By James Heine
More than 100 mission leaders and executives attended an LCMS national mission conference Sept. 20-22 in St. Louis.
The conference was organized by the LCMS Office of National Mission (ONM) and the LCMS Office of the President.
The goal of the conference? A focused conversation on two questions: “How might the Synod’s Office of National Mission best provide support and resources for the districts in their work of helping congregations in their mission?” and “What means of collaboration need to be developed to coordinate and provide direction for these efforts?”
Among those invited to the conference were district presidents and mission executives, seminary presidents and faculty representatives, leaders from the International Lutheran Laymen’s League and the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League, Recognized Service Organization staff, and mission-society representatives. Also present: members of the LCMS Board for National Mission, national-mission staff and the Praesidium of the Synod.
“The goal of this conference is to provide guidance for the future work of the Office of National Mission, and we will focus primarily on the relationship between LCMS districts and the Office of National Mission,” explained Bart Day, ONM’s executive director, during his opening remarks.
“There is nothing more important than listening, and I am here to listen to you,” he added.
Day also noted that an informal poll conducted among district presidents before the conference emphasized that support for congregations in Witness, Mercy and Life Together must be located as close as possible to the congregations themselves.
“You are actually the front line of the Church,” Day said.
Robert Gleason, a consultant in the field of organizational change, served as facilitator for the conference.
Gleason also is serving as a resource for Phase II of the Synod’s restructuring efforts.
Among the questions considered by the conference were “What behaviors do we want to encourage between the Office of National Mission and the districts?” and “What behaviors do we want to avoid?” “How should programs be funded?” “What is the role of the ONM in domestic church planting?” “How can we maximize the effectiveness of our schools [and other programs] in supporting a church plant?”
Also on the table: questions about how to ensure that ideas from congregations move effectively from congregation, to circuit, to district, to Synod, and how might districts evaluate the success of the Office of National Mission.
The conference also included an extended question-and-answer period during which LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison and Day engaged in give-and-take with conference participants.
“There is a lot of work ahead for the ONM,” Day said.
Day also noted that Lutheran education and church planting were among the priorities identified by conference participants. “We must strengthen Lutheran education as a critical component of the future health and vitality of the Synod,” he said.
It was clear also, Day said, that conference participants wanted the ONM to help identify, assess and support the training of church planters.
“The Synod must support churches planting churches,” Day said.
“I thought the conference was good because of the spirit in which it was done,” said Wyoming District mission chairman Rev. Scott Firminhac, pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church in Torrington, Wyo. “I firmly believe it was done in a spirit of humility and meekness. It was stated several times that the purpose of the conference was for the national mission office to listen to the concerns of leaders in our Synod. I believe that goal was achieved.”
Firminhac acknowledged that not everyone will always be happy about every decision made, but “I do believe that Pastor Day and President Harrison showed that even though there may be differing beliefs in the Synod about how mission work should be conducted, they will listen to concerns in a spirit of gentleness and Christian love.”
English District President Rev. Dr. David P. Stechholz also found the conference beneficial. “Every one of the hundred or so participants had a chance to air their thoughts concerning mission work in North America,” he said.
Stechholz added he was personally pleased by the comments of Harrison and Day.
His hope, Stechholz said, is for a sense of collaboration between the ONM and the English District, especially in “a time of economic stress for our members, congregations, schools, districts and Synod.
“I am particularly eager for help and encouragement for mission planting, campus ministries and school ministries,” he explained.
Stechholz added that he believes school ministries “are the single finest way we can reach unchurched families, by providing their children with Christian love and care in a setting of academic, aesthetic, athletic and social excellence, where Christ is preeminent.”
“No matter how you feel about what’s gone on these last few days, for me, this has been extremely helpful,” Harrison said in his concluding remarks. “I think you will find that this time together will be extremely important in any policies the Board for National Mission puts together.”
Posted Oct. 14, 2011