By Kevin Armbrust
“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity” (Psalm 103:2–3).
So began the Feb. 6–8 meeting of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) Council of Presidents (COP). Following the opening devotion, COP Chairman Rev. Dr. R. Lee Hagan welcomed LCMS Atlantic District President Rev. Dr. Dien Ashley Taylor, the newest member of the COP.
“We need to be like Cyprian, who cared for Christians and non-Christians alike,” observed LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison during his report. “Abortion has affected millions of people. The trans movement is damaging lives. … We as poor, miserable sinners need to hold out a better way in Christ.”
Harrison noted the need for “a better response to DEI [diversity, equity and inclusion] — something that is positive and reflecting the beauty of Scripture. Simon of Cyrene [modern-day Libya] … played an important role in Jesus’ ministry. Having the Cyrenian carry the cross, and then inspiring the Gospel writers to record this detail, is one way that God is telling the church that we are from all nations.”
Harrison announced that the Rev. Dan Galchutt, who currently serves in the LCMS Kansas District office, will soon begin as executive director for the LCMS Office of National Mission (ONM). Harrison then updated the COP on the ONM’s church planting initiative, noting, “Half of the counties in the U.S. don’t have LCMS churches.”
The Rev. Michael Gibson, president of the LCMS Pacific Southwest District, said he hopes the initiative will be coordinated with the districts. “Unquestionably, [it] must be done through and with the districts,” affirmed the Rev. Kevin D. Robson, LCMS chief mission officer. Other members of the COP noted that the Synod needs to be careful, in its zeal to plant new congregations, not to neglect struggling ones.
Harrison updated the council on some current challenges in international church bodies with whom the LCMS has relationships and on the recent controversy about the newly published edition of Luther’s Large Catechism with accompanying essays. The social media discussions about this book revealed some extremist views by a few individuals who are members of LCMS congregations. The COP acknowledged that a few of the essays have been met with criticism but expressed their support for the work of the Commission on Theology and Church Relations, which produced the book.
On the Concordias
“We have the finest group of CUS [Concordia University System] presidents we have had in a long time. They are very concerned with Lutheran identity,” Harrison said, highlighting the recent installation of Dr. Erik Ankerberg at Concordia University Wisconsin and Ann Arbor (CUWAA). Harrison called Ankerberg a “solid and kind guy — the Lord’s man for the minute.”
Harrison also reported on a recent meeting with the CUS presidents regarding the future of CUS governance. Harrison encouraged the presidents to submit their thoughts to the 7-03 committee, saying, “My goal is to come up with a reasonable way to move forward.”
Speaking to the COP on behalf of the CUS presidents, the Rev. Dr. Brian Friedrich, president of Concordia University, St. Paul, St. Paul, Minn., said, “One thing I hope you hear [from the CUS presidents] is that so much of what is in the 7-03 Task Force, we support and affirm.” He said that the CUS presidents and the task force agree on not wanting CUS schools to fail — either fiscally or theologically. He noted, however, some disagreements that the presidents have with the latest version of the 7-03 proposal, especially the replacement of the CUS with a Commission on University Education (CUE) and the proposed process of accreditation.
Regarding Concordia University Texas (CTX), Austin, Texas, Harrison told the COP that he and his staff are in ongoing dialogue with CTX, including “a pointed but positive meeting in Austin” during which Harrison laid out his concerns and called for a change. The meeting included a review of Synod Bylaws and a discussion of the president’s visitation report. Harrison noted that the spirit among those gathered was good and that everyone is hoping for a positive outcome.
CMO Robson introduced Mike Behr, who has begun his service as executive director of LCMS Communications. Robson noted a renewed focus on the abiding goal of making sure that all done at the Synod level involves and seeks to benefit the Synod’s districts.
On Thursday, Feb. 9 — the first day of the LCMS Board of Directors (BOD) meeting — the COP met with the BOD over breakfast, providing an opportunity for mutual sharing. COP Chairman Hagan and BOD Chairman Rev. Dr. Michael Kumm took turns updating the entire group. Kumm closed his remarks by thanking the BOD for their service, especially Ed Everts and Keith Frndak, as they, along with Kumm, will soon end their service due to term limits. “I would like to thank you for your collegiality,” Kumm said to those gathered. “We don’t always see eye to eye, but we are always able to have a converstation.”
Opening its own meeting, the BOD welcomed Robson, who noted that the Boards for National and International Mission are proposing overtures for the 2023 convention that would provide new bylaw language. The language would require that each mission board annually renew and endorse each mission office’s strategic plan and provide input on the office’s budget prior to its presentation to the BOD.
Robson reported that the LCMS Office of International Mission continues working with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazil (IELB) in the alliance missionary program, increasing the number of alliance missionaries to 20. He also updated the BOD on the $1 million authorized to Concordia International School Hanoi at the Board’s November meeting, which will go primarily toward building-finishing costs.
Nathan Haak, LCMS chief financial officer, reported that, as of Sept. 30, unrestricted net assets stand at $35 million, comprising $11.9 million in undesignated funds; $4.7 million in plant, property and equipment; and $18.4 million in board-designated funds. Through September 2022, the Synod is operating at a deficit, which is in line with years prior to 2020–2021. Congregations have reported strong giving, with receipts per confirmed member exceeding $1,000 in 2021 — for a total of approximately $1.4 billion received by parishes. The portion passed on to Synod, however, stayed at a decades-long low of about 0.89%, which represents only about 20% of total national Synod expenditures. This trend reflects an ongoing struggle for the current funding model and means the Synod must continue to be creative to fund the work entrusted to it.
Personnel Committee Chairman Larry Harrington reported on proposed salary increases for Synod employees and allowances for the Praesidium, introducing the necessary resolutions for each. With the looming retirement of Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Frank Simek, the committee has posted the position.
Following executive session, the BOD unanimously adopted a resolution for immediate dissemination to the CTX president and Board of Regents: “Resolved, That the BOD again urge the CTX BOR at its February 10, 2023, meeting to reverse its actions that separated CTX from the Synod and to restore its governance documents to comply with Synod’s Constitution and Bylaws and not to delay any further in making the reversal and restoration; and be it further Resolved, That upon the CTX BOR’s action restoring its governance documents and returning to Synod, the BOD remains willing to engage in further discussion with the CTX BOR to address remaining issues of interest in a manner consistent with Synod’s Constitution and Bylaws going forward.”
Preus reported for the 7-03 Task Force on Concordia University Governance. In October, as the task force was ready to finalize the proposal, it was informed that the CUS presidents had met and suggested revisions to the proposal, which the task force just received, eliminating the creation of the CUE and changing the language around accreditation. He therefore suggested a subcommittee to come to a workable document with as much agreement as possible. The completion goal for this document is April so that the board can examine the work at its May meeting.
After the Board voted on necessary action items and established an agenda for its next meeting — which will include interviews for the CAO position — Kumm gave the Aaronic Benediction.
Minutes, when available, will be posted at lcms.org/bod.
Posted March 28, 2023