By Sarah Reinsel
On Nov. 28–29, 45 Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) district presidents and staffers gathered in St. Louis to meet with LCMS Office of National Mission (ONM) ministry leaders.
“[We wanted] to get [the] ONM and district leaders together to discuss the challenges we face, improve our communication, and look for better ways and new opportunities to collaborate to serve the congregations and schools of our Synod,” said the Rev. Daniel Galchutt, ONM executive director.
The gathering was intended to strengthen the Synod’s partnership with the districts and establish strategies so that the Synod can help districts carry out their mission effectively in their particular locations.
With 28 districts represented, the gathering allowed for valuable networking and fellowship time among district presidents, staffers and ONM ministry leaders.
“It’s exciting to see all the different districts come together for collaboration. … We don’t need to be doing things 35 different ways,” said the Rev. Justin A. Panzer, LCMS Kansas District president. “If we can share resources and … model what’s working in one district and share those best practices with another, that’s going to make the church stronger.”
“It’s really cool to hear what’s going on [at the Synod level],” said the Rev. Joe Robb, assistant to the LCMS California-Nevada-Hawaii (CNH) District president. “There’s so much content and so many resources that we don’t even know about, and back in [the CNH district] we’re trying to do some of the same kinds of things.”
On the first day of the gathering, the ONM managing directors gave presentations on the ONM’s three ministry areas: Church Planting, Renewal and Support; Congregations and Districts; and Human Care and Ministerial Support.
Following each of these presentations, ONM ministry leaders led breakout sessions on more specific topics, ranging from church planting and revitalization to schools and youth ministry to life, family and health ministry.
On the second day of the gathering, attendees participated in two large-group discussions on topics selected by attendees: leadership development and caring for small congregations.
“I appreciate … the more focused, unpacked, fleshed-out look at the different areas … and having some more in-depth conversation,” said the Rev. Dr. D. Richard Stuckwisch, LCMS Indiana District president. “It’s helpful for wrapping my head around what our Synod is doing and what we have available.”
Panzer said he found the breakout session on revitalization particularly helpful. “We know a lot of our churches are struggling,” he said. “So how do we help them through that time period? … [We discussed] how to help them see that there is a good future for them, engage with their communities and share what we possess, which is the Word and Sacraments. And that’s what this dying world needs.”
Participants also discussed how to help congregations make good use of the resources offered by re:Vitality, especially when it comes to addressing common problems with serving inactive members and doing effective outreach and evangelization.
“A lot of our congregations struggle with … bridging the gap between connecting with the community and … engaging their neighbors with the Gospel, and then catechizing them into the life of the church. But [we also know] that’s ultimately in the Lord’s hands,” said Stuckwisch.
Alignment of congregations
Attendees of a breakout session on alignment between districts and congregations discussed several issues, including how districts can support congregations that have limited resources, helping them manage their building and property and encouraging them to think biblically about church growth.
“With congregations in particular that are dealing with crises … there’s a temptation to not see what God is doing already,” said Atlantic District President Rev. Dr. Dien Ashley Taylor. “As Lutheran Christians, we have a unique opportunity to combat that temptation with the theology of the cross. We actually get to say … wow, this is the time when God does what He is going to do.”
“This is the way Jesus showed who He is for all of us,” Taylor continued. “He is still coming to His people with His Means of Grace. … He is still delivering you from the pit. He is still crowning you with love and compassion.”
Help for congregations with schools
Dr. Alan Freeman, director of LCMS School Ministry, led the breakout session on schools. Participants discussed the ongoing staffing shortages that LCMS schools in every district face. Especially challenging is the shortage of school administrators. In light of this, the attendees discussed best practices for leadership development for future administrators.
Limited resources are another challenge to congregations with schools, especially in cases where the identity and mission of the school and the church have drifted apart. Attendees discussed ways to help LCMS schools assess their financial situation and maintain a strong Lutheran identity.
Plans for ongoing collaboration
To continue to foster collaboration between the Synod and its districts, Galchutt plans to host this ONM and district staff gathering annually.
“We have to communicate well in order to work together on projects and sharing resources,” said Galchutt. “We need to collaborate because of the challenges we face and because we are the Body of Christ.”
Posted Jan. 4, 2024