This is an unusual assignment! Instead of our usual encouragement for ministry, the December 2019 issue of the Encourager is supposed to deal with the things that have happened during 2019. That being said, it’s been a good year because the work of the Mid-South District has been about the work of the Kingdom of Christ. But, there are challenges.
CHURCH PLANTING: The District’s Board of Directors continues its efforts with the Mission and Ministry Committee and executive staff to bring our proclamation of the Gospel into every corner of the District. We have worked with the GracePoint Lutheran congregation in Munford, TN, to settle in their new location. A welcoming for the community was held on August 17 at the new location. Restoration Lutheran Church, in northwest Arkansas, continues its efforts in the Fayetteville area with Rev. JD Zischke, planter. Salem Hispanic Ministry, in Springdale, AR continues to grow with its planter, Rev. Brandon Martin. The Mekane Yesus congregation in Thompson Station, TN continues its ethnic ministry with Rev. Alebachew Teshome as its leader planter. A new plant in West Little Rock, AR, with the efforts of Christ Lutheran, Little Rock, and Daniel Bodeman as planter continues to grow into a promising ministry. Holy Trinity Lutheran, Bowling Green, KY and Rev. Mark Press are working on developing new ministries in southern Kentucky.
SYNOD CONVENTION: The Mid-South District submitted an overture to the Synod Convention that resulted in Resolutions 2-02A on the processes that affects the ordination of Specific Ministry Pastors – seminary track. As a result, the Pastoral Formation Committee of the Synod will be evaluating the process that SMP candidates move toward ordination and make their recommendations to the 2022 Synod Convention.
Our Generation to Generation (G2G) project also received overwhelming support as a study model at the Synod. We will submit a report on the findings and methodologies to evaluate ways to bring in and keep our young adults active in the church, and ways to have families become more deeply involved in faith formation for future generations.
CHURCH WORKER CHANGES: The District continued its work to bring men into the ordained ministry through the SMP Colloquy program started after the Synod’s Resolution 13-02A. Rev. Thomas Moore, West Memphis; Rev. Craig Fiebiger, Thompson Station, TN; Rev. Ray Krieg, Seymour, TN; Rev. Henry Thompson, Malvern, AR; Rev. John Mathis, Little Rock, Rev. George Smith, Oak Ridge; Rev. Jim Belles, Cordova, TN; Rev. Jerry Stobaugh, Oakland, TN; Rev. Jeremy McDonald, Memphis; Rev. Tim Hunze, Hermitage, TN; Rev. Randy Sakach, White House, TN; and Rev. Bill Schutte, Mountain Home, AR were added to the roster of ordained pastors from the deacon program or through a seminary SMP track.
RETIREMENTS from ROSTER: As we have noted in the recent past, there is a need for more men to enter into the ministry. Our Seminaries are not producing enough new pastors to cover the retiring pastors. We received notice of eight (8) pastors retiring this year and have only received 2 men at Spring placement. The same is true for our Commissioned Church workers as our Concordia University system is not producing enough teachers, DCE’s, musicians, DCO’s and the like to keep up with the decline in rostered workers.
The good news is the Mid-South District is identifying men who are interested in seminary education. This year, the Ministry Placement committee interviewed seven men who are willing to take up the challenge to consider pastoral ministry.
VACANT CONGREGATIONS: The vacancy rate in the Mid-South District remains lower than most of the other LCMS districts. At one point in 2019, we had as many as six vacant congregations seeking placement. At this point, there are three congregations who are going through the vetting process for pastoral ministry.
YOUTH AND FAMILY MINISTRY FORUM: The Youth and Family Ministry Committee has set its Beta-study congregations in Arkansas, and began its work toward presenting Generation to Generation (G2G) to those congregations. A report of the G2G project will be submitted to the entire Council of Presidents at the end of 2020 and make its recommendations to the Synod Convention in 2022 on retention of youth and faith formation.
MID-SOUTH DISTRICT LAY MINISTRY ASSOCIATE PROGRAM: The Synod’s Resolution 13-02A provides for LLD’s to be in the process of their application to the ordained ministry to continue their work until the General Colloquy Committee for Pastoral Ministry of the Synod acts on their applications. We are developing a program with the Concordia University, Mequon and Concordia University, Portland, for on-line courses for men and women who are not on a pastoral ministry track to become Lay Ministry Associates who will focus on visitation, shut-in visitation, outreach, assimilation, and general work within the congregations, schools, and ECCs of the District.
