Saturday, February 10, 2007

False Alternatives in the LCMS

I heard about a bunch of LCMS students the other day discussing some terms which have become common lingo in certain quarters of our synod. The phrases are "Mission Outpost" and "Maintenance Station".

I don't know where these terms come from, but they are embraced by many in the LCMS today even though they present a false alternative. The idea is this - that every church should think of itself as less a "Maintenance Station" and more of a "Mission Outpost". That "Maintenance Stations" are dead, cold, boring, dying, stodgy, traditional types of congregations, while "Mission Outposts" are growing, thriving, innovative, contemporary, responsive, loving, and just about every other complimentary adjective to boot.

At one of our pastors' circuit meetings last year we were asked to rate our own congregations on a "scale of one to ten", with "Maintenance Station" being 1, of course, and "Mission Outpost" being 10. Subtle, huh?

My problem is not with the terms, per se, but with the false alternative they present. It's a simple flaw of logic that a congregation can't be concerned both about "maintaining" and also about "mission". In fact it works best, I believe, when a congregation does BOTH. When they are concerned about BOTH.

I contend that a church CANNOT be a "mission outpost" WITHOUT being also a "maintenance station". The two are inseparable. If we don't "maintain" (our own members, the Gospel, our doctrine), then what are we offering when we "do missions"? If we only seek to "maintain" (well, I don't know of any congregation that purposely eschews missions), then how are we actually being faithful to the Christ who calls us to share the Gospel?

A very similar false alternative is suggested by a certain group who dubs some in the LCMS as "missionaries" and some as "guardians" (though if I recall, that distinction was a little kinder to the "guardians").

Other dubious terms are the phrases, "mission-minded" or "having a heart for mission". I find this kind of thing is often used to contrast some who think of themselves as "more mission-minded than that other guy".

I think the best term to encompass all of this - maintenance and mission, guarding and reaching out, mission-mindedness and doctrinally-sound - the best term is simply "faithful". Is your church faithful? Is your pastor faithful? If they are, and if he is, everything else falls into place.

Of course none of us is perfectly faithful. Yet we live under the Gospel. But I think you get my drift here.


Kletos Sumboulos said...

So, did you answer 5 on the 1 to 10 scale?
This is a common error in research design. Better to ask two questions, "to what extent do you emphasize missions in your congregation" and "to what extent do you emphasize tradition in your congregation" both on a scale from 0 (none) to 10 (a great deal). From that you could actually test to see if high scores on one predict low scores on the other.

Preachrboy said...

I refused to answer.

Another whole discussion wrapped up in this is in defining "mission". I think there are distinctly differing views in the LCMS on what "mission work" and "evangelism" really are.

Without going into all of it, I do think that much of what passes for "mission-mindedness" in the LCMS today is really a distraction from Christ's true mission - which is the making of disciples by teaching and baptizing.

In other words, the heart of mission work is in the word and sacrament ministry of the congregation, NOT in personal witness and fancy programs (as nice as those things might be).

Kletos, I suspect that a test designed such as you suggest would actually find a correspondence between those high on tradition and low on mission (and vice versa). But such a finding, I would argue, would be evidence of the very misperceptions I am addressing! Does that make sense?

Anonymous said...

Wonder where you heard that one from? Do you have a mole in the LCMS education system? ;)

Preachrboy said...

A little Lutheran birdie told me.

Anonymous said...

Pitting "mission" against "maintenance" is a good way to make sure the "mission" never gets done.

I once heard it put this way: "If you're going to feed the neighborhood from your garden, then you'd better tend to your garden."

Tom Fast

Lynn of St. John's said...

Thank you Rev. Chryst for posting this thread, being on both the local and world mission teams at church, I find what you've written here very interesting information.
What scriptures would you put beside the phrases " Mission Outpost " ? and " Maintenance Station " ?

For example God has given us the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Luke 10:25-37 to serve as the reminder that the church is an innkeeper for those He brings to us who have been victum to the devil who came to kill, steal and distroy them and left them for dead. God has compassion and is merciful.

