The Secret History of the Blue Ribbon Plan, by Pastor Noland of the LCA

(Technology Editor’s Note: We are pleased to post articles on the BJS website from one of the longest operating confessional groups in the LCMS – The Lutheran Concerns Association  – LCA. This article is by BJS Advisory Board member Rev. Martin Noland. We will be posting the LCA newsletters on their page on this site: and excerpting articles from those newsletters here on the home page.   We recomend you join the LCA and subscribe to The Clarion. Please see the bottom of this post for more information on the LCA and   “The Clarion.”)

(Here is Rev. Noland’s introduction to his post: The LCMS President’s Blue Ribbon Task Force on Synod Structure and Governance issued a report in August 2008 entitled Walking Together – The LCMS Future: Proposals and Possibilities for Consideration and Discussion (available at synod’s web-site: These proposals are to be considered by the synod at its convention in 2010 in order to change its structure and governing powers. I have called these proposals the Blue Ribbon Plan and written specific critiques elsewhere (see under Blue Ribbon Plan.)

Recently while organizing some of my files, I came across a copy of a document from six years ago that proposed some of the same ideas found in the Blue Ribbon Plan. The document was sent by the Coordinator of the Jesus First organization to his associates on January 30, 2003, in the form of sample overtures to the 2003 LCMS district conventions. The overture title was To Provide more equitable and Representation and Voting Privileges at Conventions and Study Other Organizational Matters.

The single Resolved in the overture stated:

RESOLVED that the Commission on Structure of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod study the voting and organizational structure of our Synod and bring recommendations for solving the following matters and other issues related to these structures to the entire Synod no later than ten months prior to the 2004 Synodical Convention:

  • Granting commissioned ministers fair representation, perhaps on a circuit basis, to district and national conventions;
  • Providing a more equitable representation based on size and number of congregations, circuits, and districts;
  • Reducing the size and number of Synodical boards and commissions, wherever possible, and determine the best method for selecting members;
  • Asking the Council of Presidents to participate more directly in the nomination and appointment of Board and Commission members;
  • Considering ways by which two or more districts may share the services of individual staff members;
  • Exploring options for choosing Synodical vice-presidents two through five on a regional basis.

The LCMS Commission on Structure responded to this request in a timely manner (see the 2004 LCMS Convention Workbook, pages 264-265). After weighing numerous factors with regard to delegate selection, the Commission on Structure concluded that all congregations should elect two delegates each to district and synod conventions. The two delegates would be one rostered minister (clergy or commissioned) and one layman. Although this would mean larger synod conventions, the Commission reasoned that the National Youth Gathering has in recent years registered over twice the number of synodical congregations with no great logistical problems. The Commission reasoned that if congregations can afford to send their youth on a fun and fellowship trip, they can certainly afford to send their delegates to do the work of the church.

The response to the Commission on Structure can be found in overtures 7-02 and 7-03, in the 2004 LCMS Convention Proceedings. These overtures, sent by members of the Jesus First organization, clearly indicate that Jesus First disagrees with the LC-MS Commission on Structure. In order to bypass the Commission, overtures 7-02 and 7-03 urged the appointment of a separate Task Force for the project. A whole series of overtures were also submitted asking for delegate representation based on congregational size (overtures 7-42, 7-43, 7-44, 7-45, 7-46, 7-47, 7-48, 7-50, 7-53, and 7-54 in 2004 LCMS Convention Proceedings).

These too were sent mostly from Jesus First. The corresponding Resolution brought from the Floor Committee to the 2004 convention (Res. 7-08) was soundly declined by the convention. Subsequently, in March 2005, the synodical president appointed a Blue Ribbon Task Force on Synodical Structure and Governance. This task force has brought back the same concept of delegate representation based on congregational size which the 2004 convention soundly declined.

This is a secret history, because synodical commissions and task forces usually preface their work with a brief history of when and how the synod considered its proposals. Why did the proponents of the Blue Ribbon Plan not do this? Probably because they don’t want people to know that the same ideas were soundly defeated at the 2004 convention. Since it is unlikely that the same delegates will be present at the 2010 convention, they will most likely be ignorant of the secret history of the delegate representation based on congregational size proposal. For this reason, the present essay will be useful for delegates to the 2010 convention.

