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Why the Church Needs to Deploy Local Leaders (Part 3 of 3)

Updated: Mar 14, 2022

Start with Why. If you don’t know your Why very few will follow you to What. (Thank you, Simon Sinek.) Your Why should be compelling, clear, and should catalyze action.

Two weeks ago I wrote about how our Why for deploying local leaders comes from a mandate given by God, God’s Son, the Apostle Paul, and the Early Church. You can read more about Part 1 Here Last week I wrote about how the Book of Concord encourages the discovery and deployment of leaders, including the ordination of pastors in Part 2.

Today I am going to share with you three more compelling big Whys for deploying local leaders.

  1. The Book of Concord and the Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR) has more to say about the need for local churches to identify their leaders.

  2. The remarkable and sad decline of leadership development at all levels in the LCMS.

  3. The local church with big dreams to reach their community with the Gospel, rather than institutions or LCMS leadership prone to protect past solutions, must lead the way in providing theologically faithful, contextual, and affordable leadership pathways. Answers are available.

The Book of Concord and CTCR

The Augsburg Confession and Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope say much about the local church and local pastors taking responsibility for identifying and ordaining men for the Office of Holy Ministry. Why? The CTCR document from 2003, “the Divine Call,” says that the Lutherans were being deprived of ordination by papal bishops as a “form of punishment…when bishops refused to ordain, the Lutherans responded that the church could no more be deprived of pastors than it could be deprived of preaching, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper, or any other gift the Lord intended for the church.” -1

The CTCR document goes on to highlight two reasons Melanchthon gave that Lutherans should ordain their own pastors. “First, he (Melanchthon) stresses the unitary character of the

ministry. Second, he emphasizes that every pastor possesses the full authority of the office, any pastor may ordain.”

Sorry to be blunt, but I never heard this in my seminary training, as amazing as it was. Honestly, I never heard that multiplying pastors was a part of my responsibilities. It was unstated, but it was almost like the seminary, universities, and Synod leaders said, “Leave pastoral formation to us. We got this. You just do the task of Word and Sacrament ministry, and we’ll worry about deploying pastors.” How could they say/imply this to young seminarians?

Because the LCMS model mostly worked in a Christian America. We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto.

The world changed and we thought we could put new wine in old wineskins. The old wineskins broke, and souls have been lost, and new converts to following Jesus have not been made. We can do better. We must do better.

Frankly, while at the Seminary, I never deeply and theologically evaluated why the early church grew as it did connected to the disciple-deploying style of Jesus (Luke 9 and 10) and the multiplying pastor and church planting movement of the Apostle Paul (2 Timothy 2:2).

Let’s get back to the CTCR document on “the Divine Call.” The document beautifully displays how the reformers argued that “all ordained clergymen have the same basic authority to discharge the duties of their office (AC XXVIII, 8, 21; Tr 60-61, 74). Thus pastors are often classified as bishops. The implication is clear. If pastors share the same authority as the bishop, then they can ordain others into the ministry.”

Again, I was ordained in 2008. I never remember having a class that highlighted this responsibility. I never remember my District Presidents, as much as I love them all, telling me, “Tim, you have the same authority as I do. Feel free to ordain anyone the church has called to be their pastor.”

Why is this? Three reasons (though there are probably more):

One, most local churches do not plan on starting other churches. Therefore, if the average size of an LCMS congregation is 75-125 in worship, one pastor can certainly care for such a congregation.

Two (and probably more important than one), pastors were not trained to develop other pastors. We were taught to do Word and Sacrament ministry. We were not trained to develop others to do the same beside us. It is quite astonishing that pastors learned the finer points of Hebrew and Greek and Lutheran theology, yet never developed the discipline of being disciplined by older pastors to disciple younger ones.

