Time for a BRTFGS – LCMS Safety Pause Brought to You by Alaska Airlines

I found this on Scott Diekmann’s Stand Firm blog. Scott is a frequent BJS author and commentator, and is an airline pilot for Alsaka Airlines in “real life”, which is helpful to know to understand why  he talks about taxiing and getting ready for takeoff. Here he talks about the need for us to step back, take a safety pause, and figure out what direction we really want to go in the LCMS. (Norm Fisher)

MissionaryEvery once in a while when I’m at work I take what I call a “safety pause.” We might be taxiing out getting ready for takeoff and things just don’t seem right. There’s a nagging feeling that we’re forgetting something or there’s just too much of a rush going on. Those are the times when it’s most likely that you’ve missed something that could influence the safety of the flight – it’s time to take a safety pause. Stop the jet, set the parking brake, and analyze what’s going on. Review your plan, confirm that you’ve completed the appropriate checklists, and step back and take a broad look at what’s happening inside and outside the jet to make sure you’re good to go. In much the same way, the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod needs to take a safety pause.

When you look around the Synod, one of the things you’ll notice is how much of our focus is now on mission. Everywhere you turn we’re talking about mission. Millions of dollars are being spent on programs such as Ablaze! for the sake of mission. Congregational governing structures are being reshaped for the sake of mission. A mission focus is certainly a good thing when it’s balanced with an appropriate diet of Law and Gospel, something which arguably isn’t happening. One of the ironies here is that with all the talk of mission, our mission work in the world through the use of missionaries is steadily declining. From 1968 through 2004 our number of clergy and non-clergy missionaries has dropped a whopping 79% (LCMS statistics courtesy of Pastor James Tino on his blog The Mission Phoenix).

In 2009 the LCMS has a total of 123 missionaries in the field. This number includes 37 spouses with missionary solemn appointments and 9 missionaries from international partner churches. One way to see how we’re doing is to see how that number stacks up against other Lutherans. I emailed the Church of the Lutheran Brethren (CLB) to ascertain how many missionaries they have in the field. The CLB is a small synod in the U.S. and Canada that places an emphasis on missionary work. They have a total of 123 congregations, and a total of 46 missionaries in the field. That’s a pretty big number for such a small synod. For the LCMS to match their number of missionaries in terms of missionaries per congregation, the LCMS should have 2,460 missionaries, not the 123 we actually have. That’s a stunningly abysmal number of missionaries.

Setting the LCMS parking brake, it seems that things have gone awry. Talk of “mission” is at an all time high, but our synodical membership and work abroad are in steady decline. Have we lost the “edge?” Are we all “talk” and no “do?” A quickie drive-by Gospel presentation (when it’s the Law an unrepentant sinner really needs to hear) a la Ablaze!, or a church who’s all about questionable billboards or novel approaches used to attract the “seeker” are the fast food of our time, lacking the meat and potatoes of solid Gospel sustenance.

Missionary work is hard work. It doesn’t promise to put up big numbers. Maybe that’s why we’ve lost interest in sending pastors and teachers to the four corners of the earth to preach the Gospel to those who otherwise may never hear it. We’re more interested in reading about the latest evangelical method on church growth than in reading about the Baptism of a handful of natives on the dirt floor of a grass hut on the opposite side of the globe. Maybe we need to keep the parking brake set for a while in the LCMS, until we’ve got the Synod pointed in the right direction. While the brake is set, we can refile our flight plan so that it is solidly on the Biblical mission route – to Baptize and teach. And while we’re at it, we can get those missionaries back off the shelf and send them out to preach Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

“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?” (Romans 10:14 ESV)

photo credit: gbaku


Time for a BRTFGS – LCMS Safety Pause Brought to You by Alaska Airlines — 12 Comments

  1. Ah, yes, but Scott/Norm, don’t you know that pausing or stopping ANY kind of missional effort is only hindering your true evangelical potential? Just think of all the souls you could be saving by taking your “safety pause”? Why, the mission-minded efforts of Ablaze!(TM) can’t stop for ANYTHING, lest of all any silly, petty so-called “doctrine”! When you’re hindering church growth and transformation, you’re hindering the word of the Lord!

    (saying this firmly tongue-in-cheek, of course 😉

  2. Scott,
    As an ex-Navy pilot (went from four turnin’ to two turnin’-two burnin’), I relate to your analogy (even afer 45+ years)
    Seems to me, though, that our fearless leaders aren’t even using a check list, or maybe they’re using one written in Calvin-speak rather than Luther-speak.
    I ain’t as simple as “kick the fires, light the fires and go” but St. Louis seems to be on that track. And without a a flight engineer (or a parachute!)
    There’s rocks in them clouds.

  3. Stop? Pause? C’mon, you gotta be kidding. Everything is going full blast, and we’re just getting started. We’re revitalizing, transforming, developing (naturally, of course), getting more effective, becoming healthy, re-structuring, you name it.

    Get real, Scott–no time to waste with silly things like checking your flaps, your brakes, your flight plan, your fuel gage, the weather report, or the radar. No pause here–get those after-burners going–more power (oops, did I say “power”?)!

