A Conversation with a Middleman by Rev. Todd Wilken 7/22/08

(Something LCMS Inc. doesn’t want you to know!)

A short story:

We were sitting in a district meeting with a mission executive from Synod. (Sounds boring already? It was. But stick with me.)


The mission exec. was scolding the assembled pastors.   He thought our congregations weren’t sending enough money up the pipeline to his office for “mission work.”

Being young, I asked a stupid question, “Well, my congregation is very interested in supporting African missionaries directly. Why can’t we just do that?”


The mission exec.’s answer was an instant education in how Synod Inc. thinks about mission work, congregations and the laity. I will never forget it.  


He said, “We think Synod can spend mission dollars better than individual congregations.”


A bit shocked that he would actually say this out loud, I asked again “Why shouldn’t my congregation simply pick a missionary in Africa, send him money directly, and eliminate the middleman?”  


He answered, “Because that missionary might use the money to go out and buy a car.”


I asked, “But what if that missionary NEEDS a car?”  


His response was stunning: “We’ll decide that.”


True story. Sad, but true.


But it explains why, over the last seven years, LCMS World Missions has sent out more pink slips than missionaries.


Much to the chagrin of LCMS Inc., the laity are beginning to realize that “world missions” doesn’t happen in the cubicles of 1333 Kirkwood Road. The laity are realizing that they can eliminate the middleman.  


Think about it this way: Your congregation already supports at least one missionary. You call him “Pastor.”  


When you support your pastor as he preaches the Gospel and administers the Sacraments every Lord’s day, you are supporting a missionary –directly!   Do you need a middleman to do that? No.


So, why not support a missionary in Africa, Siberia, or anywhere else THE SAME WAY –directly?


A synodicrat will tell you it’s inefficient. Really? Is it more inefficient than bringing missionaries home?  


He will tell you that missionaries don’t know how to handle money. Your pastor seems to handle his paycheck just fine.


He will tell you that the money might get wasted. Ask him how much of Grandma Wilken’s mission offering actually makes it, past the middle man, to the few missionaries we still have in the field.


He will tell you that if everyone did that, we might not need a mission department at all. My point exactly.


You already support at least one missionary directly –your pastor. Why not support other missionaries the same way? Eliminate the middleman.


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.


A Conversation with a Middleman by Rev. Todd Wilken 7/22/08 — 19 Comments

  1. Yes! Doing so you can not only make sure you have somebody with qualifications, but you keep him from being a beggar, as our missionaries seem to have to be.

  2. The problem with the idea of sending money to the missionaries directly (from the Synod’s stand point) is that they then don’t have control over the missionaries and then they can’t call them out of the field for being subordinate by doing such things as baptizing, and preaching the pure Gospel.

    The Synod would rather have control over what pastor should be doing (yet they don’t allow missionaries to preach and administer the gifts of God accordingly).

    If it’s not done the Ablaze way – the G.K. way then it shouldn’t be done at all…but I don’t see Christ command in that at all.

    If I recall correctly, Christ commands us to teach all baptizing. He doesn’t give us a blue print how to fund it. And if God has found it well enough to trust these missionaries with His Gifts of Word and Sacarament…something more Holy they anything this world has to offer, why can’t the Synod trust these individuals with the funds to use wisely to care, teach, love, and administer God’s Gifts.

  3. In my opinion, direct support for overseas clergy career missionaries be a disaster under the present system. The World Mission Prayer League has been working under a “self-support” system for years. Check out their website and find out how they do it. (By the way, LCMS World Mission and WMPL collaborate in mission.) “Deputation” is the term used for “raising your own support” in the non-synodical mission programs.

  4. Theo:

    The disaster is the present system; not direct support.

    How did congregations fund foreign missionaries before we had a an expensive and wasteful bureaucracy? A combination of direct support, self-support and mission societies.

    The priority was keeping missionaries in the field, not keeping the lights on at headquarters.


  5. And might I just add that we all can support another missionary directly–Pastor Todd Wilken–by donating online or by check to Issues, Etc.?

    make checks payable to :

    Lutheran Public Radio
    P.O. Box 1046
    San Juan Capistrano, CA 92693

    I sense that Pastor Wilken was too modest to advertise for himself. 😉

  6. We are all so down on the “Synod” and its leadership. What purpose does the Synod serve today? Does it support the Seminaries? Does it support CPH? Missionaries? )I guess I already know the answer to that one!) Youth gatherings? Sets a wage scale for Pastors? Maintains a web site, a corporate hq, and a radio station without many listeners? What does the synod do with the tithe we provide? Please give some positive answers.

  7. Todd,
    Very interesting comment: “How did congregations fund foreign missionaries before we had a an expensive and wasteful bureaucracy? A combination of direct support, self-support and mission societies.” Might you give some historical examples of this? Might these three be re-developed as a solution to keep missionaries in mission? I would be interested in discussing this with you. Email me.

