Great Stuff Found on the Web — Some thoughts on birthing a mission…

Found over on Pastoral Meanderings .. Pastor Peter’s blog:


Here in the MidSouth, the majority of congregations tend to be small but people of the book.  They are not exactly liturgical but they are Lutheran and Lutherans use the book, so they use the book.  Their Pastors vest, they have altars and pulpits, pews and an organ (or maybe piano), etc…  They are certainly not bastions of the full ceremonial of the liturgy but they are comfortable enough with a familiar page number in a familiar book to use it pretty much straight off the page.

In contrast to that, most of the missions planted in the past decade or more tend to look nothing like this majority.  They are definitely not liturgical and some would not even consider using the liturgy — or the hymnal.  Their Pastors do not vest (except in the traditional polo or tee, khakis or jeans, maybe a wrinkled sports jacket, and a pair of worn loafers or athletic shoes — in addition to the obligatory scratchy almost beard but more like several days growth on purpose.  They do not have an altar or pulpit or organ but they are more likely to have a keyboard and a band.  They tend to meet in the broad, undefined space of a former warehouse or utilitarian metal building.  About the only real excess is a really great sound system and AV crew.

In other words, mother congregations are giving birth (through the District) to rebellious teen age daughter congregations who disdain all that is the mother and insist upon doing it their way.  In another age, mother congregations tended to give birth to congregations that looked a lot like the parent.  Parishes planted parishes from their strengths, sort of like someone who starts something because what they had in the mother church was so good.  The District might have been involved but probably did not direct the whole thing.  People in one congregation began thinking, “hey, we have good thing here, why not plant another congregation just like us in another location.”

When that does happen today, it seems to be more often a satellite congregation which is not a separate entity at all but the same thing as the mother church only with a different street address and generally going on at the same time as the worship services of the mother congregation.  These were never meant to be stand alone congregations but functions as franchise units with fairly strict oversight and control by the mothering parish — one congregation with several sites.

Often the daughter congregations are established because the higher ups believe that the mother model is dead or dying and the only hope and future is to do something radically different designed to appeal to those who do not like church in the first place.

Maybe I am just screwy (others would remove any doubt about this) but it seems to me that missions got complicated and expensive precisely when the church (District or whatever) took over mission planting away from the local parish.  It seems to me that missions today are often direct repudiations of the worship and Lutheran theological identity of the “mother” and more likely to mirror the latest and greatest trends in evangelical method and practice.  I propose restoring the old method in which we planted new congregations because we were so happy with what was already going on and because we wanted to export our strength (namely our confessional and liturgical identity as Lutheran Christians).

I’ll be honest here and admit that too many of the book congregations in our District are intimidated by the trendy mission starts that look and sound so different from their moms and who act different, too.  So, we end up paying the bills for those who suggest that either we need to change or die.  We have such doubts about the efficacy of the Word and Sacraments, that we tend instinctively to agree with these prophets of doom and gloom and accept their radical prescriptions for our future without fully examining them.

I am not always sure a new mission needs to be planted (probably because I am not enamored of the CoWo music and “liturgy”) and maybe we need to bolster the existing parish to better respond to and extend the welcome of the Gospel.  Least of all the mission choices is the idea that since the means of grace are not working here, we need to plant an antithesis to the means of grace parish near the existing culprits of decline.  If the means of grace are our strength, if our confessional identity is most fully expressed in a vibrant and rich musical setting of the liturgy, then lets work these in as the primary resources for expanding the mission and planting congregations.

I do not mean to demean the earnest desire and focus of the many mission execs of the LCMS.  I just mean that we have wrongly invested our future in these people instead of building from our Lutheran identity and strengths right in the communities from the existing parishes.  Personally I know and like Greg Williamson but I know that he would be the first to admit that as “chief mission officer” of Synod he cannot direct, control, evaluate, and, more importantly, fund every mission opportunity.  His best work may very well be to direct us to build on our strengths right here on the local level and to help us partner to do in other places what none of us can do alone.  It is time we took back the mission from the mission execs, mission councils, and mission boards, despite their best intentions, and remembered how to expand the mission on the parish level.

To quote Pr. Peter Speckhard from an ALPB Forum:

What should happen is that people who love their church say, “My church is so great there ought to be two of them,” and then make it happen, all the while working with the mother church and using the mother church as a template for what the new church is trying to become. That is the key. When we talk about healthy “birthing” of congregations, the new church needs to desire to be just like the old church in the way that a child desires to be just like mom or dad. Of course there will be differences and attempts at improving on some of the limitations of the old church, but basically it is all amicable and there is a pattern to follow.

What happened in my case, and what I think happens very often, is that new churches get started using the “mother” church as a template of what not to be. It isn’t people who love their church enough to want there to be two of them, it is people who are sufficiently fed up with their church to want there to be an alternative available. That means you not only lose a lot of the cooperation and good will, you also lose the template. Which open the door for non-denoms and their vast para-church structures to be or provide the template.

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.

Norm has been involved behind the scenes in many of the "go-to" websites for Lutherans going back many years.


Great Stuff Found on the Web — Some thoughts on birthing a mission… — 11 Comments

  1. “It is time we took back the mission from the mission execs, mission councils, and mission boards, despite their best intentions, and remembered how to expand the mission on the parish level.”

    Amen! Didn’t districts once upon a time pay for 2 or 3 years the salaries of pastors starting new missions? The high salary of just one mission executive could be used to support several pastors who were actual pastors of missions.

