The LCMS In Her Own Words: She May Eventually Collapse Under the Weight of Her Multi-Site Parishes, by Pastor Rossow

(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.

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.

Comments

The LCMS In Her Own Words: She May Eventually Collapse Under the Weight of Her Multi-Site Parishes, by Pastor Rossow — 25 Comments

  1. ‘…and in the long run may not be a synod at all.’
    I think the long run is here.
    It occurs to me that the converse is true as well: that those congregations who do continue the historic doctrine and practice of Missouri have bedome, in a sense, their own little synods and districts. Often they’re alone, or at least isolated–scattered–in their districts, and only by continuing under the radar of a more progressive hierarchy–and with a current confessional pastor who simply soldiers on–do they remain. Period. The death/retirement/removal of their pastor may be all that stands between them and their ‘transformation’.

  2. The main problem I see is that the “multi-site” described thinks it can run on pseudo pastoral care. There is more to being a Pastor than producing a video sermon on Sunday morning. But that is the CEO mentality which treats people as numbers.

    [The Pastor of an over large congregation who thinks he can run it with too little ordained assistance is cheating his people the same way. And he’s not doing it for lack of “candidates” in the vicinity.]

    That said, a congregation in Lincoln, Nebraska, was successfully spinning off daughter congregations, served by a Pastor in the 80’s. It did not waste money on rent but set up the new congregations with property and a comprehensive building plan, of which a multi purpose building designed for education & worship was in place. At the core of the new congregation were -+ 25 families from the sponsoring church who lived in the area. The home congregation kept itself down to 2500 members in this way. It looked like a good plan to me.

  3. I wonder, what if the video feed goes out during the sermon? Will the praise band just fill until the service is over?

    St. Paul asks, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?”

    Paul was so first century. He didn’t even have an iPhone.

    TW

  4. Related to this topic in a tangential kind of way, wasn’t there a movement a decade or so ago within the synod to give larger urban congregations a more heavily weighted vote than small, rural congregations? Anyone know what happened to that?

  5. It won’t be crushed under its own weight, so much as it’ll just vaporize due to its lack of substance.
    It’ll assume room temp, since it has no life.
    The video-sermon: who will show up to just watch TV, when he could stay home and watch TV?
    Aren’t these daughter-churches offended, treated as if they’re not ready for prime time?
    Maybe they should be called ‘spin-offs’, like ‘Rhoda’ or ‘Gomer Pyle, USMC’.

  6. 4. It’s still around. See the BRTFxxx… The PLI boys gravitate to the bigger churches and then they want more to say. Smaller congregations are just ‘country folk’ (or economically disadvantaged) and what do they matter?

    5. Staying home has advantages the multi plex people haven’t thought through. A) You can watch Joel Osteen, who will be no less Christian (no more, either). B) You aren’t there for the collection. C)You can turn the thing off when the “music” gets too annoying.

  7. Great post, Rossow, and great posts, all of you so far, and especially Helen. Indeed, WRT pastoral care, whenever people used to give me that swarmy answer as to why they don’t come to church (“I get my church on the TV”), I used to ask them if they would call up the Crystal Cathedral or whomever when they were diagnosed with terminal cancer and needed a real Seelsorger. It is arrogant to think that we can provide truly needed pastoral care on such an extended basis AND it is arrogant, I think, to believe that we do not need such pastoral care (sheep who will soon wander off and/or become prey to the wolves tend to think that way). And then, of course, there are those in leadership who are looking for lazy ways to “do” evangelism and who think that their “innovative ways” can actually “grow the church.” Evangelism without effort – what a concept. Evangelism by our own efforts – another sickening concept. Evangelism that is not evangelism — it WILL leave immortal souls without hope, and souls will go to hell.

    I am so thankful for you who, with trembling and trepidation, still understand what “church” is and who commend yourselves to God’s grace in Christ and pray for Him to bless the faithful preaching of His Word and the faithful administration of His Sacraments. May the Lord help us to identify one another and to encourage one another even as the Day draws nearer. May the Lord bless our weak efforts to His glory by the salvation of souls.

  8. Great post, Rossow, and great posts, all of you so far, and especially Helen. Indeed, WRT pastoral care, whenever people used to give me that swarmy answer as to why they don’t come to church (“I get my church on the TV”), I used to ask them if they would call up the Crystal Cathedral or whomever when they were diagnosed with terminal cancer and needed a real Seelsorger. It is arrogant to think that we can provide truly needed pastoral care on such an extended basis AND it is arrogant, I think, to believe that we do not need such pastoral care (sheep who will soon wander off and/or become prey to the wolves tend to think that way). And then, of course, there are those in leadership who are looking for lazy ways to “do” evangelism and who think that their “innovative ways” can actually “grow the church.” Evangelism without effort – what a concept. Evangelism by our own efforts – another sickening concept. Evangelism that is not evangelism — it WILL leave immortal souls without hope, and souls will go to hell.

