By David Strand
ATLANTA — The LCMS Council of Presidents (COP) covered a lot of ground at its Nov. 16-19 meeting here, though two topics in particular garnered special attention: preparing for the July 2016 Synod convention in Milwaukee and fine-tuning the “best practices” of district presidents in preparing call lists for congregations seeking pastors.
Regarding convention preparations, COP Chairman and Texas District President Rev. Ken Hennings said, “There are a number of things the districts and district presidents need to do [to get ready for Milwaukee],” noting that the COP has 10 new members — nine district presidents and one regional vice-president — and so these men will be experiencing a national convention for the first time in their new roles.
The 2016 convention also will include a number of additional floor committees. LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison noted that at the 2013 convention, “at least one of our floor committees was overburdened.”
Having more committees with fewer resolutions for each to consider “will enable the committees to put together well-crafted, well-focused resolutions,” said LCMS First Vice-President Rev. Dr. Herbert C. Mueller. “And there will be more opportunities for members of the COP to serve in leadership positions — as chairmen or vice-chairmen — on those committees.”
Looking ahead to floor committee meetings over the Memorial Day weekend at the International Center in St. Louis, Mueller, noting the greater number of committees, lightheartedly said, “We’ll be filling every nook and cranny in our building.”
Synod Chief Administrative Officer Ronald Schultz, who serves as the convention manager, presented an overview of the 2016 convention, including its venue (the Wisconsin Center in downtown Milwaukee), other logistics, basic schedule and budget. He reminded the COP that most of the convention’s nearly $2 million budget will be covered by a district assessment, adding that the 2016 convention will cost about $300,000 less than the previous one.
Finally, Synod Secretary Rev. Dr. Raymond Hartwig reminded the COP of the Feb. 9 deadline for his office to receive nomination ballots for Synod president and first vice-president and the Feb. 20 cutoff for receiving convention overtures and reports.
Concerning the district presidents’ role in the Divine Call process, especially the preparation of call lists — South Wisconsin District President Rev. Dr. John Wille, chairman of the COP’s Clergy, Call and Roster Committee, led an extensive discussion on how district presidents can help congregations construct these lists.
The group painstakingly reviewed many steps and components of the calling process: congregational self-studies, checklists, nomination forms, self-evaluation forms for pastors, PIFs (pastoral information forms), suitability rankings — e.g., the congregational size or geographic setting where a pastor might best flourish, call meetings and compensation packages.
“The construction of call lists is one of the most important functions of our office as district presidents,” said Wille. “It’s a core value. It’s one of the most important things we do in terms of ecclesiastical supervision. We need to do our part in helping to make calls that fit.”
It was noted that district presidents go about these matters differently — a fact often attributable to the size of their districts.
The Rev. Timothy Yeadon, president of the relatively compact New England District, said the size of his district enables him to visit personally, if not repeatedly, with most of his congregations in the calling process. This isn’t quite so easy for the Rev. Gregory Walton, president of the Florida-Georgia District, whose territory extends nearly 1,000 miles from northern Georgia to the Florida Keys. In Walton’s case, while he involves himself as directly as possible — whether in person or via Skype — he sometimes relies on district circuit visitors to help him.
Both men, however, Yeadon and Walton, spoke of the need for prayer and getting into the Word of God from the outset of the process. “The hand of God is involved in this,” said Yeadon.
“The call process is unique in every district,” added Walton, “because we deal with unique congregations. Each situation deserves individual attention.”
In his report to the COP, President Harrison sounded a sober but determined note on the “fallout from Obergefell,” referring to the U.S. Supreme Court case, Obergefell v. Hodges, legalizing same-sex marriage in all states. “We won’t be silent” on this, he said. “People will call us bigots, but we have the view of all history on marriage on our side. We will be vigilant in honing our defense [of traditional marriage], using legal action when necessary.”
He broadened his scope to include possible future attacks on the church and religious liberties from such sources as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Department of Education and the Justice Department. “I fear we will be a rich target,” he said, adding that one way of contending with these forces in the public marketplace is to “help our pastors and laity become better witnesses, more adept at sharing their faith.” To that end, he cited a major new program (“Every One A Witness”) in the Synod’s Office of National Mission designed to provide training to help people share the Gospel more effectively.
Owing to “tremendous backdoor losses, a declining birthrate, [heretofore] weak evangelism efforts, challenges in growing the non-Anglo part of the church” and people “acculturating to the whole American experience,” membership in the Synod, Harrison said, “continues to decline apace.”
“We’re doing things to combat this,” he said, “but we need to work harder to find ways for the national office to help the local congregation.” One such way, he suggested, is “Preach the Word,” a new effort out of the president’s office to strengthen preaching throughout the church. “Good preaching is so important to the health of a congregation,” he said.
The president touched on other topics, including efforts underway and other ideas being considered to help seminarians with student debt. He said the recently dedicated International Lutheran Center in Wittenberg, Germany, “is paying for itself with rent. The problem is, it’s so popular, people can’t always get in.” And he said he’s hopeful of a “win-win” regarding the Resolution 5-01A Task Force, the goal of whose work is to “try to keep our universities closely in the sphere of the church while granting the schools more freedom in adding to their boards of regents.”
As he sometimes does, Harrison gave over part of his time to the Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, director of Church Relations and an assistant to the president.
The well-traveled Collver described the success of September’s International Lutheran Council (ILC) conference, “Bringing the Reformation to the World,” in Buenos Aires. Conferees there discussed the Augsburg Confession, Lutheran identity and how the Gospel and Church are connected. He said the ILC wants to “develop a strategic plan and increase its capacity significantly.” Just three months ago the ranks of the 38-member ILC were swelled by three new members: the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Lutheran Church of Nicaragua and the Lutheran Church in Norway.