Three, as stated above, the formation had been delegated over the years to Universities and Seminaries. Structures formed. Bylaws were written and ratified at Synod and Convention. Bureaucratic jobs were created, and elections were held, to oversee said structures and bylaws. Defense of structure overwhelmed innovation as culture changed. Change? Change is threatening to our man-made structures and bylaws. And all the while, Jesus just weeps. Souls are lost as “the way we’ve always done it” wins the day. It all looks quite pharisaical from afar…and up close.

I’ve been to the last two LCMS Conventions as a pastoral delegate (2016, 2019). There is much that can be said about these experiences. I enjoyed reconnecting with former classmates. I enjoyed hearing from overseas missionaries and LCMS partners.

Yet, what left me remarkably sad was that leadership led from a place of protective defense, rather than missional offense for the sake of pre-Christians. Most tragic, in the midst of rapid congregational decline and imminent pastoral shortage, there was not one creative solution offered from Synod leadership to the floor to stem the tide of decline. The best we could do was helplessly talk about declining birth rates in the LCMS. We are declining. It is what it is. At least we’ll decline faithfully. Tragic. Jesus weeps as souls are lost.

Let’s get back to the CTCR document.

I am not saying that every person that a pastor identifies as a leader should be ordained. Deep theological formation matters. There should be a process for the “right of calling, the right of choosing, and the right of ordaining.” Said more simply, the church must decide who gets to “call, elect, and ordain.” -2

The Right of Choosing defines some form of training and examination prior to election and ordination. In the LCMS this is called “certification.” Currently, certification has been delegated by the church to the Seminaries -3 and the LCMS Office of the Vice President through colloquy. -4

The Right of Calling happened when “the church calls properly qualified men to the office.” The CTCR document identified how the church of the Reformation had pastoral calls “effected through various means (councils, magistrates, princes, those acting on behalf of the church)...(churches had) the right to give their assent and approval but the full democratic theory was not a part of their world.” -5

The church of the 16th-century reformation was a complex place. “Councils, magistrates, and princes” were needed to help verify said candidates would faithfully administer the Word and Sacraments. Yet, it is also quite easy to see the 16th-century power play between church bureaucrats and church laymen in calling their next pastor.

The same struggle still exists today. Calling congregations rarely know their future pastors. Calling congregations must trust District Presidents (bishops) and other pastors to verify the Christian character and competency of potential pastors that make up an often long “call list.” Yes, congregations form call teams to help verify character and competency. Yet, would not the process be easier if churches had a pathway of leaders ready to be examined and called from within their congregation?

Yes. Yes, I do believe this would be the way of Jesus.

The CTCR document does a nice job of summarizing the approach of C.F.W. Walther, the leader of the early LCMS church. “Walther does not identify any particular way as more divine or correct than another. Instead, he seeks the way that is best for the church here in America, one that we may call “the proper form” - a form in which there is no tyranny of the pastor over the people or of the people over the pastor.” -6

That sounds fantastic! Pastoral leaders are needed. Let me qualify that. Pastoral leaders who lead like Jesus, with humility and empowerment of disciples, are needed. Leaders who model equipping and empowering the priesthood of all believers are most needed.

Walther says much more about the call and the reasons for the termination of a call. That can be saved for another blog.

The biggest question before the LCMS today is, “Who gets to certify a pastor is ready for a Divine Call by a local congregation into the Office of Holy Ministry?” To date, the certification has primarily been delegated to the two seminaries of the LCMS. As the CTCR document says, “As in the case of the Reformers, the historic practices of the church need not dictate how we develop appropriate calling procedures and practices, but they should shape and guide us as we go about finding appropriate procedures for the divine call in the present and future.” -7

Said more simply, the past should shape our decisions, but it should not stifle our solutions to meet the needs of the local church. As a local pastor, it appears our sensitivities toward the past are taken into greater consideration than the great need of the local church.

Let’s let the LCMS data help us get practical.

LCMS Pastoral Decline

Pre-Seminary enrollment in the Concordia University System of the LCMS declined from 422 students in 2001-2002 (I was a part of this number) to 167 students in 2018-2019. -8 What business or non-profit could experience an over 125% decline and fail to change course to stem the decline?

