Great Stuff — thisweconfess on Getting the Message Out or Getting the Message Right?

I came across this post on Google+ on a blog that I’ve never come across before. It sounds a lot like “Get the Message Right, Missouri .. Get the Message out, Missouri”. This talks about a lot of what I’ve been hearing — by being Missional we are not taking care of the flock we already have, instead concentrating on reaching out to new people.

The post is by Rev. Lucas V. Woodford:



I came across a fascinating post this past weekend from the missional website  It was titled, “Why the Missional Movement Will Fail” (part 2) and was written by missional guru Mike Breen.

He cuts to the chase and offers an interesting perspective: “It’s time we start being brutally honest about the missional movement that has emerged in the last 10-15 years: Chances are better than not it’s going to fail. That may seem cynical, but I’m being realistic. There is a reason so many movements in the Western church have failed in the past century: They are a car without an engine. A missional church or a missional community or a missional small group is the new car that everyone is talking about right now, but no matter how beautiful or shiny the vehicle, without an engine, it won’t go anywhere.”

What’s the engine that is missing? Without question, Breen says, it is discipleship. In short, he says that the North American church has become so obsessed with getting the message out that they are failing to get the message right, and are therefore failing to actually make disciples:We took 30 days and examined the Twitter conversations happening. We discovered there are between 100-150 times as many people talking about mission as there are discipleship (to be clear, that’s a 100:1). We are a group of people addicted to and obsessed with the work of the Kingdom, with little to no idea how to be with the King.”

Breen cites another fascinating (must read) post from the missional website (Out of,; the July 18, 2011 post by Skye Jethani) titled“Has the Mission Become Our Idol?” Here, too, there is an internal alarm being sounded about the recent “missional” push by the North American church.

Jethani offers no small indictment: “[M]any church leaders unknowingly replace the transcendent vitality of a life with God for the ego satisfaction they derive from a life for God.” He goes on, “When we come to believe that our faith is primarily about what we can do for God in the world, it is like throwing gasoline on our fear of insignificance. The resulting fire may be presented to others as a godly ambition, a holy desire to see God’s mission advance–the kind of drive evident in the Apostle Paul’s life. But when these flames are fueled by fear they reveal none of the peace, joy, or love displayed by Paul and rooted in the Spirit. Instead the relentless drive to prove our worth can quickly become destructive.”



Nonetheless, the notion of getting the message out continues to remain an intense push among many Lutherans circles, motivating some to take increasingly confusing steps towards the end of getting the message out. From adopting theologically foreign methodologies, to measuring the faithfulness of a church solely by the numerical growth of members, to forcing the sale of an active congregational church building to turn a large profit—all are being done in the name of getting the message out.



Sadly, in the end, by the testimony of those closest to the missional movement, the priority of getting the message out has confounded getting the clear message of Jesus Christ right. Thus, I believe it is time that evangelical Lutherans be allowed to be evangelical Lutherans. I believe it’s time we stop being afraid of practicing the profound catechizing, discipling, and confessional faith for which we are known! I believe it’s time to have honest, open, candid, and collegial dialogue about what it means to be a 21st century Lutheran who “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). For those willing to enter the fray, I welcome your constructive thoughts.


Rev. Woodford



To read more, click here.

About Norm Fisher

Norm was raised in the UCC in Connecticut, and like many fell away from the church after high school. With this background he saw it primarily as a service organization. On the miracle of his first child he came back to the church. On moving to Texas a few years later he found a home in Lutheranism when he was invited to a confessional church a half-hour away by our new neighbors.

He is one of those people who found a like mind in computers while in Middle School and has been programming ever since. He's responsible for many websites, including the Book of Concord,, and several other sites.

He has served the church in various positions, including financial secretary, sunday school teacher, elder, PTF board member, and choir member.

More of his work can be found at


Great Stuff — thisweconfess on Getting the Message Out or Getting the Message Right? — 25 Comments

  1. The “engine” is the Holy Spirit who is provided via Word and Sacrament. Believers are to become “workmen not ashamed”, and carry this message out to folks in their life’s path. This is how the early church grew and how the church I grew up in grew from 400 to over 2000 in a rural community. The Spirit does the work and the conversion not techniques or marketing or events. It works every time it is used and it will be done with or without us.

