What’s A District to Do? A Review of 11 District Initiatives from Minnesota South, by Pr. Rossow

The Districts of the LCMS are for the most part bloated, ideaologically misguided, and inefficient. In partial proof of that thesis let’s look at a set of district initiatives from the Minnesota South District (MNS).

Over on the post about the Overture to Commend Support for ULC, BJS commenter “Former Anglican” gives us a list of the initiatives passed by the MNS board at their September, 2012 retreat. The commenter’s point is that there is a conspicuous lack of initiative to roll out the great big, huge, whiz-bang college student support program that the $$$ from the ULC sale is supposed to fund. Maybe that is coming at next month’s retreat. (I hear there are some great deals you can get down in Florida on retreat centers if they want to escape the cold Minnesota winter.)

“Former Anglican” makes a good point but our point is a bit different. Let’s take a close look at the initiatives and see if they help the church fulfill it’s God-given duty to administer His word and sacraments. First let me share a thought or two on this notion of the God-given duty of the church.

I got it from Walther. In his “Proper Form…” he talks about the duties of the church. Walther does not follow Carl George and talk about the “mission” or “vision” of the church. Those are not Biblical motifs. They are business jargon. Walther does not follow Maxwell and others and talk about “Transformational Leadership.” A cursory reading of the Bible or a concordance shows that leadership is not a main theme in Scripture and where it is addressed it speaks of a sort of “anti-leadership” leadership. He does not follow Rick Warren and talk about the “purpose” of the church. That is a pagan notion birthed in the last century by Existentialist philosophy. (Do a little digging and you will discover that one of Rick Warren’s big heroes is Soren Kierkegaard.)

Instead he talks about the “duties” of the church. Duties are something that come from outside you. In this case they come from God because Walther discovers these duties from Scripture. This is not the case with George’s vision which comes from business theory, Maxwell’s leadership which comes from social theory and Warren’s purpose which comes from the pagan, hollow, godless philosophy of existence. All of these come from within and are anthropocentric. Walther’s duties come from outside man. They come from God’s inspired word.

Walther’s six duties discovered in God’s word are 1) dwell richly in the word, 2) practice church discipline, 3) care for the needy members of the congregation, 4) do things in good order, 5) join in broader work with other right teaching parishes, and 6) build the kingdom. Each of these duties is backed with tons of scripture and numerous practical ways to fulfill the duties.

So let’s take a look at the eleven initiatives from Minnesota South and see what a district is to do or not to do.

1. Providing administrative services for schools (early childhood, elementary, secondary) and their supporting congregations

This is an excellent initiative. It fulfills Walther’s first duty so long as the Lutheran School is a place the children dwell richly in God’s word (Duty 1). I am not sure that it needs to be a district initiative however. In today’s litigious and red tape world principals need someone to help them wade through all of the bureaucracy. You would think that a small staff  on a synod level could replace the dozens of full-time education executives in the various district offices to fulfill this need. Besides, what do they do? I have been a field worker, vicar and now pastor in churches with schools for twenty-eight nine and have yet to see a District Education Exec at any of those schools. (For that matter I have never had a visitation by District President.)

2. Using Biblical Transformational Processes to Align Leaders with God’s Mission

Boy, we hit the nearly useless, secular trifecta on this initiative. Notice its got “transformational,” “leader-oriented,” and “missional” all in one sentence. That is some serious intentional writing.  Based on the District Dictionary of Secular Fad Buzz Words this is a gold mine. Based on Walther’s six duties however, it is a wasteland. God’s mission (sic) is actually a set of duties and they revolve around the administration of word and sacrament. Many of you know that “transformational process” is district double talk for “take a stuck in the mud liturgical parish and make it do contemporary worship.”

You don’t need an agent of change to administer word and sacrament. Now, if by “leadership” you mean courage to preach the law and remain Christ-centered despite the cries for all things practical then leadership is a good thing but I doubt that is what this initiative is about.

3. Facilitating growth in concord and harmony among pastors in our district

This third initiative is a decent one if it actually means what the Koinonia project means, i.e. that 85% of pastors will eventually agree that being Lutheran is really what we ought to be doing. But, sadly, this initiative is more double-speak and it means: get the conservatives off the internet blogs and get them to stop whining about how the church is chasing after the pop culture of “what’s happenin’ now.”

4. Assisting Congregations in Developing New Starts and New Ministries to Gain New Believers

I think we all agree, church growthers and confessionals, that new church plants are best done and managed by existing parishes so we don’t really need the district for this.

5. Raising Congregational and Public Awareness of God’s Mission in MNS

We certainly don’t need a bloated district staff for this. We simply need a district president who is a local pastor, who has been given pastoral help by the district congregations to free up some time for the most important work of a bishop – visiting the parishes of his district to make sure that they are preaching the Gospel in its purity and administering the sacraments according to Christ’s command. That is God’s mission (sic) for the MNS and for all our districts.

6. Holding leaders accountable for God-pleasing professional conduct

This fits Walther’s Duty 2 (practice church discipline) but nobody is ever going to take a district seriously on this matter unless the bishop is out with the parishes, visiting them and practicing oversight. Is that happening in MNS? No. It happens only in a handful of districts.

7. Promoting the Spiritual, Emotional, Physical and Professional Development of Leaders Involved in God’s Mission

Stop the talk about leaders please! It is not a Biblical term. We are all on to your secret lingo. Pastor as leader means “agent of change” to rid the synod of traditional-liturgical churches. The language of the Bible is not that pastors are agents of change but that they are servants. They submit to the word of God which usually means setting aside our need to lead and to simply pass on what God has entrusted to us.

8. Implementing New Ways and Means for Funding God’s Mission

I think the MNS has used up all the creative means for funding when they sold off the ULC. I am certainly for any new ways of funding but in the end, it is God’s people. moved by the Gospel, giving gifts back to God that is fundamental for funding the mission. 

9. Facilitating an efficient call process effective for God’s mission

My hunch is that this one will violate Walther’s Duty #4 – doing things in good order. Whenever a district talks about efficiency in calling they are thinking either of bishops moving men around or congregations being able to fire their pastors. Our current call process is clumsy and time-consuming but it ends in a yes-yes situation in which a congregation called and a pastor accepted. 

10. Preparing and Equipping Leaders and Congregations to Further God’s Mission By Finishing Their Ministries Well

Does anyone know what this means?

11. Celebrating Our Growing Unity Around God’s Mission

Since God’s mission (sic) is to administer His word and sacraments this must be referring to an annual district Communion service.

What’s a district to do? Most of these initiatives turn out to be wanting. They do not fit the Scriptural duties of the church as discovered by Walther and they are in many cases just not a good use of time and resources. May God raise up for us District Presidents and Boards who understand the Scriptural duties of the Church and bring a Biblical renewal to our parishes.

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