The LCMS is preparing for our 68th regular Synod Convention held in Milwaukee from July
29 through August 3. Much work has gone into preparation. The amount of organization for the gathering is truly amazing. I am grateful for all who serve. Floor committees have convened. Resolutions have been proposed and printed in the first Today's Business publication.
I will be there. It will be interesting to witness how the church conducts her business. It always is. Conventions are human endeavors. Neither Jesus nor the Apostles commanded the Church to organize herself through a national church body, districts, and circuits. How we organize is left up to our Christian freedom. I’m not against how we have organized ourselves in the LCMS.
Yet, I have witnessed trends in the three conventions I have attended, as well as our work as the church between conventions over the past decade. There seems to be an increasing trend within national church body leadership and her institutions (namely her seminaries) to more tightly control how the local church functions.
Case in point. Examine page 129 of Today’s Business and the work of Floor Committee 6 focused on Pastoral Ministry and Seminaries. Their floor committee received many overtures from across the Synod recommending exploring more routes toward ordination. The Pacific Southwest District strongly voted (over 80%) to explore a third pathway toward colloquy for LCMS members in good standing who have degrees from other seminaries, going through a vetting process to be rostered for the Office of Holy Ministry in the LCMS.
All such overtures were summarily rejected with no explanation. This is disappointing. This disappointment will be expressed in Christian love at the convention with Floor Committee 6.
You may ask, “Who chooses who sits on respective Synod Convention floor committees?” That is a very good question. The Synod president. Who can he choose? Pastors and laity attending the convention. District presidents, regional vice presidents, and other elected leaders often serve as the respective chairs of the thirteen-floor committees.
Controlling who makes up the floor committees is probably one of the primary ways the synod president controls resolutions. If you get your people on the right committee, then hopefully your primary resolutions get passed, and the resolutions you’re against never see the convention floor. I would invite you to use your own reason and take a look at who made up Floor Committee 6 on page 5 of this pdf below:
Does this committee adequately represent the diversity of contexts within the LCMS? We are a largely midwestern church body. I get it. Yet, this floor committee consisted of a lot of midwestern representatives, with limited saltwater district representatives.
Granted, if I were president I would have a tendency to pick people I generally agree with to be on floor committees. That is human nature. Yet hopefully, I would have surrounded myself with a team of leaders who helped me elevate people into roles of leadership that represented the breadth of our synod. I am not sure that has happened in the recent past.
Sidenote: Last convention I served on Floor Committee 13: Registration, Conventions and Elections. It was an invigorating experience. (Read irony.) I was not asked to serve on a floor committee this year.
That being said, I was not entirely disappointed with the work of Floor Committee 6.
I want well-formed and rigorously theologically trained clergy.
I want continuing education for existing clergy through PALS (Post-Seminary Applied Learning and Support), or other continuing education experiences suited to pastors’ contexts.
I want to affirm the role of the laity in carrying out the mission of the church, especially in the work of evangelism in our various vocations.
I am not against formation of clergy through our residential MDiv seminary programs. I, and so many others, have been well-trained for pastoral ministry through these wonderful institutions. Praise Jesus!
I am not against a committee being formed to deeply explore the opportunity of Competency-Based Theological Education using the Kairos model. In fact, I welcome it.
Finally, I am not against the Set Apart to Serve (SAS) initiative for church worker recruitment. I want our youth to consider serving vocationally in our church. I want more of our women and men to consider serving in the church in a variety of roles (teacher, DCE, pastor, etc.) as a second career.
Where I am troubled as I look at all of the resolutions is the lack of clarity on what the local church actually needs to sustain and advance her mission to spread the Gospel.
How many churches are we expecting to close in the next decade? Could bivocational leaders help keep these churches open, and even grow, so they can afford a full-time pastor?
How many pastors are we actually going to need to keep our churches open in the next decade?
How many pastors would we need to start a robust church-planting movement in the LCMS?
These are questions that must be answered by Synod leadership. Up to this point, there has been silence. This is troubling.
In the absence of quantitative-focused questions and answers, all I generally hear is “let’s just continue to do things the same way we’ve always done them…but let’s just mandate it louder.” This sort of approach would not work for pastors leading local churches. Why does Synod leadership think it will work for them?
Here is one of my many prayers heading into the Convention. I pray that those who sit on floor committees and are not actively leading local churches would have open ears to those of us at the grassroots level looking to raise up local leaders to start local churches.
The fields are ripe unto the harvest. How many more workers are we actually going to need to bring in the harvest? I would love to know this number. So would many others.
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