Back in November of 2019, several current and former District Presidents, parish pastors and lay leaders came together for an informal gathering in order to discuss His mission in our lives; the following statements were our prayerful vision for the future of the LCMS, along with twelve mission theses that lay a foundation and describe our ministry thinking and practices.
Our Prayerful Vision for the Future of the LCMS
Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21)
+. We pray for and imagine a church shaped by hope in the Lord of the Church and the power of His Gospel
We repent of the fear that continues to debilitate our congregations and our leaders. Facing decreasing worship attendance, aging membership and financial stress, we have focused more on institutional survival than on the mission of Jesus Christ. Fear has stalled our mission. We have looked to demographic studies, birth rates, and “riding it out” as approaches to our decline. We have circled the wagons and turned inward. In the darkness of a declining church, we seem to have lost hope in the Holy Spirit’s power to grow a church. We pray for a renewed and bold confidence that the kingdom still comes by God’s strong Word.
+. We pray for and imagine a church driven by a mutual confidence in Scripture alone as the sole authority for our teaching and confession.
We repent of the elevation of our Lutheran confessional documents and convention resolutions as an authority equal to that of Holy Scripture. While we subscribe wholeheartedly to the Confessions as a true exhibition of Scriptural truth, we are alarmed at the neglect of Biblical study. In a time of growing Biblical illiteracy, many of our churches have no youth or adult Bible study. An emphasis on Lutheran identity, coupled with a relentless quoting of Luther and Walther, have left many of us hungry for a dynamic teaching of the inspired Scriptures. We pray for our church’s return to its commitment to “Scripture alone.”
+. We pray for and imagine a church in which congregations freely carry on mission without the hindrance and control of church hierarchy.
We repent of the obstacles we have placed in the way of congregational and district mission by the Synod’s restrictive policies. A growing centralization of power in the Synod has led to controls being placed on its members required by neither the Scriptures nor our founders. Uniformity in practice seems to be a higher value than Christian freedom. Congregations seem to be asked to serve the needs of a centralized Synod rather than Synod serving the needs of congregations. We pray for a church in which congregations’ worship and witness in the encouraging context of Christian freedom.
+. We pray for and imagine a church in which a wide variety of gifts and people are celebrated among us.
We repent of our unwillingness to recognize the unique contributions of people of all ethnic backgrounds to the culture of our life together. We treasure a church which looks more and more like heaven as the nations come to Christ. We long for hymns and spiritual songs in our liturgical worship which express both our common faith and our diverse backgrounds. Most of our congregations simply do not look like the communities they serve. We cherish congregations which invite and welcome those who are “not like us.” We yearn for pastors who joyfully take up the Scriptural challenge to equip the baptized saints of God for ministry. We pray for a new generation of leaders who joyfully celebrate the growing diversity of gifts among us.
+. We pray for and imagine a church which balances the nurturing of the saved and the seeking of the lost.
We repent of placing our own interests over the interests of those who do not know Christ. We confess that we spend so much energy focused on one another that we have little energy left to reach new people with the Gospel. We have turned inward. We have erected walls of separation between our churches and our communities, we have become sectarian and prideful. How are we confessional when we only confess with one another? Our Gospel light flickers under a bushel. We pray to be a New Testament church as defined by Scripture, fueled by the power of the Word and Sacrament and sent into the world as bold witnesses to Jesus Christ.
+. We pray for and imagine a church which celebrates our amazing unity in Christ and concord in confession.
We repent of the loveless judgments we have made on one another’s doctrine and practice. We are wearied over the negative voices in the Synod, always bent on looking at what divides us rather than what unites us. We are saddened over a church so poised for dynamic growth yet so committed to endless conflict. Few, if any, Christian denominations are blessed with the level of concord we have within our Synod. We pray for a church at peace within itself and speaking with one voice the glory and grace of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
+. We pray for and imagine a church in which mutual trust and love characterize our relationships.
We repent of our party spirit and our repeated breaches of the eighth commandment. We have yielded to Satan’s strategy to sow seeds of distrust among us and so to divide the church. We long for a time when voting lists are no longer needed because we are unified in our purpose and mission. We yearn for leaders who are transparent, who speak the truth in love. We pray for leaders who embrace the whole Synod and restore trust among us all.
The Twelve Mission Theses
The vision, purpose and ministry of His people rest on the Biblical foundation of God’s mission to reconcile the entire world to Himself through His Son, Jesus Christ. Rather than playing an adjunct role in our theology and practice, God’s mission (the Missio Dei) stands at the heart of who we are as Christians (and as Lutherans) and rightly serves as the primary lens through which we read the Scriptures and apply its message to ourselves and our world. In short, the Missio Dei determines our being and purpose as a Synod and our biblical confession in the world.
