Pr. Charles Mueller Sr. wrote a recent article posted on the “Jesus First” website trying to persuade people to support the Blue Ribbon Task Force proposals for change in the LCMS. He asserts that larger congregations already act in the spirit of the proposals of President Kieschnick’s Blue Ribbon Task Force by linking together to improve effectiveness (Proposal #3; for the final report of the Task Force click here). He says this linking “scares some” and that they “feel intimidated.” (The entire article is appended below.)
Those concerned with large churches linking together are not scared or intimidated by such a practice. They are concerned about the scriptural doctrine of the church. The Blue Ribbon Task Force says that we ought organize around mission and demographic considerations and this is what Pastor Mueller is defending. He asserts that there are eight different types of parishes in the synod and he with the Blue Ribbon Task Force assert that that this sociological demarcation ought to be the rationale for the structure of our synod.
But the church is wherever people are gathered around the preaching of the pure Gospel and the administration of the sacraments according to Christ’s command (Augsburg Confession, Article VII) no matter how many of them there are gathered. There are not eight “ministry styles,” but only one – the preaching of Christ crucified and the administration of His sacraments. Viewing the church for corporate and sociological effectiveness and around congregational “ministry style” and size undermines this very theology of the cross which is at the heart of the doctrine of the church.
But Pastor Mueller’s article is not interested in examining the church according to doctrine. Read his analysis below and you will see that he is more interested in sociology and psychology. This is the way supporters of President Kieschnick view the church, in scientific and statistical ways.
Actually, I doubt that critics of the sociological and corporate model of the church don’t even mind if larger churches get together for discussions of issues that are peculiar to them. I know I don’t mind it. Thrivent sponsors a large church conference every year and because I am a pastor of large church, I take interest in the agenda each year and am interested in attending. I have yet to go since the agenda is often dominated by these sociological concerns, but it seems like a good concept. It is OK for like-sized churches to get together and discuss common concerns. We just do not want the church organized around this notion and I am a little uncomfortable if their discussion includes commentary on how they intimidate and scare smaller churches.
For 2,000 years the church has survived without psychology and sociology but now in this last generation, a group of pastors, including President Kieschnick have become smitten with these two modern sciences and Pr. Mueller’s article illustrates this new and faulty approach to the church.
Pastor Mueller also tries to convince us that President Kieschnick’s Blue Ribbon proposals favor bottom up initiatives. I guess the argument is, if we can only organize around like-minded ministry styles we will have a clearer, stronger voice in synod and congregations will be more empowered. That is just not the case. The proposals do not favor the local congregation.
Even though the Final Report of the Task Force uses the word “congregation” countless times, one wonders why because the proposals take authority away from the congregations at every turn. The congregation is no longer at the heart of the convention delegate process – the district will now determine who the delegates are (Proposal #10). The congregations no longer pick their circuit counselors but must choose from a list generated by the District President (Proposal #3). Most centralizing of all is the grand and glorious Proposal #18 that gives control of some 80% of the synod’s budget to the president and takes away the ministry boards that the congregation elected delegates currently elect.
Delegates and members of LCMS congregations, read carefully the rhetoric of Pastor Mueller, Jesus First and other supporters of President Kieschnick. Acknowledge that sociology, psychology and a corporate mentality certainly have a place in the church, but when they become the primary way we talk about the church, the church is in peril of losing Christ, His Word and His Sacraments. Those concerned about these Blue Ribbon proposals are not “scared” or “intimidated.” They live under the cross and wish for the institutional church to dwell there as well.
Changes in Congregations Should Lead to Changes in Synod’s Structure
By Charles S. Mueller, Sr.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Missouri, Ohio, and Other States was founded in 1847 to support congregations in their ministries. In the eight score years since then, the congregations making up the Synod, now numbering over 6,000 in comparison to the original 12, experienced many changes, each in their own way. It makes sense that Synod’s structure should adapt itself to new circumstances. The proposals of the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Synod Structure and Governance go in the direction of de-centralization, yielding a leaner structure of boards and staff.
For the first one hundred years the LCMS was made up of congregations that that came in one of two sizes: small or large. In either case they functioned in essentially the same way. If they could speak loudly enough, pastors were interchangeable regardless of parish size or location. All did parish ministry the same way. One size fit all. What they did was the same thing: gather and care primarily for Lutherans.
By the 1950s it became increasingly clear that all parishes and their ministries were not alike. A number of different congregational types were developing. Some were Preaching Stations. Others were Family Parishes, or Pastor Parishes, or Organizational Parishes, or Resource Parishes or Community Parishes to cite but a few types. They were what their names suggested. Over time it became clear that they were not organized the same way, nor for their health sake, could they be. While sharing a common faith they did not do church the same way. That stirred institutional unrest and tension. And more and more were becoming intentionally missional.
Further, these different kinds of parishes needed and developed different kinds of clergy leaders who required a broad range of skills, many not taught at the seminaries. But the LCMS organizes its congregations geographically not by size or operational style or mission intent. In the end congregations of one given style found themselves with more in common with similar congregations in another district than with many congregations in their own districts. Even within a certain size parishes deal with a wide range of ministry challenges like financial resources, generational distribution, cultural context and urban and rural locale.
Eight Different Types of Congregations
Today there are at least eight different types of congregations in the LCMS. (Data in support of this assessment has been around for years.) The pastoral/staff/lay leadership requirements of each type of congregation and it size- and location-specifics can vary markedly from one congregation to another. In many ways the most demanding and complex effective leadership requirements today are needed by clergy called to serve congregations worshipping less than 100 people per Sunday. Even within that size dimension there are parish with a with a wide range of ministry components and variances (e.g. rural/urban, generational, cultural) vary.
The bottom line is that our Synod can no longer muddle along in how to support congregations. If we try to we will only decline further and faster. We need to explore the matter of congregations in depth while there is still time. We need to do this openly and together driven by the Great Commission and avoid doing it covertly and alone.
Recognizing this as a need many of our larger LCMS congregations are already linking with similar sized parishes across the nation in the hope that by working together they can help their pastors and parishes, improve in ministry and outreach effectiveness. This scares some. They feel intimidated. Instead of distancing ourselves from this kind of development we need to search for ways to rescale and expand our efforts in ministerial realignment to the benefit of congregations of various sizes, of significant ministerial variety and of service locale. The LCMS needs to vigorously investigate and strategize how its parishes in all categories may best be developed, linked and served regardless of district membership or geographical location.
Where should the impetus for such realignment come from? Top-down is cumbersome and would be resisted by many. After 160 plus years it seems quite clear that sustained congregational change happens best and the quickest bottom-up.
Synod shines brightest when it helps such development happen. A lot of institutional bureaucracy is not needed. Agreed? That being so, doesn’t it make sense to start bolstering congregations by realigning our structure to just a Commission on National Mission and a Commission on International Missionâ€”both mission-of-the-church oriented? (“Jesus First Newsletter,” Issue 61, March 21)