This is Part 7 of a continuing series analyzing the final report of the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Structure and Governance (BRTFSG). All posts in this series are listed here.
This proposal is an upside down solution to an invented crisis that addresses the wrong problem with a proposal that works against the folks’ ingrained territorial tendency that in the end is controlled by a single person. Other than that it is a harmless proposal, well, except for the hundreds of thousands of dollars that it will cost. Let me explain.
Proposal #4 calls for a new task force to study the function, number, and configuration of districts including the impact on synodical funding. Here is the text of the proposal.
Recommendation #4: Study Future District Configuration
The task force recommends that under convention-adopted criteria, the 2010 Synod convention direct the Synod President to convene a special task force to work in consultation with the Council of Presidents and the Synod’s Board of Directors to submit to the next Synod convention a recommendation with respect to the function, number, and configuration of districts, including the impact on funding the national Synod. The â€•Task Force On District Function, Number, and Configurationâ€– should follow the direction given in Bylaw 188.8.131.52. The recommendations should include a transition plan for any property and personnel changes.
The task force shall be made up of three district presidents appointed by the Council of Presidents, three members of the Synod’s Board of Directors appointed by the Synod’s Board of Directors, one member from the Commission on Constitutional Matters appointed by the Synod President, one member of the Commission on Structure appointed by the Synod President, the Chairman of the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Synod Structure and Governance, the Chairman of the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Funding the Mission (2006), three at-large lay members appointed by the Synod President, the Chief Financial Officer of the Synod, and the Chief Administrative Officer. The chairman of the task force shall be appointed by the Synod President.
In its rationale for the proposal the Task Force points out that our current 35 districts have a discrepancy in staffing. Some have as few as 1.7 full time equivalent staff and some have as many as 28 full time equivalent staff. The task force ties this to proposal #18 which eliminates the “ministry” boards at the synodical office. The goal is to get support for the congregations out of the synod office building and closer to the congregations themselves. The Task Force suggests this would happen if we realigned the districts to even out the number of staff in each one.
To have a task force study the function, number and configuration of districts including the impact of such on synodical finances is not a bad idea except for the fact that it will cost the synod a few hundred thousand dollars. It is wise for an institution to occasionally study its structure for the sake of efficiency. Like most of the proposals, this one could easily command the attention of a synod convention. This is no small feat. One wishes this alone would be the extent of the BRTFSG. It would make for a nice three year study for the synod to consider. As it is, the BRTFSG will have us consider this and 17 other meaty proposals that are being rushed through the synod with the result that none of them is being allowed the attention they deserve.
So it is not such a bad idea. However, once we dig a little deeper into what the BRTFSG is saying about this idea we conclude this. This proposal is 1) an upside down solution to 2) an invented crisis that 3) addresses the wrong problem with 4) a proposal that works against the folks’ ingrained territorial tendency that in the end 5) is controlled by a single person. Other than that it is a harmless proposal, well, except for the hundreds of thousands of dollars that it will cost.
1) The Upside Down Solution
The BRTFSG proposes that we need to get the synod’s support closer to the people and do away with duplicated efforts so that we can save money. Thus they propose doing away with the elected synodical “ministry” boards (proposal #18) and focus on staffing in the districts. This is upside down. It would make more sense to do away with the duplicated efforts at all of the districts and retain a single set of staffers at the synod office building for the various service areas (stewardship, evangelism, etc.) This would also help us to drastically reduce the size of synod government by reducing the duplicated effort in the districts.
My first call was to a parish in the Michigan District. The Michigan District is a large district and at least when I was there, had its own staff person in each of the major service areas of the church. In my first few years in the Lord’s ministry I figured something out. In general, district and synod staffers produce materials that are more in the style and theology of non-Lutheran church growth trends than in the style and theology of the Lutheran confessions. It then dawned on me that there was a redundancy. The synod was producing stewardship programs and the district was producing stewardship programs. This is when I came up with the saying in the title of this post. “Why do we need district staffers to produce bad stewardship materials when we can get perfectly bad stewardship materials from the synod?”
The proposed solution is upside down. If we are committed to having stewardship, evangelism and all sorts of other departments producing lousy materials, then lets do away with the district staffers and have one single, efficient synodical department to produce these materials for us. This would save us lots of money.
2) This is an Invented Crisis
When asked at the regional gatherings how much money the proposals will save us the answer being given by the BRTFSG is that they do not know. That work has not been done. What we do know is that the synod treasurer has issued a memo saying that the proposals are budget neutral. If you read proposal #18 a full one half of the motivation for this proposal is financial. (The other half is to get the support systems closer to the congregations, i.e. in the districts which as we have shown above is unneeded duplication.) We are doing this to save money but we have no proof that it will save money. When you see this sort of inconsistency coming from very smart people, one conclusion it leads to is that there is some sort of hidden agenda. The stated agenda makes no sense. That leads one to ask, “What is the real agenda?”
3) The Proposal Addresses the Wrong Problem
The size and number of districts is not the problem. The problem is that too much of our offerings are going to support district staffers who are next to useless, except for their uncanny ability to promote non-Lutheran programs (small group “ministry,” contemporary worship, etc.). In our own Northern Illinois District we revised our structure a few years ago to place the redundant district staffers into the district, away from the district office, as deployed staff. In those seven or eight years guess how many times my deployed staff person has come to visit me or our congregation? He has come zero times. The solution is not to increase and promote district staffers. The solution is to rid the districts of their fifteen or so full time equivalent staff and have a single service group of staff at the synod office. Better yet, the right solution is to have no district staffers at all, or just one or two, enough to make sure that the DP is freed up to do his primary job of visiting congregations to assess their doctrine and practice.
4) The Proposal Works Against the Folks Ingrained Territorial Bias
I am only guessing here but when I look at the current size and arrangement of districts it strikes me that three helpful principles were used to get us where we are today: 1) Organize districts by a certain regional logic (mostly following state borders), 2) Try to limit the breadth of any given district and 3) Do not make any one district too small by way of number of congregations. Applying these three principles has led to a pretty good balance in our districts. For sure, there are fewer congregations covering a larger area in Montana but that is balanced out by not spreading the district too far (principle 2 above). Reorganizing the districts will most likely upset the territorial commonalities that we see in our current structure. People will just get upset if you break the long-standing geographical bonds that have been formed by the current structure.
5) All of this Reorganizing will be in Large Part Controlled by a Single Person, the Synod President
There are fifteen members of this task force. Seven of the members are appointed by the synod president as well as the chairman of the group. Six of the remaining eight members are appointed by groups of which the president is a member. That is a lot of influence for one person.
It is not a bad idea for an institution to examine its structure on occasion. This proposal would be plenty of work for our synod to undertake in and of itself but combined with 17 other proposals it makes for too much work for a single convention to handle effectively. Besides, the manner in which this work is to be done and the rationale given for it leads us to conclude that this proposal is 1) an upside down solution to 2) an invented crisis that 3) addresses the wrong problem with 4) a proposal that works against the folks’ ingrained territorial tendency that in the end 5) is controlled by a single person. Other than that it is a harmless proposal, well, except for the hundreds of thousands of dollars that it will cost.