HOUSTON—With a presentation including testimonials and a question-and-answer period for delegates, the Floor Committee on Synod Structure and Governance (Committee 8) began introducing its 38 resolutions to The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod convention July 11—its first full day of business.
That is more than one-third of the 100-plus resolutions on the convention’s agenda this week.
The 64th Regular Convention of the Synod is meeting July 10-17 at the George R. Brown Convention Center under the theme “ONE People—Forgiven.” Among the approximately 3,000 participants are some 1,200 clergy and lay voting delegates.
The sweeping structure and governance proposals result from more than four years of study and recommendations of a task force appointed by LCMS President Dr. Gerald B. Kieschnick. The process also included surveys, interviews, regional gatherings of convention delegates, meetings with church boards, a theological convocation, and two open hearings with the floor committee prior to the convention.
“Ten thousand people were involved in the discussion of the need for change,” said Dr. Larry Stoterau, chairman of Floor Committee 8. He is president of the LCMS Pacific Southwest District and was a member of the structure and governance task force.
Stoterau explained in the presentation that the resolutions would help to “re-energize circuits and strengthen districts … ; create a more flexible national office in service to districts and congregations … ; provide congregations a greater voice in leadership in the election of leaders … ; permeate the district and national conventions with a greater sense of community, inspiration and edification … ; [and] amplify and clarify our Constitution … and affirm the foundation of our congregational principle — upon which the resolutions are built.”
“Several things have brought us here,” Stoterau told the assembly, including a changing world that LCMS structures “have not kept up with,” cumbersome systems of Synod government, “loss of connectedness,” unequal representation and “decades of declining resources.”
“It may shock you to hear that The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod is in a state of financial crisis,” said Dr. Thomas Kuchta, its vice-president—finance/treasurer, in one of the four testimonials.
Kuchta said that is primarily due to dwindling unrestricted income for the corporate national Synod over recent years — a drop from $28 million when he was first elected to the Synod post in 2001 to $19 million for the current fiscal year.
He indicated that he doesn’t think there is “room for future efficiencies” for the national Synod with the present Synod structure, and called for delegates to “pay special attention” to Committee 8 resolutions for restructuring the national Synod offices.
Others offering testimonials during the July 11 Committee 8 presentation were two of its members — Rev. Ron Burcham, pastor of Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Urbandale, Iowa; and Deaconess Sally Hiller, executive director of Congregational Outreach and District Operations for the LCMS Southeastern District. Steven Trusty, a first-time lay convention delegate from Omaha, also offered a testimonial.
Burcham said he was at first skeptical about the 21 proposals offered by the structure and governance task force, but had changed his mind, based on the numerous opportunities for sharing and feedback on the recommendations.
“To me, the task force recommendations were real, tangible and substantial,” Burcham said from the podium.
Hiller told the convention she is excited about the floor committee’s resolutions, particularly those that lead her to “see where districts will … be more responsive to and supportive of congregations” and the national office will serve more as “coordinator of resources for congregations, circuits, and districts.”
“In all my experiences and associations,” Trusty said in his testimonial, “I have never seen so much helpful effort and thought as has been put into this convention — including the work of this floor committee.”
Stoterau and Dr. David Buegler, the Synod’s fifth vice president, speaking on behalf of Floor Committee 8, took turns answering questions from delegates submitted in writing and asked orally. They divided the resolutions into a series of five categories and completed questions in four categories July 11: small and large networks, the national office in St. Louis, nomination and election of Synod officers, and the national convention.
“The heart of restructuring and governance is the local congregation. If we can’t strengthen and encourage our local congregations for mission, then it all is for nothing,” Stoterau said.
One topic they addressed was a proposal to reduce the number of program boards from the present seven to two elected policy boards. One board will oversee LCMS national ministries and the other will oversee LCMS international ministries.
Buegler said doing away with program boards “sends the message that the national office is not primarily a program office.” He said the national office would have specific functions and coordinate ministries for the whole church, under the proposal.
Stoterau emphasized that the removal of any program board does not necessarily remove a ministry or function currently administered by that board. Ministry will happen, he said, coordinated with other national office ministries.
Another topic of discussion was a name change process for The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. “We are not changing the name, but we are beginning a process,” Stoterau said. Buegler added that at regional gatherings to discuss restructuring and governance, a name change was among the least important priorities for those who attended.
As for national conventions, the floor committee will propose that the number of delegates be 10 percent of the Synod’s nearly 6,200 congregations, or approximately 620 delegates. Buegler said there was no special reason for that number other than efficiency.
“The key is that it’s all about the grass roots and more involvement of the grass roots before national conventions,” Stoterau said. He said members and congregations will help develop priorities for national convention consideration.
Delegates will hear about structure and governance proposals related to clarifying the congregational principle and affirming governing documents on July 12.
Posted July 11, 2010