A Solution to the CUS Problem – So You Don’t Think I am Just a Bomb-Lobbing Curmudgeon, by Pr. Rossow

So you don’t think I am just a bomb-lobbing curmudgeon, I thought I would offer a few thoughts by way of solution to the CUS problem I identified in a post the other day.

Since starting BJS a few years ago and writing several articles pointing out the dark side of the LCMS,  I have experienced an interesting thing. People who don’t know me started assuming I am some sort melancholic curmudgeon. Actually, I am the happiest person I know. After all, I have a cat named Happy Bob who is my good buddy. He greets 1027141518-1me at the door every night, follows me around the house, sleeps at (and sometimes on) my feet each night and lowers my blood pressure. In addition once golf season ends I spend a couple hours a week painting pretty little scenes from my travels in watercolors. (I have sold a dozen or so, some for as much as $500.) I also tend our sub-division entrance garden with my wife as well as the dozen flower beds around our house. If that weren’t enough I also do flower arrangements. (The attached picture is the arrangement currently sitting on our kitchen table – hydrangeas, zinnias and sand cherry branches.) Does that sound like a curmudgeon?
More to the point, I put my money where my mouth is concerning problems in the church. I am currently in a discussion with a fellow pastor and a synod official over a matter of erring church practice, I have worked with my elders to stand strong on several occasions against members who thought and practiced contrary to Scripture and we intentionally work at hiring and maintaining a confessional staff at our church and school. I put this forward as an example of how the problem of creeping paganism in our CUS (Concordia University System) can be handled.

I practice what I preach. I, my fellow pastors and lay elders have occasionally had to deal with problems of false teaching and practice in our day school here at Bethany Lutheran, Naperville, Illinois. Despite standing firm on true doctrine and practice, our school has remained strong and in a day and age of shrinking and vanishing Lutheran Day Schools, we have even held our own and actually grown over the last few years. (We have over 250 students in K-8th.)

It is a solid, confessional school and staff but it did not happen by accident. Here are the intentional steps that have been taken to get there and remain there.

1. Make a commitment to confessional, called staff. When I first came to Bethany 21 years ago I was blessed to have a principal who along with me looked at our school staff that was then less than a third called and made it a goal that we would work to get every teacher LCMS trained and called. A few years later we actually wrote this requirement into our constitution. The point is that it takes intention. You can’t just talk about it. You have to make it happen by your action. Why is it that we had gotten to that point? It was because of taking the easy way out. It is easier to just hire a teacher from the area but after a a few years of this slothfulness, you wake up one day you have essentially, a non-confessional school.

2. Employ only called teachers. Once you make it a principal you then have to work the plan over time. It can take several years but if you never start, it will only get worse as has happened at our Concordias. Next to preaching and teaching, one of the things I give most of my attention to as the Sr. Pastor is interviewing candidates to fill our vacancies. Because of the situation today in our Concordias, seminaries included, you need to do heavy and serious theological inquisition before calling a staff person. It is never a sure thing because people can be deceptive when they are interviewed. However, being very clear in interviews about what sort of doctrine and practice you expect from staff makes it a lot easier when you discover some one not living up to the requirements. You are able to remind them that from the get go, this is what we had made clear was the standard.

3. Keep an eye on curriculum. One of the little stinks that we had to make in our school was addressing the use of one of the weekly readers. Sadly these have gone the way of all flesh and promote a very liberal agenda. Changing the reader was not fun but it had to be done. It made a couple of teachers unhappy because they had been using them for years but after a couple of years of discussion we changed to the weakly reader put out by World Magazine.

4. Maintain church discipline. More stink came when we realized that we had a teacher aide who was promoting evolution in one of our lower grades. We talked with her about it and after a a few weeks she decided this was not the place for her to be and we were able to put a new aid in that room. We also had a situation with a teacher getting caught up in some lies and gossip. It was not fun but the principal and I worked through the issue with them and it ended up with this staff member apologizing to the voters assembly for passing on the gossip.

5. Require teachers to be involved in the parish. We have anywhere from 6 to 12 teachers and aids who come to our Voters meetings. We also have teachers who are parish musicians, ushers, and doing other volunteer work. It provides more opportunities for the staff to be aligned with the goals of the parish. (I credit this to our principal. Every year she asks each teacher not if they are going to be involved in the parish but what one or two things they will be doing in the parish.)

