Southern District - LCMS Newsletter
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Jan. 22, 2015
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This is Discipleship
This is Discipleship

A Paradoxical Tool with the Potential  

to Change your Life and Ministry




1. A statement that seems to contradict itself but is     

    nonetheless true.

2. A person, thing, or situation that exhibits inexplicable  

    or contradictory aspects.


We Lutherans love paradox. The paradox of death defeated by death, and resurrection, is the central paradox of our faith. The paradox of Christ's two natures, of simul justus et peccator, of Body and Blood in bread and wine, of water and Word, etc... Another paradox we can love is the Stockdale Paradox. The Stockdale Paradox is named after Admiral Jim Stockdale a faithful Christian who became the highest ranking POW during the Vietnam War. Stockdale was held for 7 years and routinely tortured by his captors yet, as he told author Jim Collins*, he never lost faith during his ordeal. "I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade."


Failed Optimism


Admiral Stockdale noted that it was always the most optimistic POW's who failed to make it out alive. "They were the ones who said, 'We're going to be out by Christmas.' And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they'd say, 'We're going to be out by Easter.' And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart."


What the optimists failed to do was truthfully and unflinchingly confront the reality of their situation while at the same time maintaining faith. Like many in the church today the optimist prisoners of war who didn't make it out alive preferred the ostrich approach. Today many pastors and congregations are sticking their heads in the sand hoping their church will somehow grow without spreading seed for harvest, or that their church won't close, or that the congregation while declining will be able to pay their pastor.  


As sinful human beings we know that self-delusion can make it easier in the short-term, but when we are finally forced to turn from delusion to reality it is often too late. Self-delusion can result in us acting out in unchristian ways. Self-delusion can result in pastors filing suit against their congregation, district, or synod. Self-delusion can result in us turning against each other, becoming defensive, bitter, angry, mean-spirited, and self-destructive. Self-delusion will result in anything but healthy congregations and people coming to faith, baptism, and discipleship.


The Stockdale Paradox can be a handy tool that helps us keep faith resulting in optimism based on reality rather than self-delusion.


The Stockdale Paradox For The LCMS 


You must confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.


AND at the same time...


You must retain faith that in humility, confession of sin, and repentance you and your congregation will prevail in the end through Jesus Christ regardless of the difficulties.


The Brutal Facts


The United States is the 3rd largest pagan country in the world.

18% of our population is in worship on any given Sunday.

Average church size is 75.

90% of all congregations are plateaued or in decline.

The LCMS is in steep decline.


For us, in a declining church body, confronting the most brutal facts means that we must be honest and humble in identifying the most brutal facts of our current reality.  


Your most brutal facts might be:

  • A congregation in decline.
  • A congregation that isn't reaching people in the community.
  • How long before my congregation is unable to afford a pastor?
  • How long before my congregation closes?
  • What will I do for a job if my congregation is one of the 60% of our congregations that will close in the next 10 years?
  • Why is my congregation declining?
  • Am I part of the cause of decline?


Be totally and humbly honest and courageously write down the particular brutal facts you must face.


In this edition we will briefly touch on humility; confession of sin; and repentance; then take a closer look at each of these in the following weeks.



All of us who serve Jesus Christ and his church are called to be servant leaders. St. Paul instructs us in the second chapter of his letter to the Philippians:

  • Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit.
  • In humility count others more significant than yourself.
  • Look to the interests of others.
  • Have the same attitude in yourself as was also in Christ Jesus who...

...Emptied himself

...Become a servant

...Humbled himself to become a servant (of      

   ungodly, enemies of God, i.e. Romans 5) to the

   point of death.


Confession of Sin

As Christians we know we are sinners, we cannot escape the fact that our minds, our motives, our agendas, and our attitudes are all corrupted by sin. Being confronted with St. Paul's instruction to have the same thinking in myself as was also in Christ Jesus, I am driven to confess my sin. I have not emptied myself. I fail as a servant. I often do not act with humility but too often think I am better than others, and can even be so deceived by my sin that I condemn others who do the same. Perhaps most important, I am prone to leaving my First Love, and not caring about those whom my First Love lived, died, and rose again to save, redeem, and restore. I am pitiful in this body of sin, in humility I throw myself on the mercy of God Almighty confess my sins and receive the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ in absolution.



Not only am I called to humbly confess my sins, I'm called to amend the way I think and act. This can be a problem for religious folk. I can become so accustomed to ritually confessing my sin that it loses the impact God desires. That I am sorry for my sin, confess my sin, and endeavor through grace to live out my calling as a child of God in giving grace and mercy to others. I once heard a dear elder in the faith say, "We are absolved of our sin but we are not absolved from trying."


God Is Good


We serve a good and great God. Great in mercy, grace, and everlasting love and kindness. We are blessed to have received his forgiveness and salvation, to be called to serve this great God and to follow Jesus Christ.  May you be encourage to put away false optimism and have the courage to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality. AND AT THE SAME TIME retain faith that in humility, confession of sin, and repentance you and your congregation will prevail in the end through Jesus Christ regardless of the difficulties; and will be used by God to sow seeds of mercy and forgiveness through Jesus Christ in your community and reap a harvest in due time.  In all these things it is only through Jesus Christ that we live and move and have our being.   


*Good To Great






I'm Eric Johnson, your Mission and Ministry Facilitator.
My job is to support you and your congregation in your mission & ministry within the walls of your church building and especially outside your walls in the community where people who don't yet know Jesus live and work.


Areas where I can be helpful include, but are not limited to, Small Groups, VBS, Sunday School, Confirmation, Building Bridges to the community around your church, Outreach/Evangelism, Youth, and Stewardship.  


Let me know what you need, I can help.


My specialty is helping congregations grow by building bridges in their communities to reach people who don't yet know Jesus.  


When you find that you and your congregation can use some suggestions with ideas and resources, I'm here to help.  


You can reach me @     

or by calling my direct line @ 985-796-7175


Your Servant In Christ's Mission,


Eric Johnson