The statements that really strike me are:
The change we really need is not structural. We lack repentance. (Just look at how we treat one another [Gal. 5:16ff].) And we do not believe that the Word of God can actually unite us (Eph. 3:20).
Part of me might like the massive increase in power proposed for the Synod President. That’s why it’s not a good idea.
The major cause, I believe, is that we have virtually ceased funding what congregations care most about
From Stand Firm:
The June/July issue of The Lutheran Witness asks a series of questions to the five men whose names will appear on the ballot for President of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod in July, Rev. Matthew C. Harrison, Executive Director of LCMS World Relief and Human Care, Dr. Gerald B. Kieschnick, current President of the LCMS, District President Herbert Mueller Jr., Seminary Professor Dr. Carl C. Fickenscher II, and Seminary Professor Dr. Daniel L. Gard. Due to fair use considerations, only Rev. Harrison’s and President Kieschnick’s responses are presented. Here are the questions asked and these two men’s responses, which in many ways are a study in contrasts:
Q: How would you judge the health of The Lutheran Churchâ€”Missouri Synod today?:
Harrison: This is the most dynamic moment in history to be part of the LCMS! Worldwide opportunities abound. I’m giddy with hope (Rom. 15:4-13)! Yet, we are accomplishing a fraction of what’s possible. The New Testament shows us the twofold reality: “Saints” are also sinners, beset with problems (1 Cor. 1:2, 10ff.). It’s never been different. We need Jesus. We are blessed to know the Gospel in all its fullness. We have faithful workers, the two greatest Lutheran seminaries in the world, LLL, LWML, LCEF, great schools, partner churchesâ€”the list goes on! Best of all, the world is open for the mission of Christ. Healthy? Under the Law, no (Rom. 3:9ff.). But by the Gospel, we are congregations of living saints, blessed for this moment (Zech. 8:13; 1 Peter 2:9-10). The key to exploding upon the world in mission and mercy is this: Courage through repentance and renewal by the mighty Word of God. We’re no more or less healthy than that ragtag dozen who burst onto the world after Pentecost.
Kieschnick: A church’s health is measured by its faithfulness to Scripture and the Gospel which gives it birth and to which it is called to witness. The doctrine of forgiveness, life, and salvation in Christ alone is the foundation on which the church stands and the glue that holds it together.
By this standard, the LCMS is a healthy church. Every congregation and church worker is committed to the written Word of God, the Holy Scriptures, as confessed in the Lutheran Confessions.
When viewed, however, by God’s Law, the LCMS falls far short and is sick unto death. Too often the Gospel we are commanded to proclaim is undercut by the witness we giveâ€”indifference to sharing it with others, lack of civility and accountability in treating those with whom we disagree, distrust for one another, and failure to confess the full counsel of God in faithfulness to His word.
Thanks be to God for His amazing grace in allowing us poor sinners, in spite of our sin, to serve Him through our beloved Synod, seeking to proclaim Christ’s Gospel in faithfulness and for the salvation of many!
Q: In today’s ‘whatever works for you culture,’ how can the LCMS best reach out to people with the Good News of Jesus and testify to the truth of God’s Word?
Harrison: It’s simpleâ€”and all in Mark 1. A dozen times the Greek text says “and immediately” Jesus “came,” “healed,” etc. In my favorite verse, Jesus says “Let’s go!…I came to preach” (Mark 1:38). He’s confronted by a leper. “If You will it, I may be clean.” “Having compassion,” Jesus “touched him.” There it is: (1) Jesus acts! Act! Don’t have another meeting! Go! Visit congregation and community. (2) Preach the Good News! We need a revival of Gospel-centered preaching! (3) Have compassion on the hurtingâ€”inside the Church and out (James. 2:15ff.). Dare to reach folks where they are (Matt. 25:34ff.). We are blessed with a substantive, biblical message for this insane, post-modern world. “You’re hurting. How’s that ‘whatever works’ thing going for you? You know, Jesus loves you. Here’s how much…”
Kieschnick: Christians often avoid non-Christians. Engaging people, not avoiding them, provides avenues for them to meet Christ. People in every culture seek answers to basic life questions: “Who am I? Where did I come from? Where am I going? Is there a God? Who is He? Does He have a plan for my life? Is there life after death? Is that life for me?” Genuine, caring relationships enable people to feel free to ask such questions in an atmosphere of trust and safety, providing Spirit-led opportunities for sharing God’s answers to those questions from His Word with Christ-centered love, care, and concern.
