A Vision For The Ohio District
Beloved in Christ,
By means of this post I would like to inform you that your pastor has been nominated for the Office of President of the Ohio District. The election will take place in June at the District Convention. The Ohio District covers all LCMS congregations in Ohio, the northern part of Kentucky and WV.
In the event that I am elected I will remain pastor of Christ Lutheran Chuch, continue to lead God's people in worship every Sunday, and carry out the other labors required of a parish pastor.
As regards the election, each of the 5 candidates whose name will appear on the ballot was asked a series of questions, so that delegates might learn the thinking of the nominees, enabling them to make an informed decision.
What you read below are the questions posed, with the answers I have submitted. They do represent a change in direction from the last 40 years. A change that I believe would move our parishes closer to historic and classic Lutheranism, vs. the current iteration of it.
True Lutheranism is concerned with baptism and living the baptismal life. The baptismal life, in turn, is a life of worship, godly living, patient suffering, learning to see things from the eternal perspective, and an ardent love for God and for one another. That is, in brief summary form, the historic faith of the Lutheran reformers, and of the church of the ages.
Please feel free to contact me with any questions or thoughts on the election, or the content of the below post. God keep you all in Christ.
Q: What do you see as the key challenges facing our Ohio District congregations and how do you see yourself as a catalyst to congregations needing encouragement to change?
A: In a word, with humility and much respect, we have taken our eye off the ball. Jesus says “Do This,” but we “do that”.
The work of the church is to: worship the Father in Spirit and Truth. (John 4:24) To “Do This in remembrance of me.” (1 Corinthians 11:25) But this gracious Word of our God has been demoted; and “dogmatic, program-driven” agendas elevated.
Jesus says “THIS CUP, IS, the New Testament in my blood.” What does this mean? It means that to celebrate the Eucharist is to be the New Testament church! This is towering, and primary. But we have fixed our affections on secondary things; when in fact all ecclesial actions (baptizing, absolving, teaching, charitable works, outreach etc.) derive from, and lead back to, the Altar.
Pay attention to the altar, and all other things will follow each in its proper order. (1 Corinthians 15:23)
In our missionary zeal we have left our first love (Revelation 2:4) and inadvertently become (over time) “community organizers”; which we refer to as missions, outreach and evangelism. But for all our ardent desires, and incalculable efforts, the Ohio District keeps disappearing. Numbers decline, parishes shutter, loyalty fades, and Reformed theology has supplanted the Lutheran faith among us. No wonder we are in disarray, and every man does what is right in his own sight. (Judges 17:6)
At this time and place in the history of the Ohio District let us return to: the altar of God, to God our exceeding joy. (Psalm 43:4)
As regards missionary activity (which derives from and leads to the altar), let us remember once again that the Holy Spirit calls people “when and where it pleases God,” (AC, V). That is our confession, and he does not need our programs.
But … where does he call them to? He calls them to the church which is not the body politic, but the assembly of the baptized gathered in Eucharistic worship. This is the locus where true evangelism takes place every Lord’s (Christ’s) Day. The place where Jesus makes good on his promise: to be with us always, even unto the end of the age (Matthew 28:20). Said promise is not a notional presence that resides chiefly in our minds, or emotions! But Christ factually present (Real Presence) among his people to remit their sins, and bestow life upon them, the very life that God himself lives!
As District President I would employ every reasonable means to help our pastors and congregations return to their first love. (Revelation 2:4) To lead them in doing what the church is qualified and commissioned to do. “This Do.” I would call on all parishes and pastors to recommend concrete ways to re-orient our priorities, and would give careful consideration to each and every one of them. The solutions will come from the baptized, enlightened by the Holy Spirit of God.
Q: Recent articles in The Reporter and the Lutheran Laymen’s League newsletter stress that “It’s all about relationships”. How do you see yourself modeling and leading District Pastors and staff out of a dogmatic and program driven style of ministry and into a more outgoing and relational style of ministry? *
A: “It’s all about relationships” is a red herring, and whenever that fish appears one should be vigilant.
The question is true, however, in speaking of a “dogmatic, program-driven style of ministry”. By naming it I sense a yearning to be free from it. Yet the hazy “relational style of ministry” suggested is a false dilemma.
The Ministry of the church is single and simple. It is to carry out the Great Commission which is to forgive sins. “As the Father sent me, even so I send you. If YOU forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven. If YOU do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (John 20:23) What authority has God entrusted to his church in these words! Let all mortal flesh keep silence! We need to, once again, take measure of the breath-taking power given the church, glorify it, honor it, and fearfully employ it for the blessing of all people. Or have we forgotten that the church will judge the Angels; and the Twelve Tribes of Israel? (1 Corinthians 6:3; Matthew 19:28)
To state the obvious, we no longer live in the Book Acts. Today the Great Commission is accomplished through congregations wherein the baptized assemble to Commune with the Holy – to which “the Holy Spirit calls people when and where God wills.” (AC, V) It is here that they, along with us, will be instructed, baptized, absolved, fed with the Living Bread come down from heaven each Sunday; and enlisted in the most glorious work of all.
