Missionaries! or Missionaries?

(Texas Confessional Lutherans) Tucked away in small print in the October REPORTER is the following paragraph:

In addition, the Board for Mission Services has 69 missionaries serving throughout the world. There are 27 ordained clergymen serving as missionaries.

Two observations and comments:

1.               All of the 69 missionaries are evidently not ordained! You can be the wife of a missionary and that makes you a missionary. You can be telling people how to dig water wells and that makes you a missionary. In my grandfather’s church a missionary was an ordained minister whose primary purpose was to preach the Word of God and administer the Sacraments. This has not been the case now for many, many years in our synod. The word “missionary” no longer means “missionary” as it once did in our father’s and grandfather’s church. While it is good to be the wife of an ordained missionary and it is good to teach people how to dig water wells, the word has undergone a complete metamorphosis. It gives a very distorted and untrue picture to the common pew sitter that we have 69 missionaries plus 27 ordained clergymen serving as missionaries: TOTAL 96 missionaries. We really have only 27 missionaries. Let’s return to using the word “missionary” as we have used it in our grandfather’s church.

2.               It is deplorable and unsettling to discover that we have only 27 ordained clergymen serving as missionaries !I’ve been around for many, many moons and I can’t remember that until recently we had so few ordained clergymen serving as missionaries. I’m thankful for the so called “missionaries” who are serving as doctors and nurses, teaching people English, how to read, how to plant corn, etc. often at their own expense as volunteers. However, a missionary should be an ordained clergyman, who preaches and teaches God’s Word and administers the Sacraments.


But we all need to remember that this is no longer our grandfather’s church. It surely isn’t!


Rev. Andrew Simcak, Jr. President, Texas Confessional Lutherans


P.S. In the same REPORTER it states that of the 292 full-time employees at synod’s headquarters in St. Louis, 51 are ordained clergy! We have more ordained clergy at headquarters than we have ordained missionaries serving as missionaries in the rest of the world.


Brothers and sisters in Christ, this is not the way it should be in our synod. No one complains that we have ordained clergymen at headquarters. The problem is we have 51 ordained at headquarters and ONLY 27 ordained clergymen serving as missionaries outside of our country! This is sad, very sad!  

About Pastor Tim Rossow

Rev. Dr. Timothy Rossow is the Director of Development for Lutherans in Africa. He served Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, IL as the Sr. Pastor for 22 years (1994-2016) and was Sr. Pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran in Dearborn, MI prior to that. He is the founder of Brothers of John the Steadfast but handed off the Sr. Editor position to Rev. Joshua Scheer in 2015. He currently resides in Ocean Shores WA with his wife Phyllis. He regularly teaches in Africa. He also paints watercolors, reads philosophy and golfs. He is currently represented in two art galleries in the Pacific Northwest. His M Div is from Concordia, St. Louis and he has an MA in philosophy from St. Louis University and a D Min from Concordia, Fort Wayne.


Missionaries! or Missionaries? — 22 Comments

  1. If those numbers are from the October REPORTER then one or two more ordained minister could possibly be added to the LCMS headquarters total (Rev. Vern Gundermann as the new “Chaplain” of the International Center to provide pastoral counseling for the other 51 ordained clergy, and Rev. Wayne Knolhoff, the new director of stewardship with LCMS District and Congregational Services).

  2. What is really sad is that the 27 real missionaries are required to be part time fundraisers and bring in twice what is required to keep them in the field. I wonder what Synod is doing with the mission budget dollars if those who are doing the missions are self-supporting.

  3. Disclaimer– Calvinist commenting.
    *Beginning of comment by Calvinist ***************
    Various churches in my corner of the evangelical swamp are diverting resources from the “career” missionaries in order to fund youth group junkets to the third world. Don’t get me wrong– it’s eye-opening to see how Christians live in other lands, but we should call it Christian tourism– not short-term missions.

    I find it disconcerting when our evangelical church “commissions”
    a 15 year-old twit (whom I recently asked to chatting with her friend during the sermon) before she goes on her 10 day Latin-American “missions” trip.

    Some parachurch/independant missions boards have surrendered to this trend and now focus on the short trips as something to market to keep their organization afloat.

    *******End of comment by Calvinist ***************

  4. Bob,

    Thanks for the Calvinist warning 🙂 One of my members, a former Scottish-Calvinist, joked to me the other day in an e-mail about the “old McAdam” living in him.

