My New Book

Life, Love, Faith, Family: Perspectives from a Veteran Church Leader. That’s the title of my new book now available for pre-order from Concordia Publishing House. Here’s CPH’s description:

The Christian life is often not an easy one. Struggles occur in marriages and vocations. Death cannot be avoided. Natural disasters and illnesses arise unexpectedly.

With pastoral care, a spiritual perspective, and real-life wisdom, Dr. Gerald (Jerry) Kieschnick has written on matters of life and faith for years. This collection combines some of his best writing on a variety of everyday topics, encouraging you to turn to God’s Word, the ultimate source of wisdom, for guidance in navigating the Christian life.

May these brief musings offer you spiritual encouragement and comfort as you experience all that the Christian life encompasses—grief, happiness, tension, contentment, fear, and joy.

The Preface sets the stage in my own words:

For more than half a century, I’ve served in numerous Christian leadership capacities, from developing a mission church starting with nothing to president of a national church body of over two million members. Throughout those years, I’ve met and known many people who experience much joy, meaning, and fulfillment in life and love. Yet, many of these wonderful people have encoun­tered challenges and difficulties along the way, often in the arenas of family and faith.

 Every week, for the past nine years, I’ve written my personal perspectives on these and a variety of other topics. In this little book, I share one hundred of those stories and reflections for your reading enjoyment, emotional encouragement, and spir­itual enrichment.

Late last week I received word from CPH that this book is now available for pre-order. Go to:

https://www.cph.org/p-32843-life-love-faith-family-perspectives-from-a-veteran-church-leader.aspx Copies will begin shipping on August 15.

My first book published by Concordia Publishing House was Waking the Sleeping Giant (CPH, 2010). It’s an honor and privilege to work again with CPH. I pray this new book will be a blessing to those who read it. And if you happen to have your copy with you next time we’re together, I’ll be happy to sign it.

God bless your day!

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A Different Spirit

It’s pretty hard not to have noticed in recent years, particularly recent months, the depth of division that exists in our country. From vitriolic attacks in social media to public protests on city streets to flag burning incidents outside congressional offices, people are expressing disagreement with one another, with our country, and with its leaders.

It’s not just happening in the political arena. Differences abound in the ecclesiastical realm as well. That’s not new. Disagreements have existed among God’s people since the days of the disciples and apostles.

Shortly after Jesus instituted what we now know as the Lord’s Supper, a dispute arose among his own disciples as to which of them would be considered the greatest (Luke 22:24). After working together as a team Paul and Barnabas separated from each other because they disagreed on whether to include John Mark on a mission journey (Acts 15:36-40).

Fast forward to the 16th century’s embryonic stages of Lutheranism. Disagreements about faith, forgiveness, penance, papacy, and purgatory were prolific and perpetual. Since that time there has been and still is nearly constant contention about what constitutes pure biblical doctrine, particularly regarding practical application of the Christian faith in daily life and church practice.

So today, like many national religious organizations and our nation itself, Lutheran Christians share with one another many quite similar beliefs but some significantly different perspectives on matters of faith and life. Here are examples from two sources, constituents of which are of one mind about many aspects of faith and life but not of one accord on a number of matters:

  • The Lutheran Clarion: “Building faithfulness to true Confessional Lutheranism and a clear voice of Christian concerns against actions and causes which mitigate against faithfulness to the One True Faith.”  Website: http://lutheranclarion.org/
  • Congregations Matter©: “A movement of churches, laypeople and pastors committed to the restoration of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod to its historic roles of strengthening and supporting congregations.”  Website: http://congregationsmatter.org/

Notwithstanding such differences, an overwhelming majority of Lutherans agree on major points of Christian doctrine. Yet freedom from disagreement escapes us. Why is that?

Martin Luther put his finger on a significant causative factor when he said to one of his opponents 500 years ago: “You have a different spirit than we.” I believe he was right. More about that next week. Stay tuned. God bless your day!

Ministries and Resources

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Before getting into today’s topic I simply must take this opportunity to extend special greetings to Terry’s and my favorite (and only) grandson, Kolby Ryan Keith. This handsome, intelligent, hard-working young man is 24 years of age today. Happy Birthday, dear Kolby! Mimi and I love you more than you’ll ever know. We thank God for bringing you into our lives.

