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The Pitfalls of Power, Humility, and the Identity Crisis in the LCMS

Updated: Dec 16, 2023

Power is not the way of Jesus. Humility is. Coercive tribalism is not the way of Jesus. Humble unity is. Pastors and leaders are not to be served but to serve and do what is best for the body of Christ. This is the way of Jesus. 





This is so easy to say but so hard to live out. 


For example, it’s easier for me to tell my kids what to do than it is for me to show them. Do it? Why? Don’t ask why. Because I say so, obey! This approach may work “well” once or twice. Yet, this pitiful power tactic played out again and again over the years, especially into the teenage years, will likely fail to produce the desired results. 


Listening. Guiding. Empathy. Humility. Love. Direction out of love. These characteristics produce a better parental approach. I should listen to what I write. Power plays are pitiful. 


Sometimes I wonder what Jesus thinks about the pitiful power plays within our beloved church body, the LCMS. Pitiful is defined as “a feeling of sorrow and compassion caused by the suffering and misfortunes of others.” 


I believe Jesus looks at our petty sociological and strategic squabbles in the LCMS and becomes sad. “You have so much going for you, Missouri! You have the ‘meat and potatoes’ of Law and Gospel teaching. Your Trinitarian and sacramental theology is to be commended. I love that you’ve held firm to my inspired, written Word! Yet, your pitiful power plays are dampening your Gospel witness. Creative kingdom expansion is feared by some in control. This makes me sad.” 


The ULC was created to build bridges of love and understanding so that “all four corners” of the LCMS would learn from one another in our radically diverse contexts. 


The work is more complex than my idyllic mind initially thought. Why? 


Sin. Sin produces protective fear. Fear flows from insecurity in our true identity in Christ. Insecurity is manifested through pitiful power plays. Pitiful power plays stifle Christian freedom won by the Gospel. 


The Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope displays the reformers fighting against an unjust use of power by the European Pope and bishops of the sixteenth century. The reformers highlight the power play between Paul and Peter (and James) in the book of Galatians. Paul clearly states that he did not need Peter’s confirmation or blessing to validate his apostolic ministry (Galatians 2:2, 6). 


In The Treatise, the reformers said, “Neither Peter nor the other ministers may assume lordship or preeminence over the church or burden the church with traditions or allow the authority of any person to count for more than the Word.”-1 


One rationale for the sixteenth-century protestant reformation was the Gospel-stifling power plays of Rome. The reformers were pushing against the “no, no, no” of the Law, having been set free by the “yes, yes, yes” of the Gospel. This led the reformers to powerfully hold every power play of Rome up to the truths of Scripture and the humility of Christ. Where Christian freedom was stifled, the reformers were compelled to speak and act. 


As I have written, the LCMS does not uniformly mirror the power plays of the sixteenth-century Roman Catholic Church. (Praise Jesus!)


Nonetheless, I believe there are some in the LCMS who yearn for a more of an “episcopal, top-down” structure of leadership, as opposed to the “congregational” polity that shaped the founding and expansion of the LCMS. I believe the LCMS has an identity crisis. I am praying we embrace our congregational polity, as given in our constitution and bylaws. This should lead toward more Christian freedom being creatively and contextually lived out in our various districts, circuits, and congregations…all for the sake of sharing the Gospel with the lost!


Here is one final example of why pitiful power plays are having a large influence on leaders in the LCMS. 


Some high-level executive leaders in the LCMS do not feel safe to freely share their ideas, nor receive feedback from those whom they serve at the local congregational level. 


First example–Almost all of the LCMS, Inc., leaders I have tried to get on ULC podcasts have declined the invitation. (Yes–I tried to engage President Harrison. He politely declined in a letter. That was nice, and I pray for him frequently.) 


Second example–Some leaders have taken the “risk” to speak freely with me on podcasts while knowing it could put them on the “wrong list.” This fear is pitiful. 


Final example–I attended the “Set Apart to Serve” webinar. I love the heart of the initiative to raise up the next generation of leaders for the church. That being said, the entire presentation was robustly scripted. No questions were engaged. Subsequently, I was declined by the leaders of the initiative to speak on my podcast. Their rationale was that they “wanted to keep the messaging tight.” Okay. 


There are pockets of our synod that fearfully reject challenging questions, as politely and brotherly as they may be asked. This stems from a culture of pitiful power plays. 


I am praying that the humility of Christ and the creativity of the Holy Spirit, both sent by our Heavenly Father, infuses LCMS leaders with the courage to lovingly challenge pitiful power plays. It doesn’t work in our homes. It should not work in Jesus’ Church. 


This is one of the reasons the ULC exists. uniteleadership.org

 

1- Kolb, Robert and Timothy J. Wenger, The Book of Concord, Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress Press, 2000, p. 331.




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