At the 2019 Synod Convention leadership was commissioned to explore the church worker decline in the LCMS by forming the Church Worker Recruitment Initiative (CWRI). Shortly after the Convention President Matthew Harrison named Rev. James Baneck to lead the CWRI. On August 2, 2021, Baneck wrote an article titled, “Understanding the Church Worker Recruitment Initiative” as published in the Lutheran Witness. The article accurately addressed the problem, but the solutions were puzzling.

Baneck wrote, “Through biblical formation and the care and support of the congregation and key influencers, God raises up those who will serve in the church in the next generations.”

YES! Yet, how well are our current culture and LCMS system performing at accomplishing this vision?

“...In the last 14 years, the LCMS has experienced a 59% decrease in our pre-seminary Concordia University enrollment, a 61% decrease in Lutheran teaching programs, a 56% decrease in our Director of Christian Education programs, a 43% decrease in the Deaconess program, a 47% decrease in Director of Parish Music programs and a 65% decrease in Director of Family Life programs. In our seminaries, the Synod has experienced a combined decrease of 55% of those enrolled in the Master of Divinity degree over the last 14 years.”

It is great to honestly identify where the LCMS is struggling!

I am anxious to hear the plan of the CWRI to remedy the above decline!

Baneck continues, “Yet, we are not driven by fear but hope. We raise up workers in the church not to sustain institutions but to serve the church.”

This sounds great!

I’m excited to see who the CWRI is collaborating with to work on their new strategy! I’m hopeful “on the ground” churches and pastors with a vision to discover, develop and deploy church workers are included!

Baneck concludes, “With expertise of an outside marketing and communications firm, LCMS Communications, the chief mission officer, the seminaries, the Concordia University System, and more, we are now soliciting experts to write, create resources, share ideas and unleash this initiative into the Synod. The initiative will focus on three age groups and their primary and secondary influencers: (1) baptized infant through sixth grade, (2) seventh and eighth grade, and (3) ninth through 12th grade. We plan to share these rich resources electronically with everyone in the Synod.”

Huh? Who is sadly excluded from this “expert” team?

On the ground local pastors, unless we’re included in the “more” group referenced. Seriously? “Outside marketing and communication firms” are more valuable than local pastors striving to disciple and multiply local leaders? This is quite remarkable.

Pastors and churches actually trying to fulfill 2 Timothy 2:2 appear to be excluded - “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”

Also, how are these three “age groups” addressing the need of the church for bi-vocational church workers to meet the needs of shrinking congregations who cannot afford a full-time pastor? It appears as if this strategic demographic approach is only aimed at filling Concordia Universities and Seminaries.

A Local Church Pastor’s Plea

Please invite local church pastors to be at the table to offer innovative solutions (I’ll share more on this in blogs to come). There is still a remnant of us who are reading the Bible and are captured by Jesus’ command to multiply disciples and we also love the Lutheran Confessions. Let me repeat myself - we truly love our Lutheran Confessions. The world needs missional, confession, and historic Lutheranism more than ever before in our lifetime. We love the mission of the LCMS. We simply want to be at the table to faithfully develop answers to remedy the LCMS leadership shortage.

Answers exist. I will write more on these answers in the coming blogs.

Jesus is so good.


1- “Theology and Practice of ‘the Divine Call.’” Commission on Theology and Church Relations. February, 2003. 11-12

2- “The Divine Call.” CTCR. 13.

3- Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, MO and Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, IN.

4- Colloquy provides a differentiated training from the “normal” paths to ordination offered through the LCMS. Colloquy normally requires a pre-interview, personalized training and classes, and then a post-interview.

5- “The Divine Call.” CTCR. 14-15.

6- “The Divine Call.” CTCR. 18.

7- Ibid., 29

8- This is the most recent data available from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. The leadership development trajectory has only declined.

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