Roger Paavola: Confessional Churches are the Churches that grow

From 1st to 3rd of March, Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary was honored to host as a guest one of our alumni, Revd Dr Roger Paavola, President of the Mid-South District of the LCMS. As a “bishop in residence”, Revd Paavola preached a sermon in the chapel, met with students and gave a presentation during student potluck lunch on Thursday.

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Revd Dr Roger Paavola giving a presentation to the seminary community of CLTS.

Drawing from his theological understanding as well as his experiences first as a parish pastor and then as a district president, Revd Paavola stressed the importance of pure, Biblical and confessionally Lutheran teaching and preaching as the means for true growth in the Church. While numerical growth in attendance, membership and giving is easy to measure and compare, the most important growth in the church is not shown in the annual congregational statistics; it is the growth in faith and love which the Holy Spirit produces in people who hear the gospel rightly preached and sacraments administered according to Christ’s institution. At the same time, this is also the way to lasting growth also in memberships and attendance. Especially young people are today drawn to those congregations that actually believe what they say they believe [in their official documents].

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Meeting of Finns between visiting faculty member Esko Murto from Finland and Revd Paavola with strong Finnish roots. “Kiitos ja siunausta!”

Revd Dr Paavola encouraged the students of CLTS to study the Lutheran confessions and go deeper in our Biblical faith. Coming from a business background, he reminded how any company aiming to succeed has to either compete with other businesses and do a better job than they, or to meet the needs not yet satisfied by other providers. Using this as an analogy to the mission of the Church, Revd Paavola noted how Lutherans have too often tried to compete with evangelical, non-denominational churches in their own game of emotional religious entertainment, almost always falling short. Instead, Lutherans should proclaim the very thing that is distinctively Lutheran and which no other church has in such clarity: correct distinction of Law and Gospel and the forgiveness of sins through the means of grace.

“When we present this unaltered understanding of Scripture and the Confessions of the Lutheran Church, there is no competition that stands in our way. It’s been the presentation of this pure doctrine of the church that has been the reason the congregations I have had the privilege to serve grew…not only numerically, but more importantly, grew spiritually”, Revd Paavola stated.

The full text of Revd Paavola’s presentation is available here.

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