From the Disk of the Pastor July 2010
Dear Friends in Christ,
We’ve come to the moment when the future of our church body will be decided. I do not over exaggerate this. We are at a time when American Christianity is in crisis. Particularly hard hit are liberal mainline Protestant church bodies. Many of them are bleeding members so rapidly, that the date the last member leaves can be calculated - its close at hand. I’ve heard 2017 for one fairly large church body, in the 2020's for some others. Some of this is demographic. The members had fewer children, so as they die off they leave fewer behind. Some of it has to do with the fact that mainline liberal Protestantism has nothing to offer people who are truly struggling with issues of sin and death. It also has to do with the fact that people see their churches increasingly controlled by church bureaucrats, and they as members are blocked from having any influence on the direction of the church.
The LCMS in the one old mainline Protestant church that is not liberal. Lutheranism is unique in that it has two large church bodies. In other confessional families the conservative churches are secondary churches, that is a fraction of the size of the large, liberal one. So there is really only one large Presbyterian church body, one large Methodist church body and so forth. Up through the presidency of A.L. Barry, numbers wise, we didn’t look much like the liberal mainline churches. The average age of our members was quite a bit younger, and our membership was not moving too much in either direction. Since President Kieschnick has become president, the rate of decline in membership has increased sharply. A number of pastors and congregations have left the LCMS. Splinter groups like the Evangelical Lutheran Diocese of North America (ELDoNA) have come into existence. Shadow synods within the synod like the Augustana Ministerium have been formed. The synod also shows increasing financial stress. (It should be noted that many pastors left the LCMS during the presidency of Dr. Barry, but most of them did not take their congregations with them and they did not remain Lutheran. These pastors most often became Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox.)
The question then before us is whether we will follow our liberal brethren in the path of church body destruction or whether we will choose a different path. The proposals of the Blue Ribbon Task Force would make our church body look very much like a liberal mainline Protestant church in terms of our structure. It would take away many of the options of influence available to the grass roots of our church. This would only accelerate the decline. Funding of the synod would take a huge hit. This new structure would cause us to begin to eat ourselves. By that I mean that we would have to begin to sell off assets, such as college campuses, just to pay our day to day bills. Bankruptcy of the national church could come very, very quickly.
What are the answers? One is demographic and cultural. The Christian Church will likely be smaller in the U.S. in the decades to come than it has been in the recent past. So to a certain extent, declines are to be expected. But how can we minimize this or even counteract it? Focus the church body upon the Word of God. A church body in the Word and driven by the Word will have a message for a dying world. It will become the place to be. Keep it and make it even more to be a grass roots church body. Let the Word come down to the people and let the people respond to the Word. Their industry, creativity, skills, and talents can accomplish far more than we would ever imagine. But first we must make all these things captive to the Word of God. Then God’s work will be done among us.
Rev. Jody R. Walter
Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way.
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Psalm 119:1204-105