Wednesday, March 11, 2009

One Circuit's Restructuring Comments & President Kieschnick's Reply

For those of you pondering your response to the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Synod Restructuring and Governance proposals, you're welcome to compare notes with the Headwaters Circuit of the Wyoming District, whose ideas are reproduced below, and which can also be downloaded here. Following their comments is the response they received from President Kieschnick.

Response of the Headwaters Circuit, Wyoming District, LCMS to the Proposals from the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Synod Structure and Governance

No. 1 – Affirming Mission and Purpose of Synod

We support the effort to assure that our confessional basis remains unchanged. God's Word and its explication through the Lutheran Confessions are what make us Missouri Synod Lutherans. Thankfully, the current language of our Constitution is clear and strong on this matter. We cannot support any changes to the wording of our Constitution without seeing the changes and having adequate time to consider them.

No. 2 – Priority of Synod Governing Documents

We support the priority of the Constitution over the Bylaws. Amending the Bylaws should not be an easy task and therefore we would recommend that such changes be made by a three quarters majority vote and not by a simple majority. The rationale used by the Task Force in regards proposal #7 and its comments that close votes do not foster unity but add to division should be applied here.

No. 3 – Synod Membership

We affirm the need for clarification on the congregational nature of Synod, the role of ordained and commissioned ministers, and the participation of the laity in the life and work of the Synod. The provision for advisory members is beneficial. "Advisory Members" should be present at Synod Conventions because they bring a great wealth of wisdom, experience, and theological acumen. We support clarifying the language of Article V of the Constitution, including paragraph B concerning advisory members.

No. 4 – Determining Congregational Representation at Conventions

We support the proposal to add commissioned ministers to the pool of those eligible to be voting lay delegates at conventions. Commissioned ministers bring experience and expertise to conventions that may be beneficial to the Synod. They should not be disqualified from being a delegate solely because of their vocation.

No. 5 – Equitable Congregation Representation at District Conventions

We support the proposal to allow vacant, dual, and multi-point parishes both a pastoral and a lay vote. This upholds our teaching about the Church, supporting the Lutheran view of the congregation as an organic whole. Every congregation, regardless of size, is whole and complete. For this same reason we are opposed to the proposal to give congregations with more than 1000 confirmed members any additional votes. The Church is not a democracy. It is a theocracy. The Church is in the Kingdom of the right, where Christ rules by grace. This proposal introduces operating methods of the kingdom of the left, where power is used to rule.

No. 6 – Frequency of National Conventions

We appreciate the goal of expanding opportunities for congregations to address theological matters. Regardless of the frequency of Synod Conventions, the real issues, which are theological and not structural in nature, must be addressed. Any encouragement or facilitation of theological discussion among the member congregations of the Synod will be beneficial.

No. 7 – Doctrinal Resolutions and Doctrinal Statements

We support the effort to rebuild doctrinal unity in the Synod. We suggest that any recommendations by the Task Force in regard to amending the Bylaws and Constitution in this area be strongly underscored by Holy Scripture with reference to pertinent passages included in the wording of the amendment. Article VIII, Paragraph C of the LCMS Constitution should be clearly and prominently positioned in the process for adopting doctrinal resolutions.

No 8 – Number of Delegates to National Convention

We offer no feedback in this area.

No. 9 – Congregational Representation at National Conventions

We support the proposal to keep an equal number of ordained and lay voting delegates. This balance accurately reflects the membership of congregations and the membership of pastors. This balance has had a tempering effect on decisions made throughout our history. Conversely, we do not support the proposal to determine a district's number of delegates according to its exact percentage congregations and confirmed members of Synod. We oppose this for the reasons outlined in number 5.

No. 10 – Overtures to National and District Conventions

We do not believe that congregations will be encouraged to participate in the sending of overtures by merely changing the route that such overtures must travel to reach a district or Synodical hearing. The problem is not a lack of overtures, but the absolute authority of floor committees to change the intent of overtures, filter them, or outright dismiss them. We would be very supportive of a proposal to drastically limit the powers of floor committees and believe that such a move would be the best encouragement for congregations to submit overtures to district and Synodical conventions. Furthermore, we would support a proposal that gave priority to overtures submitted by congregations over those coming out of committees, boards and other entities. Congregations realize the futility of submitting overtures under our current system and without an assurance that their overtures have a reasonable chance of coming to the floor; they simply will not waste their time in forming, writing and submitting them.

No. 11 – Five Regions

There is no response for this proposal, since there is no actual proposal given.

No. 12 – Composition of Synod’s Board of Directors

We do not support this proposal for several reasons. First, expanding the BOD goes against the goal of streamlining Synod and its operations. Second, geographic representation does not make for closer relationships between the BOD and congregations and may even further polarize proper, fair representation. Third, specific skill sets are currently available in the form of consultants.

No. 13 – National Synod Structure

We support the proposal to transfer responsibilities to districts. We believe this would reduce redundancy and eliminate overlap. We suggest that the Synodical Board for mission services with its attendant Synodical staff, be reduced in number and transformed into a resourcing agent. According to the 2008 Lutheran Annual, thirty-two of our thirty-five districts have mission/evangelism staffs totaling 43 positions. In addition, there are between 60 and 65 staff positions on the Synodical Board for Missions. Districts are now conducting mission work on their own, without Synodical involvement. There is no reason to have multiple district staffs and also a Synodical staff and board. Removing the Synodical mission staff would manage dollars more efficiently, reduce overlap, streamline operations and locate ministries closer to congregations.

