This is Part 6 of a continuing series analyzing the final report of the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Structure and Governance (BRTFSG).
Blue Ribbon Task Force Recommendation # 3 is about the congregations and circuits. Here is the text of the recommendation:
Recommendation #3: Restore Circuits to Their Primary Purpose
The task force recommends empowering the districts (they already have the responsibility of creating circuits) to consider not only geography as a criterion but also mission and demographic considerations to create these small ecclesial clusters of congregations for care, support, advice, ecclesiastical encouragement, service, coordination, and counsel toward the congregation’s participation in God’s mission. Because circuit counselors are the ecclesial extension of district presidents, the task force recommends that circuit counselors be nominated by district presidents in consultation with the respective district praesidium. The circuit forum (with an associate-member vote and a lay vote from each congregation of the circuit) shall elect the circuit counselor. These elections shall be ratified by the district convention, retaining the right to nominate from the floor. Due to the significant responsibilities borne by circuit counselors, retired pastors of the respective circuits are not only eligible but encouraged to offer themselves as candidates for this office.
The task force also recommends that regular circuit convocations, conferences, and forums be held to enable circuits to serve as local mission councils and as leadership avenues for in-depth study, influence, and persuasion by the Word of God. These gatherings would form the “grassroots” voice of the congregations, influencing the direction to be taken by the district and national Synod through overtures. This recommendation seeks to fully engage every congregation in the district. Circuits will no longer be used as “electoral groupings” unless a district so chooses. (See Recommendation #10)
The last two lines of the Task Force’s commentary on this proposal say
This recommendation is critical to the success of the entire restructuring process. The Synod must restore the effectiveness of its circuits. (from the full text of the Final Report)
The Task Force proposal fails to restore the effectiveness of circuits. There are some intriguing suggestions in this proposal but overall Recommendation #3…
- is poorly written;
- is cast not in the language of the scriptures and confessions but in the language of post-modern psychology, corporate speak, and relational categories;
- presents a wide ranging menagerie of concepts which are not clearly related to the restoration of circuit effectiveness;
- is deceptive and does not promote the congregational principle but negates it.
Recommendation #3 is Poorly Written
I invite you to read this entire proposal with its introduction and judge whether or not it reads fluidly and clearly. I would also challenge you to read the entire Final Report of the Task Force and ask the same question. I find it to be written in a garbled and random manner that leaves the reader confused, annoyed and tired. Take this paragraph for instance (it is from the explanation for Recommendation #3)
The congregations together (the Synod) established the true “episcopal office” (the office of oversight) and the office of “visitation” (with a face-to-face relationship) to establish and maintain a relationship and connection with the congregations and agencies of the Synodâ€”to visit, to teach and mentor, to encourage and support, to advise and equip, to serve and facilitate, to strengthen and admonish, and to unify the congregations and the agencies of the Synod in their mission.
What is that sentence saying? Who or what is the subject? If the congregations are the subject (first line) then does it not seem odd that they are also the object, i.e. they are unifying themselves (see the last two lines)? The Task Force has reminded us how profound their work is since the synod has not been reorganized for over a hundred years. If that is the case, should not this be one of the tightest, clearest, and most simply straight-forward documents in the history of the synod? It is not. It is one of the most loosely written, vague and meandering documents in the history of synod.
Recommendation #3 and the Entire Report are not Cast in the Language of Scripture but in the Language of Post-Modern Psychological Relationships and Corporate Speak
We all know that the Bible does not teach a particular polity. That however does not mean that our structure and governance talk should not be scriptural in nature and form. This document is not scriptural and confessional. Read the entire report and look for scriptural references. You will find very few.
Article VII of the Augsburg Confession describes the church as the place where the Gospel is proclaimed in its purity and the sacraments are administered according to Christ’s command. In the introduction to this recommendation the Task Force describes the church in these terms:
Under Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions and within the holy community of Christ, the Synod exists as a confessional and missional community.
It is good that they place the synod under the Scriptures and Confessions but what is the holy “community” of Christ and what does it mean to be “missional?” In this recasting of terminology the Task Force turns Holy Communion and the communion of saints into “a holy community of Christ” and they turn the proclamation of the pure Gospel of Christ into “being a missional community.” This may seem like a small thing but it is not. This is at best a sloppy and liberal use of language and is at worst a means of moving the church out of the language of straight-forward, common sense truth statements and into the hazy realm of post-modern, pragmatic relational talk.
