At a historic five-day meeting of the Program and Regional Directors of the LCMS Office of International Mission the week of Nov. 14 in Raleigh, N.C., LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison outlined his vision and principles for LCMS mission work. He began by describing his pre-seminary experience serving as a lay missionary with the Lutheran Association of Missionaries and Pilots (LAMP) among the Cree Indians in Ontario, Canada.  

“The first Sunday we attended church, I asked, ‘Who’s preaching?’ ‘You are,’ came the response. I did the best I could at the time. I gave these Indian people sermons of Law and Gospel for the remainder of the year,” said Harrison.   

Harrison recalled that his service there was much like that of a “Methodist” lay preacher, because in 20 years of work in Ontario, not a single Lutheran congregation had been established among the Indians. 

This experience helped define for Harrison that a primary goal for LCMS mission efforts is that the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus must lead to the formation of Lutheran congregations.

President Harrison then described how Lutheran mission leading to the formation of Lutheran congregations is done through the lens of the Synod emphasis of WITNESS, MERCY, LIFE TOGETHER: “The gift of Lutheranism,” said Harrison, “is that salvation comes through Jesus only, as He is delivered through the preaching of the Word and in the forgiveness bestowed in Absolution, in the waters of Holy Baptism, and in His body and blood in Holy Communion.” Where there is not a Lutheran church, the goal of LCMS mission efforts should be to plant a church, he said.

“Because we want to plant churches, it is important that we have pastors there to preach, teach and deliver the sacraments. Thus, seminary education around the world is a very important goal for us,” Harrison emphasized. 

Director of Seminary education, the Rev. Dr. Timothy Quill echoed Harrison. “Establishing strong residential Lutheran Seminaries has always played a central role in Missouri Synod mission strategy,” Quill said.

“This will continue to shape how international mission is undertaken in the 21st century.  Our partner churches place a high value on preparing pastors who are thoroughly trained in sound Lutheran theology and practice. They are looking to the LCMS to send missionaries to teach overseas as well as to receive students for further studies at our seminaries in Fort Wayne and St. Louis.”

Strengthening partner churches is another priority for Harrison. “Answers to local problems are local. Our chief responsibility is to share Christ, give them the goods, raise up local indigenous churches and let them go,” said Harrison who cited his prior experiences as the executive director of LCMS World Relief and Human Care. 

In regard to the mercy and human-care work of the LCMS, Harrison emphasized that it be done in close proximity to the altar and the pulpit. Mercy work done apart from the Gospel becomes humanitarian aid. 

Mercy work done in place of the Gospel becomes a social gospel that diminishes Jesus. “It is an art to show mercy so that the Gospel predominates,” said Harrison. Mercy and human-care work needs to keep the goal of planting or strengthening Lutheran churches and congregations in mind, he said.

As part of our Life Together and love for one another, President Harrison explained that it is important that we put people in places where they are cared for by clergy and have regular access to Lutheran worship and the Means of Grace. “Unless our missionaries are fed and sustained with the Word and Sacraments, they cannot effectively bear witness to the world,” Harrison said. 

President Harrison also described several values that mark our Life Together: fidelity, excellence, sustainability, capacity and joy. Fidelity is faithfulness to the Lord Jesus taught by the Holy Scriptures and expounded by the Lutheran Confessions.  Harrison urged the group, “Do not be afraid to be Lutheran!” and he emphasized that all LCMS mission and mercy work should be done with the highest excellence, with measurable goals, in a sustainable way so that it does not disappear like a flash in the pan. 

A primary goal is to increase both LCMS capacity and the capacity of our partner and sister churches: “We need to increase local capacity, work to assist the local community to make its own decisions, to become churches of witness and mercy.” Finally, he said, “all our work is characterized by joy.”

Interim co-executive directors for the LCMS Office of International Mission, Rev. John Fale and Rev. Dr. Dave Birner underscored the importance of this weeklong meeting. “This is a historic meeting,” said Birner. “The reason the LCMS was formed was to do together what individual congregations could not do alone.” 

Fale elaborated: “For the first time in remembered history, Synod’s leadership from World Mission and World Relief and Human Care sat down together to coordinate integrated ministry plans to support a common vision that was articulated by the Synod’s President. These are competent and committed leaders who are invested in working together to bring God’s gifts of eternal life and mercy in Jesus to the world.  We are thankful for our Lord’s blessings upon these meetings and continue to pray for His guidance and wisdom as we move forward.”

The Office of International Mission is a matrix of program areas and world regions. Program areas represented at the meeting in Raleigh included Deaconess Ministry, Disaster Response, Life and Health Ministries, Specialized Pastoral Care, and Theological Education. These program areas work across the five world regions: Africa, Asia Pacific, South Asia, Eurasia, and Latin America. In some instances, the program directors also will work in cooperation with the Office of National Mission, thereby including the region of North America.  

“The meeting in Raleigh was crucial. This was really a breathtaking move toward a holistic and unified strategy for our witness and mercy outreach. To have everyone at the table discussing was so refreshingly healthy for our organization and the future of our mission work,” said Maggie Karner, director of Life and Health Ministries.

The program and regional directors of LCMS International (OIM) plan to meet again in January 2012  for strategic planning and budget preparation.

—Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver
Director of Church Relations—Assistant to the President

To read the article, “Lutheran Missions Must Lead to Lutheran Congregations” by President Harrison, go to: