By Roger Drinnon
ST. LOUIS — Discussion of topics including ministry excellence, domestic violence, implications of the “Houston Five” and growing church relationships characterized the LCMS Council of Presidents (COP) meeting Nov. 17-20 in Garden Grove, Calif.
In keeping with Resolution 3-01A (adopted at the 2013 Synod convention), COP members spent the first day of the meeting in executive koinonia sessions. The Koinonia Project is an initiative by the LCMS Office of the President designed to foster theological discussion under the Word of God to bring greater unity to the Synod’s “Life Together” on contentious topics. It grew out of the Synod’s 2007 convention-mandated Task Force on Synodical Harmony appointed by the COP and the LCMS Board of Directors. The council resumed work on the following days under the theme “Ecclesiastical Leadership in a Post-Church Culture.”
A session on excellence in pastoral ministry began with a Bible study led by Ohio District President Rev. Terry Cripe, followed by a presentation on pastoral “Health and Wholeness” from the Rev. David Muench, director of Ministerial Care for Concordia Plan Services.
Muench explained several factors that contribute to a pastor’s well-being and encourage ministry excellence. These include a pastor’s ability to periodically disconnect from work, especially during scheduled breaks, as well as mutual care between the pastor and those he serves.
Montana District President Rev. Terry Forke outlined recommended continuing-education requirements for clergy, with an emphasis on post-seminary education as a means to develop clergy in their ministries.
Among these recommended requirements are:
- LCMS pastors are encouraged to participate in at least one continuing-education experience annually.
- LCMS congregations are encouraged to support their pastors’ education by allowing time off and providing financial support.
- Pastors are encouraged to consider ongoing education through the Synod’s seminaries first, before considering institutions of higher education.
- Pastors are encouraged to vary studies across a range of pertinent subjects, including history, systematic, practical and exegetical subjects.
Muench and Deaconess Kristin Wassilak, director of Deaconess Programs for Concordia University Chicago, River Forest, Ill., addressed the ongoing issue in American society of domestic abuse, as they presented church resources available to help minister to the spiritual needs of those affected by it.
To assist church workers and lay members with responding to known or suspected instances of domestic violence, these resources are now available on the LCMS website (click here).
Information also is provided on how to intervene when such a situation is suspected.
‘Houston Five,’ implications for Christians
Not only do traditional American Christians face legal challenges for their biblical view of marriage, but they now also may face local government officials who are increasingly sympathetic to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) activism. Across the nation, some state and local governments are legislatively normalizing homosexuality and are imposing a culture of androgyny under the guise of “gender equality.” This includes efforts to give transgender people a legal right to choose which gender’s public restroom they can use.
Erik Stanley, senior legal counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, spoke to the COP about the “Houston Five,” who garnered national media coverage last fall as that city’s attorneys issued subpoenas to five area pastors requiring them to hand over copies of all communication with members of their congregations that mentioned a contentious gay-rights ordinance.
Amid the public outrage that followed, “the mayor really had no choice but to withdraw these subpoenas, which should never have been served in the first place,” said Stanley, who provided legal representation for the pastors.
To read a commentary on the Houston Five by the Rev. Scott Murray, senior pastor of Memorial Lutheran Church, Houston, and LCMS fourth vice-president, click here.
Stanley also provided examples of recent legal challenges to traditional marriage, including private businesses being sued for denying wedding-related services to gays on the basis of religious convictions.
He noted that last year, one federal appeals court upheld anti-gay marriage laws in four states, in contrast to all other courts that have considered the issue. He said it remains to be seen if or how the U.S. Supreme Court will rule. (Update: On Jan. 16, the Supreme Court announced that it will decide this year whether all 50 states must allow gay and lesbian couples to marry.)
Stanley summarized the implications for LCMS Lutherans in today’s litigiously sexualized environment, noting that a “sexual liberty trumps all” philosophy is growing rapidly in the U.S. at the cost of religious liberty and freedom of speech.
Growing church relationships
The Rev. Dr. Joel Lehenbauer, executive director of the LCMS Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR), announced that the Synod’s fellowship with the Lutheran Church in Norway continues to grow with a high level of doctrinal agreement.
Lehenbauer applauded the growing relationship “that God has given us in the confession of the Gospel, as our two churches support each other in proclaiming Jesus Christ alone as Savior in increasingly challenging cultural contexts both in Norway and in America.”
The Rev. Daniel Preus, LCMS third vice-president added, “I pray that our declaration of fellowship will assist the Lutheran Church in Norway to reach out with the pure Gospel to many in a country that is becoming increasingly pagan.”
The Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver III, LCMS director of Church Relations and director of Regional Operations for the Office of International Mission, gave an update on the continued growth of the Evangelical Ethiopian Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY). According to recent EECMY statistics, the denomination has grown to nearly 7 million baptized members and 3.5 million communicant members.
Before the COP meeting ended, Eastern District President and COP Secretary Rev. Chris Wicher reported that 289 LCMS congregations were calling sole pastors; 47, senior pastors; and 56, associate or assistant pastors. He noted further that, since the last reporting time, eight new ministries had been started, while nine congregations had closed.
After the close of the COP meeting, council members went on to attend a Mission Summit. Details of the summit can be found here.
The president, vice-presidents and district presidents of the Synod comprise the 42-member Council of Presidents, which meets four times each year to provide opportunities for mutual counsel regarding the doctrine and administration of the Synod and to edify and support one another in the work they share (those responsibilities found throughout the Constitution and Bylaws of the Synod). The COP next meets Feb. 8-13 in Destin, Fla.
Roger Drinnon (firstname.lastname@example.org) is manager of Editorial Services for LCMS Communications.
Posted Jan. 16, 2015