  2. Amen to this article! I think the biggest key as you point out is to stop looking for physical markers of success (which is usually “how many new members?” type thinking). I try to remind and encourage my members that what we are to be is faithful: faithful to God’s Word, faithful to the Confessions, faithful in what we teach, believe, and witness to to others. If we simply went by success or numbers then the Mormon Church must be the ones getting things the most right!

  3. Dear Folks,

    Rev. Woodford is an amazing pastor and a wonderfuul choice to be the next district president in the MNS District.

    I could not agree more with his article and if you get to know him he is faithful to the core and maintains the true heart of a pastor.

    Also, he has more good postings and articles on his blog. I would encourage everyone to subscribe to his blog and encourage him to remain faithful.

    A bit ironic. Rev. Woodford is the head pastor at the church, which the current mission executive of the Minnesota South District served at before he was brought to the district.

  4. I think someone important once said, ” first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

    In my opinion the Brothers Steadfast should leave people to the ministry to which God has called and placed them and take care of their own ministry to which God has called them. In other words live and let live.

  5. @John #4

    “In other words live and let live.”

    Which can also be read as “live and let DIE.” When it comes to the care of our neighbor and his/her soul we are all responsible. In my opinion, it is not loving to stand idly by as a neighbor walks into the direct path of an oncoming train.

  6. John :

    In my opinion the Brothers Steadfast should leave people to the ministry to which God has called and placed them and take care of their own ministry to which God has called them. In other words live and let live.

    ….like Martin Luther?

  7. In my opinion the Brothers Steadfast should leave people to the ministry to which God has called and placed them and take care of their own ministry to which God has called them. In other words live and let live.

    “We have to be aware of how ignorant the modern generation is, even in the Lutheran Church. We recognize far too seldom that religious and confirmation instruction and the Sunday school can in no way give what previous generations knew from home through Bible reading and what was learned from pious parents. Today the need of the hour for the Lutheran Church is to become a teaching church again.” (Herman Sasse, Letters to Lutheran Pastors, No. 42, July 1956 in “We Confess Anthology – The Sacraments” p. 22)

  8. “This talks about a lot of what I’ve been hearing — by being Missional we are not taking care of the flock we already have, instead concentrating on reaching out to new people.”

    An outsider looking at this situation notices that when he becomes a member, he is no longer valued by the group.

    Why would that motivate him to join group like that?

    He isn’t even going to listen to what is being said because the actions speak louder than words.

    The kind of outsider I am thinking of is a student and University of Minnesota.

  9. @John #4
    Thanks Cain, you can fight God about NOT being your brothers keeper all you want, but that doesn’t change about the fact that God has placed us into a community, congregations, circuits, districts, and even Synods which implicitly mean accountability and being one another’s keeper. Only the arrogant think they need no keeper and only the unloving think they need not help keep their brother in check.

    Here is something from our Synod’s founder, C.F.W. Walther on the topic of judging:

