Monday, November 5, 2018
A bishop must know his flock. . .
Of course, that is Rome's problem. Rome will have to sort it out. But it would be foolish for us not to learn something from all of this. There was a suggestion of a plan to have an LCMS made up of districts of 60 or so congregations, led by a part-time district president (bishop) to exercise ecclesiastical supervision, with most of the other district responsibilities being distributed to either national or regional resources. It was worth more discussion than it got and perhaps we are too wedded to what we have to think in such radical terms but no one can deny that distance from clergy and parishes is a problem (no, I do not mean simply geographical distance). Consider that Rome has archdioceses twice as large as the LCMS! If we struggle with ecclesiastical supervision of 300 congregations and the numbers of ordained and commissioned church workers associated with such a size, can you imagine how difficult it is for the bishop of Los Angeles? Why do we presume that economy comes with size or efficiency requires size. I believe that in the church, economy and efficiency with respect to doctrinal oversight is the least of our concerns.
Remember how exhausted Moses was overseeing some 400,000 Israelites under his pastoral care and supervision? Do you recall how his father-in-law Jethro watched this and called out Moses with the plan to break up this large responsibility into smaller units? Why do we think we can do what Moses could not? To be sure, no mega Protestant churches intend to provide the same kind of pastoral care a liturgical congregation and its people expect. They have replaced pastoral care with care from laity, devoid of a sacramental character, and still they have broken up the large group into units.
If a bishop had 100 clergy and 100,000 people under his care, that might just be manageable. You want my view? 60 congregations per bishop (and before someone in particular gets on his high horse about that Biblical term, that is the historical and Biblical term for the person who exercises ecclesiastical supervision (even if your constitutional documents call him something else). We can call the man a grand poobah but Scripture says the episcopus watching over doctrine and practice is doing the work of a bishop. But don't miss the forest for the trees. Rome is suffering because of dioceses way too large (indeed, the smaller ones tend to do better at everything from supervision to recruitment of church workers). We need to heed the lesson and take the time to have a real discussion about what is best, not whether or not it is politically expedient in the climate of our church body today.