(Editor’s Note: Months ago I started my own column on the website titled “The LCMS in Her Own Words.” The point of the column is to simply quote LCMS publications in order to illustrate how un-churchly we have become. I have been distracted by other stories and have not posted much under that heading but this afternoon I received an e-mail that fit the topic perfectly. I will continue my series on the NID convention later this week.)
About fifteen years ago I heard of a pastor saying that he wanted to start several satellite parishes under his tutelage. He described it as his own little district. I thought to myself, that is incredibly arrogant. Thankfully that little venture never came to be but little did I know that he was simply ahead of his time. Now the synod itself is promoting this sort of thing. Consider the following excerpt from an e-mail that I got this afternoon from the Northern Illinois District.
Daughter Church Planting:
The Multi-Site Approach
Should your church develop a multi-site ministry? Consider these factors.
- Property/Site: Leasing or renting is often more practical than purchasing land and building.
- Staffing: The ability to leverage staff and resources for effective ministry across multiple sites is significant. Many multi-site ministries have a senior pastor, with other pastors and staff who serve the various sites.
- Administration/Organization: Administration is often centralized in a multi-site ministry. One church office in a central location reduces costs and improves staff communication and networking.
- Leadership: Congregations in multi-site ministry list leadership as the most significant factor in healthy multi-site ministry.
- Mission: Moving to a multi-site ministry usually enhances the congregation’s vision and mission.
To give you an idea what this might be like consider this example that is happening in my own circuit. The satellite churches being started by a neighboring congregations will have SMP (specific ministry pastors) pastors who will not preach. The sermon will come from the pastor of the sponsoring church to the other locations via a live video feed. The emphasis is not on word and sacrament but on programs and meeting people’s needs. In a situation like this down in Texas, as we reported last summer, a satellite is actually under the “ministerial” care of a DCE.
Before considering concerns with the synod collapsing under its own weight from these multi-site parishes, take a close look at the language of the e-mail. Should your church consider a “multi-site ministry?” Notice that five fancy sounding reasons are given without using the words “Christ,” “God,” “the gospel,” “sacraments,” etc. This is the LCMS according to her own words. The buzz words are “staffing,” “leadership,” “mission,” “organization.” Based on priorities like this the LCMS may die of a spiritual starvation before it dies from the weight of these multi-parishes crushing it.
The reason I suggest the synod may collapse under its own weight is because these satellite churches could care less about synod, and why should they? These churches are, as the pastor hoped to form years ago, their own district/synod.
This in itself may not be the worse thing in the world. This is in part what the Augustana Ministerium is getting at when they talk about a post synodical world. The LCMS is killing itself by promoting these Willow Creek-like associations of multi-site parishes. Furthering this death by multiplication is the anti-institutional mindset of the romantic age we live in. People coming out of this culture are not pre-loaded to appreciate the Biblical need for unity of doctrine and practice in congregations in fellowship with one another. Instead, they are pre-loaded to care only for themselves. Even more, the church is losing ground in the culture itself and more and more the notion of a world-wide synod may not be feasible. As the church is more and more marginalized, we may all end up as groups of independent dioceses, which is how the church was organized when it last found itself in a non-Christian culture, i.e. the pre-Constantinian Roman empire.
Thanks to the current leadership the LCMS and the pastors and parishes who sign on to this stuff, this is no longer your grandfather’s synod and in the long run may not be a synod at all. It may be crushed under its own weight. It is time for the Brothers of John the Steadfast, and all our readers to speak up in defense of Christ’s true church which finds its unity in preaching the pure Gospel and the sacraments rightly administered and not in leadership, organization, mission, and staffing of multi-site parishes. It is time for the serious theological discussion that Matt Harrison speaks of in his proposal for synod wide healing so that we might attain the unity of doctrine and practice that Christ gives to his Church in his Word.