By Peter C. Bender
“Do we have a listening ear?”
“Do we understand the ministry challenges facing our congregations?”
“How can we support district ministries that serve our congregations and schools?”
In 2019, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) national convention adopted Resolution 4-04A, “To Expand and Strengthen the Input with Which the Synod’s Triennial Mission and Ministry Emphases Are Determined.” The resolution and the resulting new Synod Bylaws (220.127.116.11, 18.104.22.168) challenged the Synod’s Boards for National and International Mission (BNM and BIM) to ask themselves questions such as those above.
In addition, the BNM and BIM were directed to engage LCMS districts and members in conversation about and assessment of the Synod’s triennial mission emphasis and mission priorities. Are LCMS districts and members aware of the current mission emphasis, Making Disciples for Life*, adopted at the 2019 convention? Are the Synod’s seven current mission priorities (also affirmed in convention) helpful in shaping the ministries of our districts and congregations? What can the two mission boards do to help the Synod’s districts, congregations and schools in the work to which Christ has called them?
This past fall and winter, teams composed of one member each from the BNM and BIM met in person or via Zoom with every district of the Synod. The teams talked to district presidents, district executives, district staff and members of district boards of directors. The conversations were far-reaching and comprehensive. Frank discussions with district officials covered the joys, sorrows and challenges facing each district. Teams learned that in many ways the Synod’s mission emphasis and priorities don’t direct ministry at the local level.
Others noted, however, that the mission priorities are descriptive of what the Synod does because they reflect what the New Testament teaches about ministry. Many expressed appreciation for the Synod’s strong confession in the public square regarding the most pressing cultural issues of our time. Some expressed a sense of detachment from the national LCMS office. Others expressed concern over a “top-down” institutional and programmatic approach to mission and ministry that doesn’t respond to the unique needs of individuals, congregations and districts. Many expressed appreciation for the willingness of the BNM and BIM to reach out to the districts and listen to their concerns.
Each conversation provided an opportunity to hear from every district how staff in the LCMS Offices of National and International Mission (ONM and OIM) could serve them better. Teams were sincerely interested in hearing from the districts what the Synod does well and what it could do better. Following each district discussion, the BNM and BIM prepared a detailed analysis for review. Over the coming months, the BNM and BIM will review the information gathered from these meetings and prepare a comprehensive report for the 2023 Synod convention in Milwaukee. The discussions with each LCMS district will assist the mission boards in drafting goals and policies for the next triennium and in preparing overtures for the 2023 convention.
A major goal of the BNM/BIM visitations was to advance the process of connecting the mission and ministry of the Synod to the grassroots of its districts, congregations and schools. LCMS Bylaws charge each of the mission boards to assist in identifying the specific goals for the ONM and OIM and to develop policies that provide strong mission leadership for the Synod. The conversations completed with each district will help the BNM and BIM fulfill their responsibilities as defined by the Synod in convention. The district visitations made it clear that more needs to be done to connect the triennial mission emphasis and mission priorities of the national Synod to the goals of each district. The BNM and BIM continue to be open to input from every corner of the Synod in shaping future goals and policies for the ONM and OIM.
The Rev. Peter C. Bender (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a member of the LCMS Board for National Mission; pastor of Peace Lutheran Church in Sussex, Wis.; and director of the Concordia Catechetical Academy.
*Making Disciples for Life has been the triennial mission emphasis of the LCMS since the 2019 convention (replacing Witness, Mercy, Life Together). It captures both the evangelistic fervor of the New Testament — “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” — and the understanding that disciples of Jesus are taught “all that [Christ has] commanded” so that we may abide in Christ and faithfully serve our neighbor in love.
The Lord preserves “your going out and your coming in” from His Divine Service through faithful preaching, teaching and administration of the Sacraments and the mutual conversation and consolation shared among Christians. From the font of Baptism until we fall asleep in Jesus, Christians live by faith in Christ and in fervent love for others in the humble vocations to which God has called them. By the grace of God in Christ, the Holy Spirit enables us to be faithful disciples of Jesus for life and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from Him. In a world of sin and suffering, we bear witness to Christ with joy, serving our neighbor in love and reaching out to the lost that they, too, might become disciples for life.
The current seven mission priorities of the LCMS, established through a process initiated in 2010, are, by the grace of God, intended to guide the work of the Offices of National and International Mission in “making disciples for life.” Read them here.
Posted April 26, 2022