In March, Reporter and The Lutheran Witness invited readers to help compile a list of questions for the three candidates for Synod president.
The questions were sent to the candidates, and their responses, along with their personal statements, are now available. You can read them below, in the June issues of Reporter and The Lutheran Witness, and online at lcms.org/convention.
The June Witness also contains additional biographical information about the candidates along with a detailed overview of the July 20–25 convention in Tampa, Fla.
Matthew C. Harrison
The LCMS is a gift. Its biblical confession is spot on. God’s inerrant Word is our anchor in a confused and Christless culture. The Gospel forgiveness in the blood of Jesus is everything (1 John 1:7). “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief” (1 Tim. 1:15). Jesus came to “seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10). Our most important work is local. Outreach, retention and worker well-being are primary. “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances! … He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it” (1 Thess. 5:17–18, 24).
Timothy M. Klinkenberg
In light of my 28 years of serving as a pastor, my perspective of this office is from the front line of mission — pastor of a local congregation — which the national church body should serve. My guiding principles are these: operate in the light and with transparency, build teams, work together, build others up according to their needs and reach people with Jesus in every interaction. The Synod president should build more bridges to empower congregational ministry. The Synod president should draw from the Gospel to inspire and lead from a great love for people. Wherever we go, we go together.
David P.E. Maier
I’m humbled by the opportunity of serving our Lord and His children as president of the LCMS. My prayer for our church is that our unity be strengthened through the bonds of love forged in our shared confession, our diligent study of the Word and our conviction that the Gospel is the power for salvation. God has richly blessed us with faithful congregations, vibrant parochial schools, an amazing university system and world-renowned seminaries in which faith is formed and God’s people are equipped to be lights on a hill and salt on the earth. The best is yet to come.
Q: Tell us what you love about the LCMS.
Matthew C. Harrison
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). The LCMS loves Jesus and His Word. We tell others about Jesus. Jesus came “to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). I love the fact that God has given us the crystal clear and sure Gospel of free forgiveness, delivered by Word (Rom. 1:16–17; 4:24–25), splashed in Baptism (Rom. 6:1–2; Titus 3:4–6), and placed right in our mouth with Jesus’ Body and Blood (1 Cor. 11:17–18). I love that we share Jesus through mercy. I love that we believe this because the Bible says it. Period.
Timothy M. Klinkenberg
What I love about the LCMS is our love for Scripture. Never do we waver on the Scriptures. This empowers our pastors, commissioned ministers and our laity to have a strong and solid sense of identity in and through Jesus. I also love the mission that God has given The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and the incredible resources of people, property and grace that are at our disposal to win people to Christ.
David P.E. Maier
I love …
- that Jesus continues to work in our congregations — God’s children gathered around Word and Sacraments — making them salt and light in their communities (Matt. 5) as they share Christ, the hope of the world;
- our doctrine, especially the proper understanding of the distinction between Law and Gospel and its application for the care of souls;
- all our professional church workers: pastors, teachers, DCEs, DCOs, FLMs, ministers of music, etc.;
- the blessing and excellence of our Synod’s educational system: preschools, day schools, high schools, our Concordia University System, our two seminaries — particularly for the opportunity each uniquely provides for spiritual growth and personal witness to the world.
Q: How should the Synod address its declining church membership and day school enrollment?
“Just the facts, ma’am.”
1. Gallup reports for 60 years to 1998, church membership fell only 2 percent, but 20 percent from 1998 to 2019.
2. The LCMS birth rate is 1 percent (a quarter of what it was in 1960). Two percent is needed to sustain a population.
3. Our study of 2,000+ current and former LCMS millennials shows for three generations (about 70 years) we have retained only 35 percent of our confirmands! The study shows it’s not over doctrine or liturgy that the millennials have left. Critical are their family and relationships at church.
How will the trends be reversed? Healthy congregations grow as our members reach out and bring others to be taught and to be baptized (Matt. 28:19). Time to pray for blessings and to double down across the Synod with Every One His Witness® (personal evangelism), with congregational revitalization and church planting — to reach both immigrant communities and growing areas where we presently have no churches. Healthy families! Discipleship! Healthy church workers! Strong congregations (even in tough situations)! The Synod’s Office of National Mission helps districts help congregations be strong.
Serving in a congregation puts me and every other pastor in a place that hurts sometimes. We are on the field and in the fight and not merely coaching or spectating. I think we need to address these two issues with a sense of confidence and not a sense of desperation. We have confidence that He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world. With that confidence we can make courageous decisions and rest in the strength of Jesus. Also, we need a sense of urgency that God has called us to work while it is still day. Each person in the world was so valuable to God that He sent Jesus for them and us. Hand wringing and more demographic studies are out; it’s time for more confidence and teaming up among congregations.