No. 14 – Circuit Structure

This proposal is unnecessary. Districts already constitute their own circuits. Full engagement of a congregation in its circuit is not a matter of being grouped with like-minded congregations; more often it is a combination of several factors including distance, interest and perceived value. Congregations are currently encouraged to connect with others of similar circumstance, mission, demographic criteria, etc.

No. 15 – Election of Synod Vice-Presidents

We do not support this proposal. It is contrary to the spirit of proposal 16 which seeks to allow continued service by those whom voters want to keep in office. It is also contrary to the spirit of proposal # 4 which seeks to expand participation in Synodical affairs. Members of Synod should be able to select from all eligible candidates the one whom they believe is best for an office and not be forced to eliminate some from consideration solely because of where they live. Another objectionable aspect of this proposal is the logistics of having regional vice presidents. Where will their offices be, how will they be staffed? What will the attendant costs be and who will pay them?

No. 16 – Terms of Office and Term Limits

We support this proposal because we would encourage consistency within the Synod.

No. 17 – Election of Synod President and First Vice-President

We offer the following suggestion to the Task Force in regard to facilitating broader participation in the election of a president and vice president of Synod: Give each and every congregation one vote, to be tabulated at their respective district conventions. This would remove the election from the Synodical convention, freeing up valuable time there, and put it closer to all congregations via their district.

No. 18 – Certification Process for Pastoral Candidates

We do not support the proposal to expand responsibility for the certification of pastoral candidates. Certification is the last step before receiving a call and ordination. We suggest improving the screening process. Screening places expanded input and responsibility at the front end of the process. Why use the resources to educate a man for four years, not to mention consuming four years if his life, and then decide on his fitness for the ministry at the last minute? Interpersonal and leadership skills are readily apparent to congregations, district presidents and circuit counselors prior to admittance to the seminary.

No. 19 – Name Change

We are opposed to changing Synod's name. We do not believe that people outside of the Synod are put off by our name. The obstacle to attracting people to our church is not our name. Rather it is the same stumbling block identified by St. Paul, the cross of Christ. Changing to a new name will not assist congregations in their mission identity because that identity has not changed and cannot change. Our confessional basis has not changed (See proposal #1). Therefore, our teaching, preaching and administering the sacraments has not changed. While our name may evoke a negative reaction in some, in others the name, Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, gives opportunity to speak with prospective, new, or confused members for the sake of teaching and understanding.

No. 20 – District Configuration

We are strongly opposed to increasing the size of districts. Effective and efficient ecclesial support and counsel to congregations occurs in smaller districts, not larger ones. How can a district president provide better service to 400 congregations than he can to 60? Uniformity of size has no relation to how well a district can carry out its responsibilities. In order to more effectively and efficiently serve congregations at the District level, it would be better to have smaller districts with fewer congregations, not larger districts with more. Smaller districts with fewer congregations would improve accountability, ecclesial supervision and discipline, and the compilation and distribution of call lists.

One Final and General Note

The real issue in the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod is not structural, but theological. Our ability to “walk together” can only be determined by our faithfulness to the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions, not to the LCMS Constitution and Bylaws regardless of what structure and governance we have. The first step to restoring unity and to improving the Synod's effectiveness is necessarily for us to ponder and debate our differences within the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions.


Dear Pastor Mulholland and Brothers in Christ of the Headwaters Circuit of the Wyoming District of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod:

Grace and peace be with you, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!

Please accept this brief but nonetheless most sincere expression of appreciation for your response to the preliminary proposals being considered by the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Synod Structure and Governance. You have obviously given careful consideration to these matters and I assure you that your response is exactly what the Task Force is desiring to receive as it progresses toward it final report in October of this year.

Regarding your concluding comments about the real issue in the LCMS being not structural, but theological, I assure you as I've stated many times in many venues, the work of the Task Force is not intended to replace or supplant pondering and debating our differences within the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions. Indeed, that has been the precise purpose of the three theological convocations held by the Council of Presidents and Commission on Theology and Church Relations in 2002, 2005, and 2008. That is also the purpose of the Circuit Bible Studies prepared under the leadership and supervision of the president and vice-presidents of the Synod. I trust your Circuit is utilizing these studies and I assure you that the vice-presidents and I welcome your feedback and suggestions regarding their content.

Neither the Task Force nor I believe structure and governance revisions will resolve our theological challenges. At the same time theological discussions and deliberations are occurring, the Task Force and I believe it is also important to be the best stewards of the resources entrusted to our care in the faithful gifts and offerings of the people of God in the congregations of our Synod and that structure and governance should enhance and not impede mission and ministry. In other words, we believe theological discussion and structure and governance revisions are not an either/or but a both/and proposition. Both can and should take place simultaneously.

Thank you again for taking the time to express your perspectives and suggestions. I deeply appreciate your care and concern for our beloved Synod. I hope you don't mind my taking the liberty of sharing with the Synod vice-presidents and members of the BRTFSSG your response and my reply thereto. I believe they will all be edified by and appreciative of your pastoral and evangelical response.

May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus our Lord! Blessings in Christ to all of you!

Dr. Gerald B. Kieschnick, President
The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod

"Transforming lives through Christ's love ... in time ... for eternity ..." John 3:16-17

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