    I am so thankful for you who, with trembling and trepidation, still understand what “church” is and who commend yourselves to God’s grace in Christ and pray for Him to bless the faithful preaching of His Word and the faithful administration of His Sacraments. May the Lord help us to identify one another and to encourage one another even as the Day draws nearer. May the Lord bless our weak efforts to His glory by the salvation of souls.

  9. Once again we imitate what the Baptists, charismatics, et al. have been doing now for a while because it looks successful. I found a Baptist church based in Corpus Christi, TX that has a site in Georgia and also promotes the internet as one of its sites.

    The idea of ‘multi-site ministry’ rests on a business model and usually a cult of personality revolving around the pastor. These ministries also purposely move into the territory of sister congregations and seek to poach sheep. Instead of working with an already existing congregation in an area the mega-church moves its alternative site into an area to compete against a sister congregation.

  10. Multi-site churches are learning from the Starbucks playbook. How do you decide where to open the next satellite? Go where the money is.

    Why do churches have satellites across the street from sister congregations? And why are there no satellites in impoverished urban areas? Don’t those people need a big-screen Jesus?

    And you thought it was money that advanced the mission. Backwards, my friend.

  11. This “Multi-Site” ministry idea is strikingly similar to what was proposed for my mostly-rural circuit 5 years ago. Please allow me to tell my story:

    At the time a similar idea was proposed in our circuit five years ago, the term being used for it was entitled: “Circuit Shared Ministry”. It of course was spearheaded by the Jesus First pastor from the only “big town church” in our circuit with +700 members (which was to serve as the headquarters for this operation.) The rest of the churches in our circuit including my own were mostly rural, with less than 300 members each. They proposed as an initial step of calling two or three DCE’s/DCO’s who would be shared/funded by all the congregations in the circuit, and used to do “missions” in our circuit. But of course these “shared ministers” would mostly work out of this one big town church, serving the rest of us rural churches as sort of “satellites” of this big town church in this “circuit shared ministry” arrangement. To me, this is simply like a Town Hospital sending out a hospice nurse to care for an old rurual farmer dying of cancer at his homestead. Anyways, what was so alarming though was that the proposed “mission” work of such was largely work among the people already members within the parishes (i.e., doing church growthy worship, 40 Days of Purpose conventicles, etc.). There really was no talk of genuine outreach (e.g., reaching out to unchurched Mexican immigrants and/or illegal immigrants in our small town/rural communities for the purpose of gathering them back in for catechetical feeding via personalized/private catechesis, public liturgy and preaching,… unto the eventual, hoped-for goal of sacramental feeding and full membership. In other words, it was really a version of the current “Parish Revitalization” proposals, one which is fitted for more rural circuits throughout the Synod.

    Ok, to make a long story short, a couple pastors and some laypeople made our voice heard and it never came to be–much to the anger of many. We simply pointed out that parishes were already having a hard time paying their own pastors as things stood, not to mention simply asking why hiring a bunch of “lay ministers” would be better than utilizing the laypeople already within our own parishes for outreach, “mission” purposes in our local areas. The reason they had no argument for that was because their “Shared Circuit Ministry” proposal NEVER REALLY WAS about genuine outreach among genuinely unchurched people (e.g., foreign immigrant laborers), but was really about getting “lay ministers” into the door of our rural Lutheran parishes in order to foist upon us all types of church growth practices/gimmicks in order to get our people “revitalized”, potentially generate interest among–let’s face it–not among the foreign unchurched immigrants, but among the english speaking APOSTATE in our rural communities who left after confirmation and won’t come back for sound Biblical worship/preaching but only for Carnival-Church, and finally thereby to bring more money in the coffers so that our Synod bureaucracy can get more revenue after their congregational assessment (“tax”–see this proposal from the BRTF report on “Funding the Mission” from the 2007 Synod Convention handbook) goes through in either 2010 or 2013 Synod conventions. Now, you say this would never happen, but had they been able to get all the congregations in the circuit to actually invest money into some lay ministers, you know darn well that the pastors would be hard pressed to stop much of what such super-apostles would be doing in our parishes right in front of us.

