ways for diverse populations to worship, and diverse peoples, in their own languages and with their own songs, we also come together into a catholic whole, where we can recognize the church among each other.”
Robson updated the board on:
- The Church Worker Recruitment Initiative, a project of the LCMS Office of Pastoral Education, currently about to begin a two-year working partnership with an outside consulting firm to produce “outward-facing information designed to bolster and support those who are really influential in our young people’s consideration of professional church-work careers.”
- The development of “Synod 101” resource videos to help recent seminary graduates better understand the “nuts and bolts” of their Synod, its organization, its work and available resources.
- A “delightful development” in the unrestricted gifts to the Synod given in the current fiscal year. “We had budgeted $2 million in non-bequest, unrestricted gifts from individual donors for this fiscal year. We’re seven months in right now, and we just passed $3 million.”
ONM Executive Director Rev. Robert Zagore reported on the ongoing development of Making Disciples for Life conferences, including a hybrid conference planned for September 2021, and on the takeaways from the January 2021 virtual conference, the largest online conference ever held by the LCMS, with 900 registrants.
He also reported on the success of the pastoral respite conferences that the LCMS initiated in partnership with DOXOLOGY: The Lutheran Center for Spiritual Care and Counsel, “to help people … recover from the stress of what’s going on.” Several more of these conferences for LCMS church workers have already been scheduled in the upcoming months. Over the course of 17 conferences in 2020 and 2021, Zagore expects around 595 pastors to be afforded the opportunity to participate, and another 525 in 2022.
Zagore updated the board on ONM’s distribution of COVID-19-related grants to various Synod congregations and church workers, including:
- The Soldiers of the Cross—Amplified fund, which has distributed $1.3 million in emergency aid to 900 church workers across 27 districts.
- The Esther 4:14 grant program, which will provide congregations up to $1,500 to fund software, technology or training that will help them better reach out to their members and community. Around 600 congregations have applied for these grants already.
The Rev. Sean Daenzer, director of LCMS Worship, updated the board on efforts to increase the consistency and excellence of the LetUsPray series of prayers for the church, increase networking among musicians within districts, and encourage and promote resources for home devotions.
The Rev. Dr. Steven Schave, director of LCMS Church Planting, reported on the history of church planting in the LCMS. He shared a study by his office that shows church planting to be one of the most effective means of reaching the lost, demonstrates how planting a “daughter church” can be energizing to the “mother church,” and illustrates how around 60% of church plants are multiethnic, drawing in diverse membership.
Posted April 7, 2021