We should focus on three things:
- Within congregations we need to devote ourselves to the Word and prayer. Faith needs to be more formed and vibrant so that members readily and joyfully share the faith with others.
- We need to direct Synod resources to support called workers and lay leaders. The health and well-being of workers, relationships and systems in local congregations is crucial for launching Gospel ministry into local communities.
- We should leverage the opportunity we have with early childhood programs to lead into the development of day schools. We should resource strongest centers toward this end.
Q: What issue in the Synod causes you the greatest concern, and what do you see as the remedy?
“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31–32). The Reformation was a cry “Back to the Bible!” In his last words, Luther urged the Church to treasure the Bible! (Luther’s Works, 54:576). Where pastors and people are in Bible study, they are much better at resolving conflict and more focused on outreach. Challenges with universities, seminaries, congregations, evangelism, stewardship, mission, culture, care for workers (you name it!) are solved not by programs but by Christians who know the Scriptures. Repent and turn to the Word of God!
The greatest concern for me is risk aversion among the clergy. We don’t take chances and fall back into old methods, away from which the world has accelerated. My sense is that with some hope and direction we can reclaim the courage that we had only a generation ago as we planted church after church. I think working with leaders to deliver hope and cohesion would go a long way to help each congregation lead more people in their community to see Jesus.
We have not recognized, or have left unchecked, Satan’s scheme to divide and weaken an amazingly orthodox denomination. We’ve been given the beautiful, powerful Gospel; our sins have been forgiven and we live in Gospel freedom. Yet each must heed the Spirit’s careful instruction to “not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Gal. 5:13). If we don’t, we may experience the result warned about in verse 15: “But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.”
Together, let us “walk by the Spirit” (v. 16).
Q: What is one thing the LCMS should do in the next three years that we are not doing now?
Step up care for pastors and commissioned workers! “Respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and … esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves” (1 Thess. 5:12–13). A very thorough study of worker wellness shows us that many of our pastors and workers are starving for local and mutual love and support, and for the Gospel. They need local advocates. Hold up the prophets’ hands! (LSB 682; Heb. 13:7–8).
Congregations should work together and find common ground. We have congregations across the world. We have congregations in every big urban area in the United States. Yet we have congregations that could work together, pool resources and make an impact. Our politics of pitting one crew against another needs to stop before we reach a point of no return and apathy, which seems to be prevalent in our tradition, seems to overtake our zeal.
We should treat America as our primary mission field. With the ever-increasing cultural diversity of our communities, congregational members need to be better prepared to establish relationships interculturally. The Synod needs to be more intentional in its support of local mission efforts. Such support could include inspiring ministries to see new mission opportunities; equipping them with the knowledge/skills to build bridges to their neighbors and share the Gospel with love and compassion; and providing resources in support of their mission work, such as small grants or stipends for continuing education to assist those who serve bi-vocationally in professional church work.
Q: How should the Synod address the needs of the growing number of congregations that cannot afford to be served by a full-time pastor?
“How can they preach unless they are sent?” (Rom. 10:15). Continue faithful to our Lutheran confession (AC XIV) and attack problems with sanctified freedom. “For freedom Christ has set us free” (Gal. 5:1). Approximately 120 licensed deacons have recently been ordained, most as SMP pastors. It’s vital that even the smallest congregations have pastors (Matt. 18:20). Highlight what’s working, and together seek innovative solutions.
Again, having served among parishes in my own district, I saw this up close. I think we need to work together and find economies of scale that allow one pastor to service multiple parishes. I think we need to find ways to have congregations reach out to and receive one another in collaboration and not competition. If we turned toward each other, regardless of the sizes of congregations, we could find new and creative solutions to this issue in each unique context.
By collaborating, and by praying the Lord of the harvest to raise up more workers (Luke 10:2), for “the fields are white for harvest” (John 4:35), as well as for wisdom (James 1:2–8). Other encouragements would include:
- working to remove the lack of trust, disrespect and “lovelessness” between pastors and congregations, which have served as deterrents to some considering the ministry, while vigorously pursuing a healthy, joyous, collegial ministerium that gifted men admire and prayerfully pursue;
- continuing to develop various “tracks” and “levels” for approved ministry that include worker priests, bi-vocational ministry, deacons, etc.;
- considering distinctive “models” for ministry like “the Cathedral Model.”