As God’s representatives, we are privileged and challenged to make known the eternal truths from Holy Scripture, which reveal His grace, mercy, and forgiveness to people who have not yet met Him. We must do so unapologetically, sensitively, boldly, caringly, and courageously.
Q: During this year’s convention, delegates will consider proposals to restructure the way the Synod is organized. What is your opinion of the recommendations from the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Synod Structure and Governance?
Harrison: The change we really need is not structural. We lack repentance. (Just look at how we treat one another [Gal. 5:16ff].) And we do not believe that the Word of God can actually unite us (Eph. 3:20). It’s time to resolve enduring issues (http://itistime.org). Part of me might like the massive increase in power proposed for the Synod President. That’s why it’s not a good idea. The power of Synod is only the power of the Word (Walther). There is good cause to celebrate non-geographic districts. Proposals that enjoy overwhelming support should be passed. Narrow decisions will render us more fractured. I am heartsick about the planned elimination of World Relief and Human Care. Change the Lord brings always works for good (Rom. 5:3; 8:28ff.).
Kieschnick: For more than four years task force members have addressed challenges in our Synodâ€”unnecessary bureaucracy, lack of coordination, ambiguous supervisory relationships, inequitable representation, inefficient organization, insufficient accountability, etc. They have sought and responded to feedback from convention delegates and other leaders. While having expressed a few concerns, I believe task force recommendations are critical.
Amended structure and governance will not resolve all our challenges, but will enhance rather than impede the proclamation of the Gospel, improve efficiency, and increase effectiveness. What was first created as an organizational system for a Synod made up of a small number of congregations (14) now struggles to serve more than 6,100 congregations. Task force recommendations are designed to keep our Synod centered in Christ, passionate about accomplishing God’s mission, and devoted to carrying the Gospel which God has given to us with vision and courage into the future.
Q: In our present economic environment, money and resources seem tight everywhere. As president, how would you lead the Synod (nationally and locally) in stewarding its resources and people?
Harrison: At LCMS World Relief and Human Care, we’ve been responsible for receiving and managing some $100 million in donor funds over the last decade, always in the black. (1) The Synod has for years borrowed designated funds for operations. This is largely because LCMS World Mission costs (including the Fan into Flame campaign, despite best intentions) have exceeded revenues by millions yearly. It’s time to change how we do business. Synod’s Board of Directors must cease spending in excess of revenues. (2) Since 2001, undesignated funding (from districts) has dropped from $28 million to $18 million. The major cause, I believe, is that we have virtually ceased funding what congregations care most about: (a) Sending pastors to plant churches overseas (Rom. 10:15). (b) Training pastors and church workers (Matt. 9:37ff.). $2 million a year to each seminary can bring 200 international students to our campuses each year! We can rock the world for Christ! (c) Mercy for the needy (2 Cor. 8-9). There is no shortage to what the Lord can provide. The sooner we get back to these basics, (and stop doing some other things), the sooner we will realize it (2 Cor. 9:8). Let’s go!
Kieschnick: Faithful management of God’s gifts necessitates raising the level of Christ-centered biblical stewardship among our people and achieving greater expenditure efficiencies.
Generous contributions for mission support (Fan into Flame) and response to disasters (Katrina and Haiti) demonstrate the willingness of God’s people to respond to spiritual and physical need. Compelling, clear communication about such need is critical, enabling concerned Christians motivated by Christ’s love to respond.
Fewer paid staff can recruit, coordinate, and support volunteers with time, talent, and treasure to offer. Their hearts beat for local, national, and international mission, ministry, and mercy.
With a grateful heart I thank God for women and men who take seriously their role in the body of Christ and support the work of congregations, district, and Synod. I’m overwhelmed by their generosity and dedication!