By: LCMS NJ District President Dr. Tony Steinbronn
The following article for your prayerful reflection this Lenten season is from a classic book within the theology of missions written by Georg Vicedom in 1966 titled the Mission of God. I hope that you will be edified, and challenged, by many of these theses in your life as one of His disciples.
Thesis 1…The Bible in its totality ascribes only one intention to God: to save mankind. In order to accomplish this mission, God lays claim to make use of every believer exactly as He wills in order to accomplish His mission of making disciples of all nations.
Thesis 2…Every task of the church makes sense and has a purpose only as it leads to the mission of making disciples of all nations.
Thesis 3…The mission is work that belongs to God. The church is the instrument through which God carries out His mission; hence the church is not called on to decide whether she will carry on the mission or not -- she can only decide whether she wants to be the church.
Thesis 4…Today other non-Christian religions and philosophies are also offering humankind salvation and solution for the problems of his life. They are contesting the claim of the Christian proclamation.
Thesis 5…The goal of His mission is to incorporate humankind into the kingdom of God and to bless humankind with the gifts of the Kingdom.
Thesis 6…God’s Kingdom is ushered in by God alone by means of the proclamation of the Word and the administration of the sacraments.
Thesis 7…Because the kingdom of God is against the kingdom of the world, God rescues men by His kingdom and at the same time judges the other kingdom and all who belong to it. Men now have the possibility of rescue. Thus their own unbelief renders judgment upon them (John 3:17ff). Through this judgment the proclamation of the Kingdom becomes existential; for those who believe, it becomes a proclamation of rescue and for those who refuse it a proclamation of damnation.
Thesis 8…God does not wish to have men remain in the kingdom of darkness and be lost in it (Col. 1:13). Therefore He sends His Son, who seeks and saves that which is lost (Mt. 18:11; Lk 19:10).
Thesis 9…The Son is the bearer of the Kingdom and gives it its content. He brings human beings nothing less than the redemption which He has accomplished; He gives them new life through justification and rebirth; He brings His own the eternal life which He has earned for them through His death and resurrection.
Thesis 10…A refusal to accept the Kingdom is at the same time a denial of the event of salvation; thus the proclamation becomes a judgment and provokes further judgment.
Thesis 11…In order to bring man to salvation, God woos him through His revelation, through His Word.
Thesis 12…Through the sending God builds the bridge and establishes the connection with human beings whom He desires to save.
Thesis 13…The attitude of the church toward the world is determined through the sending. The church must regard herself as the carrier of the message to the world.
Thesis 14…God carries out the sending into the world as He elects for Himself from among the nations the nation that belongs exclusively to Him, and calls and sends it.
Thesis 15…Israel lived among the nations. She was always in danger of becoming like them. Israel was constantly surrounded by apostasy. For that reason God not only sent His people kings but above all prophets, to whom He made His will known, who ever and again drew the line over against apostasy.
Thesis 16…Through His Son it becomes clear once and for all who God is, what He is, how He works, how He thinks in regard to men, how He redeems them, what salvation He has prepared for them, how men may draw near to Him, and how they are received into His fellowship. No one now can seek his own way of salvation and no one can sidestep this Jesus.
Thesis 17…Through this sending men are placed before the living God; their former gods are declared nonentities and their ways of salvation false, for He alone is Salvation and He alone brings salvation.
Thesis 18…Beyond Jesus there is no further revelation of God. Even the Holy Spirit derives His message from the things of Jesus and in this way leads humankind into all truth. Only through the Son do people learn to know this God and only through Him do they find the way to the Father.
Thesis 19…The apostles occupy a unique and basic position in the church. As witnesses of the life and resurrection of Jesus they are the connecting link between the Lord and His church which no longer knows Him in His bodily presence. The apostles have the duty and assignment to establish the church and thereby they become the foundation of the building upon which all other work was to be based.
Thesis 20…Through the apostolate the church in the time between the two comings of the Lord is called to the task of bringing to all people salvation in Jesus Christ. All ministries of the church are included in this task and it is from this task that they receive point and purpose.
Thesis 21…The church becomes a pilgrim church which is always on the way to men who as yet do not know salvation. Her service is a “going” from people to people, from continent to continent, and thereby ushers in the day of salvation for the nations.
Thesis 22…The mission of God has no other purpose than to make disciples. The preaching of the Kingdom is always simultaneously a call to discipleship.
Thesis 23…His followers should be completely at His disposal and should listen to no other voice. For hearing, obeying, and keeping His Word (John 8:31) is the essence of discipleship.