Q: What is the most (and least) important thing a Synod president does?
“Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Cor. 16:12–13). I know the Synod’s doctrine and believe it. In love, we need to stand upon the Rock of Christ and His Word (Matt. 7:24). Visitation is key for encouragement and for mutual accountability to the Word of God. These are the main tasks set down in the Constitution of the Synod. Least important? Can’t say. It’s often the little things a pastor does that open doors for the Gospel (1 Cor. 9:19).
The least important thing a Synod president does is run for re-election. Results and ongoing inertia of resources and unity should drive perpetuity of position. The most important work of the Synod president is to be a messenger of hope. It’s not enough to identify a problem/challenge and then have no plan; that is demoralizing. It’s like pointing to a house fire and not calling the fire department. My sense is that we bring hope to our church when we speak the truth in love, even when speaking it is painful. Second, we operate in the light of Christ. Transparency builds trust in an organization; secret meetings and executive sessions that obfuscate work and double down on secrecy make us suspicious of leadership. Bringing hope in each context through careful preparation could change the trajectory of our denomination.
Above all the Synod president must lead by example. He must model the familiar characteristics listed in 1 Timothy. I believe that personal character persuades more effectively than an assertion of authority. Relationships matter. The Synod president must lead through servanthood seeking to build Christ-centered relationships with elected leaders, congregations, called workers, faculties and staff. All duties stipulated in the Constitution must be carried out with a view toward love.
Travel should be limited. The Synod president does not need to be pictured at every event that happens throughout the Synod.
No duties are unimportant.
Q: What do you perceive as your greatest weakness, and how are you working to mitigate it?
“For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh” (Rom. 7:18). “There is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches” (2 Cor. 11:28). I worry about the Church. I’m but a worm, a speck in the life of the Church. It’s Christ’s Church (Matt. 16:18). I plunge my sins into my Savior’s wounds. “I believe, Lord; help thou my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). Pray for me that the Spirit continually drives me to the Word and the foot of the cross.
My greatest weakness is wanting to do all the work myself. I have mitigated this weakness by tirelessly building and equipping teams of competent leaders who reflect a diversity of ideas, opinions, outlooks and backgrounds. By helping people work together we become stronger and more unified. Teaming helps us maximize on our strengths and diminishes individual weaknesses.
I struggle to find “particular” down time and when to take it in order to “recharge.” Ministry motivates so much I do not always remember to “surface” for air. Pat, my awesome wife, has helped — and continues to help — me acknowledge that, and with God’s help, do something about it. Ministry is consuming and to do your best the Lord needs to regularly refresh you in body, mind and especially spirit. I am thankful He is a loving and generous God.
On a lighter note, spicy food has always been a weakness (and a love).
Q: Other than the Bible and the Book of Concord, what book has had the greatest influence on your pastoral ministry? Why?
Walther’s Law and Gospel. One only becomes the pastor God intends, learning to properly apply Law and Gospel (2 Tim. 2:15), through prayer, meditation on God’s Word and trials (Heb. 13:12–13; 2 Cor. 12:6–7). And it’s the cross and trials that bring it all home. “We have this treasure in jars of clay” (2 Cor. 4:7). “We are beggars. This is true” (Luther).
I love to read and have read so many good books. The Barna Institute’s “The State of Pastors” is a fascinating study on current clergy life and attitudes. The Call by Os Guiness speaks of how God calls us to Himself and to vocation. Anxious for Nothing by Max Lucado has made a huge impact on my heart in making me calm and hopeful — the most influential book I received at a conference in St. Louis. I was tired, frustrated and afraid. Jill Briscoe’s book Faith Enough to Finish led me through the ministry of the prophet Jeremiah. He had frustration and disappointment, but the Lord never failed him. He put His Word in Jeremiah’s mouth, put the right people on Jeremiah’s team and put His hope in Jeremiah’s heart. This book had great pieces of Scripture organized in a way that fed my soul at a critical time.
Maybe Evangelism in the Early Church by Michael Green. It takes the reader through the Book of Acts and beyond, focusing on how the Church in the first 200 years after Pentecost did evangelism in a hostile world. “Christians” recognized themselves as “nobodies” and yet “missionaries.” “Neither the strategy nor the tactics of the first Christians were particularly remarkable. What was remarkable was their conviction, their passion and their determination to act as Christ’s embassy to a rebel world, whatever the consequences.” Their Christology and new ecclesiology (no longer synagogue-centered) changed the world.
Great application for today!
Posted June 5, 2019