In today’s article I bring to your attention a number of significant ministries and resources:

  • Legacy Deo – Formerly known as Lutheran Foundation of Texas, Legacy Deo’s mission is to inspire giving that impacts life forever. Assistance for individuals, congregations, and organizations with endowments, trusts, gift annuities, donor advised funds, estate planning, and other special giving ideas and insights for faith and family. Website: legacydeo.org
  • Texas District Lutheran Women’s Missionary League – The 40th Biennial Texas District LWML Convention begins today in Waco. For 75 years the national expression of this LCMS auxiliary has provided prayer and financial support for mission activities in the U.S. and around the world. It’s a wonderful organization, worthy of support! Website: lwmltxdist.org
  • Mission of Christ Network – Works with individuals, congregations, entities, and groups to train, send, and support lay workers “To boldly, intentionally and faithfully make known the light, love and peace of Jesus Christ, by word and deed, to those around the world who live in spiritual disbelief, darkness and despair.” Website: missionofchrist.org
  • Pastor 360 – Intensive spiritual, practical, financial, personal leadership coaching for pastors provided by veteran LCMS church leaders named Kieschnick, Knippa, Tucker, Tyburski, Wagner. Helping pastors deal with stress that causes anguish, worry, bewilderment, anger, depression, fear, and alienation. “Making Life and Ministry Better” Website: pastor360.com
  • MinistryFocus – Founded in 2013 to eliminate systemic barriers to ministry, including often burdensome educational debt of pastors and other called workers. When personal debt distracts called workers from their work, congregations suffer. MinistryFocus can help by providing educational loan repayment assistance. Website: ministryfocus.org
  • Ministry Sabbatical Resources – Created to assist in the planning and promotion of Ministry Sabbaticals, a period of time, usually three months, when ministry leaders and congregations set aside the leader’s normal responsibilities for the purpose of rest and renewal toward sustained excellence in ministry. Website: ministrysabbaticalresources.com

These ministries and resources are brought to your attention as a public service. I am personally connected to and supportive of each and hope you find them interesting and helpful. Your support and involvement are encouraged, as the Lord leads, guides, and directs.

God bless your day!

 

A New Calling

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Today marks the opening session of the 61st Convention of the Texas District of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS). The LCMS is a national church body with approximately two million members. The Texas District is one of 35 LCMS regional judicatories.

Conventions are held in each district every three years, between January and July, with the great majority occurring in June. Texas is one of 25 districts meeting this month.

One very important event at a convention is the election of a president. In a number of districts incumbent presidents are either retiring or have served the maximum number of allowable terms. Such is the case in Texas as Rev. Ken Hennings completes his fourth three year term.

Having served faithfully and with distinction, President Hennings will be replaced by a new district president to be elected this afternoon. Five men have been nominated for this significant office, which is an honor in itself. They serve the church in agreeing to stand for election and to serve if elected.

This scenario brings back memories in my life and ministry. In June 1991 – 27 years ago – my name was on the ballot for Texas District President, along with four other nominees. On the fourth and final ballot I was elected. My life has never been the same since that day.

After serving three full terms and one year of the final term in Texas, I was elected president of our national church body in 2001. Installation in St. Louis was Sept. 8, three days before 9/11. Nine years and two more elections later, I was not elected to a fourth term in 2010.

Encouraging and supporting me every step of the way was my dear wife Terry. She worked long and hard in extending hospitality to the literally thousands of people who were dinner guests in our home those nine years in office. With great joy she also loved and cared for many pastors’ wives, including the 35 women married to district presidents and the five women married to national vice-presidents.

When all this began 27 years ago we were mere kids and had absolutely no idea what life would be like in public office. That would be true of anyone elected to a responsible position of  regional or national leadership, particularly in an ecclesiastical setting.

There have been many joys and blessings, with no small amount of stress and disappointment along the way. The man elected today in Texas, with his wife, will discover those realities.

They will walk together on the often happy and fulfilling but sometimes sad and frustrating journey of service that will be their new calling from the Lord. Whichever nominee and his wife are chosen, Terry and I wish them well and will hold them in our hearts and in our prayers.

Quo Vadis, LCMS?

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That’s the title of a presentation I offered this past week at the Best Practices for Ministry Conference in Phoenix. Hosted by Christ Church Lutheran (that’s their correct name), this conference is now the largest single conference in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Christ Church provides the venue, meals, atmosphere, and opportunity for over 2,200 people, pastors and educators to gather and to share ideas and best practices for mission and ministry.

My presentation, subtitled: Wine, Women, Worship, Witness, Warfare, was based on the question “Where are you going, LCMS?” Here are a few excerpts:

Introduction: During the past 52 years I’ve served The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod in numerous capacities. Throughout those years I’ve experienced its strength, beauty, and weakness. Today I share my heartfelt perspectives on matters that hinder the health and growth of our beloved synod. I pray this offering will stimulate healthy, responsible, evangelical conversation among us, to the glory of God and the building of his Church on earth.

