by Matthew C. Harrison
These past few years have seen a plethora of blessings for the LCMS.
Oh, we do have challenges aplenty! We’ve conducted and shared several very significant studies of our challenges:
- We’ve taken a fresh and comprehensive look at the demographic decline of the LCMS.
- We’ve surveyed some 2,000 LCMS-confirmed millennials (400 of whom have now left the LCMS).
- We’ve just completed a very thorough study of church worker wellness.
I believe it is critical to do this kind of “fact-based” assessment of the LCMS, and we’ve been sharing the results freely and widely so that together we can respond by the grace of God in the wisest way to the real challenges that face us.
And our Lord has, indeed, been gracious to us in the midst of those challenges!
- We’ve significantly increased the number of career missionaries over the past few years.
- Last year saw the highest giving for missionary support in a decade, with more than 1,900 LCMS congregations participating! That’s a record!
- We’ve reduced Synod indebtedness by approximately 40 percent since 2010.
Last month I was privileged to be in Antwerp to see our international family of confessional Lutheran church bodies increase by 17! The largest new member is the Malagasy Lutheran Church, which has some 4 million members and is one of the largest Lutheran churches in the world.
And there is much, much more on all fronts. We are focusing on retention of the baptized and confirmed. We are focusing on outreach to the unchurched and dechurched (Every One His Witness). We are focusing on congregational renewal and revitalization (re:Vitality). A significant report on our Lutheran schools is forthcoming. I’m proud of our work with congregational stewardship. I’m proud of our amazing disaster work and our huge Synod network of disaster responders. I’m proud of our award-winning staff.
What happens or is generated in St. Louis is significant, but “Synod” is not St. Louis. It’s you. It’s your local congregation, it’s your circuit, it’s your district, it’s all of us together. And most important, it’s what takes place at every one of some 6,100+ congregations — some very small and some very large.
For three convention cycles in a row now, I’ve visited about 25 of the 35 district conventions. All told, I’ve been to about 75 district conventions. In our reinstitution of district visitations, the Synod’s vice-presidents and I have also visited every district for multiday visits, more than once. It is a deep honor and privilege to carry out this work.
This year especially I thought about how very few individuals are afforded the opportunity to see so much of the Missouri Synod or to meet so many of its people. I am overcome with thankfulness!
As I have seen firsthand in congregation after congregation (including the one I serve as assistant pastor), as I’ve watched district convention after convention, as I’ve chaired two Synod conventions myself, as I’ve preached at and visited LCMS operations, churches and missions all over the globe — I have witnessed Christ at work in His people.
There are so many reasons not to be optimistic, not to be faithful, not to be of good humor. There are so many reasons to be fearful and full of anxiety about the future. And yet you, Christ’s holy people, are captivated by the Spirit of Christ.
The job you’ve given me is not easy. By the time problems come to my desk, they are often intractable. But my task is also to be one of encouragement. I am to encourage the Synod to remain faithful to its biblical and confessional commitments. I am to encourage pastors and church workers and congregations to be about the task of mission and outreach, and in doing so, to love and care for each other.
But I find this to be true: Just when I’m thinking I’m the one encouraging, quite the opposite happens. I’m the one who is encouraged by you. I see your zeal at disaster work, I see your love for your communities, I see your love for your pastor, I see your love for your congregation, I see your love for Jesus and your work to share the Gospel of free forgiveness, and I am amazed.
I’ve been with you in Florida and Oregon, New England and Southern California, and everywhere in between. Yes, you are all unique, but together we are remarkably similar. We are all animated by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and the beautiful confession of it based solely on the Bible and succinctly summarized in Luther’s Small Catechism. I’m thankful for you, and thankfulness always breaks into joy!
“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the Gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:3–6).
I recently had the tremendous pleasure of leading a Lutheran Laymen’s League retreat at beautiful Camp Arcadia in Michigan. I went to give those men something, but I left having received much more than I could ever give. I don’t know how many men pulled me aside and said, “We pray for you, Pastor.” You pray for me because you love Jesus and the Missouri Synod.
Be assured: God is not done with the Missouri Synod … not by a long shot! “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6). I pray for you, too.
— Pastor Matthew Harrison
The Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison is president of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.