    To your point, sadly the same thing is happening in the LCMS. It seems as though one’s church is really not “passionate” about the Gospel unless you send adults on the twit-like “missionary” trips you describe. Sure, they accomplish some good things but it is an alarming trend when “real” missionaries are being called back.

    Pastor Rossow
    (still safe in my understanding of single predestination thanks to the Calvinist warning)

    BTW – Calvinists are welcome to join BJS. The only issue will be that we will practice closed communion at our regional and national gatherings.

  5. Yah, our missionary situation is a problem. Although this is hearsay, it does come from a missionary – but one tells me that when the LCMS reports X number of missionaries being “sent out” in a given year the majority if not all are only being “sent out” for 2 weeks or so to learn a new language. Once they’re done, they come home and are reported in the “missionaries” numbers. I’d call them students. But hey, that’s just me.

    With regards to whom can be a missionary, we’ve come to the point in our church where we’re going to need new names for all of these “dumbed down” vocations. The same thing is happening with the Call process and the Ministry. I have started being clear about all of these terms by using upper case and lower case letters. A Call is for a pastor. A call is for everyone else. A Minister is a pastor. A minister is someone in another vocation. And now I guess we’ll need Missionary and missionary too. Just my thoughts though.

  6. Luke,

    I am with you on this. It is so hard to keep people from collapsing distinct things into one thing, e.g. “Minister” and “minister,” “Call” and “call.” I like your tactic of using capital and lower case consistently and precisely to solve the problem.

    In our congregation we struggle with the same. For instance, we are having a “ministry” fair this fall, i.e. a collection of booths in the gymnasium highlighting all the different service activities in our parish. When I used that term the other morning in a planning meeting, three of my laymen corrected me (based on my 15 years of catechizing them) by saying “pastor, we need to call it something other than a “ministry” fair since that word ministry ought to be reserved for the giving out of word and sacrament.” I accepted thier rebuke but still it is hard to find a good solution to this problem. We are going to try to be more precise and call it a “volunteer fair” or a “Christian services fair.”

    I will keep you posted on any other aproaches that we come up with and would appreciate hearing any other solutions that you come up with. Anybody else out there have some insights into this?

    Pastor Rossow

  7. The what we call people is an important discussion, the thing that is most disturbing is that we only have 97 people on the mission field (27 Ordained Clergy) in 292 people working in St.Louis (51 Ordained Clergy. The church exist to declare and spread the kingdom of God through Word and Sacrament. We are a slowly shrinking denomination and we do not see missions as a top priority. Our seminaries are turning out chaplins and not missionaries and church planters. If the “Gates of Hell shall not prevail against the church, why are we hiding behind the doors of the church and not engaging the world for Christ? It is time we take the Great Commission seriously.

  8. At a time when we are re-calling missionaries from the field and contracting as a synod, it seems to me that our district and synodical structures need to be prayerfully evaluated in light of God’s Word. “Going, disciple all nations, baptizing and teaching them to observe everything I have commanded. See, I am with you always…” We do our church a disservice when we artificially pit evangelism against thorough teaching of the truth of God’s Word. Evangelism without content is “social gospel,” at best and cultic activity at worst. A pursuit of “pure doctrine” to the exclusion of evangelism is the worst form of selfishness which is antithetical to the pure Gospel.

    I am not charging you or anyone with either of these positions. I do think that in our discussions in the synod, we have at times emphasized one or the other extreme to make a point. At times debaters on either side have put the worst construction on the arguments of the others. Those most fervent about true doctrine are unfairly labelled as having no concern for the lost (as if anyone moved by the Holy Spirit could have no concern for the lost). Those perceived to be most interested in church growth are accused of pandering or adding something to the Gospel to give it added power (as if block parties or face painting could add anything to the cross of Christ).

    In my not always humble opinion, we have an incalculably great treasure in our Lutheran understanding that God has grasped us poor, miserable sinners, breathed life into us in our baptism, joined us to the Body of Christ and even fed us with Christ’s true Body and Blood in the Lord’s Supper. Rejoice! Christ loved us enough to die for us, to preserve His Word for us, to translate it for us, to baptize and feed us! Everyone whose name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life will be saved and it is our great privilige that God calls us to share in the process! Let’s work together to glorify our Lord and share Word and Sacrament in a way that no community or non-denominational church without the means of grace can!

