“Inside baseball” is a term that usually refers to a detail-oriented approach to the minutiae of a subject, which in turn requires such a specific knowledge about what is being discussed that the nuances are not understood or appreciated by outsiders. Hopefully this is a little easier to understand.
This past week the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, our national church body, had its triennial convention. If you’re from Tallahassee, it’s probably easiest to think of the convention as being something like legislative session. Every 3 years we gather together to elect leaders and to consider business.
Representation goes like this: Circuits, which are collections of local churches (i.e. our Circuit includes the 7 LCMS churches nearest us), each send one pastor delegate and one lay person (non-church worker) delegate. This year I was the pastoral delegate, and Epiphany sent the lay person delegate. Take that times all of the Circuits in the LCMS and you end up with about 1,200 delegates. In addition, there are more advisory delegates sent (from a variety of backgrounds) who do not have a vote.
This convention, there were a few “hot button issues”. Those included “Licensed Lay Deacons” and “Dispute Resolution Panels”. Sound thrilling, don’t they?
Dispute Resolution Panel – If a congregation or a church worker is accused of doing something that might make it difficult for them to remain in our church body, the normal way that this is worked out is that they are sent to a Dispute Resolution Panel (DRP). The DRP is made up of several people and is called into action by the District President of the people with the issue. The big question about DRP in this convention was about if a District President felt that it was not necessary to call the DRP into action, could the accuser in the situation appeal above the District President all the way to the Synodical president. Many were worried that if this was passed, it would set a precedent for the Synodical President to use this as a tool to disqualify church workers and/or congregations, as well as to punish District Presidents who did not refer things to the DRP. Action: There was no action taken on this issue because the District Presidents together asked that it be postponed until they had a chance to discuss it fully, and then action may be taken by the Board of Directors of Synod.
Licensed Lay Deacons – In the 1980’s, one of the conventions of the LCMS approved this thing called “Licensed Lay Deacons” (LLD). It was essentially an office of the church (i.e. teacher, pastor, director of Christian education, etc), but allowed the person to remain a layperson (non-church worker) in the eyes of the Synod. These LLDs were to be laypeople who would help pastors, essentially serving as assistant pastors, and in emergency situations, they could be sent to vacant churches (without a pastor) where they could preach and administer the sacraments. Many felt that this was not inline with what our church body believes about the role of pastors (that one who is “rightly called” should be the only one who is “preaching and administering the sacraments”), and were calling for an end to the LLD program. Action: There will still be LLD’s, but they will essentially no longer be able to preach and administer the sacraments at a church on their own (there are some minor emergency exceptions). Current LLD’s will have a period of time in which they will have to find an approved route to becoming an actual pastor, if they so desire.
Other, more minor issues:
Campus Ministry – The convention earmarked $20,000 for the next 3 years to be used for expanding campus ministry, especially to be used to close the gap between congregations and campus ministries when high school students come to college. https://www.facebook.com/lcmsu/videos/777448555690759/
Sermon Evaluation – The leader of every circuit (called a “Circuit Visitor”, remember that’s the 7 churches around us) are to be encouraged to at least once over the next three years listen to a sermon from every pastor in the circuit and give feedback. Additionally the District President is encouraged to do the same.
Support for Biblical Views on Cultural Issues – The convention passed resolutions of support for churches that may have to make serious decisions on some cultural issues in the next three years including issues around abortion and life as well as issues around sexuality.
There certainly isn’t enough time to go through all of the 100-some resolutions that were passed and/or talked about, especially since I’m traveling to the National Youth Gathering tomorrow. But the best news is this: Jesus is still in charge of His Church. While we might get to wrangle about it on the floors of conventions, He has everything under control.