By Pamela Nielsen
Houston — At its Nov. 18–21 meeting, the LCMS Council of Presidents (COP) resolved to encourage congregations to participate in all aspects of the Synod’s new emphasis, Making Disciples for Life, as it is rolled out by the LCMS Office of National Mission (ONM) in coming months.
The group also resolved to encourage all congregational church workers to utilize Luther’s Small Catechism and Explanation “as an integral part of their catechizing of all of God’s people.”
The nearly weeklong meeting, filled with business, Bible study and prayer, was held concurrently with meetings of the LCMS Board of Directors (BOD), Concordia University System and a gathering of business and office managers from across the Synod. It included discussions of the future of seminary education and funding, the roles of the COP and BOD regarding CUS schools, and regular business and reports.
The Rev. Dr. Dale Meyer, president of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis (CSL), and the Rev. Dr. Lawrence Rast Jr., president of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne (CTSFW), addressed a joint session of the BOD and business managers, and later joined the COP in discussing current trends in seminary enrollment, recruitment and funding.
“The Synod has always valued its pastors and loved its seminaries,” said Rast. “Thanks to the generosity of the people and congregations of the LCMS, [CSL and CTSFW] have been able to establish the 100 percent tuition guarantee for our residential students. … Our world is hurting and in desperate need of the saving Gospel. We must partner together to ensure that servants of Jesus Christ are raised up, formed and boldly sent out to teach the faithful, reach the lost and care for all — unencumbered by overwhelming material concerns.”
Rast and Meyer noted the importance of “creating a culture where the entire church body is identifying and encouraging pastoral students.” The Rev. Dr. James Baneck, executive director of the LCMS Office of Pastoral Education, joined them in underscoring that recruitment of men for the pastoral office “starts in parishes, in confirmation classes,” often years before a man enters seminary. The leaders were resolute in the conviction that local parish pastors must continue to be the first recruiters for LCMS seminaries, as they have the best opportunity to identify, mentor and encourage potential pastors.
Baneck described the outcome of the pastoral formation summit that was held a year ago. “We are already working on a massive church-worker recruitment initiative,” he said. The effort includes both seminaries and the CUS.
The COP discussed the nature and location of seminary education amid the increasing numbers of bi-vocational pastors and multi-point parishes, as well as the question of how Word and Sacrament will be provided for the many congregations and populations for which regular pastoral service is not readily available.
LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison asked the seminary presidents to comment about the idea, which surfaces from time to time, of moving away from the residential seminary model in exchange for regional models.
Meyer noted that, together, the two seminaries are the largest LCMS institution “dedicated to pure theology for the life of the church in the world” since, in addition to time spent in the classroom, seminary professors provide continuing education for pastors and write materials for use in the Synod and beyond.
In addition, Meyer said, “If you take the stable of our professors and disperse it … you lose … their interaction with the students and their service to the church … [and] diffuse the strength of our theological faculties.”
Rast, speaking to the suggestion of embedding the seminaries in one or more of the CUS campuses, noted that “in every instance where a model such as this has been tried, the needs of the university quickly overwhelmed the needs of the smaller seminary. It seems like a way to save it, but the integrity of seminary is always lost.” Rast continued: “The process of pastoral formation occurring within a residential setting with the highest academic standards wedded together with intense pastoral care and service to the church is basic to who we are. If we are going to continue as confessing Lutherans, we need workers who are well formed and well informed for the sake of the Gospel and the mission of the church.”
Both men expressed their ongoing commitment to residential seminary education.
Immigration and Hispanic ministry
The Rev. Dr. Leopoldo Sánchez, director of CSL’s Center for Hispanic Studies, and the Rev. Oscar Benavides, vice-president of the FiveTwo network, spoke to the group about Hispanic ministry across the LCMS, listing five “significant challenges”:
- Lack of diversity in the LCMS.
- Many Hispanic pastors near retirement with no one to replace them.
- Lack of growth in Hispanic outreach.
- Inability of district presidents to find new Hispanic workers; lack of church planters.