This past October, Collver and other ILC representatives met for informal academic talks in Oberursel, Germany, with members of a Roman Catholic dialogue team representing the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU). “We’ve never had such a high-level dialogue with the Roman Catholics before,” said Collver. “In our talks, the PCPCU thought it possible that, one day, we could have an agreement on ministry and the sacrament of Holy Communion.” The two delegations will meet again in Germany in May 2016 and then again in St. Louis in 2017.
Collver also mentioned ongoing talks involving the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, the Evangelical Lutheran Synod and the LCMS. For more on this subject, see the related story, “LCMS, WELS, ELS release report on years of informal dialogue.”
Lastly, Collver reported on “encouraging, exciting things” in Siberia, where the growing and respected Lutheran seminary in Novosibirsk (whose library now boasts 20,000 volumes) is becoming a magnet for students, including some from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Ingria, an ILC-member church with Finnish roots based in St. Petersburg, Russia.
The COP heard from the Rev. John Fale, executive director of the LCMS Office of International Mission. Encouraging the council to “learn more about how we’re interacting with districts,” Fale stressed his hope for “true collaboration” between the district offices and his office “in working toward one mission.”
He respectfully noted how some mission projects initiated by districts or congregations unintentionally end up involving non-LCMS partner churches or partners of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. “This conveys hurt and disrespect to our international church partners,” he said. It’s confusing when they see us “working with others whose views are opposed to the Gospel as we understand it.”
Fale said he would welcome the COP inviting the OIM’s regional directors to a future meeting so the COP “could put a face” to the regional directors.
He indicated that one of the OIM’s priorities is to “seek Synodwide ownership of a realistic plan or model that supplies sustainable ministry funding.”
No matter how much business it conducts at its meetings, the COP invariably finds time for Bible study. In Atlanta, the Rev. Dr. Jeff Gibbs, professor of Exegetical Theology at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, led the council in a two-part study based on Romans 12, “Mercied & Merciful: The Church’s Life in Romans 12.” Much of Part 1 of the study occurred at the COP’s meeting in September and, as Gibbs recalled, “gloried in the many and manifold mercies of God in Christ Jesus” (Rom 12:1).
The study time in November took in hand the last part of Romans 12, with Paul’s admonition to love another in the church and to show blessing and generosity to those outside the church, even when they oppose or even persecute believers. We are to repay evil with good, leaving any vengeance or wrath to God alone.
Gibbs also led a discussion of his recent essay, “The Myth of Righteous Anger,” noting that the New Testament strongly teaches that human anger is spiritually dangerous and often equated with sin. American culture, he said, increasingly glorifies anger or outrage; as Christians, we are taught to live differently in light of God’s mercies in Christ and to turn away from angry words and deeds to love our neighbor as ourselves.
In other business, the COP:
- discussed several works in progress, including a document on dealing with registered sex-offenders in congregations, guidelines for church workers with LGBT family members, and a checklist of suggestions for retiring pastors to consider in relating to their former congregations.
- elected leaders of various COP committees and steering committees and COP representatives to sundry commissions and agencies.
- heard from Secretary Hartwig on efforts to provide lay reconcilers serving on dispute-resolution panels with training in doctrine and doctrinal application.
- considered the need for a “code of professional conduct” to guide pastors and other church workers on proper comportment when using social media.
- reviewed the widespread involvement of districts and circuits participating in various ways in the Koinonia Project, the endeavor to engender greater concord and harmony in the Synod.
Joint session with BOD
The COP spent the last 90 minutes of its meeting in joint session with the Synod’s Board of Directors, also meeting in Atlanta. The main topic of discussion was a proposed convention resolution to rescind 2004 Res. 4-11 and adopt a new bylaw (126.96.36.199) to ensure uniformity in asset-disposition language in the articles of incorporation of agencies of the Synod. The proposed resolution will be submitted as an overture by the Board of Directors because it deals with the governing documents of all agencies of the Synod, which is a legal matter, and the overture that prompted the 2004 resolution was originally submitted by the Board of Directors.
The proposal was based on the recommendation of the 4-11 Committee, which was formed in 2014 by the Commission on Constitutional Matters, Commission on Handbook and the Council of Presidents to recommend next steps for the implementation, modification or rescission of Res. 4-11 related to the Synod’s reversionary interest in property held by corporate agencies.
Two members of the committee, Southeastern District President Rev. Dr. John Denninger and Chief Administrative Officer Ron Schultz, summarized the work of the committee, including its gathering and reviewing the governing documents from all Synod agencies, seeking input and comments from the agencies regarding Res. 4-11 and obtaining legal counsel. They also explained the rationale for the proposed new bylaw, which addresses unforeseen difficulties and concerns, including not-for-profit corporation laws that vary from state to state. While maintaining the spirit of 2004 Res. 4-11, the 2016 overture proposes the rescission of that resolution and, in lieu thereof, the adoption of a new bylaw. The new bylaw would allow appropriate flexibility for Synod agencies in complying with the bylaw’s requirements and would supersede parts of 1981 Res. 5-07, which provides guidelines for forming new corporations within the Synod.
Before the COP meeting ended, Eastern District President and COP Secretary Rev. Chris Wicher reported that 341 LCMS congregations were calling sole pastors; 57, senior pastors; and 66, associate or assistant pastors. He noted further that, since the last reporting time, 11 new ministries had been started, while five congregations had closed.
The COP next meets Feb. 1-5, 2016.
David Strand (firstname.lastname@example.org) is executive director of LCMS Communications.
Posted Dec. 16, 2015 / Updated Dec. 17, 2015