    “Judge Not, and ye shall not be judged; condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned” (verse 37). This is what we read in the Gospel for today. These important, warning, and threatening words are very frequently used to reprimand those, who earnestly judge false doctrine and dare to judge those who are unbelievers or sinners. It is a quite general reproach which is made, especially over against those preachers, who earnestly cling to to the pure doctrine and emphatically reject all heresy. They are accused of being loveless men with a mania for condemning, not heeding the word of the Savior: “Judge not! Condemn not!” This expression, they say, will condemn these stern judges on Judgment Day.
    Many are deceived by this explanation. This accusation, however, rests upon a false explanation of those words.
    When Christ says: “Judge not! Condemn not!” this cannot possibly mean that no one dare judge and condemn false doctrine, that one dare not pronounce upon the unbelieving and wicked God’s judgment of damnation. No, in many passages of Holy Writ, all servants of Christ have been given the clearest and most distinct command to do this. Christ gives all His servants the precise instruction: “Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:15-16) Every preacher should not only preach salvation but also damnation to the unbelievers. Yes, in Isaiah 5, woe is pronounced upon all who do not want to do the latter. We read: “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil’ that put darkness for light, and light for darkness, that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Isa 5:20) We read in Ezekiel: “Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel; hear therefore the Word at my mouth, and give them warning from me. When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not a warning… the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood will I require at thy hand.” (Ezek 3:17, 18) Yes, Isaiah says of those preachers who do not pronounce damnation upon the unrepentant but wish to preach only sweet pleasing things: “They are all dumb dogs, they cannot bark; sleeping, lying down, loving to slumber.” (Isa 56:10)
    This concerns not only preachers but laymen just as well. They should also confidently condemn false doctrine and godless life. The Lord says to all Christians: “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” (Mt 7:15) How can hearers be on their guard against false prophets, if they dare not judge, reject, and condemn false doctrine? Christ says that the members of the congregation should consider those as heathen and publicans, who despise their admonition. Must they not condemn them? St. Paul admonishes: “Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.” (Eph 5:11) But how could the laymen reprove the godlessness of the world, if they dare not say that it leads to damnation?
    In all this, Christ, the prophets, apostles, and the first Christians set the example. Did not Christ at countless times pronounce “woe” upon the Pharisees and scribes, these false teachers? Did not Paul say to the Galatians: “If any man preach any other Gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed”? (Gal 1:9) Does he not say of the enemies of Christ’s cross, that their end is damnation? Does he not say that he has delivered the heretics Hymaneus and Alexander, to Satan, that they may be chastised and learn not to blaspheme? Does not the apostle of love [John] say: “If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him Godspeed”? (2 Jn 10) And finally, is not the congregation at Ephesus praised because they had “tried them which say that they are apostles and are not, and hast found them liars”? (Rev 2:2)
    I hope that it is obvious to all of you that it is not forbidden to reprove, judge, form an opinion, and condemn false doctrine and manifest ungodly life. Yes, whoever does not do that acts most unkindly. Whoever sees his neighbor head toward hell and still does not warn and show him his great danger, God regards him as being to blame that the person whom he did not reprove was lost.
    But now you will say: What is the forbidden judging and condemning which Christ means? It is nothing else than the judging of hearts, judging not according to God’s Word, but according to our own thoughts. It is judging in impertinence, without love and mercy.”

  10. Mission is making disciples. That means catechizing the sheep in your pen, and it also means going out and finding lost sheep and bringing them in (through the power of the Holy Spirit working in the means of grace). I do get tired of hearing “it’s not either/or” from people, but it’s not. You don’t solve the problem of people who are interested only in outreach by falling off the horse on the other side and ignoring outreach.

  11. Thank you Rev. Woodford for writing this article and Norm Fisher for posting it. More open discussion between the two camps is necessary so that the church does falter to mission idolatry or rejection of mission. Unfortunately, we have failed in putting the best construction on things when it comes to this area and assumed the worst or failed to admonish in love. The shepherds and teachers need the evangelists and apostles and vice versa. We need to live more in the tension of listening to each other and exhorting each other. One that leans towards doctrine and one that leans toward action. Instead, we group up and listen only to people we agree with and paint an untrue picture of the other side.

  12. @Pastor Joshua Scheer #10
    Pr. Scheer: Oh, but you and Walther are so negative! Okay, I got my sarcasm out. Thanks for the quote. A lot of shepherds think they are protecting their flocks by shielding them from heresies round about by ignoring false doctrine, (and possibly not teaching true doctrine) when they should be showing the false doctrines of wolves in sheep’s clothing and so warn, reprove and rebuke with “sound doctrine”. For instance, in an area heavy with Mormons, pastors have to be clear about the clear and present dangers.

  13. @John #4

    Dear John,

    I think we have had conversation on this topic of “not your business” previously with other people. Since you are anonymous, I don’t know if you were part of that conversation, so I sincerely apologize for repeating myself.