  9. Having been sent on one of the para-missionary missions to Jamaica 15 years ago, I can tell you that it was a dismal experience and a dismal failure. The only instruction about 250 people from our church got (a Baptist church which was putting on a large production of the Passion Play) was to be polite and remember we were in their country. No mention that we would encounter Satan in the form of marijuana worshipping Rastafarians that would get in our faces and make a grab for whatever goodies we were passing out, like tracts, salvation bracelets, passion cards (like baseball cards) etc. In the end, when we took up an offering after each performance, which I couldn’t believe we were doing in such third world place, we were outfoxed by the Jehovah’s Witnesses who duplicated our offering collection boxes and took home a “free will, freely stolen” offering. Teens especially should be taught the difference between being a missionary and doing missionary work. We were dealing with groups that were speaking in tongues and I wouldn’t be stretching it if I were to say we expected someone to cut off the head of a chicken while we were in prayer. Ha.

  10. Sorry for the OT interjection 😉

    “I accepted thier rebuke but still it is hard to find a good solution to this problem. We are going to try to be more precise and call it a “volunteer fair” or a “Christian services fair.””
    Hi Pastor Rossow,

    How about Servants Fair? Or some German or Greek word for servants?

    Surely churches had these types of events 50 years ago. What were they called then? I highly doubt they were called “ministry” fairs. We should be calling things as they are. If it is regarding service opportunities through the church than the participants are servants.

  11. Hi Pastor Fritz,

    Glad you have logged on and are checking us out. Hopefully you will join us and get a “steadfast Johnny” group going in your congregation!

    Regarding your comment, I think we at BJS agree wholeheartedly with you when you say that “We do our church a disservice when we artificially pit evangelism against thorough teaching of the truth of God’s Word.”

    While we are not a missions organization per se, I want to assure you that we do not subscribe to the selfish view of “promoting pure doctrine to the exclusion of evangelism.” We are definitely “both/and” around here, and the good fruit that comes from this is evidenced by the numbers of converts the Lord has brought to His Church through the efforts of things we support, like the Issues, Etc. program.

    To the issue at hand, we have learned at our congregation that we simply get more evangelism “bang for our buck” when we support missions directly rather than through synodical efforts. The latter has too much overhead, and wastes precious resources on inconsequential or even downright silly things rather than funding real ministry. Through our direct efforts, for example, our congregation has built a church in Siberia, given vital supprot to a seminary in Sudan, sponsors an orphanage in Madagascar, and built two schools in Liberia. Locally, we have baptized several adults and dozens of children, and had a large group of catechumens in our new member class last fall.

    I can’t speak for everyone a BJS, of course, and I know that different congregations have different ministry emphases (like your excellent work with the deaf) and priorities. But we are all for “doing both”, and I think this article makes a great point: that we’d be in a better world if we had the numbers of folks at the IC out in the mission field, and had fewer pastors working behind desks in our “synodcracy”.

    I hope you keep reading, keep posting, and prayerful consider joining our efforts to proclaim the Gospel in the new media.


    In Christ,

    Phillip Magness, Cantor
    Bethany Lutheran Church and School
    Naperville, IL

  12. Some things have changed since our grandfathers’ day. One is the establishment of sister Lutheran bodies in many countries around the world. In such cases, there are national pastors and teachers already at work. Another change is the philosophy that it’s better to have national pastor and teachers, over the long haul, than to have national churches dependent on foreigners in these positions. Otherwise, when foreigners leave or die, there is no one left to continue the ministry. Mission theory since our grandfathers’ time has shifted its emphasis to strengthening and building up the national churches by providing sound education for national pastor and teachers. The question is, are we doing enough of that where it’s needed?

    There are countries where there is no established Lutheran Church, however. Many of these are communist or Islamic countries, where it’s illegal and highly dangerous to start a Word and Sacrament ministry. Should we be trying to do such a thing, illegally and in a clandestine manner? If not, should we do nothing in these countries?

    I spent some time overseas with LCMS World Mission. I was a lay English teacher, and you don’t have to call me a missionary if you don’t want to. If giving a personal witness to the Gospel at any opportunity, in a hostile place where many had never heard it, is of any value to the spread of the Gospel, then I did that, by the grace of God. I’d never ask for any greater privilege.

    Because of my experience, I do have some concerns about LCMS World Mission, though. Why are we sending such a disproportionate number of English teachers? Is it only because English teachers, Christian or not, are so welcome the world over? Are we taking the easy road when, with the help of God, we could be doing so much more?

    I believe there is a vital place for social ministry, especially done in cooperation with national churches, in overseas work. However, the best work is done by long term workers, who stay for many years, learn the language and culture, and develop deep relationships with both the national church and the national people they meet, Christian or not. I’m deeply concerned about the disproportionate number of shorter term volunteers, such as myself, and the wholesale recalling of so many long-term workers.

