Quo Vadis, LCMS?


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.




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!

Divisions Among Us

divided-churchA couple millennia ago the apostle Paul wrote a special letter to some new Christians in the city of Corinth. He had started a new church there, a church that subsequently became sorely divided.

One portion of his letter says: “In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you …” (1 Cor. 11:17-18)

He went on to address the particular matter of their improper understanding and observance of the Lord’s Supper. Other portions of his letter spoke to additional conflict, including immorality, adultery, idolatry, lawsuits, etc. Some of the Corinthian problems still divide the church today.

Divisions in the church and in the world are fairly epidemic. Of course, that’s nothing new. Divisions have existed since the fall into sin in the Garden of Eden. Recognition of that truth makes divisions no less serious, hurtful, or divisive.

Divisions almost always have their root in the basic nature of human beings to want things “my way.” Often people are so focused on achieving their objectives that they disregard ethical, moral, and legal considerations to accomplish their desires. They may feel the end justifies the means.

Divisions in the national political arena produce protests, riots, flag burning, and death threats. Divisions around the world catalyze civil war, terrorism, and ethnic “cleansing.” Divisions in the church result in disenchanted new Christians, bruised impressions of fellow Christians, and tarnished images of Christian churches in the public eye.

On a prior occasion, described in Acts 15, Paul was involved in another dispute among believers. The resolution of that dispute included the statement: “… we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.”

Therein lies the real problem with disputes among Christians. Non-believers understand the truth of the song “They’ll know we are Christians by our love” and quickly turn away when that love is obviously absent from Christians they observe. It should not be so among us.

Remember Paul’s admonition to the church in Ephesus: “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (Eph. 4:1-3)

Wise words for healing the divisions among us!


Transformation 1Three years ago two Lutheran pastor friends of mine, Rev. David Schultz and Rev. John Cain, invited me to join them on a trip to the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, Louisiana, with a man named Grove Norwood. I experienced a prison that had been transformed from “the bloodiest prison in America” to a place of peace. Grove was instrumental in that transition.

Without going into greater detail right now, I bring to your attention an edited transcript of an Austin television channel news report earlier this week. Here’s the video link to this report: http://kxan.com/2016/05/10/prison-priests-texas-inmates-graduate-seminary-school/.

On Monday, 33 Texas inmates traded their prison garb for graduation caps and gowns and the Holy Bible at Texas’ maximum security Darrington Unit. They were the second graduating class in the prison to receive a bachelor’s degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary School since the program was created by the state six years ago.

“God has transformed some really bad people into some really amazing people,” said Dr. Benjamin Phillips, Director of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary School. “Men in prison listen best to those who have walked in their shoes, who know what their life is like and live it alongside of them, and whose lives have transformed already.”

Dr. Phillips said in order to be allowed into the program the inmates must be serving a lengthy sentence and promise to spend six years working with other inmates at prisons across Texas.

Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick said. “They will all pay their dues to society; they will all pay their sentences, many of them serving life long sentences.” Patrick said this is not a “get out of jail free card” for the inmates. They still have to serve their full time in prison.

Warren Craig Bishop II entered the Darrington Prison Unit in 1997. A graduate of the seminary program, he said: “I wasn’t a believer. I wasn’t a Christian. I was a complete sinner. I was a murderer, a thief, a crook, everything. Coming to know Christ Jesus as Lord and Savior, I’ve seen that he has forgiven me for all of that. It’s a tough road, but it’s a glorious one to go down.”

Texas has the largest prison system in the country with about 147,000 inmates and is the second state in the nation to implement this type of program. It costs roughly $250,000 dollars a year, without a single tax dollar. The program is paid for by donations to the nonprofit organization led by Grove Norwood, Heart of Texas Foundation: http://heartoftexasfoundation.org/.

This program goes way beyond the encouragement of Jesus to visit those in prison! I thank God for men like Grove Norwood, David Schultz, John Cain and many others whose passion for prison “seminary” education is being used by God to transform lives in time, for eternity!

Five Two Wiki and Best Practices Conferences

Conference 1The first title above may sound a bit strange for a conference name, especially one hosted by an LCMS congregation with 700 excited participants who are almost all LCMS folks. It’s going on this week in Katy, Texas. Attendees from around the country are quite a bit younger than the average LCMS member, most of them having strong interest in mission and ministry.

The second conference referenced above is what its title describes—a conference whose presenters share with leaders who attend the conference best ministry practices that are working well in their congregations. My sense is that the average age of the 600 also excited attendees at this conference, held in Phoenix in February, may be slightly higher than the Wiki folks, but still quite a bit younger than average. They, too, have strong interest in mission and ministry.

Both of these unofficial conferences are sponsored by congregations and pastors, Bill Woolsey at Cross Point Community Lutheran in Katy and Jeff Schrank at Christ Church Lutheran in Phoenix, who sense needs begging to be met. Those needs include missional information, ideas and encouragement, presented without the distraction of political motivation or controversy.

These conferences attract people focused on figuring out how best to communicate the Gospel to people not attracted to church as most of us know it. The worship is mostly “contemporary” and quite spirited. The atmosphere is saturated with Scriptural teaching and preaching. The concern is clearly focused on the eternal destiny of people without Christ. Most ideas and strategies shared are tried and tested. Others are more embryonic and visionary.

An important objective of these conferences is the gathering of men and women who share a focus on mission and ministry that goes beyond traditional patterns and frequently unfruitful expressions. The folks who attend are eager to learn more about how to proclaim the love of Christ in faithful ways to new generations of people who are spiritually hungry but also either not attracted to or even turned off by most of what happens in the organized church.

My commendation is hereby offered to conference organizers, sponsors and presenters, along with attendees and their congregations back home. They are the ones whose ministry and mission will benefit from the return of rejuvenated, reenergized, recommitted workers and leaders.

The mission is real! The field is ripe for harvest! The eternal destination of people who live in darkness and disbelief is at stake! God be praised for the results that his blessing on these conferences will produce!