  2. Is this the same mid-south district that Pr. McCain wrote about in his blog that spawned the Lake Pointe, Arkansas church that invited the Baptist singer/pastor to preach for them during Sunday worship recently?

  3. According to the Mid-South website, these are the nominees for District President.

    Rev. John Gierke
    Pastor, Peace Lutheran Church; Conway, AR

    Rev. Paul Hass
    Pastor, Bella Vista Lutheran Church; Bella Vista, AR

    Rev. Meredith Jackson
    Vacancy Pastor, St. Philip Lutheran Church; Chattanooga, TN

    Rev. Todd Jones
    Executive Assistant to the District President; Mid-South District

    Rev. Roger Paavola
    Pastor, Heavenly Host Lutheran Church; Cookeville, TN

    Rev. Russell Shewmaker
    Pastor, Pilgrim Lutheran Church; Jonesboro, AR

  4. Last August we started a preaching station in a nearby town where several of our members already lived. We had been planning this for years, but when it came time to launch, there was unexpected resistance, mostly financial, and mostly from folks who had not attended our congregational meetings. We applied for grant monies through the district and were turned down (not the type of project there wre looking to fund). Now after nearly eight months, we are getting closer and closer for the preaching station to become an official LCMS congregation.

    We have worked very hard to keep costs down. We have had generous donations from all across the synod ranging from LSB hymnals, beautiful paraments, altar books, etc. We rent space at the local Legion Hall and on Sundy mornings transform it into a beautiful sanctuary. We use the liturgy right out of the book and have several pastors take turns leading the worship, preaching, and teaching Bible study. Parents teach Sunday School and we have lots of kids learning and participating in the liturgy.

    It has been a lot of hard work. The process has been painful at times. It would have been much easier to do nothing. Thanks be to God that the Gospel is being proclaimed, in spite of our many human weaknesses, in and around Hickman, Nebraska. If you are in the area please visit!

    Rev. Clint K. Poppe
    Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
    Lincoln, Nebraska

  5. I have been reading Herman Sasse’s essays in the Lonely Way, Vol. 1 of late and find him to be very insightful, if not prophetic, in regard to the malaise in which the modern church finds itself. In his 1930 essay “The Social Doctrine of the Augsburg Confession and its Significance for the Present” Sasse observes that our confessions do not define what is meant by “legal government authority.” This is a problem. When man casts off the shackles of eternal norms acknowledged throughout time, the source of civil authority is no longer located in God, but is demonic, opposed to God. This, in turn, leads to another problem, according to Sasse, one also unanswered by the Augustana: “how the church can maintain its independence without the influence of secular power.” In other words, when the world no longer acknowledges its authority is derived from God, no longer seeks to execute justice and exercise the power of the sword in accordance with eternal principles, when right and wrong are redefined into more pleasant terms, how can the church act and exist in such a realm and maintain its independence from the influences of civil authorities that no longer recognize civil righteousness apart from its own will?

    Sasse observes:
    “The lack of an answer to this question is the reason that the secular authority has been able, with tolerance and indeed the praise of theologians, to do what the Augustana so energetically forbids, namely, “the forcible entrance into an alien office,” that is, that of the spiritual power. There is, in other words, no doctrine of church government or organization….
    The Augustana was the first Christian confession which gave a dogmatic definition of the church. But how the church of Christ constituted by the pure preaching of the Gospel and the pure sacramental presence of Christ, the church of the communion of saints, that is, [the communion] of justified sinners, who in this world live as sinful people and are subject to the created order of the fallen world and who as the justified are members simultaneously of the kingdom of God and stand under its orders, how this church as an empirical reality of this world should step forth as a visible reality [in Erscheinung] – this question our confession does not answer. (Sasse, The Lonely Way Vol. 1, The Social Doctrine of the Augsburg Confession, Location 2234, Kindle Edition CPH)”

    Sasse saw this tension between the civil and spiritual kingdoms acting out in his country in a big way at the time of the essay with the rise of the dictator, the indoctrination of a people, and intrusion of the state into the very life of the church. We live in a time where his description is really the all pervasive norm — a civil realm where the locus of authority is in me so long as it does not affect or intrude upon you, and a spiritual realm where, as Pr. Peters post illustrates, we struggle with the question of how the church should step forth as a visible reality in time, i.e., traditional, co/wo, incarnational community, missional, big, small.

    Is Sasse helpful here? Would answering this question help us in addressing the issues outlined by Pr. Peters?

  6. I can recall when a mission partnership of three area congregations was deciding what to do when their pastor took a Call elsewhere. They met at my congregation’s parish hall (neutral territory?) so I attended the meeting. The District President was there. He immediately began the MISSION (growth) -vs- MAINTENANCE (stagnate) argument when advising them on what kind of pastor to Call.

  7. @Rev. Clint K. Poppe #7
    “We have … LSB hymnals, beautiful paraments, altar books, etc…on Sunday mornings… a beautiful sanctuary. We use the liturgy right out of the book and have … pastors leading the worship, preaching, and teaching Bible study.
    “…We applied for grant monies through the district and were turned down (not the type of project they were looking to fund).”

    Pardon me for sounding coy, but for the sake of those listening: Please tell us what district was looking to fund, if not the Lutheran congregation you describe here.

  8. @Ted Crandall #10

    They said they were looking for more “events” like VBS or a community parade or a 5K run rather than an actual congregation with Word and Sacrament…

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