    The issue of funding overseas workers is troublesome. Volunteers are expected to raise all needed funds by themselves, and this is more and more true of career workers as well. No one who hasn’t been through this process can know the terrible stress and burden this is. Some of the methods recommended for raising funds made me very uncomfortable, and I couldn’t, in good conscience, follow them.

    Finally, the Ablaze! movement has left its mark on overseas work. I was regularly asked for NUMBERS. “How many people have you shared the Gospel with?” This emphasis on numbers, rather than faithfulness, has obvious parallels with our obsession with numbers in our congregations at home.

  13. ***********Beginning of comment by Calvinist ***************
    Pr. Rossow,
    I understand and appreciate close communion. Would that we on the reformed side were more careful.

    Another Calvinist, J. Gresham Machen (whose support of an independent mission board rather than the mainline liberal agency led to his defrocking) pointed out in his “Christianity and Liberalism” that Indifferentism about doctrine makes no heroes of the faith.” The split between the reformed and Lutherans over the Lord’s supper was indeed calamitous, but not as calamitous than if Luther had said to his opponents: “Brethren, this matter is a trifle; and it makes really very little difference what a man thinks about the table of the Lord.” Such indifferentism would have been far more deadly than all the divisions between the branches of the Church. A Luther who would have compromised with regard to the Lord’s Supper never would have said at the Diet of Worms, “Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise, God help me, Amen.”
    *******End of comment by Calvinist **************

  14. Titles, titles, titles. Can we simply rejoice that those who have been led by God to give more than most of us will ever even consider, are being used to carry the love and gospel of Christ our Savior?

    I thank God for called servants. I thank God for all servants of Christ. And I like Paul rejoice whenever the gospel is preached. Don’t you?


  15. I appreciate the various comments about Synodical priorities. I have long questioned whether we are being good stewards of God’s money. We need to put everything on the table for eveluation of need. Do we need a Synodical Stewardship Department? Nothing they have done has affected my preaching of stewardship and, thus, has had no effect on the stewardship of the members of St. Paul’s. I’m the son of an accountant, and my pragmatic German lineage causes alarms to go off every time I contemplate our present Synodical structure and function. We are in the process of evaluating that structure. My guess is that nothing of significance is going to come from it unless there is a major uproar from the congregations. I don’t hear such an uproar. Thanks for this sight and your organization. May God bless our churches and Synod with a zeal for the truth, and a zeal to proclaim it in and from our congregations.

    Dave Shadday

  16. CB,

    There are some issues with titles. Firstly, from Scripture, God divided his priests and his Levites. Secondly, the NT seems to distinguish between disciple (a follower of Jesus) and an Apostle (A follower of Jesus sent to preach publicly). Paul too discriminates between preachers and teachers, bishops and overseers. So there are already “titles, titles, titles” in the Scriptures.

    Secondly however, by not distinguishing between these “titles,” our church and others have caused the various ministries of God to become mixed and muddled. Our confessions (and Walther) teach clearly that we are a royal priesthood as the Scripture states. But Pastors, or Ministers of the Gospel, are specifically called by God through the church to publicly proclaim that Gospel and administer His Sacraments. But the priesthood of all believers is not given that same public charge. So we must distinguish between “titles.”

    You see, what happens when we don’t distinguish between titles is that everyone thinks he or she has the right to preach publicly or administer the Sacraments. Even books about “everyone a minister” have been written. And although everyone can minister in certain ways, if we don’t keep the titles, definitions, and distinctions separate, then everything gets mixed up and can water down God’s church. And that’s just not helpful.

    Maybe what would be helpful is to forgo the capital letters and simply use the language of the Scriptures. Apostles are public Ministers of the Gospel and Disciples are the other members of the Priesthood of all Believers who have not received a Divine Call from God through His church to preach publicly. Both are children in God’s eyes. Neither is more special than the other. Everyone has “ministry” to do. But Apostles are the ones specifically called to do the Ministry publicly.

    Tim, that’s what I’d call your event. “Disciple Fair” or “Discipleship Fair,” as another blogger mentioned earlier. And just catechize your church on the differences between disciples and apostles.