Thesis 24…Through the Spirit, then, the disciples become the Lord’s witnesses and co-workers. They are to make the people whom they evangelize into what they themselves have become.
Thesis 25…Every man has the right to draw so near to Jesus that he does not first have to become a Westerner before he can understand Him. But one thing he must always be – a disciple of Jesus.
Thesis 26…Because God wants missions to an unbelieving world, we are the church.
Thesis 27…In her life and in her attitude the church is different from the world. She does not belong to herself or to the world but to God. In her the life that flows from Christ is manifest. For that reason she is an epistle of Christ to the world, visible and legible to the world (2 Cor. 3:3). In the midst of the world of darkness she is the light; amide corruption she is the salt. She is this not of herself, but of God. And she is this not for herself, but for the world.
Thesis 28…The church is placed into the world and sent by her Lord into the world. She is to proclaim to the lost world, the non-Christians, the message of redemption and through the reception of the message on the part of the hearers to gather a congregation of the redeemed, God’s people on earth.
Thesis 29…The missionary goal is the winning of all people and gathering them into the church of Christ.
Thesis 30…No one among the heathen is excluded. The message is to be proclaimed in the entire living space of the nations which is the sphere of the church’s proclamation.
Thesis 31…Every nation presents a unique environment for the Gospel and for the congregation. The congregation will always wear a local costume but it will nevertheless remain faithful to itself and not sell out to the nation.
Thesis 32…The church and mission can have success in expansion only if they offer their message through natural channels such as kinship and friendship, where they can be passed on from one to the other.
Thesis 33…Certainly no human being can make anyone a believer, but nevertheless, very much depends on the conduct of the messenger. God must do everything; this is beyond question but, always, God does His work only to the extent that His messenger has become an instrument.
Thesis 34…The missionary command mentions the Word as the only means of the mission.
Thesis 35…The saving message of the Gospel must always be used in such a way that men hear it. They cannot of themselves come into the Kingdom, but they must be called in. Thus the message must be presented in such a way that it will be heard and understood. When the messenger proclaims the Word in such a way that men cannot understand it, it remains an empty sound. If it is not brought to men in their language, they cannot grasp it. If the language is alien to them, it does not become God’s own Word for them.
Thesis 36…God wants to draw so near to men in His proclamation that their entire person will be caught by it. Consequently the messenger must take pains to recast his message in foreign thought forms, to carry on an interior debate with the unbelieving environment so that he can proclaim the message of salvation.
Thesis 37…Baptism shows all the world that the believers are willing to be joined to the Lord and thereby it separates them from the old religious community. Unbelievers generally do not object if their countrymen hear the Word of God or if they honor Christ. Their religion makes room for that. However, when anyone permits himself to be baptized, the unbeliever become intolerant. Then the resistance sets in.
Thesis 38…Through baptism the Lord makes His church a unique reality in the world. The believers belong to the body of Christ through Baptism; unbelievers and unbaptized do not have a share in this body. And it is through Baptism the congregation of Jesus Christ comes into existence among all nations.
Thesis 39…In order to nourish the new life created in Baptism, to preserve the believers in the gift of salvation, to strengthen their fellowship, and to bind them closer to the Lord, Christ has given the Lord’s Supper as a covenant meal. Through the act of Holy Communion, Jesus wants to interpret the meaning of His death and reveal the universal meaning of the covenant based on Him. Thus the gifts of God in the sacraments have a dual aspect: they serve the salvation of humankind AND they are the content of the testimony of the saved.
Thesis 40…Much as hearing the Word and praising God in the liturgy belong to the proper worship of God and thus to the faith, yet these really achieve their fullness and purpose only when they permit themselves to be used in the sending. Therefore the church, with its knowledge of salvation, is placed in the service of revelation and rescue.
By: District President Dr. Tony Steinbronn
In a recent mailing to the congregations and church workers of the New Jersey District, I provided a brief “state of the New Jersey District,” along with identifying seven pressing ministry challenges that we are facing today. Also included in that mailing was a copy of the district’s salary guidelines for professional church workers, developed and approved by the New Jersey District Board of Directors, for your prayerful consideration and congregational action.
As I noted in “ministry challenge #3,” approximately one-third of NJD congregations are “stand alone” congregations; that is, they have the membership and financial capacity to fully compensate a pastor and to sufficiently fund their congregational ministry without receiving additional income from “non-member sources.”