As a LCMS Pastor do you find yourself today as being like Jesus Christ, the Good Samaritan ? The Victum ? or the inkeeper ?

As I see it Evangelism and Mission can not be seperated. The Definition of Evangelize is to preach the gospel and to convert to Christianity.The Written Word must accompany the phrase "Mission Outpost" and "Maintanance Station"

At the LCMS, were I'm a member, we have a Board of Elders, Board of Trustees, Board of Parish Education, Board of Mission & Evangelism, Board of Christian Stewardship, and a Board of Topeka Lutheran School Representatives

Preachrboy said...

Actually the Greek word for evangelism really just means "telling the good news". With that understanding, I "evangelize" the believer and unbeliever alike, don't I?

"Mission" is really the same - the mission is to make disciples - both those who are not yet disciples, and those who are already disciples and are continuing to be made disciples. This is done through word and sacrament.

I remember quite clearly one of the seminary "mission" professors mulling out loud why we even have separate classes for "missions" and "evangelism" when they are really the same thing.

Of course, most LCMS congregations (like mine) assign "missions" and/or "evangelism" to a board or committee. I'm not so sure that's the best idea, though. It tends to compartmentalize the Gospel as simply a segment of the church's work, rather than seeing it as central to everything we do!

And to answer your question, is the church (or the Pastor) like Jesus Christ? the Samaritan? The Victim? The Inkeeper? Yes, to all of the above, depending on the context. But that's another post entirely, I think.

Lynn of St. John's said...

Ok...I'm trying to get instep with you on this one so bear with me so I can learn from what your trying to say here. Last week our missionary visited us from Saratov,Russia I've never heard the expression " Outpost " connected to Evangelism or Missions so I looked it up in the dictionary- it says that an outpost is established at a distance from the mainbodyto protect it from surprise attack; an outlying settlement, a body of troops, a detachment.
So... if I'm understanding this all correctly Pastor would this be correct ?
I belong to a LCMS " Maintenance Station " St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church in Topeka ( USA ) but the LCMS "outpost" is St. John's Lutheran Church in Saratov ( Russia )

Jim Roemke said...

I think that is probably a good way to look at it, but that is not how many within the synod view it. The idea is that more and more churches should become less and less "maintenance ministries" (which is viewed as a negative, as if Word and Sacrament ministry were not enough) and more and more "mission outposts" (making everything we do focus upon getting more and more people in the pew and perhaps, if it is not attractive, focusing less and less on Word and Sacrament ministry). The reason this is a false alternative is that if we are doing what we are supposed to be doing, which I believe many faithful pastors are, then Word and Sacrament ministry is feeding the flock and through the work of the Holy Spirit, bringing in more hungry sheep. It is unfair to label something as a "maintenance ministry" with this blatantly negative connotation. We maintain the clear Word of God given through pure preaching and right administration of the sacraments.

Lynn of St. John's said...

Well then...that's kind of a sad situation for those folks who have taken such a dim view of our Good Shepherd's tender loving care,throught His marks of His church. I should think " maintenance ministry" would be a term worthy of have the highest respect attached to it.When I read the definition that is provided in the dictionary I see that " Maintain" is a possitive word, not a negative word. To keep in existence, to sustain , to carry on, to defend, to declare to be true, to adhere or conform to, to keep in a condition of good repair. With all honesty, I just praise God for those of you in the LCMS who are still providing a " maitenance ministry " where care and upkeep continue. As an adjective " maintenance" means it's function is designed to maintain a patient in a stable condition; serving to maintain a gradual process of healing or to prevent a relapse. When I started coming to church I was afraid of death, I was mentally ill, I was sick and I was tired of not being able to achieve my own salvation. I know for a fact that the LCMS " maintenance ministry " is a blessing.

Jim Roemke said...

Thank you for those "maintaining" words. I will soon be entering the Office of the Holy Ministry and I pray every day for the flock to which God will call me to maintain in pure Gospel preaching and right administration of the Sacraments. In doing this, our Lord's promise, "I will be with you to the end of the age," is beautifully and objectively seen and received. May God continue to bless you with His maintenance in Word and Sacrament.