  17. CB,

    You asked if we rejoice “everywhere the Gospel is preached”. Well, certainly Lutherans do. However, and I’m supposing here that you are not Lutheran because of your question, the key words here are “Gospel” and “preached”. First, “Gospel”. If you review the site, there are many here expressing concerns that spending a couple of weeks teaching an intensive ESL course is not really prolaiming the Gospel. (certainly a sign of living a Gospel-driven life, but not Gospel proclamation) Second, it is taught among Lutherans that no one should preach w/o a call. Perhaps that is not the case in your communion. But we have a high view of the pastoral office because we have a high view of doctrine, and so, desiring that the GOSPEL truly be preached, we call only men who have been trained for such a vocation. This does not mean that we do not bear witness and proclaim the good news about Jesus, but it does mean that we think a called and ordained pastor will cause more Pauline rejoicing than a lay volunteer setting up puppets for a carnival.

    Thanks for writing. Keep up the conversation. We are here to build up the Church.


    In Christ,

    Phillip Magness

  18. One more thought, CB. It appears you think we are saying that the work of these lay volunteers is bad or wrong. That is not the case. You are pitting one against the other. And that is precisely our point: the pastor preaching and the lay volunteer mission worker are performing different callings and so should not be pitted against each other. SO, to uphold the pastoral office and appeal to our synod to send more shepherds out into the mission field (away from their desks in the synocracy) is NOT to say we shouldn’t send volutneers to teach ESL at a school in Taiwan. We here are not “either/or” in this case but “both/and”. But the priority for us as the Church should be the preaching of the Gospel and the administration of the sacraments, and for that we need pastors. Many more pastors. Let us pray the Lord raise up many more such mean among us, that we all may be kept STEADFAST in God’s Word.


    In Christ,

    Phillip Magness

    p.s. for you members of BJS, I keep signing off by writing “Steadfast!” becasue we’ve been using that as a greeting and farewell around here lately. Try it – it is a little funny at first because it is different, but it grows on you. 😉

  19. The “thread” is getting long. Going back to the comment “In my grandfather’s church a missionary was an ordained minister whose primary purpose was to preach the Word of God and administer the Sacraments.” My father went to Sarnia, Ontario, Canada in 1935 to preach and administer, but also to FORM A CONGREGATION. My father is gone now, but the congregation is still there preaching and administering. That is what ordained clergy should be doing around the world. Many more comments gleaned from 40 years in the “field” at http://kuster-web.net/observations/index.htm

  20. Phillip,

    Thanks for your great comments. I am Lutheran but fairly new. I do come from an evangelical background and chose Lutheranism for many of the reasons you cite. What a blessing this brings. My concern is this: we can worry incessantly about the message being watered down or we can foster church life that encourages all members to “get it right.”

    I have no interest in watering down doctrine or the gospel but please don’t discourage the whole church from proclaiming the Savior every chance they get. You mentioned I’m pitting clergy vs. lay. That’s what I believe happens every time we lead our people to believe they can’t effectively proclaim the gospel. In other words, let’s allow only the “professionals” to do that. Of course there is a precious and special place for the ministry of Word and Sacrament and I too pray for more effective pastors to be raised up and given to the church.

    Pastors must take seriously the call to “equip” God’s people for the work of ministry; and the principal ministry we carry is the proclamation of the gospel.

    I’m learning and not trying to be obstinate but “Lutheran” truth is far too wonderful for us to keep it in house.


    The Lord be with you,


  21. Craig,

    I am going to leave you and Phil to your discussion but I will add one exegetical note. You quote Ephesians 4:12. Many Greek scholars discern that the list in this verse is a series. In English this comes out as “he gave pastors and teachers to 1)equip the saints, 2) do the work of ministry, and 3) build up the body of Christ.” See now how this verse applies entirely to the work of the pastor. This is not a few nutballs trying to make an exception but good solid Bible scholars who see it this way.

    Also, even if it is not understood in the series, the word ministry here, if applied to the laity, would be the more common tranlsation of “ministry” meaning work or service, which is best understood as basic good works included among them would be telling others of Christ. When the New Testament speaks of the laity’s service it usually refers to good works. I am amazed at how few mandates there are for the laity to speak the gospel to others. What is more typical is what Peter says in his first letter 2:12, i.e. that we are to do good works so that the pagans may see them and give glory to God.

    I encourage you to keep sharing Jesus with others but also to grow in this scriptural knowledge that lay evangelism as defined by the Campus Crusade crowd, is not as prominent in the scriptures as one might think.

    Pastor Rossow

  22. One thing that I have never had explained to my satisfaction is what scripture verse(s) address ordination? It’s always thrown out as a requirement, but nowhere that I can find it the bible is it explicitly stated. I conclude it is an extra-biblical tradition, not supported by scripture. Maybe you can tell me how I’m wrong. Thanks.

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