By Linda C. Hoops
Believing that the delegates to next year’s Synod convention have a “right to hear and that I have a duty to share my thoughts, affirmations, concerns, and recommendations” on the report of the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Synod Structure and Governance, Synod President Dr. Gerald B. Kieschnick issued an eight-page response to the report Dec. 1.
His response and the 50-page task force report, released in late October, are on the LCMS Web site at www.lcms.org/lcmsfuture.
Kieschnick provided the rationale for the formation and work of the task force in a March 1, 2005, pastoral letter:
“There is a great need for a thorough and fundamental review of what our Synod is, how it is organized, and how it functions. 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.”
In his response to the final report, Kieschnick thanked the task force for its “faithful and extensive work over the past four and one-half years,” then evaluated the task force recommendations and indicated his level of support for each.
One of the major recommendations coming out of the report calls for the elimination of the 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 eliminated boards and commissions into two advisory commissions, one for National Mission and one for International Mission.
The senior staff members in these two commissions would be directly accountable to a chief mission officer, who would be accountable to the Synod president.
In his response, Kieschnick cites several examples of problems he has personally encountered in the current Synod structure, including budget-management issues and boards working independently of each other and not collaboratively.
Kieschnick supports the recommendation to eliminate the current boards and commissions, stating it would solve the problems of supervision and accountability within the Synod structure. But he also says that having the chief mission officer accountable to him “could be seen as concentration of excessive authority in the office of the Synod president. That is neither the task force’s intention nor my desire.”
Instead, he says a plan that would consolidate the current program boards and commissions into two boards (the Board for National Mission and the Board for International Mission), instead of two advisory commissions, “is worthy of consideration.”
“My primary concern in this matter is to improve the system that currently exists while also ensuring that the task force recommendation would properly and adequately satisfy my request and the Synod’s need for provision of appropriate checks and balances,” he writes.
He also states that “assigning to the president the direct or indirect responsibility to supervise the day-to-day work of the employees of the Synod and allowing the president a method of intervention should either board violate the constitution, bylaws, or resolutions of the Synod,” should be considered.
Kieschnick expresses support for the recommendations made in the first three sections of the report, which deal with amending the Synod’s constitution, the voting rights of individuals and congregations, and the restoration of circuits to the purpose for which they were originally intended, stating, “Circuits are so important for the health and well-being of congregations and ministers of the Gospel.”
In the fourth section, which discusses districts and congregations, he cautions that a proposed future study of district reconfiguration “would need to be conducted with great sensitivity to the tradition and history of each of the 35 districts of the Synod.”
He favors the creation of a separate category for commissioned ministers to serve as voting delegates to district and Synod conventions that would not reduce the number of lay or pastoral delegates, but he does not support a recommendation that would give congregations with more than 1,000 communicant members two extra votes at district conventions, stating, “It does not appear to be contributing to a greater spirit of harmony in our Synod.”
Kieschnick supports the task force recommendation in section five that calls for the establishment of five national regions to provide more effective representation of congregations across the Synod on the Praesidium (president and vice presidents) and Board of Directors of the Synod.
“Only one Synod vice president currently lives west of the Mississippi River. He lives in St. Louis, only 20 miles west of that river,” Kieschnick writes in his response. “Since regular visitation of all 35 districts by the Synod president is virtually impossible, I support this recommendation, which would enable congregations to nominate vice presidents from their region.”
In section six of the task force report, Kieschnick views as “excellent” a recommendation that would allot to each district a proportionate share of the fixed number of Synod convention delegates based on the district’s percentage of the total congregations and communicants.
The task force had recommended that the number of delegates be reduced to 650, from the current number of 1,250 voting delegates and 350 advisory delegates.
“While the specific number of national convention delegates recommended by the task force would result in significant cost savings to congregations, careful consideration should be given to whether 650 delegates would provide sufficiently broad representation of congregations to national conventions,” Kieschnick comments.
He also supports the task force recommendation for a quadrennial convention cycle for circuit and district theological convocations and district and Synod conventions.
In the conclusion to his response, Kieschnick writes, “It is my prayer that the work of the task force and the decisions ultimately made by the Synod in convention will result in a system of structure and governance for our beloved Synod that will result in greater efficiency and effectiveness in accomplishing the mission our Lord has given His church.”
Linda C. Hoops is a freelance writer and a member of Lutheran Church of the Resurrection, Sunset Hills, Mo.
Posted Dec. 16, 2009