6/13/2016 3:50:56 PM
Pastor Chris Vossler
Licensed Lay Deacons--Background
In talking about the Synod Convention, the one issue that comes to mind with the most frequency is the Resolution 4-06A Task Force. In 2013, the previous Synod Convention adopted a resolution creating a task force to study the question of Licensed Lay Deacons and report back to the Synod with recommendations. This is a huge issue which has caused a great deal of polarization within The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod over the last 30 years, and I don’t think it’s going to go away overnight. My guess is that we will spend a lot of time at the Convention trying to figure this out in a way that is both faithful to our Confessions and faithful to the mission of the Church.
There’s really no way to untangle this whole thing in a single blog article, so for right now we’ll just talk about the background of what a Licensed Lay Deacon is—at least as far as this Task Force and its recommendations are concerned.
However, before getting into that, we need to understand what is meant by “Licensed Lay Deacon.” For most in the Kansas District, this shouldn’t be anything new—Kansas has trained and licensed laymen as Deacons for well over a decade—but in case you are unfamiliar with the concept, here is a quick summary. A Licensed Lay Deacon is a layman who takes theological classes through his District to train him in theology, preaching, and the like. Once the layman has completed the coursework associated with the licensure program, he is licensed by the District to preach and administer the Sacrament within the District under the supervision of a called pastor. The deacon remains under the supervision of a pastor (either at his own church or at a neighboring church) and serves under his authority. Every year the deacon must renew his license in order to remain active.
These Licensed Lay Deacons were originally intended to serve (regularly) in situations where a congregation had no other option for Word-and-Sacrament ministry. If a congregation was too small and could not afford to pay a pastor’s salary, then a LLD could provide services for them. If a congregation was located in an area that is too far from “civilization” to operate in a dual parish, then they could remain independent and send one of their own laymen to become a LLD. If the congregation’s primary language is not English (i.e. immigrants), then it would be difficult for a traditionally-trained pastor to come in and serve them; in this situation someone from the congregation who was already fluent could become an LLD to serve the congregation.
There are other examples of deacons and deacon-training programs which are not directly connected to preaching and the administration of the Sacrament, but this in a nutshell is what the Convention is dealing with: laymen who have been asked to serve in the Pastoral Office for a congregation.
One thing which does seem to get lost in this discussion is the service of LLDs. My congregation has a LLD who has helped and served the congregation for fifteen years, through three different pastors as well as 2 vacancies. When our congregation was serving a mission 20 miles away, he assisted the pastor with handling the two services. Three years ago when our vacancy pastor was suddenly ill on Easter Sunday, our Deacon stepped up and led the Easter service on just a few hours’ notice. He was of great assistance to me when I started at Trinity three years ago, and since then has helped me both with his wisdom and experience and by preaching for me on Sundays when I was out of town. Trinity has certainly been blessed by the service of our Deacon, and I know that we are not the only congregation to make this claim. Many smaller congregations would not have survived if they had not been blessed with the service of LLDs.
Two of the pastors in this circuit (the Manhattan Circuit or Circuit 8) began their ministry through the Licensed Lay Deacon program. After complete the LLD program and serving for a while, they decided to take it a step further by applying to the Distance Education Leading to Ordination (“DELTO”) or Specific Ministry Pastor (SMP) Program and completing the coursework necessary to be ordained as a pastor.
So before we go into any more detail on the question of the service of Licensed Lay Deacons, we need to give thanks to God for their service and pray that He would continue to raise up men who will serve the Church in every way we need:
Lord of the Church, we give thanks to You for the faithful service of all those who serve and have served in Your Church on Earth. It is through their service that Your Message is proclaimed in worship and Your gifts are distributed in the Sacrament. Thank You for raising up Deacons to serve Your Church in its time of great need. Continue to call men to serve in the Office of Public Ministry, and give them the gifts necessary to carry out their service. We pray in Jesus’ Name. Amen.