6. Teach confirmation and staff Bible study in the school. I am amazed at how many pastors do not teach confirmation in their day school. It is a great way to earn the respect of the staff and to be involved in the school. Most teachers will sit in class while you teach which provides another vehicle for immersing them in confessional theology. A few years ago Pastor Fisk started teaching the staff Bible study and that too has been a great way to sync the school and parish philosophy and goals. (We also have a unified budget. We probably have anywhere from $200,000 to $300,000 a year going toward the school from the church but we never identify that number. The school and the church financial blessings or struggles are born together without any finger pointing.)

7. For pastors – develop a personal and strong connection with the principal and teachers. Invest your time in them. Support the work of the school. I drop into my principal’s office or she in mine two or three times a day. This is not to discuss business but just to shoot the breeze. We also have a two hour weekly staff meeting that is attended by the three Pastors, the Principal, Vice Principal, School Admissions Director and the Program Administrator where are all of the major goals and work of both the church and the school are decided on together.

It is not easy maintaining a confessional standard in doctrine and practice but if you put your mind to it, work at it and are willing to apply discipline when things get out of line it can be done. The school staff knows I can be firm but they also know I have a cat named Happy Bob, that I paint pretty pictures, that I arrange flowers and that I love them and am not a curmudgeon.

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.


A Solution to the CUS Problem – So You Don’t Think I am Just a Bomb-Lobbing Curmudgeon, by Pr. Rossow — 14 Comments

  1. Pastor Rossow,

    I attended a Lutheran Day School back in the ’50s and early ’60s. Your seven points were well established requirements back in the day. When did Lutheran parochial schools stop having called teachers? I admire you for being strict with the requirements at Bethany. In the end you will have a strong Lutheran school and in turn the school will produce well educated Lutheran students.

    Blessings to you,

  2. Pr. Rossow,

    I think you make some great points about encouraging buy-in from faculty and staff in a school setting. I’m unsure, however, how realistic it is to require only called teachers. In higher ed that just wouldn’t be possible and maintain good class sizes and maintain accreditation in certain fields.

  3. Mel,

    Good point. I did not intend to say that all our professors at CUC be called, although I think it is doable. I am pretty sure that most of the professors at Seward when I went there in the 70’s were called or callable. It would be a good thing to have all our professors in all disciplines colloquize but that was not my point.

    I was simply trying to illustrate diligence in hiring professors and making sure that they are all Lutheran or at the very least confessional Christians.

  4. This is very interesting in light of the article in the current edition of The Reporter, “University enrollment hits new high: 36,250 students”http://blogs.lcms.org/2014/cus-enrollment

    The article, as its title indicates, shares how CUS enrollment has grown, much of it in the graduate degree programs, but also in undergrad programs:
    “This fall’s combined CUS enrollment in both graduate and undergraduate programs grew by 8.5 percent — from 33,399 in fall 2013 to 36,250 this year, an increase of 2,851 students.
    Perhaps not surprisingly, that growth is largely due to CUS graduate programs, which drew a total of 19,405 students this fall (an increase of 2,586, or 15 percent).
    But total undergraduate enrollment also grew — from 16,580 in 2013 to 16,845 this year (up 265, or 1.5 percent).”

    The religious make up of these students is interesting as well:
    “A large portion — some 11,488 — describe themselves as “non-Lutheran Protestants,” and another large group (of 10,596 students) is described as “unknown/undeclared.”
    Only 4,041 are LCMS Lutherans, and another 2,317 are “other Lutherans.” Catholics total 5,241, and other faiths account for another 1,282 students.
    Those in the “unchurched” category total 1,285.”

    The opportunity to share and educate these ‘non-Lutherans’ about the truth of our Lutheran faith, doctrine and confession, is huge, and is surely something that CUS should require.

    The article notes that as total enrollment has climbed in recent years, enrollment in church-worker programs keeps falling. The bright spot in this area is that pre-seminary enrollment is up by 34, to 190.

    These data points are generally positive, but what is missing from the article, and I think is relevant to Pr Rossow’s article, is that there is no mention of the make up of the CUS faculty. As Pr Rossow and Mel noted in posts 3 and 4 above, having all CUS faculty be called would be challenging. But what is the actual make up of the current faculty? Are we assured that the CUS institutions maintain a distinctly Lutheran identity and approach? Are institution leaders all confessional, called LCMS members? Likewise, are heads of colleges, schools, and departments confessional, called LCMS members, able to provide appropriate oversight for what is taught to students? It might not be feasible in all cases, but surely it would be best if the majority are called or callable.

