The LCMS Missionary Numbers Shell Game According to Dr. James Tino (former LCMS missionary) by Pr. Rossow

Dr. James Tino is a former LCMS missionary. He is a clear, accurate and unbiased expert on how world missions under the  current LCMS leadership has been in a steady decline.

The reason I say that he is unbiased is because he is a  product of the LCMS missions system. He has a PhD in  Missiology from Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne. I studied side by side with the missiology students for several years while I earned my Doctor of Ministry degree. It is  fair to say that they are comfortable using far more sociology and psychology in their mission efforts than most readers of this website would be. My point is not to pass judgment on such but to clarify why I consider Dr. Tino to be an unbiased reporter of the current LCMS missions situation. He is from the world of LCMS missiology. If anything, his bias leans toward supporting  world missions  but he and others are not happy campers when it comes to what is happening to LCMS missions.

Here is the opening paragraph  from one his most recent blogposts:

I, for one, am completely fed up with the “shell game” that LCMS World Mission is playing with the missionary numbers. LCMS World Mission works very hard to give the impression that we are sending more career missionaries now than ever, even though that is absolutely not true.

We encourage you to read the rest of his post by clicking here. We also encourage you to read his biography to see a real life example of how our missionary numbers are dwindling.

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.


The LCMS Missionary Numbers Shell Game According to Dr. James Tino (former LCMS missionary) by Pr. Rossow — 21 Comments

  1. OK – this is difficult to see the point. Many “confessional” churches cut their mission giving because they don’t like the direction the Synod is heading. Fair enough. Then, when missions go down – or decreases take place, many of the same people who are cutting back their offerings to Synodical missions complain, that there aren’t as many missionaries as before.

    I understand that it’s a little more complicated than this – but not much…

    I do agree with Dr. Tino that they shouldn’t be playing with the numbers, though…

  2. If the missionaries and seminaries are basically raising their own money, why send any money to to Synod, Inc. at all? What indispensable service is the Synod providing for missionaries or seminaries or the LCMS at large?

    Lutherans are waking up, getting smart, and cutting out the middle men in the Purple Palace. Christ does not need big fancy office buildings in St. Louis and big fancy PR campaigns to carry out the work of His Church. He simply uses faithful servants equipped with His Word and Sacraments and supported by the gifts He gives to the people of His Church.

  3. I wonder how may bags of gold will have to be borne, in how many varied ways by some who so mislead the Church and/or spend monies for Missionary Evangelistic endeavors on personal or pleasure driven ambitions.

    God help them to repent.

  4. @CS #3
    The synod pushed this idea several years ago. They have themselves to account for what is happening. I would guess that if you totalled up all the money given to synod, the seminaries, world mission, the universities, etc. the total would be commensurate with total giving to synod twenty or thirty years ago, including inflation.

    However–the only substantive “Church Growth” we’ve witnessed is in the bureaucracy in St. Louis while the membership declines. What’s wrong with this picture?


  5. I cannot believe we can’t employee more than 29 missionaries for $55 million dollars! Especially when they raise their own funds outside of that! The politics is truly disheartening–I mean, truly. We spend more time spinning on a wheel like a hamster. And good people are lost. Really amazing. The people in the pew would have a fit. Especially the older ones who get all the fund-raising letters.

  6. @Monte Meyer #1
    Hey Monte – your logic is OK, but it doesn’t really match reality. In 1971, we had 356 missionary units overseas. 356!! Not sure how the Synodical budget would compare in today’s dollars, but still and all, it reflects a priority of sending and supporting career, overseas missionaries.

    Today, we have pathetically few overseas missionaries, even if we take into account the declining value of the dollar. One of the primary reasons for this is that LCMS WM is not focused on sending and supporting career missionaries. That is considered to be inefficient. Another reason is that LCMS WM has to pay for a LOT of things in addition to missionary salary / support – including about a 15% surcharge on each missionary for general Synodical overhead costs.

    In other words, my guesstimate is that with the money that LCMS WM receives today, we could be supporting twice as many overseas career missionaries, IF missionary sending were a priority and IF LCMS Inc. were not financed on the back of LCMS World Mission.

    BTW – done any painting lately?

  7. Helen #6….Not all districts, please. The Southern Illinois District has 3 full-time employees. The DP, the District Exec for Education and a full-time secretary. There is a part-time bookkeeper. Please don’t lump ALL districts like that.