At this time in our District’s history I believe it is the President’s job to publicly portray, and evidently set forth (Galatians 3:1) this vision before our eyes; and to do all within the remit of his Office to bring it about.
Q: When elected, you will be sitting on the Council of Presidents of the Synod. What suggestions will you bring to address the growing shortage of pastors in the LC-MS? Do we expand the Deacon program? Develop a non-resident M.Div. degree? Move toward worker/priests? Allow successful SMP pastors to accept other Calls? *
A: “Growing shortage” is a blurry term on which I could not comment until I have seen the numbers for myself, and attempted to determine what they mean. Further, there are more answers available than the ones offered.
For one, I personally know good pastors on CRM who desire a Call yet do not have one. Let us not overlook the obvious solution that they represent. I know, too, of pastors who have been treated so badly that they could no longer maintain their sanity, or support their families. This must be addressed. I fear that “a significant percentage” of our pastors and congregations have no clear read on what their work is; and because of this each has false expectations of the other. It is disastrous. A great deal of education must take place. The President must see that it is supplied.
As a matter of opinion I think the LCMS would do well to have a partially non-resident M.Div. option, as well as online advanced degree offerings. I believe she needs to encourage worker/priests, and prepare them for that dual vocation. Further, I think that the LCMS should provide local training with the goal of educating, preparing, and ordaining men to the diaconate – which Office is different from the pastoral Office – but vital to the worshiping community. To that end I would work at Synodical, District and Local levels in whatever way is acceptable (old or new) to bring about this godly goal. We have tremendous talent latent among our people. Let us gratefully receive it.
Q: Pastoral delegates see the District President from a familiar perspective and your response to the above questions may have more direct meaning for them. As Lay delegates we want to know more about your thoughts at ground level. We’re told that a significant percentage of our district congregations are worshiping 30 people or less weekly. These congregations struggle with limited financial resources, in aging, often deteriorating facilities that are costly to maintain and with dwindling attendance. What message do you have for us? *
A: Respectfully, let us first banish the phrase “worship # people” from our vocabulary. Such mechanistic language speaks of Christ’s tender Bride as if she were a product; but is indicative of the “dogmatic program-driven” agenda that prevails among us. Speaking of worship, however, let us rediscover what it is.
Worship is the health and salvation of the church and the world!
In holy worship the church, by Christ’s power and authority, fends off the chaotic powers of hell that threaten to sift us like wheat. In Divine Service she crushes anew the head of the roaring lion, who feeds on human flesh, and wishes to devour us. (1 Peter 5:7) In short, the church is Salt for the earth and Light for the world (Matthew 5:13-14); and by her prayer evil is quelled, and blessing multiplied among men. This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our sight! (Psalm 118:23)
And so if a parish of 30 people can secure a pastor, and maintain a House of God: don’t extinguish that Light! For Isaiah writes, “A bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench” (Isaiah 42:3)
Don’t trample the Salt, or cover up the Light. Instead let us hear the counsel that Gamaliel gave the Sanhedrin regarding the infant church: “If the undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God.” (Acts 5:38-39)
Q: How do you think your leadership makes you able to help congregations be effective in the mission?
A: I have a clear read on the church’s mission. Given the chance to see it, I firmly believe that our pastors and congregations will again recognize it, and tenderly embrace it.
Presently, the accumulated, forty-year narrative of the Ohio District is one of desperation, and the fear of institutional death; leaving people paralyzed and not knowing what to do. And so let us Do the one thing that Jesus gave us to Do. This Do!
It would be my intent as President to work to this end by word and example. Not by politics, but “the mutual conversation and consolation of the brethren.” (SA III, IV) Programs will be replaced by theological forums, permeated with prayer and worship, for laity and clergy alike. We have any number of gifted churchmen and theologians in our District and Synod. Let us call upon them (and not on Evangelicals) to teach us, so that we might inherit God’s rich blessing for ourselves, our children, and for all whom the Lord our God will call to us, and through us.
Q: What excites you about the Ohio District?
A: What excites me about the Ohio District? What makes my spine tingle? The prospect of theology, ecclesiology, doctrine, worship and prayer once again taking center stage among us! That is my vision; and it energizes me more than I can say.
In closing may King David’s famous prayer be the Ohio District’s corporate prayer as well. “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.” (Psalm 51:7-13)
The Chief of Sinners
Rev. Dean Kavouras, Pastor
Christ Lutheran Church,
Christ Lutheran Church