By Stacey Egger
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) Board for International Mission (BIM) gathered May 26 at the LCMS International Center (IC) in St. Louis for the first of two days of meetings.
The Rev. Dr. David Stechholz, a BIM member, opened the day in prayer: “Glorified Lord Jesus, eternal High Priest, we rejoice in Your triumphant Ascension. … Guide now our meeting … that Your kingdom may continue to increase and grow. … As we remember our departed brother Bernie Seter … help us to marshal the same kind of faithfulness and abiding love for You and Your Bride, the church, as did our beloved friend.”
Elections, departures, calls
This was the first meeting of the BIM since the March 22 death of its decade-long chairman, the Rev. Bernhard M. Seter. The board voted unanimously to elect John Edson as its new chairman.
“Bernie Seter was a true gift from God to his congregation, the BIM and the Synod. His preaching, teaching, friendship and great sense of humor will be missed, but we all rest easy that he is home with his Lord. … It will be hard to fill Bernie’s shoes,” Edson said.
James Wolf was elected to replace Edson as the board’s vice-chairman. The meeting was the final one for board member Kristine Bruss, who has accepted a job to serve as chief communications officer for Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne. The role precludes her from serving on the BIM.
Calls for nominations to fill the vacancies left by Seter (an ordained member from the Great Plains region) and Bruss (a lay member from the Central region) have been sent out in hopes of filling these positions before the board’s September meeting.
The board took several actions during its meeting, including approving calls to:
- DCE Rebecca Fisher, as director of religious education for the U.S. Army;
- Rev. Eric Gledhill, as active duty Navy chaplain; and
- Rev. Kevin Mietzner, as active duty Army chaplain.
Expanded OIM budget
LCMS Chief Mission Officer Rev. Kevin Robson reported on the results of the LCMS Board of Directors (BOD) meeting in May, highlighting the BOD’s adoption of the proposed operating budget for FY23.
Christian Boehlke, who has served as LCMS Office of International Mission (OIM) interim executive director since the Rev. Daniel McMiller began a leave of absence in March, addressed the $30.4 million portion of the budget designated for international mission. The amount, a $6.5 million increase over FY22, accounts for a large portion of the total Synod budget increase. Boehlke detailed the ways in which the OIM will use the funds, including to:
- Maintain current church partnerships and work toward new partnerships;
- Continue investment in international theological education through seminaries and pastoral formation;
- Resume projects deferred due to COVID-19 restrictions and lack of personnel;
- Increase work on mercy projects;
- Fill the OIM positions of associate executive director, manager of missionary recruitment, manager of global safety and security, coordinator for the care of missionary children and associate business managers for the Asia and Africa regions; and
- Develop and mentor potential future OIM leaders.
Missionary care, retention, recruitment
Another emphasis of the OIM is missionary recruitment, which Boehlke said goes hand in hand with improved care for missionary households: “Quality care leads to retention. Retention leads to better recruitment. That is a healthy cycle.”
In the face of ongoing challenges with retention and a significant number of missionaries nearing retirement age, the OIM aims, over the next five years, to aggressively recruit missionaries to meet the needs of the Synod and its global partners on the field. The OIM’s new director of recruitment, the Rev. Mark Rabe, “brings a great perspective to this difficult task,” said Boehlke. Rabe has served on the mission field both independently and through the LCMS. “He will tell you,” Boehlke said, “that [the difference between going to the mission field alone and going as an LCMS missionary] is night and day. … That’s the message he’s bringing out as he recruits.”
Boehlke noted that restricted gifts to international mission continue to rise — “OIM has certainly gained the trust of LCMS contributors” — and that the OIM continues, through these ongoing gifts, to build a strong base of support for its missionaries to continue their work. One impact of the OIM’s financial strength will be the ability to work toward a fixed timeline for new missionaries to carry out pre-deployment tasks such as building a support network, completing orientation, saying goodbye to friends and relatives, arranging personal matters and pursuing any needed medical care.
The board discussed the Network-Supported Missionary (NSM) model of funding and how it is viewed in the Synod.
“There is still a wide perception,” said Stechholz, “that our missionaries are getting no support from the Synod, [that] they have to raise their own funds. … How do you go about correcting that impression?”
“I think that’s a challenge that we are going to live with until Jesus comes,” Robson said. “Human nature is such that when someone sees a missionary engaging a congregation or individual groups here in the states, the assumption is, ‘That missionary shouldn’t be doing that. They should be out in the mission field overseas, preaching the Gospel.’ ”
Robson encouraged telling people to “talk to the missionaries and their supporters and find out what their perspective is on these interactions. Their love for their fruitful conversations and one another is obvious.”
“It serves a two-fold purpose,” agreed Edson. “It gets them into the congregation. I’m a believer that if the [people] in the pew know the need, they will respond. And they have.”
LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison reported on recent visitors to the IC, including the leadership of the Malagasy Lutheran Church, a 4.5-million-member church body in Madagascar (“very fruitful conversations looking toward fellowship”); the Anglican Church of North America; the Lutheran Church of Canada; and North American Lutheran Church. “Our goal,” said Harrison, “is … to bear witness to the truth to each other and … be honest about what we disagree about. Herman Sasse said there is more true unity of spirit when Christians of differing confession honestly disagree than when they sweep the disagreements under the rug.”
“We want to encourage each other in the elements of the true faith we do share,” added the Rev. Dr. Jonathan Shaw, director of LCMS Church Relations, in his report to the board. “We also want to be able to reach out to society in areas where the Christian faith is challenged,” noting the issues of human sexuality and sanctity of life.
Role of the BIM, mission priorities
The Rev. Peter Bender, a member of the LCMS Board for National Mission (BNM), led the BIM in a discussion on how to more clearly discern and refine its role in relation to the OIM, the LCMS Office of the President and the Synod; and in relation to the BNM and other entities of corporate Synod.
The board also reviewed the outcomes of the district visitations conducted jointly with the BNM, called for by 2019 Synod Res. 4-04A.
“Our discussion of the interviews with all the district presidents has provided the BIM and BNM with great information to consider. This was the beginning of a process to refine our boards’ strategies to further the mission and ministry of the Synod. … [We] will be considering the information further at our fall meetings,” said Edson.
Meeting minutes, when they are finalized, will be posted at the board’s webpage. The board next meets Sept. 22–23 in St. Louis.
Posted July 5, 2022/Updated Oct. 10, 2022