Structure task force presents time line for study, recommendations

By Joe Isenhower Jr.

ST. LOUIS — The Synod’s Council of Presidents, meeting here Feb. 16-20, heard from members of the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Synod  Structure and Governance (BRTFSSG) that it will be the first group to review preliminary recommendations of the task force when the council next meets April 20-25. The task force also will share its preliminary proposals with the LCMS Board of Directors in May.

But those are just two entries on a comprehensive time line the task force has set for Synod and district leaders, pastors, other church professionals, and congregations in study and feedback — on the recommendations themselves and on 22 basic theological principles it identified as “underlying LCMS structure and governance.”

That complete schedule was shared with the council toward the end of its meeting.

The time line ends with the Synod’s 2010 convention — set for July 10-17 in Houston — which is expected to act on resolutions determining the Synod’s future structure and governance. Those resolutions are being planned as among the first items of business that 2010 convention delegates will consider.

Key points on the time line are as follows:

  • Synodwide study will take place through 2009 of 22 theological principles underlying the current LCMS structure and governance — principles which have been compiled in a booklet titled Congregation — Synod — Church.  That sharing will occur at district circuit counselor meetings, as well as among Synod boards, commissions, and their staffs; seminary, university, and college faculties; circuit forums and pastoral conferences; and individual congregations.

    The COP and the LCMS Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR) met together the entire afternoon of Feb. 19 to study Congregation — Synod — Church.

    “The task force is convinced that these theological principles are at the heart of our structure and governance and that we need renewal in our Synod based on the principles,” said Dr. Wilbert T. Sohns, a BRTFSSG member who led the council and commission through that study.

    Sohns later told Reporter that the afternoon of discussion also convinced him that both the COP and the CTCR were “really engaged in realizing how much congregations and the Synod need renewal in relationship to the 22 principles.”

  • An Aug. 18-20 theological convocation on Congregation — Synod — Church is set for the Marriott St. Louis — Airport, where some 250 Synod leaders — including representatives from each district — will take an in-depth look at the 22 theological principles.

    Sponsored by the COP and the CTCR, the convocation will feature a presentation on the theological principles by the presidents of the Synod’s two seminaries. Also on the schedule as a presenter is Dr. Leonard Sweet, a theologian, author, and church futurist who was voted “one of the 50 most influential Christian leaders in America” for 2006 and 2007.

    CTCR Executive Director Samuel H. Nafzger will deliver the convocation keynote address and LCMS California-Nevada-Hawaii District President Robert D. Newton is scheduled to speak on Missio Dei (God’s Mission), the second principle covered in Congregation — Synod — Church. Five individuals representing various sectors of the church will respond to Newton’s presentation.

    On the last day of the convocation, task force chairman Rev. Robert Greene is scheduled to present the task force proposals.

  • Sept. 1 is the deadline for feedback on the theological principles.

  • The task force will meet individually with all 35 LCMS district Boards of Directors beginning in late August, through the end of this year.

  • Presentations and feedback on task force recommendations are being planned for all 35 LCMS district conventions next year, beginning in North Dakota (Jan. 18-21) and ending in Central Illinois (July 5-7).

  • Nine regional gatherings from early December 2009 through mid-February 2010 for task force sharing and feedback are expected to include voting delegates to the 2010 Synod convention, district presidents and vice presidents, and five members of each district Board of Directors.

  • An open forum for Synod convention delegates is planned for July 9, 2010, at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston — with the task force and the convention floor committee on Synod structure and governance.

“Our intent is for all this to be a consensus-building process,” Dr. Larry Stoterau, Pacific Southwest district president and task force member, said after Sohns and Rev. Larry Krueger of the LCMS president’s office presented the time line.

“With everything that’s planned, we want to draw a big circle of involvement, getting as much feedback as we can,” Stoterau said.

Among other matters, the COP continued its study of worship in the Synod, led by Eastern District President John Brunner.

Synod President Gerald B. Kieschnick continued his council Bible study on “Keeping the Main thing the Main Thing,” focusing on “The Witness of the Synod.” At earlier meetings, his Bible study topics on the “Main Thing” theme were “The Words of Jesus,” “The Words of St. Paul,” and “The Words of the Church Fathers.”

Ted Kober of Ambassadors of Reconciliation — an LCMS Recognized Service Organization based in Billings, Mont. — spoke to the council about the dangers of Internet pornography and other cyber-addictions, responding to the council’s request for a study two years ago.

“The problems in the church [in these areas] are at least as great as they are outside the church,” Kober said, “while the church remains largely silent on these matters.”

In dealing with individual cases of those involved in such addictions, Kober said district presidents and others in the church need to stress the importance of confession and absolution, in addition to holding individuals accountable for their actions.

Dr. Arthur Scherer led a presentation on the Consecrated Stewards stewardship program, accompanied by two staff members from the Lutheran Church Extension Fund’s Capital Funding Service, which developed the program.

Scherer emphasized that the program is “not just about dollars, but about discipleship.”

During discussion, Kieschnick noted that he is aware of congregations that have participated in the Consecrated Stewards program and, as a result, have seen their members’ contributions rise by as much as 25 percent.

“Why wouldn’t a congregation want to be a part of this?” Kieschnick asked.

The council also heard a progress report on the new Specific Ministry Pastor Program.

District presidents reported a total of 882 pastoral vacancies in Synod congregat

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