by Linda C. Hoops
Photo: Kris Bueltmann
Formed in 1847, the LCMS has grown to become one of the largest denominations in the United States. Along with that growth, its structure has grown into a complex system of operations and accountability.
Seeing the complexity firsthand after his election in 2001, Synod President Gerald B. Kieschnick in 2005 called for the creation of a Blue Ribbon Task Force on Synod Structure and Governance, saying, “What was first created as an organizational system for a Synod made up of a small number of congregations (14) now struggles to serve more than 6,150 congregations.”
The task force was asked to suggest a philosophy and form of structure and governance for the decades ahead that is “appropriately representative, incorporates sufficient checks and balances, and is not cumbersome or excessively complex. It should facilitate maximum operating efficiency on behalf of, and in support of, the members and congregations of our Synod in accomplishing the mission of our Lord and His Church.”
After four years of work, the 17-member task force, along with two consulting firms, offered 21 recommendations in its final report dated Oct. 15, 2009.
The complete report, divided into six sections along with supporting documents, is available at www.lcms.org/convention.
The last section of the report, Section 6, contains the majority of the recommendations for the proposed restructuring of the Synod.
A major recommendation calls for eliminating Synod’s seven program boards and two of its six commissions. Stating that the “structure of the national Synod has evolved over the years into a complex and inefficient system that is perceived as unresponsive to the needs of the congregations,” the task force report recommends consolidating the boards and commissions into two advisory commissions, one for National Mission and one for International Mission.
The senior staff members in the two commissions would be accountable to a chief mission officer, who would be accountable to the Synod president.
Some functions and programs that the Synod had provided—such as family, human-care, and North American missions—would be transferred to district offices. Where coordination is advisable, that coordination could remain in the national office.
Other recommendations included in Section 6 call for the number of delegates to national conventions to be fixed, based on the number of congregations and confirmed membership of those congregations, and the elimination of the advisory-delegate category.
Another recommendation proposes that all congregations participate, not only in the nomination process, but also in the election of the president of Synod and the nomination of the first vice president. Over the past 20 years, only an average of 51.3 percent of LCMS congregations submitted nominations for these offices. This year, about one-third of LCMS congregations submitted nominations.
Other recommendations call for changing the frequency of district and national conventions to a four-year cycle; propose that all circuit, district, and national officers be elected or appointed to four-year terms; and advocate involving congregations and circuits in the development of mission and ministry goals that coincide with the proposed convention cycle.
Additional recommendations include giving priority to circuit and district overtures at national conventions and requiring a two-thirds vote at Synod conventions for doctrinal resolutions of special significance rather than the simple majority now required.
The final three recommendations in Section 6 call for clarifying the priority of the Synod’s Constitution over its Bylaws, a process to study renaming the Synod, and the continued study of pastoral certification and continuing education, noting that because the Missouri Synod is a “pastor-led” church body, “no other change in the LCMS would have as great an impact as increasing the number of pastors capable of leading congregations in mission and outreach.”
Report Sections 1–5
Section 1 of the report focuses on the confessional mission and purpose of the Synod and seeks to clarify sections of its Constitution that justify its existence.
Section 2 notes “the essentially congregational character of the Synod” and calls for revising Article V of the Constitution to “broaden and amplify the participation, voice, and support of the congregations under the authoritative and powerful Word of God.”
Section 3 seeks to restore circuits to their original purpose: to “provide care, support, advice, ecclesiastical encouragement, service, coordination, and counsel toward the congregation’s participation in God’s mission.”
Section 4 focuses on Synod’s 35 district offices and their relationship to congregations and circuits. A recommendation in this section asks that a task force be appointed to review the “function, number, and configuration” of the
Other recommendations in this section would allow commissioned ministers to serve as voting delegates at district conventions and asks that congregations in multi-parish situations be represented at district conventions.
Section 5 calls for establishing five geographic regions, “not for the purpose of adding another layer of bureaucracy or expense, but rather to serve as a connecting link between the districts and the Synod for the sake of the congregations.” Congregations from each of the five regions would nominate candidates from their region for the position of part-time Synod vice president. From these nominees, the Synod in convention would elect a vice president from each region to provide a more geographic representation of the church. (Currently, all four of the part-time vice presidents reside east of the Mississippi River.)
Feedback and Recommendations
Lay and clergy delegates were able to study and evaluate the recommendations at last year’s district conventions, and then voting delegates to the Synod’s 2010 convention were invited to one of nine regional gatherings held across the nation last winter to provide feedback. This information is now in the hands of Floor Committee 8, which began formulating the task force’s work into resolutions at the initial floor committee meetings May 21–24 in St. Louis. The committee’s final recommendations will be brought in resolution form to the convention the first two days of business, July 11–12.
In its report, the task force noted that “not everything about the LCMS system of structure and governance is broken. There is much for which to be grateful. For example, the divine institution of the local congregation, the priesthood of all believers, and the significance of the pastoral office as established by God remain strongly held tenets of LCMS polity.”
Yet it added, “Now is the time to consider additional structure and governance issues that will serve the Synod into the foreseeable future.”
About the Author: A veteran journalist, Linda C. Hoops is a regular contributor to Reporter. She is a member of Lutheran Church of the Resurrection, Sunset Hills, Mo.