God’s mission is summarized in our Lord’s testimony as recorded by Saint John, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:16-17).
From start to finish, the Missio Dei belongs to God and His love for the world. God’s mission, then, centers in Jesus Christ and His death on the cross by which He draws all people to Himself. We confess that the Missio Dei is Christ’s mission and that participation in God’s mission, individually as Christians and corporately as the Church, takes place only in and through Him.
Our Lord regularly refers to Himself as the “One sent by His Father” to save the world. “As the Father has sent Me, even so I am sending you.” We recognize the necessity of God sending His Son into the world because the world has no desire or capacity to come to Him (Romans 3:10). We cannot build our ministry in the 21st century on the false hope that the unsaved will somehow find their way to church in order to hear the Gospel. Rather, the Lord tell us by word and example that the Gospel must be sent to the unsaved in order for them to hear and be saved (Romans 10:14-17).
This divine sending, while centered in our Lord Jesus Christ, includes all those baptized into Him. As God’s people receive the promised gift of the Holy Spirit, they are empowered and sent into their everyday world to “proclaim the excellencies of Him who called them out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). Jesus says to us, “As you are going, therefore, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20). The Lord’s mission is accomplished as the Gospel is proclaimed throughout the world by the baptized as they go about their everyday lives.
Finally, our Lord “desires all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). Rather than the church seeing herself as the primary focus of His saving grace, the Lord intends that she, His Body, fix her attention on the “fields white onto harvest” (John 4:35). We must ask ourselves: are we focused primarily on Christ’s ministry to the church or are we focused primarily on His ministry to the world with the church sharing in His missionary vocation?
+. We believe, teach and confess that God’s mission centers in the person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ (John 3:16-17).
+. We believe, teach and confess that God’s love has given His apostolic authority to Christ to carry out the mission to administer forgiveness of sins and eternal life to the world (John 17:1-3; Luke 4:18-19; 24:24-49; Matthew 28:18-20). The truth, that a person is freely justified by grace, for Christ’s sake, through faith (Augsburg Confession, Article IV) is Christianity’s central teaching.
+. We believe, teach and confess that all who are baptized in Christ are co-heirs with Christ and they participate in God’s mission in relation to and through Him alone (1 Corinthians 1:9; 3:1-23).
+. We believe, teach and confess that the Missio Dei is the primary lens through which we read the Scriptures and which determines our mission, being, purpose, and witness, individually and collectively, as a fellowship of the baptized in Christ (John 17:1-3, 17-20).
+. We believe, teach and confess that just as God the Father sent His Son Jesus into the world, Jesus sends all believers into the world to “seek and the save the lost” (John 20:21-23; Luke 19:10).
+. We believe, teach and confess that the Lord tells us by word and example that the Gospel must be sent to the unsaved if they are to hear and be saved (Romans 1:16; 10:14-17) and that the unsaved will not, on their own, find their way to church in order to hear the Gospel.
+. We believe, teach and confess that the divine sending includes the sending of the Holy Spirit to empower “the sent” into their everyday world and lives to “proclaim the excellencies of Him who called them out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9)
+. We believe, teach and confess that the Lord continues to call His church from the nations around the world to work mutually in sending and receiving laborers for the harvest until the day when our Lord’s mission is complete (Ephesians 4:1-7; Matthew 9:35-10:1).
+. We believe, teach and confess that all matters of ritual, programs, and practices are not the essential core of God’s mission (Luke 24:45-47; Ephesians 2:8-9; 1 Corinthians 1:18-31)
+. We believe, teach and confess that the focus of the church’s sending mission and ministries is on God’s love and mission to the whole world through Christ and not on institutional maintenance, survival, doctrinal purity, or self-interest (Matthew 16:17-19; John 15:12-13; 2 Corinthians 5:18-20; 1 John 4)
+. We believe, teach and confess that the mission of the church is driven and empowered by the Gospel of Christ alone and Scripture, God’s strong Word alone, as the sole authority for our mission, teaching, witness and confession and not by legalism, individualism, separatism, and clericalism, nor by any human authority, power, control, persuasion or any hierarchy (Romans 1:16; John 5:39; 17:17-19; Galatians 5:1)
+. We believe, teach, and confess that God gives a wide variety of gifts and people for the Missio Dei, with unique contributions of people of all ethnic backgrounds in the culture of our life together (1 Corinthians 12; Romans 12)