COP, Board focus on restoring harmony

By Joe Isenhower Jr.

DALLAS — In a two-hour joint meeting here Nov. 15, the Synod’s Council of Presidents (COP) and Board of Directors identified some 50 initial “discussion points” as they began the work assigned them by the 2007 LCMS convention of spearheading plans to restore harmony in the Synod.

The joint session came toward the end of the Council’s Nov. 13-15 meeting, which also included an overview of a plan to help “revitalize” Synod congregations, among other business.

Resolution 4-01A — adopted by a vote of 1,014 to 169 by convention delegates this summer in Houston — made the assignment to the COP and the Board based on a conclusion of the Blue Ribbon Task Force for Funding the Mission that “division in our Synod and the resultant mistrust” are hindrances to a funding model for the Synod.

The resolution called on the two groups “to initiate a specific plan for the sake of the whole church to restore harmony in our Synod” and authorized them to organize a summit of “respected leaders throughout this church” to present back to the COP and the Board a “strategy toward harmony that demonstrates how this great church body can provide a God-pleasing witness of our confession and practice.”

The suggested discussion points surfaced from 10 small-group settings of COP and Board members.

Drs. C. William Hoesman and Donald Muchow, chairmen of the COP and Board, respectively, said that they would each choose three of their members to form a committee that would narrow down the suggestions to a few key points as plans are laid for the summit and said that discussion about the summit also would be discussed at the February COP and Board meetings.
 
“I think this is a great start to identifying what needs to come before the summit and to be considered by the Board of Directors and Council of Presidents as a plan,” Synod President Gerald B. Kieschnick said at the end of the joint session.

Synod President Emeritus Robert Kuhn, who also is a member of the Board of Directors, said he is convinced that the priorities for the summit’s discussion should not impose deadlines.

“The Holy Spirit is usually not squeezed within a time frame,” Kuhn said.  The dates for the summit have not been set.

Revitalization of at least 2,000 Synod congregations by 2017 is a goal of the Synod’s Ablaze! movement, and was restated in the top-priority “Missions” resolution (1-01A) adopted by the 2007 Synod convention.

Pointing out that the membership of some 85 percent of the Synod’s 6,073 congregations has either hit a plateau or is declining in numbers, Iowa District West President Paul Sieveking gave an overview of a congregational revitalization process that will be discussed at a Jan. 7-9 Trans-forming Districts Conference in Nashville, Tenn.

The conference is being sponsored by LCMS World Mission’s Task Force on Revitalization. 

District presidents and executive staff, along with faculty members and administrators from the two Synod seminaries, are invited to the conference that will target “the pivotal role districts will need to play” in the revitalization process, according to a flier for the event.

Basically, the mission-revitalization process suggested by LCMS World Mission’s Transforming Congregations Network “provides a plan to transform declining congregations into mission outposts in their communities,” Sieveking pointed out.

As laid out in a PowerPoint presentation Sieveking used, training for each congregation involves the pastor’s participation in a “monthly learning community,” lay-training events, and a consultation led by an experienced pastor who has led significant growth at his own church.

The consultation includes a weekend event with a detailed self-study using the past 20 years of the congregation’s history, “preaching the vision” during worship, and concludes with “prescriptive objectives” to be carried out within the next 12 months.  A second component of the consultation is a one-year “walking alongside” to help the congregation “create new habits and break old ones, provide training and resources, and hold the pastor and new lay leaders accountable.”

The pilot process was initially developed by the LCMS Mid-South District, “when we realized the need for revitalization after we were not seeing success in planting new congregations out of unhealthy congregations,” said Rev. Kenneth Lampe, the district’s president.

For more information, go to the “LCMS World Mission: Mission Revitalization Process” Web site at www.missionrevitalization.org.

Kieschnick continued his Bible study for the Council of Presidents on “Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing,” this time addressing the sub-topic of “The Witness of the Church,” based on Acts. 15:6-29.  Earlier this year, he presented sub-topic studies on “The Focus on Jesus” and “The Preaching of Paul.”

Eastern District President John Brunner continued leading the Council in a discussion about worship, focusing on “This Holy Encounter” at last month’s meeting.

“We want to affirm that the Holy Encounter is three-way,” Brunner wrote in his handout.  “In worship God comes to encounter us, but not in a light so bright we cannot stand to look at His face.  God comes to encounter us in water and with words and in bread we eat and wine we drink and people we love.  To be there in that place and to be privileged to share together with the people of God giving thanks with their gifts is a privilege beyond compare.”

The COP acted on several resolutions, including its approval for two new position designations to Synod roster listings — “executive director” of an LCMS school, secondary school, or school association; and “specific ministry pastor,” which was authorized by this year’s Synod convention.

Also approved were discussion points for district interview committees and related interview questions for ethnic applicants, likewise for district interview committees.

District presidents reported a total of 895 pastoral vacancies in Synod congregations.  Of those, 437 are in congregations that are not calling men to fill vacancies, and 458 are in congregations that are filling.  For calling congregations, 351 of those calls are for sole pastors, 56 for senior pastors, and 51 for associate or assistant pastors.  The total for calling pastors is 16 more than presidents reported two months ago; for non-calling vacancies, the current total is 31 higher than reported in September.

Posted Nov. 29, 2007

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