    Sorry for my lengthy post here (had I had more time I would’ve written a shorter post!)…But I cannot but think that all this talk of missions is nothing other than ultimately trying to change the very cultus of historic, confessional Lutheran practice (and thus doctrine) into whatever pragmatic, effective model has shown to “work” out there, regardless of denomination. And more than this, to establish such a malleability among the parishes so that when one church growth model no longer works, the Fascist Social Engineers otherwise known as our Synod Leadership can quickly scrap it for an equally-quick implementation of whatever the new fad is…all under the false claim of “making disciples”, false because they ignore that “teaching them to TAREO everything I have commanded you” part. Of course, they will first have to get rid of such pastors as myself, but with the recent creation of Synodical “drones” (i.e, the SMP program), they already got that one covered….We certainly are in the last days.

  12. Oh, one other thing…on this beaming of Video-Sermons from the Mother Ship to the satellites, watching such on the Movie Screen Reredos:

    It reminded me of something I heard recently about the increasing difficulty that NFL teams are and will increasingly be having in filling their stadiums on Sundays. The reason they simply stated was that even aside from the increasing cost of season tickets/stadium seat licenses, etc., with the sudden influx of incredibly-realistic media technology in terms of tv/audio (e.g., gigantic 1080p, 50+inch screen televisions), combined with Hi-Definition broadcasting of games on cable/satellite networks, the football fans are increasingly starting to realize that they can more fully enjoy the actual football game at home on their large-screen hi-def tv than they ever could watching the game in the stadium.

    MY POINT?

    Why should that be any different for the ‘consumer’ otherwise considered a church member these days? Besides, if he finds the currently broadcasted video church service from his motherchurch to be boring/lacking/not meeting his “felt needs” at the moment, he can always flip the channel to another church service being broadcasted “on the big screen” right from his living room, reclining on his couch in his bathrobe as he enjoys a bowl or two of Fruity Pebbles. Better yet, just TIVO the thing, sleep in, walk your dog and/or spend time with those kids you ignored all week (because of all those football games on the tele during the week, ya know?).

    I found it so telling when a couple years ago there appeared in the Q&A section of the Lutheran Witness a question from a layperson regarding the validity of a video-consecration and reception of the Lord’s Supper in one’s home…You know, placing some Wonder bread and old Box Wine in front of the “altar” of one’s 60 inch 1080p Plasma, while Max Headroom pronounces the Verba over the elements via such a broadcast. I KID YOU NOT!!! (Don’t remember the exact issue# from Lutheran Witness but this actually was a question asked!! Worse yet, the answer given was shockingly weak in response, failing to point out all the underlying erroneous presuppositions behind the question itself.)

    One starts to wonder if quicker than we think, not only are confessional, “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the preached Word of God” pastors going to become obsolete, but ALL pastors will become obsolete, except for those very few who are cream of the crop Joel Osteen-like entertainers to produce all the video services. And then, if the “SMP” drones (the replacements for us ousted confessional pastors) having any utility left at all, it will simply be to go out and set up grandma’s TIVO for the Sunday broadcasts, along with programming all the IPOD’s for transmission from the mother ship. And finally, what use will there even be to have a congregation at all? What purpose is there for assembling together (other than the traditional gossip/horse trading and such, although even there we have our Blackberrys, no?) But hey, I can at least take consolation that it will be the end of individual shot glass trays, you know, with all those still half-filled shot glases with the blood of our Lord being thrown out in the trash….So we got that to look forward too…Oh, also the lowered cost of a decent garage-door sized Plasma tv–won’t do anything for authentic, Biblically-based church life, but hey, when it comes to the NFL, it’ll be WAY better than actually being at the game! 😉

  13. I can’t say I’m too surprised. From what I’ve been reading about Ablaze and TCN this fits right in. Speaking of Ablaze, it’s been mentioned that opening as many new churches they want to is a higher rate than men completing sem. training. If they really want 2000 new churches by 2017, perhaps this is viewed as a solution.

  14. If they really want 2000 new Lutheran churches by 2017 they could start by utilizing the CRM Pastors on the roster, most of them unScripturally removed by their congregations, with no discipline of the congregations by their Districts.

    It’s the clearest indication to me that Lutheran churches are not what is wanted. Quite otherwise.