Last evening, in order to help us better understand and to demonstrate our urgent need “to be in this ministry together,” I gathered the recorded data on congregational size and financial giving from the years 1974, 1983, and 1991 for New Jersey District congregations and here are the main findings from that data:
+. the average congregation had 540 baptized members, 358 communicant members, with an average worship attendance of 172
+. 22% of the congregations worshipped less than 100 members on a Sunday, with the smallest congregation experiencing an average worship attendance of 46 and the largest congregation worshipped 506
+. the average amount of funds available for “work at home – local congregation” was $43,453 (the 2020 dollar equivalent would be $226,393) and $8,478 for “work at large – district and synod” (the 2020 dollar equivalent would be $44,174)
+. in terms of today’s dollars, the average communicant member gave $631 for “work at home – local congregation” and $123 for “work at large – district and synod” (the median income for those residing in the Northeast was $11,604 -- which was 1.25% of their median household income)
+. the average congregation had 511 baptized members, 368 communicant members, with an average worship attendance of 154
+. 33% of the congregations worshipped less than 100 members on a Sunday, with the smallest congregation experiencing an average worship attendance of 40 and the largest congregation worshipped 505
+. the average amount of funds available for “work at home – local congregation” was $84,158 (the 2020 dollar equivalent would be $217,129) and $9,232 for “work at large – district and synod” (the 2020 dollar equivalent would be $23,819)
+. in terms of today’s dollars, the average communicant member gave $588 for “work at home – local congregation” and $65 for “work at large – district and synod” (the median income for those residing in the Northeast was $27,686 -- which was 0.92% of their median household income)
+. the average congregation had 470 baptized members, 332 communicant members, with an average worship attendance of 146
+. 40% of the congregations worshipped less than 100 members on a Sunday, with the smallest congregation experiencing an average worship attendance of 28 and the largest congregation worshipped 324
+. the average amount of funds available for “work at home – local congregation” was $123,068 (the 2020 dollar equivalent would be $232,599) and $17,893 for “work at large – district and synod” (the 2020 dollar equivalent would be $33,818)
+. in terms of today’s dollars, the average communicant member gave $699 for “work at home – local congregation” and $101 for “work at large – district and synod” (the median income for those residing in the Northeast was $33,467 -- which was 1.27% of their median household income)
One of the key observations from this data is that the average congregation in the New Jersey District had, in term of today’s dollars, for its “work at home” operation $226,393 in 1974, $217,129 in 1983, and $232,599 in 1991; and was able to contribute for its “work at large – district and synod” dollar amounts of $44,174 in 1974, $23,819 in 1983, and $33,818 in 1991. These more-than-adequate financial resources were due to two factors: the medium to large size of congregational membership and the significant number of members who worshipped each Sunday (since the actual, average percentage of giving for each communicant member was remarkably low when one considers that charitable giving back in the late 20th century was around 3% for communicant members of Lutheran congregations in the US).
When one reflects on these membership and financial realities, one can see how it was much easier for a congregation to be able “to stand alone” as a self-supporting entity and why today we need to be more receptive to alternative ministry partnerships.
As noted in “ministry challenge #3,” approximately two-thirds of NJD congregations are experiencing a ministry situation in which it might be prudent to consider one of five options for their future ministry so that they will have sufficient funds to compensate their called church worker, operate and maintain its facilities, and fund its essential ministries of edification, evangelism and human care:
+. form a dual parish with a sister LCMS congregation in which they are served by a shared pastor
+. sell its current facilities and establish its ministry in a new location
+. two congregations join to form a new congregation, with each congregation selling its current facilities and establishing its ministry together in a new location
+. three to five congregations enter into a ministry partnership in which they are served by three, full-time pastors; with each congregation retaining its congregational identity and church property and the pastors functioning in a team ministry to meet the worship and pastoral care needs of the five congregations
+. a congregation enters into a ministry partnership with the New Jersey District in which it receives a weekly sermon message from The Kairos Network that is displayed on a digital video screen and receive the Lord’s Supper at least once a month from a circuit-rider-type pastor; during the Sundays when the pastor is not present, the worship service is led by an elder (or a team of elders) who have been trained to lead the congregation in its worship life, with its pastoral care and catechetical needs met through a ministry agreement with a pastor of a nearby LCMS congregation
We are not alone when it comes to experiencing these kinds of shifts in congregational health and membership; for example, in 2018 the median average worship attendance within the 6,000 LCMS congregations was 71 (that is, one-half of all LCMS congregations had 71 people or less in worship during any given week) compared to a median average weekly worship attendance of 100 just eleven years ago in 2007.
May the Lord give us the vision and wisdom that we need for ministry in this place and in this time.
Your brother in Christ and in His mission,