    With such a diversity of faiths in the student body, a clear, confessional identity and approach, that shares and educates why we are proud to call ourselves LCMS, would seem pretty straightforward. But if we cannot be assured that leadership at all levels, and as much of faculty as possible are confessional Lutherans, how can this be achieved? And if that distinct Lutheran identity is not promoted, then how different are the CUS schools from any other generic higher education institutions?

  5. The majority of the growth is in the graduate programs which mostly are students who are only on campus for classes part time and even then lots of it only on-line. This is a whole different population. They make up a majority of these statistics.

    It would be interesting to know the religious demographics of dormitory students. I am sure that would be a different percentage. The times I was able be be at River Forest, chapel seemed pretty well attended. Students also conduct evening devotions and special devotions in the quad. The ‘religious life” student committee is active.

    The drive-in full time undergraduate student population is probably also a separate demographic in religion.

    In any case we would want as many confessional LCMS members as possible in all fields of instruction. We need a scholarship fund to encourage LCMS members in many fields to get their advanced degrees and become part of the Concordia University System. Dr. Wenthe is just getting started. Let us give him our encouragement, prayers and support as he deals with difficult problems.

  6. Also, a large number of these graduate students do not even come to a CUS campus. They go to regional extension centers – the local pastors teaching the theology course and contracted teachers teaching the other courses. Many of these contracted teachers are Lutheran High teachers with advanced degrees. These, too, are part of the religious statistics. The students are mainly looking for a convenient way to advance their careers. However, I believe they all have to take at least one basic theology course. Statistics are tricky things.

  7. Howsabout just settling for being a “lovable curmudgeon?”

    It fits you.

    And, I might add, you are spot-on.


  8. #5 – It gets a little weird if you have a female boss telling staff what to do when it comes to the church.

  9. Dear BJS Bloggers,

    The concern about the disengagement of Christian universities from their founding churches and founding purposes is not new. The difference today is that, with the Harrison administration in the LCMS, we might have an opportunity to make some positive changes.

    My first introduction to the literature on this subject was in First Things, no. 12 and 13 (April and May 1991), with the two-part essay by James Tunstead Burtchaell titled The Decline and Fall of the Christian College. Burtchaell later released the results of his research, including interviews and analysis of Concordia University-Chicago, in his: The Dying of the Light: The Disengagement of Colleges and Universities from their Christian Churches (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmanns, 1998). This book has now become a standard, indeed a classic, on the subject, and I believe is still in print.

    My contribution to the subject has been minimal, but most of it can be obtained easily and for free. Here is what I have in my files that I have written on this topic:

    1) “Whither Concordia?” LOGIA 6 #3 (Trinity 1997): 71-72 (free PDF at: http://www.logia.org/new-products/6-3-office-offices ).

    2) “To Restore the Religious Purposes of Schools of the Concordia University System,” Christian News 36 #1 (January 5, 1998): 23; also in 1998 LCMS Convention Workbook, Overture 5-05, p. 211.

    3) “The Lutheran Mind and Its University” LOGIA 17 #4 (Reformation 2008): 45-51 ($4 PDF at: http://www.logia.org/pdf-back-issues/17-4pdf-wittenburg-athens ).

    4) “First Things Goes to College,” BJS, 11/12/10 (see https://steadfastlutherans.org/?p=12775 ).

    5) “Current Rankings, and the Future, of the Concordia Universities,” BJS, 10/5/12 (see https://steadfastlutherans.org/?p=23550 ).

    6) “Thank God for Our Concordias,” BJS, 12/30/12 (see https://steadfastlutherans.org/?p=25787 ).

    7) “How Fares Concordia?” Lutheran Clarion, 5 #9 (July 2013): 7-9 (see http://lutheranclarion.org/images/NewsletterJul2013.pdf ).

    8) “To Convene a Task Force to Enhanced the Lutheran Identity of CUS Colleges and Universities,” 2013 LCMS Convention Workbook, 207 (see http://www.lcms.org/Document.fdoc?src=lcm&id=2337 ; will open 7 MB file)

    I hope this reading list helps a bit.

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  10. Nah, Pastor Rossow, you’re not a bomb-throwing curmudgeon, just a curmudgeon. (That’s a compliment, btw. :))

  11. “Curmudgeon” is one of the most descriptive terms I use for one of my favorite CTSFW profs (bet you can guess who!) 🙂 So you’re in very good company. It *is* a compliment.

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