By Paula Schlueter Ross
John Edson, chairman of the new LCMS Resolution 8-07 Task Force, has a message for the Synod’s 35 districts: Please don’t worry about what the task force is doing. We’ll consult with you on a regular basis so you will have a voice in our recommendations. There won’t be any surprises.
To districts, the task force’s assignment might seem a little scary. That assignment — given by the 2010 LCMS convention through the adoption of Res. 8-07 — asks for a study and recommendations on:
- the general principles of viability for a district,
- the purpose and function of a district, and
- how to improve the districts’ efficiency and coordination with others, “including possible changes in the number and configuration of districts.”
The resolution also asks the task force for “an implementation plan for any recommended changes that will address [the districts'] staff … and financial operations.”
The task force met for the first time July 17-19 at the LCMS International Center in St. Louis and plans to meet three more times through next February. Its goal is to study the current structure and operation of LCMS districts — which vary widely — determine how they can be improved to better serve the Synod’s mission, and submit recommendations to the next LCMS convention, July 20-25, 2013, in St. Louis.
According to the 2008 statistics cited in the resolution, the Synod’s 35 districts range in size from 53 to 372 congregations and from 11,000 to 166,000 communicant members. District staffs range from 1.5 full-time-equivalent (FTE) workers to 28 FTE workers. The districts’ annual budgets range from $570,000 to more than $7 million, and their annual unrestricted remittances to the national Synod vary from $60,000 to nearly $3 million a year.
“Is the current makeup of districts with its disparity in sizes the most effective and efficient means to support the congregations of the Synod?” Res. 8-07 asks, and “What is the purpose and function of the districts and how do they help the local congregation carry out its ministry?”
The resolution also asks the task force to do its work “with great care and sensitivity to the history and tradition of current districts, working cooperatively and collegially with each district,” and identifies four districts — Atlantic, Eastern, New England and New Jersey — as willing participants in a pilot program for implementing the task force’s recommendations.
The 15-member task force — convened by the LCMS president to work in consultation with the Synod’s Board of Directors (BOD) and Council of Presidents (COP) — includes a pastor and layperson from each of the five LCMS geographic regions established by the BOD and COP (West/Southwest, Great Plains, Central, Great Lakes and East/Southeast), the Synod’s chief mission officer, a district president, a district executive, and one representative each from the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Synod Structure and Governance and the Commission on Constitutional Matters.
Edson called the task force’s first effort “a good organizational meeting where we spent time understanding the task ahead of us, the information we need to review, the stakeholders we need to involve and some of the decision criteria we need to consider.”
Members also adopted a statement that defines their task as: “To make recommendations concerning the most viable district structure (e.g., function, size and configuration) for supporting the objectives of Synod as stated in Article III of the Constitution.”
Because of the reorganization of the national Synod, also mandated by the 2010 LCMS convention, districts are now assuming responsibility for some ministries that were formerly handled by the national offices in the areas of schools, human-care and domestic mercy efforts, stewardship, evangelism, and church planting and revitalization.
“How are they going to effectively do that?” asks Edson.
Although he doesn’t yet know what the task force recommendations will be or when they will be finalized, he muses that “we could recommend that some of the smaller districts consolidate some of the services — have a regional service office to cut down on overhead, to be more effective. Maybe one district couldn’t have somebody full time doing a job, but if two or three districts got together they could afford to have a staff person coordinating that job.
“Everything’s on the table.”
Edson recognizes that the task force “has a large job ahead that needs to be carefully considered and discussed with all the different constituencies of the Synod.” The recommendations won’t be “dictated down,” he says, and “all the ideas will be vetted with the districts throughout the whole process.”
But, he adds, “the overriding theme in our discussions is how can the Synod, through the districts and circuits, best serve our congregations.” And that’s what will drive the task force’s recommendations.
Posted July 26, 2012