    This ain’t your grandfather’s biplane. Just get out the old checkbook, throttle up to full, flaps down, and whoopee–we’re off!!

    j (LSO–Lutheran Sender-Offer)

  4. Who needs full-time, theologically trained and ordained missionaries, if you can have the “300 biggest congregations” touted in the report pay for / raise funds for volunteer missionaries teaching English to fill the void?

    True, that’s maybe not baptizing and teaching, but it does get the Ablaze-contact counter up some more. You can’t have the cake and eat it too. Organizational policy priorities have to remain — priorities.

  5. Dear Scott,

    I think you are on the right frequency. I am just a pew sitter but it is clear that something amiss in the LCMS. There is a lack of real cohesiveness from leadership, there is a potpourri of ideas on how to bring people into church and I have seen it all first hand. I have moved 6 times in the last 10 years throughout the country and now Seattle … and every time I search for a new LCMS church to attend I get a new LCMS “brand”. The Word of God is there, but everything else seems to be up for grabs. Which goes to your comments … “keep the parking brake on until we get pointed in the right direction”. In terms of missions … how do you start a mission when you don’t even know what you are modeling your mission after? Should you have a praise band or not a praise band? Should you have a communion out of a chalice or a plastic cup? Do Pastors wear clerical collars or don’t they? Etc. etc. etc…. It feels like the church has lost it’s tail rudder and the pastor is doing his best to keep it aloft … making up things as he goes along.

    What LCMS leadership should know is … we, in the pews NEED clear, Scriptural based reasons why we do what we do! We need Divine authority …. not humanistic authority … or it’s just a matter of time before the crash.

    Thanks for your thoughts Scott.

    PS – fly safe! My husband is a Test Pilot here … perhaps you have been on the same frequency too.

  6. What a great analogy! And Julie, I can certainly identify with you. For nearly twenty years (70’s & 80’s) we moved continually, never staying in one location more than 2 1/2 years, but the one constant was always finding that solid church home. We could walk into an LCMS church and immediately feel “at home” . . . . a HUGE comfort when your world is in constant change & turmoil. Today, unfortunately, that certainty is no longer possible. One of our older members recently visited relatives in the Palm Springs area and came home to relate stories of the “clang & bang” service, complete with a pastor in casual clothing. How comforting for those of us who are blessed to be served by confessional pastors, teaching pastors, faithful pastors who remain focused in the Word & Sacraments and deliver them to us every single week! Praise God for our grandfathers’ church!

  7. Hi Julie.

    I assume your husband is a Boeing test pilot? We hear those guys on the frequency quite often, so I bet I have heard him.

    There does seem to be a template for new church plants in the LCMS, at least if it’s got any kind of Ablaze! related funds attached to it. Churches like Water’s Edge, for instance, seem to be what they’re often shooting for, and brag about in The Reporter and The Lutheran Witness. (You can read about Water’s Edge here: http://wittenbergtrail.ning.com/forum/topics/waters-edge-a-case-study-on?x=1&id=1453099%3ATopic%3A58255&page=1#comments) We want trendy churches now that are mostly a byproduct of Church Growth Movement ideals, with a pinch of Emergent Church thrown in to make it look a little more trendy and more appealing to the postmodern generations.

    The huge irony here is that what younger people want, we aren’t giving them, even in many of these new template churches. They aren’t looking for a fakey choreographed to the max production, like many CGM churches produce. And they aren’t necessarily looking for an atmosphere that is devoid of ceremony either. They want something authentic, and something that is more in tune with ritual. What is that something? It’s THE LITURGY! Of course they aren’t wanting liturgy for the right reasons necessarily, but hey, we’ll give it to them and educate them on what it all means. Then they’ll really want it. They also want things that are more experiential, like candles and incense, which some Lutheran churches, even in the LCMS, offer. The “Willow Creek” megachurches of the world have already realized that what they’ve been doing for the past two decades, which the LCMS is just starting to do, doesn’t “work.” But I guess we have to prove it to ourselves. The bottom line is what you point out, let’s stick to the way the Church has been doing it from the outset, through Word and Sacrament. Leave the “fluff” for somebody else.

    Stay dry!

  8. Scott – good points! People are seeking Truth and authenticity more and more. You can see Christians separating themselves from heresy, moving away from corruption, denying their own Pastors in order to live according to God’s word. This is a good thing and in the end … the Church may be smaller but it will be much stronger to survive this world we live in.

    Thx again.

    Yes – Boeing out of King Field. On a clear day – flying is amazing around here! Beautiful views everywhere …

  9. Yes… Carrier flying doesn’t count because it defies logic. Landing on a pitching, rolling deck isn’t too smart really … Thanks for serving our country !

    Go Navy!
    My husband was an F-14 guy…

  10. Any time you make an attempted landing on a carrier it counts, as long as you don’t get wet. Plus, not only is the deck pitching and rolling, it’s moving linearly as well. I could get wet when I land the jet in Sitka, but at least the “deck” isn’t moving, although it doesn’t have any cables, and may have ice. Sometimes it even has rocks since the surf can kick rocks up onto the runway.

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.