- Fear that gets in the way of mission to immigrants.
The group discussed duty to God and government in caring for and hiring undocumented workers. “We are to love God, love our neighbor,” said COP Chairman Rev. Dr. David P.E. Maier, noting that “Paul admonishes us to be in subjection to the governing authorities so we must also do everything we can to obey our government and … its laws and remain faithful to God’s Word.”
In his report, Harrison addressed concerns about the status of various CUS schools and the flow of information as each institution faces significant challenges and successes.
He also encouraged Synodwide use of the Small Catechism, noting that there are pastors who don’t use it for adult confirmation “and even in some places with the kids.”
He also admonished all pastors toward a faithful practice of closed communion, not relying on non-LCMS visitors reading a bulletin statement or card but asking them to engage in actual conversation about admission to the table. He expressed a strong desire to work toward greater confessional unity in our practice.
Harrison reported on recent visits with partner-church leaders in Europe, including Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Germany. He noted universally positive meetings with some 15 churches or Lutheran organizations. “In Scandinavia, our friends have been defrocked by the majority churches for remaining faithful to the Scriptures. They are very thankful for the friendship of the LCMS, and heavily engaged in proclaiming the Gospel and even planting churches in their contexts,” he said.
LCMS SELC District President Rev. Waldemar Vinovskis, who, himself a Latvian, accompanied Harrison as translator, said that the Latvians look to the LCMS for leadership even as other small European Lutheran bodies look to Latvia. “It was really important that President Harrison was there to strengthen this partnership.”
Harrison also led the group in “theological in-service” with an ongoing study of Luther’s teachings on the Office of the Ministry and the priesthood of believers.
Licensed Lay Deacons
LCMS First Vice-President Rev. Peter Lange reviewed the history of licensed lay ministry of Word and Sacrament in the LCMS and reported that 126 Licensed Lay Deacons (LLDs) from 21 districts have applied for a Specific Ministry Pastor colloquy, with 116 already certified and 10 still in process. Lange noted 43 congregations have applied for exceptions to be served by LLDs in 2020. Such exceptions are granted on a one-year basis, many because of the advanced age of the LLD.
COP members discussed the growing pastor shortage and the desire to do mission outreach and plant new churches.
“I don’t think the COP should be addressing the big question by itself. It should be discussed Synodwide,” said Lange. “We need an excellent process for addressing this. How does the COP have a conversation with the seminary presidents, chief mission officer, director of Pastoral Education and Synod president and keep that going?”
LCMS Secretary Rev. Dr. John W. Sias presented on the constitutional and bylaw background informing the relationship of the Synod, district presidents, BOD and CUS with the Synod’s colleges and universities. He surveyed roles for ecclesiastical and administrative supervision, as well as oversight of business, property and legal matters and the fundamental constitutional objectives of the Synod related to higher education.
Reviewing the convention’s stated intentions in forming the CUS in 1992 — virtually the same as those stated in 2019 Res. 7-03, which directs a process to propose a new governance structure for the Synod’s colleges and universities — Sias underscored the importance of all hands working together to achieve a proactive and strategic management of the system.
Of particular interest to the COP was the 2019 convention’s change to Bylaw 188.8.131.52, which was perceived as reducing the council’s role in CUS-directed consolidations, relocations, separations or divestitures of colleges or universities; also, the council’s desire for more open and in-depth conversation about school finances and enrollment. Sias responded that the schools’ individual financial realities, both tactical and strategic, are complex, and are the responsibility first of boards of regents, then of the CUS and BOD. The more important conversation — given increasing challenges to the viability of small, private colleges and universities, and low LCMS and church-work enrollments in our schools — is of how the Synod could optimize the resources of the whole system to its mission.
Sias concluded with a reiteration of the objectives of 2019 Res. 7-03, which itself reiterates the hopes of 2013 Res. 5-01A and 2016 Res. 7-02B. A committee organized by the BOD has begun work on the initial governance model proposals to be disseminated to the Synod for a six-month comment period to commence no fewer than 15 months prior to the 2022 convention.
Posted Jan. 14, 2020