  8. Theo:

    The best example I can think of is Löhe’s Sendlinge. They were supported in all three ways. And somehow managed to found the

    And, I think that we are witnessing a resurgence of all three in the face of synod-level failure to make missionaries a top priority.


  9. The only function of Synod to the church today is to provide a pipeline from the seminary for the supply of pastors. Synod gives the seminaries less than $300K a year…their budgets are over $22 million! Synod gives equally as little to the Lutheran Colleges and Universities out there. So the purpose of Synod providing pastors and teachers to the local congregations has really fallen apart. Synod has become coporate and we really have no need for it anymore. We can find cheaper and better health insurance and retirement programs, and we can develop pastors outside the perview of the current seminary system. A very sad state of affairs. By the way….add Confessional LUtheran Education Foundation (CLEF) and the Luther Academy to your list of worthy mission organizations to support. And yes, Lutheran Public Radio too!

  10. Todd,

    You wrote: “The best example I can think of is Löhe’s Sendlinge.” Thanks for that information. This is a positive note amidst all the gloom and doom! Could you expand the example a little bit? Or maybe direct me some links, books, references, etc. Would not this topic be the beginning of a new thread? It might be very interesting for those of us who are looking for more appropriate mission methods.

  11. As someone who is so familiar with what goes on in the IC, I think it needs to be noted that LCMS Missions simply does not believe in supporting word and sacrament ministries.

    I tried, from the inside, to push for more support for pastors in the foreign missionfield, however, the mission dept. responded that that was an outdated paradigm for mission ministry and that they were heavily counting on the new paradigm which is to engage the laypeople in “ministry” and to work with existing churches, Lutheran or not.

    If it wouldn’t hurt so badly several recent pastoral missionaries whose calls were “stopped” not rescinded, not anything… just “stopped,” I’d love to give their names. But, these are men who believe the church’s missionaries should be about word and sacrament ministry, iow, sending pastors, holders of the Office of the Ministry.

    The sad fact is, Ablaze and GK’s ‘mission-minded” perspective is nothing more than a reformed view of ministry – there isn’t one. There are only believers who spread the word, with or without the sacraments.

    One faithful African missionary was told by LCMS missions that if he were to come back to the LCMS he would NOT BE IN A CHURCH! He would be turned into an bureaucratic administrator and not permitted to do wd and sacrament ministry with a congregation.

    So sad.

    Finally, according the LCMS constitution, synod has 3 purposes. 1) Send missionaries, i.e. pastors to start churches. 2) Train pastors and teachers. 3) Publish Lutheran books and materials for the church.

    Synod no longer does any of these! CPH is a separate corporation from LCMS Inc. and is currently in trouble with its Ablaze board. Thus the recent layoffs and decline in profits.

    LCMS Missions doens’t believe in sending pastors to start churches, but, they’ll send anyone to do anything but work with a church… like teach English.

    Finally, the seminaries and university system is nothing but a road block for the IC and the silly boards they have for the sem and Univ system does nothing for churches and schools.

    The only way to support Lutheran missions and training of pastors/teachers is to support them directly. Otherwise anywhere from 25-50% of your dollar will fall into the bureaucratic black whole of my employer… LCMS Inc.


  12. Thank you for this discussion and for shedding light on this problem. I was shocked beyond words about our synod’s treatment of missionary outreach when I first learned of everything back in March-April, and am thankful others are talking about it.

    The corporate synod seems to be failing us in so many ways.

  13. What about the T.I.M. (Together in Mission) program? Does all of those contributions go directly to the missionary, or is some one skimming off the top?

  14. ICinsider:

    You wrote: “The only way to support Lutheran missions and training of pastors/teachers is to support them directly.” Direct support does not work, it sounds good, but historically in the LCMS, it has not worked. If, that is, you are concerned about planting churches and training leadership in another country. Send me an email and I can give you some examples. And, by the way, there are quite a few “terminated” missionaries and workers, which is probably why you sign at “ICinsider”!!

  15. Let me tell you a story about T.I M. The congregation I was serving back in 2002 was supporting a T.I.M. missionary. He came and visited like they were supposed to do, etc. We were “billed” quarterly for our pledged donation. One day I’m reading the reporter and I read that “our” missionary has been called back to the states and has received a call to a parish. No one told us. Two days later, I get our quarterly “bill” from Synod for our T.I.M. missionary. (the one who was just called back) So I call World Missions and ask about it. The person on the other end was “shocked” that he had been called back and no one told us. Bottom line was they were billing us for the missionary that just had been called back and the beauacracy is so thick at the Violet Vatican that the right hand doesn’t know what the left one is doing. It’s a farce. That was the end of our financial support of synod. Support missions through viable groups like CLEF and Luther Academy.

    Kyrie Eleison.

  16. So anyone with the funds to do so can “go on a mission”? I have heard of folks in our congregation spending their vacation on a “mission”. Is this how we are doing “mission work” now-having everyone who wants a religious vacation take a couple of weeks to visit some “remote” area? I could have counted my last trip to Europe as a charitable deduction.

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