By Paul Koch –
Join me for a moment, if you will, behind the veil into what is often considered one of the most disconnected and inwardly focused conversation available in the Church today. No, it’s not academics—discussing curriculum changes for empowering students through the liberal arts and professional studies for lives of learning, service, and leadership (though that would have been a good guess). No, it’s not a Twitter debate over the value of traditional versus contemporary worship. I’m talking about a Winkel of the clergy of the LCMS.
A Winkel is a meeting of the local pastors of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (more fun when pronounced Sigh-nod). These pastors and their respective congregations are denominated into circuits within a given district. I’m in the second circuit of the Pacific Southwest District of the LCMS. There are thirty-five districts in the LCMS, of which thirty-three are defined along geographical lines. A circuit is a grouping of roughly eight to twelve congregations within a district, who then send a pair of delegates to the triennial Synodical convention.
Are you still with me? Good.
I’m pretty sure Winkel is a German word, meaning something like angle, corner, or meeting place. This sort of makes sense, since once a month, our circuit pastors meet together at one of the local congregations to worship, study, and have a time to grow and learn from each other. You know, iron sharpens iron and all that stuff. Last Tuesday was our most recent Winkel, in which we had a lengthy discussion about the result of the latest Synodical convention (held about a month ago).
So, to set the scene, when compared to the greater issues facing our Lord’s Church throughout the world, this meeting is where a small taste (the Winkel) of a small bite (the Pacific Southwest District) of a small piece of the whole pie (the LCMS) has a heartfelt discussion about the interworking of just that small slice of the pie, which has little, if anything, to do with much beyond its own curved-in world. We talked about things like deacons, appeals processes, and mission dollars. Then my friend Matt (who happened to be our delegate to the convention) made an incredible statement. When someone asked if there were any theological arguments made to support some particular resolution, he simply said, “No, and we should all be very happy about that.” He went on to talk about how the convention was about our organizational structure and our agreed upon procedures, not our theology. The Church of our Lord Jesus Christ wasn’t going to live or die by what was voted on. That had to do with left-hand kingdom issues, which are important but are not the Gospel. The Church would continue as it always had: through the proclamation of Christ alone.
From that little taste of a small bite of a small slice came a powerful and freeing realization about what the hell is going on. The conventions of our Synod, and for that matter the structures of all the churches and the organizational plans for their respective bureaucracy, are about playing as the world plays—about good order, health care, and retirement plans. They try to remove obstacles but often set up new ones unintentionally, which they will then try to fix at a later date.
From behind the curtain of a Winkel comes a firm reminder of just what it is we are to be doing, not only in the LCMS but everywhere that the Good News is to be proclaimed. In the end, we are to play God.
The Lord gives us his gifts to do his acts to his people. We are to kill and bring forth new life through the proclamation of the Law and Gospel into the ears and lives of all those to whom we are sent. It’s like the feeding of the 5,000 in Mark’s Gospel. Jesus tells his disciples, “You give them something to eat.” They are to do the work of feeding those who are like sheep without a shepherd, but it is Jesus who provides what is necessary. Receiving what he has given, they are to be ministers and ambassadors—to play God.
And we ought to marvel at a God who can work through conventions, resolutions, and bureaucracy to remind us once again what is truly necessary. It turns out that even the most homogeneous gatherings can be used as a call to play God for the sake of our neighbor.
So, my friends, don’t forget the lesson of the inner circle of LCMS-ness. Like philosophical ponderings and theological definitions, we can inwardly swirl upon ourselves continually, but God’s church will not remain in such a spiral. It may not take much, just a small word of encouragement or a nudge from a brother, to look once again to our neighbor. One more time, we can find ourselves daring to play God.
If it can happen in a Winkel, it can happen in a classroom or around the dinner table. It can happen wherever our Lord has compassion on his flock.