  8. If anyone still has it, take a look at the cover of the August 2008 issue of “Harvest News” which is published by LCMS World Mission. I thought it was a keeper. The cover has a photo of “53 New Missionaries.” Counted among the 53 are wives, children and a few infants. I am not sure what sort of theological and missiological training these infants have received, but I’ll have to trust that it’s much more that I have received.

  9. Yes, missionaries are required to raise their own funds. The thought is, that if you give your money to support a particular missionary you know exactly where it is going. Not bad in itself, but the disconnect between that model and what many people think is happening is huge. My impression is that the organization is very top-heavy. Even 12 years ago there were substantially more career missionaries in the field than today. Sending pastors into the field is being greatly de-emphasized its seems, and many 1 or 2 year people are sent to work on various projects. I’d love to see historical stats on numbers of workers in StL, vs. number of deployed missionaries, but good luck finding those. As far as the theological issues go, my experience is that those actually doing work in the field are somewhat immune to having to deal with much of it, but it really depends on the region where you are working.

  10. The number I have heard is 150% of needs must be raised, the extra 50% for the LCMS Mission Board. It is not clear from the outside if any of that goes for travel etc.

    Important as good stewardship is, more importantly, the problem is that the LCMS Mission Board has stated and acted to remove all church planting activities from LCMS missionaries. Things that used to be considered auxiliary are now considered the only allowable. Again check out the point of Rev Tino’s story.

  11. @Arthur Bolstad #14
    Yes, I read the article and wasn’t responding to the main point of Rev Tino’s article, per se, but other comments that it sparked. It was an excellent article.

    The actual amount needed to be raised is in flux right now. Last time I asked (April ’09), missionaries had to raise 100% of their need (travel, salary, benefits, etc.) and no overhead was being “charged” missionaries over and above that need. Overhead was being paid by other sources (fan into flame?) I’m speaking about career and don’t know about long term or short term volunteers. 3 years ago I was told between 10 and 20% above need was to be raised to cover overhead.

    As for church planting activities, it makes sense to me to send certain individuals whose primary role it is to support or help build up local emerging church bodies or even partner churches. At a certain point, they should be doing the work of church planting among their people. Often partner churches will request such support. But there are what, 20 partner churches? There are so many more places where church planting should be the primary activity. I know some of those places are deemed too unsafe or closed to send people, butGod works even in those places. Look what’s happening in Vietnam. A Lutheran school is being allowed to be built in what many consider one of the most “closed” places in the world. Perhaps the lack of church planting career missionaries is what is sparking RSO’s to pop up and support that work? I think we could use another (I know, I know, not another RSO), to support Lutheran school projects around the world.

  12. Do the 44 active WELS missionaries include WELS civilian chaplains who minister to WELS members on active military duty? Or are they included in one of the other categories?

  13. You know what I am seeing more and more first hand? We are sending short term “missionaries” , like 5 day missionaries to Africa and South America to “do a good deed” but they all pay their own way and it sort of becomes a feather in their cap when they return to their home congregations as to the sacrifice they made. Now this sounds very harsh, I know, but the truth is many of these missions are more sightseeing opportunities then actual gospel outreach. I have noticed that many places, especially in Africa are visited by multiple charitable organizations from all over the world that come to help them a week or so at a time and are not Christian at all but more of a save the world kind of organization.

    I applaud our parishoners who give their time and money to actually make these trips, but I will never think they could take the place of long term missionaries who are called by God and have a burning desire to build disciples WHILE they build wells and face terrible hardships and dangers. I have traveled the roads St Paul traveled on his missionary trips, but would not for one minute think I was following in his footsteps. Especially on my luxury air conditioned tour bus. We need God’s called missionaries to do the long term, hard work. @Helen #2

  14. @Lutheran Lady #20
    “We are sending short term “missionaries” , like 5 day missionaries to Africa and South America to “do a good deed” but they all pay their own way…”

    Do they? OR do they raise funds in the church and everyone takes a tax break on their contribution? Do they get to deduct the whole thing as “expense”?
    [THere has got to be a $$ gimmick or this thing wouldn’t be so popular. People could just take their vacation and not call themselves “5 day missionaries”!!!]

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