LCMS national president not writing off Lutheranism's future
Dr. Gerald Kieschnick was interviewed by the editor of Metro Lutheran during a visit to St. Paul.
During a visit to Concordia University in St. Paul, Minnesota, on November 5, the Rev. Gerald Kieschnick, President of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod spoke with Metro Lutheran editor, Michael Sherer.
Metro Lutheran: Since becoming LCMS President you’ve had something of a bumpy ride. Do you have any regrets accepting this leadership position?
Dr. Kieschnick: I’m having a ball. But I’d be surprised if we didn’t have bumps. We have folks in the church of European background, who are highly educated and are passionate about their views. Single-mindedness can set in.
There’s been serious opposition to your leadership in some quarters. Do you sense a serious split developing in the Missouri Synod?
Leaders are always disappointing somebody. No leader wants to see a schism. But if people can’t persuade others to their position, they have to decide what to do. I’m doing everything I can to get people to the table — a round table. We need to ask together what Scripture is saying to us.
All the Lutheran groups in the U.S. are now on a growth plateau or are declining. Why do you think that is, and do you think anything can be done about it?
Decline is attributable to several things. We’re in a pluralistic culture. There’s distrust of institutions these days. People don’t automatically show up in our churches as they once did, and the boatloads of Lutheran immigrants aren’t arriving from Europe any more. Now, there’s more pressure on church leaders, especially pastors, to create an environment that compels people to come in. But a lot of positive things are happening. Many of our congregations are beehives of activity. They’re growing. This is actually happening in a whole bunch of congregations — not a majority of them, but in a goodly number. The LCMS now uses 120 different languages for worship. Mul-ticulturalism is a fact. The key ingredient is effective clergy and lay leadership. And, of course, that’s a thing of the Spirit.
What, in your judgment, is the greatest challenge facing the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod right now?
Agreeing on what the mission of the church ought to be. I maintain it should be doing the Gospel and transforming lives.
There appears to be a standoff in the Missouri Synod these days, between those who promote church growth and innovation in worship forms, on the one hand, and those embracing traditional forms, on the other. Are these groups mutually exclusive, or can there be common ground?
The controversy often results because people don’t take time to dialog and learn to understand each other. I don’t think it matters what style is used. The key elements of worship need to be there, of course. The important thing is to have the right spirit. I’ve been to “7-11” services (where you sing the same seven words eleven times in a row) and liturgical services. Both can be edifying. Or both can be deadly. Most growing churches today use a variety of styles. They’re menu-driven.
What do you think is the Missouri Synod’s greatest strength?
Its lay people. I travel around the country and am not surprised, but always impressed, by the quality of our lay members. They’re educated and Spirit-filled. The Synod is really its congregations. And congregations are their people. People in our congregations are more excited now than they’ve ever been about taking active roles in church life.
Other strengths I’d mention include our 2,400 parish schools, ten colleges, two seminaries, our social ministry organizations (in which we partner with the ELCA), and our Global mission program.
Are you hopeful about the future of the Lutheran ex-pression of Christianity?
I’m high on Lutheran Christianity. And that’s be-cause we have a powerful understanding of the Gospel, a proper distinction between Law and Gospel. Our Gospel theology is unequaled in all of Christianity. I believe our church is poised to make huge inroads with the Gospel. Our creativity has been stifled recently. That can change.