    I cannot speak on behalf of the blog editors or their policy. All I can speak for is how I perceive my role in these things.

    Persons who are members of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod have both the right and responsibility to speak to issues pertaining to ministries and missions supported by the LCMS. University Lutheran Chapel is a ministry of the LCMS, whose oversight has been delegated to the Minnesota South District. Another way of saying this is that, through my membership in the synod, MNS District, Pastor Kind, and the officers of University Lutheran Chapel, administer Word and Sacrament ministry to the students of the University of Minnesota on my behalf (and on behalf of 2.1 million other LCMS folks).

    Just because the LCMS has delegated oversight to the MNS district in this area does not mean that such oversight by the MNS district is beyond review or criticism, either by the members of the LCMS, or by “higher authorities” in the synod (such as: LCMS President, LCMS Praesidium, LCMS Board of Directors, LCMS Reconcilers, LCMS Dispute Resolution Panel, LCMS Appeal Panel, the LCMS Board for National Mission, the LCMS Chief Mission Officer, the CCM, and the Council of Presidents).

    Which of these authorities could review or criticize the action of MNS district? The LCMS Board of Directors “shall be responsible for the general management of the business and legal affairs of the Synod. . . . It shall be authorized to take on behalf of the Synod any action related to such business and legal affairs which has not been expressly delegated by the Constitution, Bylaws, and resolutions of the Synod to other officers or agencies [includes districts per bylaw 1.2.1 (a) (1)] and as to those shall have general oversight responsibility.” (LCMS Bylaw So, due to the last phrase granting “general oversight responsibility,” the LCMS Board of Directors is the first “court of appeal,” as it were, for the decision of the MNS district to sell the ULC property.

    Also must be kept in mind Bylaw (a) which delegates “to district board of directors the authority to buy, sell, and encumber real property.” So the MNS district board has acted within its authority, but that does not mean it cannot be questioned or challenged by “higher authorities” or by LCMS membership.

    If no one was being hurt by this action of the MNS district board of directors, then it would be purely a business matter–and we COULD debate about that within our rights as LCMS members–but MOST of us would not bother. I am not going to second-guess every business decision of our officers. They want to buy property here, sell property there–let them do that. That is why we elected them, and almost all of the time they are in the best position of being informed and experienced to know that.

    But someone IS being hurt by this action. Pastor Kind and his congregation, and the Lutheran students of University of Minnesota are going to lose their home. They are going join the ranks of the “homeless” and it may end that ministry altogether. Perhaps you have no sympathy for their situation, but I do.

    I have GREAT sympathy for the difficult life of Christian college students today. They are battered on every side by people who mock their lifestyle and beliefs. Most universities are openly hostile to young Christians. It is a depressing place to be, and for many Christian youth, a place like University Lutheran Chapel is the only thing that makes it tolerable. Without that lifeboat of Christian fellowship, biblical doctrine, and pious worship, many Christians quit the university; a few commit suicide in despair.

    Is this my business? What should I do if somebody is really being hurt by an action of a church officer or church board? Should I just let it go, since the oppressor will always say “None of your business, pal, move on!” like the Imperial Guard in Star Wars?

    I wondered about this very question, many years ago in 1989, when Dr. Robert Preus was fired under questionable circumstances. Even though I knew him a little bit, I wasn’t at the time a personal friend or colleague. At the same time, I knew that he was a fellow brother in Christ and a “fellow brother pastor,” which is more than just being a “neighbor.”

    Then, about a year or so later, we began to see evidence that church officers were also brow-beating and punishing Fort Wayne faculty and staff who were just doing their job and who were supportive of our common confessions. So it was evident it wasn’t just Dr. Preus who was being punished. Then the same church officers refused to certify 32 seminarians in 1992. Then I wondered whether or not it WAS my business.

