By Stacey Egger
On Oct. 15, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) Board for National Mission (BNM) met for a full-day meeting via Zoom.
The board heard reports from several Synod executives and directors about the work of the LCMS Office of National Mission (ONM) and approved various changes to its ends policies.
‘People are weary’
In his report to the board, LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison summarized the findings of a survey on the COVID-19 pandemic’s effects on the LCMS. As of July, when the survey was conducted:
- There had been 500 COVID-19-related deaths across the LCMS, with at least 20% of them in the LCMS Atlantic District, and another large percentage in the Michigan and Northern Illinois districts.
- Only 15% of LCMS congregations held in-person church services on Easter Sunday.
- The financial impact of the pandemic varied from congregation to congregation. While 25% of congregations had seen increased giving as of July over previous years, 12% of congregations saw giving decrease significantly. Congregations that were already worried about their continuance before COVID-19, said Harrison, were hit the hardest by the pandemic. Many of these congregations were too small to qualify for PPP loans, which many larger LCMS congregations and entities were able to take advantage of.
“People are tired still,” said Harrison. “People are weary; pastors are weary and worried.”
LCMS Chief Mission Officer Rev. Kevin Robson provided more details about the pandemic’s impact on the Synod’s finances in his report to the board, highlighting the recently passed budget for Fiscal Year 21, which is set at $59.6 million, a figure 14% lower than the previous fiscal year’s budget. Robson also reported that, so far, roughly $1 million has been distributed to church workers out of Soldiers of the Cross—Amplified grants designated to support those impacted financially by the pandemic.
One surprising positive to come out of the COVID-19 pandemic, reported ONM Executive Director Rev. Robert Zagore, has been an increase in enrollment in LCMS schools, which are offering more in-person classes, on average, than public schools.
Race conversations inform policy review
Harrison also mentioned the various discussions on race and the church that have taken place across the Synod in the past few months — within congregations, at the district level, at pastors’ conferences, and recently at a multi-day summit held at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.
“When we have black Lutherans who have been hurt in the church, that’s something the church needs to hear. That’s something we need to talk about,” said Harrison.
In the spirit of these ongoing discussions about race and the church, the board approved several additions to its ends policies to more directly take up issues connected with race and cross-cultural relations. These updates were written by a sub-committee appointed by the board.
The ends policies, set by the BNM for the ONM, are meant to direct the work of the ONM under the seven mission priorities of the LCMS, as adopted by the Synod in convention.
“The approach of our sub-committee was to look at the ends policies as they were presented, and to … examine issues that could be helpful for us in our life together with respect to issues of race and culture,” said the Rev. Dr. Dien Ashley Taylor, who serves on the board and headed the subcommittee. “The subcommittee did not desire to excite or incite by using language that followed the passing and ever-capricious mores of our society but tried to make revisions that would resonate over time while being specific enough to acknowledge that we are addressing the issues we face today.”
Taylor said that the subcommittee worked to use language consonant with the Holy Scriptures with respect to race and culture rather than politically charged and secular terms or concepts.
To read the full text of the board’s policies as updated at its October meeting, visit thelc.ms/bnm-policies.
The Rev. Dr. Mark Wood, director of LCMS Witness & Outreach Ministry, described the ongoing work taking place under the Making Disciples for Life (MDFL) triennial Synod emphasis. After several MDFL conferences were cancelled due to the pandemic, a new series of conferences is being planned under a “hybrid” model, with a limited number of in-person attendees, and additional spots available for virtual attendance. The first of these hybrid MDFL conferences was held Oct. 12–13.
Wood also provided an update on the MDFL Internet Resource Center, a website that will feature resources related to various ministry themes in a simple, searchable format. The site is live in a beta version at makingdisciples.lcms.org, and a second version of the site is in development.
Church worker recruitment
The Rev. Dr. James Baneck, executive director of LCMS Office of Pastoral Education, updated the board on the progress of the church worker recruitment initiative called for by 2019 Resolution 6-01. He informed the board of some of the “sobering” statistics over the past 14 years — Master of Divinity enrollment down 55% between the two seminaries, pre-seminary enrollment in the Concordia University System down 59%, Lutheran school teacher program enrollment down 61%, etc. — and of the projection from LCMS Rosters & Statistics that, at the current rate of pastor retirement and seminary enrollment, the active pastor population in the LCMS could decrease from 6,000 to 3,000 in the next 15 years.
Baneck then presented the comprehensive plan to increase fruitful engagement between youth and key influencers — such as parents, pastors, Lutheran school teachers and youth directors — to encourage careers in professional church work vocations. This plan will include a marketing initiative and the development of resources with an emphasis on intentional identification, mentorship and formation of youth at key ages.
March for Life
Deaconess Tiffany Manor, director of LCMS Life Ministry, gave a presentation to the board highlighting upcoming life marches, including the National March for Life, which will take place in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 29, and the Chicago March for Life’s “Moving the Movement Tour,” a series of car parades and outdoor rallies the organization will host in Midwest cities throughout January.
Harrison will speak at the Moving the Movement outdoor rally in Fort Wayne, Ind., on Jan. 16. LCMS Life Ministry will take part in both events, as well as the San Francisco Walk for Life on Jan. 23. Manor also discussed plans for an LCMS Life Conference, which will be held either virtually or in a hybrid (virtual/in-person) format in the spring.
Posted Dec. 3, 2020