Speaking of psychological and relational talk, here are a few more odd post-modern terms, words and phrases from this recommendation: “Face to face relationship,” “mentor,” “facilitate,” and “empowering” to name a few. This sort of language is constant throughout the entire report. I encourage delegates to the 2010 convention and all LCMS members to beware of people who talk in these strange languages of post-modern psychology and corporate consultants speak. Such languages may have their place, but not in the church.
Recommendation #3 Presents a Wide-ranging Menagerie of Concepts which are not Clearly Related to the Restoration of Circuit Effectiveness
Most of the Task Force’s Recommendations are not single recommendations but are multiple in nature. This is frustrating because each one becomes a sort of omnibus proposal that contains some helpful proposals amidst a slough of harmful proposals. This is very evident in this recommendation. Here are the unique proposals under this one proposal:
- Districts should generate non-geographical circuits.
- District president nominates circuit counselors.
- Retired pastors serve as circuit counselors.
- Circuits hold convocations.
- Circuits are no longer electoral (see proposal #10).
This recommendation alone, not counting the other twenty recommendations, could fill up an extra two days of discussion at the synod convention. It is loaded and I am not convinced it restores the effectiveness of circuits as it claims to do. Here is the list with my comments (italicized).
- Districts should generate non-geographical circuits. These circuits would be formed on the basis of like-mindedness, e.g. worship style, size, doctrinal position, etc. This does not restore the effectiveness of circuits but isolates pastors and circuits of a certain stripe and disallows them from effectively influencing congregations of a different stripe. This does not make circuits more effective; it makes them parochial and divisive.
- District president nominates circuit counselors. This does not restore circuit effectiveness. This increases the District President’s control and makes the circuits, as collection of congregations, less effective.
- Retired pastors serve as circuit counselors. This is probably a good idea and will make the circuits more effective since the circuit visitor would have more time to serve the circuit. However, this violates the congregational principle that Task Force claims they promote because with this change the circuit leadership is taken out of the hands of a congregational pastor.
- Circuits hold convocations. This is also a good recommendation but the Task Force certainly realizes that it is doomed to failure. This has been tried before and has failed. Congregations in a synod that is divided will not meet together in circuit convocations. Matt Harrison’s approach to uniting the synod as described in “It’s Time” is a much more effective approach.
- Circuits are no longer electoral (see proposal #10). This does not restore the effectiveness of circuits but robs them of one of the few responsibilities that are taken seriously by circuits these days.
Recommendation #3 is Deceptive and does not Promote the Congregational Principle but Negates It
The Task Force’s introduction to this recommendation states that if approved, it will promote the congregational principle (i.e. congregations are to be respected as the fundamental building block of the church). Let’s look at the menagerie of proposals in this recommendation again and judge them by this goal. (My comments are italicized.)
Districts generate non-geographical circuits – This does not promote the congregation but makes them less influential. As stated above, in this set-up the congregation loses a primary vehicle for influencing other parishes that are not like it.
- District president nominates circuit counselors. This not only removes from the congregation a right that it has long held in the LCMS – the authority to nominate and elect circuit visitors – but it is also presented in a very deceptive way. The Task Force makes it seem like they are listening to the people who took the surveys at the district conventions but actually they are not. For a fuller explanation of this diabolical deception see my previous post.
- Retired pastors be circuit counselors. This is a good idea but it does not promote the congregational principle. It undermines the congregation because the circuit visitor would not longer be a sitting pastor of a circuit congregation..
- Circuits hold convocations. This is another good idea that would promote the congregational principle but it is useless because it has not worked for the last 40 years it has been tried.
- Circuits are no longer electoral (see proposal #10). This rips the guts right out of the congregation. If you read Recommendation #10 you will see that synod delegates are not longer the result of a string of decisions that begins with the congregation but are decided by the district president and his district convention.
In summary, Recommendation #3 does not restore circuit effectiveness. It promotes district control. It does not promote the congregational principle but results in a net loss of authority for the congregation. The Task Force is very much taking a page out of the community organizer Saul Alinsky here. They repeat over and over that they are doing one thing (promoting the congregational principle) but in actual fact they are doing the exact opposite.
Delegates, members of LCMS congregations, slow this process down. Reject the work of this Task Force and ask that our synod leaders address the real issues that divide us. The Council of Presidents have taken a stab at this by producing their theses on worship for synod wide discussion. Matt Harrison has done this by giving us his “It’s Time” document. President Kieshcnick is the odd man out. By hand-picking a Task Force that would follow his lead in trying to restructure the synod into unity around greater control for him and the district presidents, he has taken a path leads to greater disunity in Christ’s church.