    While wondering what I should do, I found this in Martin Luther’s writings, that answered my questions:

    “In what concerns you and yours, you govern yourself by the gospel and suffer injustice toward yourself as a true Christian; in what concerns the person or property of others, you govern yourself according to love and tolerate no injustice toward your neighbor. The gospel does not forbid this; in fact, in other places it actually commands it. . .
    For everyone is under obligation to what is for his neighbor’s good, be it Old Testament or New, Jewish or Gentile, as Paul teaches in I Corinthians 12. . . . Where you see that your neighbor needs it, there love constrains you to do as a matter of necessity that which would otherwise be optional and not necessary for you either to do or to leave undone. . . .
    From all this we gain the true meaning of Christ’s words in Matthew 5:39 “Do not resist evil,” etc. It is this: A Christian should be so disposed that he will suffer every evil and injustice without avenging himself; neither will he seek legal redress in the courts but have utterly no need of temporal authority and law for his own sake. On behalf of others, however, he may and should seek vengeance, justice, protection, and help, and do as much as he can to achieve it. . . .
    Be certain too that this teaching of Christ is not a counsel for those who would be perfect, as our sophists [Aquinas and the Paris theologians] blasphemously and falsely say, but a universally obligatory command for all Christians. . . . Do not be dissuaded by the multitude and the common practice; for there are few Christians on earth–have no doubt about it–and God’s word is something very different from common practice.” (Luther’s Works 45:96-102, “Temporal Authority: To What Extent It Should be Obeyed”).

    So, on the basis of Luther’s doctrine of “LOVE THY NEIGHBOR,” the Second Greatest Commandment, I came to the defense publicly of Robert Preus and the Fort Wayne faculty. And I have been “paying” for that action of “love thy neighbor” ever since. The “payment” doesn’t really matter to me, because I have obeyed God’s clear command. God’s clear command means he always approves, even though men might disapprove.

    When the situation became my own, when I was fired without cause at CHI, under questionable circumstances, I obeyed Luther’s doctrine again, and DID NOT RESIST EVIL. I did not seek revenge for myself. I did not cause a fuss. I did not seek a lawsuit for “Wrongful Termination.” I did not initiate a complaint with the church courts. I just let it go. And no one came to my defense, although I had many private letters of support. What me and my family lost doesn’t really matter, because I have obeyed God’s clear command and not resisted evil.

    Finally, there are the words of Paul about how we are connected in the church: “God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ and each one of you is a part of it.” (I Corinthians 12:24-27).

    So, John, I cannot defend what other people have done or said, but my defense of University Lutheran Chapel is consistent with how I have lived my ministry in the LCMS and consistent with how Luther says all Christians should live.

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  14. Many of us have been saying these very thing for years and in fact could have written this article from personal experience. I think our fault in the LCMS lies in always looking over the fence to Evangelicals and Pentecostals and wondering why we are whooping and hollering or why we don’t have the cool “how to” books to get our lives in order. WE MUST stop this and begin catechising our congregation with Lutheran doctrinal sermon series that will again instruct in greater detail those things in the Word that will compel us out of love for the Father to GO AND TELL others of His love for them. We must get it right and stop with the syncretism. It is killing our church body and is ruining our kids’ minds. There is nothing so deadly as confusion and half-truths being doled out to the children these days and adult Christians are responsible. No one else. The children will go where they are led. We need to lead them into a solid life in Christ with the same enthusiasm as we show when we take them to their after school sport and activities. All of these children will grow up but how many will grow in faith because of brave, honest catechesis?

  15. @Pr. John A. Frahm #16

    “The Unity of the True Faith” takes another hit. Whether DP Benke wants to believe it or not, this kind of stuff negates the central article–justificaiton, to which mission is accountable. Well, according to the ELCA article, everyone “felt” moved, etc., etc. THAT’s what’s important.


  16. I doubt Evangelicals generally mean “pure doctrine” when they speak of “discipleship.” They typically mean sanctification. Duh, the “how to be with the King” thing mentioned by Breen. And the call for putting that kind of discipleship back into missions ain’t all that new. Already in 1978, L. Eims spoke of “The Lost Art of Disciple Making.”

    And, BTW, Rick Warren’s 40 Days of Purpose is about that kind of discipleship too. Great, no?

