Higher Things and Lower Places

First I get a joyful message from Higher Things that they are now a Recognized Service Organization of the LCMS (which means by the way they are in service to it).  Then I have faithful members passing on the good news.  Much like Garth Brook’s song I find these higher things highlight my lower places.

I know this isn’t what you want to hear, but it’s funny (or not) that an organization whose reason for being is the antithesis of what the LCMS is doing in youth ministry and worship would want to be a Recognized Service Organization of the LCMS along with 298 other organizations “whose operations foster the mission and ministry of the church, whose program activities are in harmony with the programs of the boards of the Synod, and who agrees to respect and not act contrary to the doctrine and practice of the Synod” (http://www.lcms.org/pages/internal.asp?NavID=13433) .

I can certainly see why LCMS, Inc. would want this.  Put those tent pegs out farther, broaden the base; it’s a coup to get those who believe youth ministry is Word and Sacrament ministry to, maybe not go along but at least, get along with those who for 30 years have believed it’s happy-clappy.  As usually is the case in a pluralistic church body, one group is busy building what the other group is tearing down.

But let’s me clear on who, humanly speaking, will be the torn and the tearee.  LCMS Youth, Inc. puts on a show once every three years that gathers 30,000 plus participants.  Higher Things does their thing each year and gathers no more than 2,000.  But now they’re an RSO!  Now The Synod recognizes them and what they are doing, and they in turn recognize her and what she is doing in youth work.  Something is lost by Higher Things, and something is gained by The National LCMS Youth Gathering.

Don’t get me wrong.  My youth and I attend Higher Things.  My congregation sends money to them each year; I think  they are doing a great job.  But we did this; I thought this before LCMS, Inc. recognized them.  I thought highly of them when they were still a lowly organization without recognition, and I find they’re recognition by the powers from on high leaves me feeling lowly.

But, perhaps, as Martha Stewart would say, “That’s a good thing.” And Higher Things perhaps would say “to whom much is “Given” much is expected” while the National LCMS Youth Gathering might respond, “We believe.”

Now, not so gentle reader, compare the past themes of Higher Things gatherings “Dare to be Lutheran,” “The Feast,” “For You,” “Amen,” “Sola” with the “We Believe” of the 2010 LCMS, Inc. gathering.  There’s theology in them there themes.  Before it was openly considered different now that HT is an RSO it’s considered complimentary. Just when “reconciled diversity” is declared a dead ecumenical model (Logia, Holy Trinity 2009, 5), it resurfaces within our Synod.  Truth be told, I think we invented it.

About Paul Harris

Pastor Harris retired from congregational ministry after 40 years in office on 31 December 2023. He is now devoting himself to being a husband, father, and grandfather. He still thinks cenobitic monasticism is overrated and cave dwelling under.
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4 Responses to Higher Things and Lower Places

  1. Scott says:

    I was wondering what would promt HT to request such a thing until I looked at their full list of benefits highlighted on the link you gave. I would expect HT to continue as they are with the exception of two as I see them huge benefits for HT to help ensure their conservative continuation in the future through #1 and their health through #2
    1.Ordained and commissioned ministers of the Synod called by RSOs are eligible to remain on the active membership roster of the Synod.

    2. Eligibility to participate in the various insurance and other worker benefits options offered by LCMS Concordia Plan Services

    • I noticed this too, and I can see why this might be desirable. But there is a more theologically significant thing behind the scenes. By becoming and RSO you become a Calling body. When the LCMS grants you RSO status you become a church, at least according to Walther’s thesis VI “Concerning the Holy Ministry.” Yes, I know seminaries, mission boards, urban ministry committees, and all sorts of associations have been Calling for years, and we really haven’t come to agreement on who really should be, but that’s not my point. I’m in awe, astonied, that the power to go from not being able to Call to being able to issue a Divine Call comes from LCMS, Inc. Now that’s wielding some power.

  2. The BDCS approached Higher Things concerning RSO status. As HT’s Deputy Executive, I was involved in these discussions. HT’s staff and BOD were cautious and concerned about what RSO would mean for our work with young people. We didn’t seek it. We weren’t in need of it. We have no called workers.

    It was decided that RSO would be beneficial to both organizations to pursue RSO. The LC-MS recognizes an organization that is promoting Lutheran identity amongst young people. How can the synod NOT recognize that? And HT is composed of only LC-MS pastors and laity, which makes RSO a no-brainer.

    The question is “what is HT about?” If we are about some political movement or some response to some other gathering, then RSO isn’t an option.

    But, if HT is really about serving young people with the Gospel, if we are really about promoting Lutheran identity, then we are free to be recognized by the LC-MS. If we are about the Gospel in the ears of young people, whatever barriers with congregations and districts that would hurt that work, whatever suspicions there might be, can be dodged completely by simply being recognized by the Synod.

    I don’t know how long there will be an HT or an LCMS. I don’t know how long HT will have RSO. I just know that right now, the work of teaching young people that Jesus has GIVEN His life for them continues to go on.

    Good to see you are doing well. Nice blog. Have a blessed and happy Holy Week!

  3. William M. Cwirla says:

    The statement about RSO status is only half true. It is true that the LCMS recognizes the work of an organization by granting it RSO status. We would hope that a Biblical, confessional, liturgical, and Lutheran historical approach to youth work would be recognized in a confessional synod. However, it is not true that RSO status means that Higher Things as an organization recognizes or approves of everything that is done in the name of youth work by the LCMS. Recognition here is a one-way street. The LCMS has no say in Higher Things programming or its organization. RSO must be independent if they are to be RSOs. It’s a simple as that.

    Since everyone, myself included, is a member of the LCMS or on the LCMS roster, we individually tacitly support the work of the LCMS simply by being listed among its members and workers.

    There is no need to cast aspersions on our being granted RSO status. The BDCS approached us with the offer, and we viewed it as a great opportunity for fund raising, publicity within the synod, access to synodical services, etc. While we may legally “call” workers from the LCMS roster as an RSO, we would not do that since we are not a congregation or a calling entity.

    There is no need to drag Higher Things into synodical politics. Our mission is entirely to support parents, pastors, and congregations in establishing a Lutheran identity among our youth through conferences, publications, etc. We are greatly pleased that the LCMS, of which we are all members, recognizes our efforts.

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