Wine: [In our Synod] the Lord’s Supper has become a source of division and offense rather than the expression of unity and powerful force for conversion and spiritual sustenance it is intended to be. Unless and until we resolve the issue of what is called “close” or “closed” communion among us, the LCMS will continue to be seen as a group of separatistic sectarians and will continue to bring unnecessary offense to repentant Christian sinners who hunger and thirst after the miraculous and life giving blessings offered in this precious gift of God.

Women: I’m not arguing for a de facto reversal of our Synod’s position against ordination of women. I’m simply saying that women in Holy Scripture appear to have been entrusted with greater responsibility than our Synod has given to women today, e.g., the role of prophetess. We cannot ignore the exodus from our church body of spiritually gifted women who see our position of limiting the role of women as, at best, not clearly supported by Scripture and, at worst, misogynistic.

Worship: Some in our Synod maintain that the only true and pure worship must come exclusively from officially approved Synod hymnals. Others obviously disagree. Congregations utilizing a variety of worship formats are experiencing an amazingly high percentage of all new adult confirmations in the Synod. The implications of such objective facts cannot be ignored.

Witness: There must be no compromise, no apology, no confusion about our Christian witness whenever we have the opportunity to share it by “offering prayers, speaking, and reading Scripture” in public gatherings. Unless and until we in the LCMS get over our reticence and reluctance to give witness to Christ anytime, anywhere, under any circumstance, using testimony, dialog, prayer, preaching, or any other means of communication, we will fail to demonstrate the boldness and compassion so desperately needed by people in our country and world who live in darkness, desperation, and despair.

Warfare: When the unbelieving world sees and hears how disrespectfully we treat one another, they want nothing to do with us. All the insistence in the world about pure doctrine pales into insignificance when outsiders fail to see what we proclaim … that we love one another.

My Best Practices presentation was a slightly revised version of an article published by Lutheran Society for Missiology in the May 2017 edition of Lutheran Mission Matters, available at https://www.lsfm.global/LMM-5-17.html.

Ablaze!

Ablaze

At the 2004 national convention of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, this resolution was adopted: “LCMS World Mission, in collaboration with its North American and worldwide partners, will share the Good News of Jesus Christ with 100 million unreached or uncommitted people by the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017.”

Today is that day.

Although efforts to achieve this goal have received minimal publicity since the 2010 LCMS national convention, I thank God for the millions of people around the world who have heard the Gospel through the efforts of faithful folks who take seriously this ongoing endeavor.

“By grace you have been saved, through faith. It is a gift of God!” To God alone be the glory!

A blessed 500th Reformation anniversary to each of you!

Ordinary Men

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Here’s a quote about jury selection from G.K. Chesterton: “Our civilization has decided, and very justly decided, that determining the guilt or innocence of men is a thing too important to be entrusted to trained men. When it wishes for light upon that awful matter, it asks men who know no more law than I know, but who can feel the things I felt in the jury box. When it wants a library catalogued, or the solar system discovered, or any trifle of that kind, it uses up its specialists. But when it wishes anything done which is really serious, it collects twelve of the ordinary men standing around. The same thing was done, if I remember right, by the founder of Christianity.”

Interesting thought, especially the final sentence. How ironic it is, therefore, that a national church body I know and love recently voted to withdraw its previous blessing that gave permission for partially trained but carefully supervised “Licensed Lay Deacons” to conduct a ministry of word and sacrament in congregations unable to find or afford a regularly trained and ordained clergyman.

Perhaps more than ironic, I should describe this decision as regrettable. People who know the dates of birth of active clergy in our denomination have announced for more than a decade that in the next ten years at least 50% of these active clergy will reach retirement age. Some will continue to serve, whether for purely altruistic or simply financial reasons. But if that were not to happen, we would need 300 new pastors each year for the next ten years just to stay even.

Put those stats together with this year’s entering seminary student enrollment numbers of fewer than 100 at our two seminaries, combined, and the problem becomes transparently eminent and undeniably urgent. For each of the past several years only approximately 100 new pastors have entered the ministry. That leaves a shortfall of 200 pastors per year, with no sign of improvement, at least in the near future.

The 12 men selected by “the founder of Christianity” were indeed ordinary men. Yet while their affiliation with Jesus did not render them exempt from the faults and frailties of other humans, their faith became strong enough to ignite a movement that exists to this very day. Furthermore, their faith was strong enough to transform them into martyrs.

With all my heart I believe, and through my experience I know, that the same qualities of conviction and commitment that motivated those 12 men two millennia ago still exist in the hearts and lives of ordinary men called by God and set apart by the church today. No doubt some of those men are not in a position to “sell their cow and burn their plow” in order to move to our seminaries in St. Louis or Fort Wayne to become regular pastors.

Yet they have gifts and calling to do what our church recognized in 1989 would be a blessing to many. Sounds like the same thing done by the founder of Christianity many years ago.