LCMS district officials are just giddy over new mission starts these days. And why wouldn’t they be? The more congregations that are started, the more we fulfill the Great Commission and speed Jesus’ return. Or something like that... Yes, spreading the Word is wonderful, however the push for new starts is causing some puzzlement among some long-time members of the LCMS, specifically those in older and smaller congregations.
The money for these glorious new starts is coming from current members. Should these current members go looking to their district for financial assistance for their congregation, they may be out of luck because their district may be one which is only interested in new mission starts.
Shouldn’t existing congregations be able to support themselves? Usually yes, but this gives the impression that new starts and the members contained therein are more important or more valuable than the congregations and members that have been around, some for more than a century, and for whatever reason are now falling on financial hard times.
When a district official advises a new seminary graduate to close up the parish to which he has just been assigned and give its money to Fan into Flame, that gives the impression that the few members of the existing congregation are not as worthy of preaching, teaching, and administration of the Sacraments as are the potential members of the new mission start which could be funded by the cash realized by closing the existing parish.
Theologically, while hopefully unintentional, this smacks of decision theology (those who have already asked Jesus into their hearts are not in need of pastors or keeping their churches open) and a once-saved, always-saved mentality (these members are already in the church and don’t need to be evangelized anymore; time to go find new converts). The Theology of Glory pervades. If a congregation is not successful, in terms of money and new converts, shut it down and start something new. Then our statistics look better, or our rocket ship or other bureaucratically chosen symbol of success will take off! No thought to what was being taught in that congregation, whether the Gospel was faithfully proclaimed and the Sacraments rightly administered. No reflection on what Our Lord said about bearing the cross and examples from His own earthly ministry when by the standards of numbers, He failed miserably.
It is an insult to those faithful pastors and members of small congregations. The districts are, in effect, saying that they are not important, not worth the time or money of the district. This may be part of the reason the Ablaze! movement hasn’t moved too many.