    But, never mind, kudos to Pr. Woodford for Lutheranizing the latest on the “missions wires.” We haven’t had that for a while now.

  17. I would think discipleship would best be summarized by Jesus in Matthew 28: Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.

  18. I thought the Koinonia Project was supposed to produce unity within the LCMS. Once the LCMS gets its house in order, it would engage in serious dialogue with other Lutheran denominations (micro-synods included). Is there any evidence that progress is being made? The only thing I see is the Synod promoting a return to Confessional Lutheranism, while the Districts ignore Synod and promote the “Missional,” Church Growth variety. How is this unity?

    I keep reading on various Lutheran blogs that Lutherans of various stripes are leaving for the RCC or the Eastern Orthodox. For example, will the “Confessionals” who want the LCMS to return to traditional Lutheranism become discouraged and join the RCC or EO in greater numbers. Would such a drain of conservatives leave the LCMS a denomination consisting mainly of Willow Creek Evangelicals who continue to ignore the Lutheran confessions? This is frightening.

    If everyone is leaving, then why should I remain a Lutheran?

  19. @Wallenstein #21
    I think a lot of folks are waiting to see what this koinonia project will do. I hope it is not some effort to converse and compromise, but instead an actual hearing of the Word of God, call to repentance and rejoicing in the unity that God creates through such repentance and pure doctrine.

    We stay because God keeps us in the one true faith. Numbers and size of the Church is no mark of the church – true teaching and right administration of the sacraments are where you find the church.

    I would argue that men (especially pastors) who leave Lutheranism to go into the hands of the Antichrist (Rome) or his cousin (EO) have not believed correctly about Lutherans. They are in error, and by joining such groups they prove themselves to be in deep error. How can a person forsake Augsburg IV after learning and believing it? Unbelief may be the only acceptable answer. If a person has leanings toward Rome or Eastern Orthodoxy, they should read Galatians, if they still think those churches are viable options, the person has been bewitched (like the Galatian churches).

    More of a concern is that things would just go on, with a wide diversity in our Synod, each congregation and pastor just burying head in sand. You see some of this in the new ELCA, where people justify their membership in certain congregations with “well, our congregation (or our pastor) is very conservative” (maybe LCMS is at that point already)

  20. @Rev Willis,
    If we build disciples who truly understand their doctrine and God’s word, the church will grow numerically. No numerical growth (even in small towns, or farm communities) is evidence that disicples are not being grown in the local church.

    Numbers are not for income, pride, or power–properly interpreted, they define whether the congregation’s emphasis on discipleship is successful. That doesn’t mean huge churches or huge numbers. A church with 50 members attending Sunday worship is succeeding in discipleship if they baptize only 1 adult in a full year.

    We need not fear numbers–they often indicate successful discipleship, not liberal teaching.

  21. When we teach doctrine in the church; when we attempt to build discipleship through catechismal training, we must also encourage members to comprehend their personal relationship with Christ.

    Stop and think what is most important to our members; what are they the most likely to share with others? It’s not doctrine in the purest sense. What they will share is how they feel about their faith; their Lord; and the truth of their own salvation by God’s grace.

    We are not a church that often recognizes the personal relationship arena of Christianity, but that is exactly what Jesus emphasized. He left the theological explanations to St. Paul, though of course Jesus’ teachings and the Holy Spirit’s guidance were Paul’s source.

    Jesus spent His life showing us God, as well as accomplishing our salvation on the cross. “Compassion” is used over and over and over in the gospels. Jesus talked with individuals about God’s love, God’s forgiveness, God’s provision, God’s patience, God’s willingness to accept them even though they were sinners. He taught us how to live. We can’t explain that to a friend by quoting the catechism, but by sharing our personal confidence and love in our Lord that catechismal training has helped US better understand.

  22. @Larry Kleinschmidt #11
    I couldn’t agree more. I also think that the article is true both by Pastor Fisher and by Mike Breen. Many in the “missional” camp desire to strengthen discipleship in their churches. Maybe this is the time that the “confessional” movement/recommitment can walk along side their brothers encouraging and providing resources.

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