FINANCIAL AID: The Financial Aid Committee of the District awarded over $81,000 for educational support for our members in church worker tracks through our University System and Seminaries. The Mid-South District Board of Directors approved a resolution to allocate the remaining 2020 budgeted student aid funds, held in reserve, to MinistryFocus, an LCMS RSO that assists rostered church workers with large educational debt. The reserve funds are designated specifically for grants awarded by MinistryFocus to church workers in the Mid-South District.
COMPASS and C.A.R.: These programs, developed by the Mid-South District, continue to grow. The interest at the Synod level has resulted in 16 other districts interested in having the product brought to their district. The results have been remarkable, and have brought new directions to many of the participating congregations, schools, and ECC’s. The districts that have expressed interest include the Minnesota North. Ohio, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Southern, Kansas, New England, Florida-Georgia, Rocky Mountain, Missouri, and Northern Illinois Districts. There have been 73 congregations who have completed the C.A.R. tool for assessing congregational activity.
EACH ONE – REACH ONE (E1-R1): In cooperation with Diane Reimold, LWML District President, the District continues the second phase of E1-R1 in the District. With the materials from Synod’s “Every One His Witness” program, E1-R1 applies principles in our local congregations connecting with the community. The total number of E1-R1 participants amount to over 300 people.
DEVELOPMENT: Since 2013, the IMPACT program has allowed us to engage individuals across the Mid-South in prayerful financial support of the District’s ministry building work—programs and services for congregations, schools, workers and future ministries. The IMPACT program was launched with an initial campaign to raise $1.5 million. The District has been blessed to achieve 97.5% of the financial goal, receiving pledges of just over $1,462,313 in gifts and commitments. In 2020, we will have set to raise more than $250,000 to continue the efforts where 102% of our operating budget that comes from congregational commitments is used for mission development and outreach.
SYNOD CONVENTION: The Convention was held in Tampa, Florida from July 20 to 25, 2019. The results of the election for Synod President was that Matthew Harrison was elected on the first ballot. With the Retirement of Rev. Dr. Herb Mueller, 22 names were submitted in nomination for First Vice-President. Rev. Peter Lange, formerly President of the Kansas District, was elected on the first ballot. He assumed office in September. With the retirement of Rev. Dr. Daniel Preus, the Central Region Vice-President elected at Convention was Rev. Benjamin Ball.
VACANCY REPORT – LCMS: From the Council of Presidents, Clergy Call and Rosters Committee: The number of vacancies in the LCMS continues to increase from 413 vacant congregations in 2017 to 511 vacant pulpits in 2019. The number of congregation that are seeking part-time pastors has increased from 357 to 465 congregations in a year’s time. Meanwhile, the number of new starting congregations when compared to the number of congregations that are closing remains somewhere in the category of no net gain in the number of congregations in the LCMS.
SPRING PLACEMENT RESULTS: This year we were informed that there were grand total of 80 candidates graduating and ready for placement from both of the seminaries of the LCMS! The good news is that the Mid-South District will receive two candidates from this year’s candidates, and one convertible vicar. There were 79 unfilled requests across the Synod’s other 34 Districts.
OFFICE OF INTERNATIONAL MISSIONS: Dr. Kevin Robson has announced the Call of Rev. Daniel McMiller to become the Executive Director of the Office of International Missions for the LCMS. He replaced Rev. John Fale who has retired as of July, 2018. Rev. McMiller is a seasoned international missionary, having served in South America. He colloquized into the LCMS from the Evangelical Lutheran Synod in 1985.
LCMS SCHOOL MINISTRIES: The director of the Office of National Missions, Rev. Bob Zagore, has announced the acceptance of the Call to become the Director of LCMS School Ministries. Dr. Rebecca Schmidt will replace the retiring Terry Schmidt.
THE YEAR AHEAD: The progress of the Mid-South District continues to be bright but filled with daily challenges. With the prayerful support of our member congregations and schools, our 2020 Vision will bring new opportunities for us to partner with our faithful workers and dedication congregations to bring the message of the Gospel into every country road and Main Street in the Mid-South. May God continue to richly bless and keep us all as we go about the work He has given us to do in His kingdom. Have a blessed New Year.