  15. “I found it so telling when a couple years ago there appeared in the Q&A section of the Lutheran Witness a question from a layperson regarding the validity of a video-consecration and reception of the Lord’s Supper in one’s home…You know, placing some Wonder bread and old Box Wine in front of the “altar” of one’s 60 inch 1080p Plasma, while Max Headroom pronounces the Verba over the elements via such a broadcast. I KID YOU NOT!!! 🙁 ” –#5

    Hey, don’t malign the laity with this one. The story around Texas was that our DP was behind it. The “rest of the story” was that a clerical Kieschnick cousin down in Houston had an astronaut member going into space, carrying bread and wine. That was well publicized, so we had reason to believe the local scuttlebut about who asked the question.

  16. 15. “If they really want 2000 new Lutheran churches by 2017 they could start by utilizing the CRM Pastors on the roster, most of them unScripturally removed by their congregations, with no discipline of the congregations by their Districts. It’s the clearest indication to me that Lutheran churches are not what is wanted. Quite otherwise.”

    And that is the case with this “Alley” Mission church in MNSouth District, which currently the District BOD there wishes not to approve as a congregation since they don’t use/do anything distinctively Lutheran and much is questionably Christian at all. But of course the DP there opposes the BOD, and I heard like 3 resolutions regarding overturning the BOD’s decision not to accept this mission is at the top of the agenda for their convention. The issue there is simple: If we allow that one mission cong (which is one of the 2000 by 2018), which refuses to use LSB let alone any Lutheran-based material, then why would we expect any of the other of those 2,000 mission starts by the year 2018 would be Lutheran either. Fact is, and sorry to preach to the choir, but ABLAZE is becoming more and more overt in really being about promoting nothing but new congregations which are completely Evangelical in Style and little if any Lutheranism in substance. And sadly, this will all happen with the permission and support of the majority of our unwitting (or apathetic) laity. Black days indeed….Sort of like being a Churchhill in the early 1930’s…

  17. Pr. Anonymous,

    If the pastors of some of these new American Evangelical “Lutheran” congregations are swearing before God that they subscribe to the Lutheran Confessions they either don’t know what they are swearing to or are knowingly lying. I hope it is the first case, but they shouldn’t be allowed to continue in their error either way. What do you do when those with the responsibility and authority to correct them are erring too?

  18. What do you do when those with the responsibility and authority to correct them are erring too?

    Truth Seeker,

    After the change in church court in the 90’s to the Bohlmann-inspired Dispute Resolution Process way of handling grievances in the church (i.e., the “agree to disagree” method), along with passage of Synodical Resolution 8-01a in 2004 (which essentially guarantees immunity for DP’s from charges brought against them for malfeasance, negligence, public error, etc.) there is……not much left that can be done. Which, in a way, might be good…since fallen man cannot but ultimately dig his own grave, and man-made synodical machinery eventually must implode in on itself…our reliance again being on God alone. (But, I preach to the choir) For reference, just Google this paper: “Three Walls to Lutheran Reform” (or something like that).

  19. Since I think the congregation at which I serve (Trinity, Lisle) is the congregation you are referring to in your post, Tim, I thought I would clarify. While indeed our new sites will be pastored by SMP pastors who will not regularly preach, there will be a team of pastors who rotate around the sites delivering a live message. I’m not sure I buy into the effectiveness of video preaching feeds…

    And BTW – the reason we plan to expand through multiple smaller sites and not simply build a balcony and add a parking garage is we believe smaller worship communities promote fellowship in the church rather than a “mega church, remain unknown in the the crowd” mentality. And not planting daughter churches is simply our attempt to maximize certain staff resources and leverage common administration, not build our own district.

    Besides – smaller congregations all on the same text with a traveling preacher sounds a lot like the church my great grandfather grew up in…

  20. Mark,

    Thanks for the clarification and thanks for reading the website.

    The fact still remains that where the preaching of the Gospel and the administration of the sacraments is the heart and soul of what the church does, the traditional way that our grandfather’s church planted churches is what makes sense and not a series of satellite congregations. The latter model supports my thesis that someday the synod may collapse under its own weight with parishoners that are not very interested in synod.

    TR

  21. I was indeed trying to clarify and express our intent, not to dispute your thesis.

    But for the sake of interesting discussion – the goal is not the preservation of a synod, but rather that the Gospel is preached in it’s truth and purity and that the sacraments are rightly administered, right? Any voluntary organization of congregations needs to exist to serve that goal. Sometimes I get the sense that people are more in love with the LCMS than the Gospel…

  22. I agree with you Mark that synod is not something to preserve in and of itself.

    What is worth preserving is what the scriptures speak of – orthodox congregations joining together to support one another. This is also Walther’s fifth point in “The Proper Form of a Christian Congregation.”

    TR

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.