Why are the members of the Jesus First organization so persistent in their demands for the delegate representation based on congregational size principle? Perhaps most of them are simply ignorant that the Missouri Synod is constituted as a membership organization, whose members are individual congregations. Each of these members has equal rights, as is the case in most membership organizations. This is the fundamental principle of the synod’s structure and governance. If the principle of delegate representation based on congregational size would be adopted, then the members of the synod would be unequal and a principle of elitism, or aristocracy, would become the fundamental principle of synod. Perhaps members of the Jesus First organization believe that bigger congregations are greater, or more important, than smaller ones. Do they not understand Jesus words The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them . . . but it shall NOT be so among you! Whoever is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he who governs as he who serves (Luke 22:24-26).

The synod’s traditional pattern of delegate selection is not perfect, but it has worked for over 150 years. Although other proposals from the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Synodical Structure and Governance may be beneficial, the proposal on delegate representation based on congregational size needs to be defeated again!

Rev. Dr. Martin R. Noland

(Here is some more information on the LCA and their publication. “The Clarion” is  about 6-8 pages, made up of several brief articles written by  well known and respected theologians in the LCMS. If you would like to subscribe, just send your *snail mail* (United States Postal Service) address to Rev. Richard Bolland. You might  also want to get a  copy of this publication or some of its articles to your congregation’s delegate to your district convention, as well as to your circuit’s delegate to next Summer’s synodical convention.)

About Pastor Tim Rossow

Rev. Dr. Timothy Rossow is the Director of Development for Lutherans in Africa. He served Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, IL as the Sr. Pastor for 22 years (1994-2016) and was Sr. Pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran in Dearborn, MI prior to that. He is the founder of Brothers of John the Steadfast but handed off the Sr. Editor position to Rev. Joshua Scheer in 2015. He currently resides in Ocean Shores WA with his wife Phyllis. He regularly teaches in Africa. He also paints watercolors, reads philosophy and golfs. He is currently represented in two art galleries in the Pacific Northwest. His M Div is from Concordia, St. Louis and he has an MA in philosophy from St. Louis University and a D Min from Concordia, Fort Wayne.


The Secret History of the Blue Ribbon Plan, by Pastor Noland of the LCA — 3 Comments

  1. haha – yeah, they must resemble one another. I do not know if Dr. Noland will recall it, but this is precisely the “button” which I pushed when I delivered my paper at the 2008 Walther Conference in St. Louis. On p. 14 of my paper, I noted:

    “One of the huge things which I believe could threaten the autonomy of the local congregation is the suggestion which I have heard being made to some congregations which are seeking “revitalization,” that they suspend their Constitution and By-Laws. This is, to this pastor, a most disturbing trend. In an October publication from The Lutheran Church Extension Fund, page two of the online newsletter says: “Is your congregation hampered by a complex, inflexible constitution? Does your congregation leadership look for ways around your constitution because it is outdated and irrelevant? Do you want a constitution that encourages change in response to new outreach opportunities? If you answered “Yes” to any of the above, then you need MISSION FLEX TM. Mission Flex TM is a one-day, affordable workshop that leads your entire congregation through a process that results in a flexible, policy-based, mission-promoting constitution. Moving Beyond the “Traditional” to the “Missional.” In one day, using the book, Flexible, Missional Constitution/Bylaws by (the presenters are here named) , the entire congregation makes the 10 fundamental decisions needed for the constitution, and small discussion groups are guided through the major decisions needed for the bylaws. The entire process is led by an LCEF facilitator trained and skilled in organization leadership. For more information, call LCEF today at 1-800-___________.” I did not include the names or the phone numbers because I simply do not want to embarrass people with what I fear to be a dangerous notion.

    “No one in Walther’s day would dare to have suggested such a thing, of course. This is a more modern “twist” which, unchecked, I fear will become the devil’s playground. In Thesis I of his essay “Duties of an Evangelical Lutheran Synod” Walther writes, “Its primary duty is to be faithful to the Confessions in word and deed, and therefore it must a. without reservation confess the creeds of the Evangelical Lutheran Church; b. accept only pastors, teachers, and congregations that are faithful to the Confessions; c. supervise the confessional faithfulness of its members; d. practice fellowship only with church bodies that are faithful to the Confessions.”

    “Surely, there are elements of Walther’s Thesis VI of the same essay which might serve as commentary on this contemporary trend. “A sixth major duty is that it not seek its own glory but only the glory of God, being intent not so much on its own growth but rather on the growth of Christ’s kingdom and the salvation of souls, and therefore a. not employ dishonest means, but above all be intent on using the Gospel in all its purity and fullness to win souls and keep them; b. seek to produce in its members, not so much zeal for its particular community but rather living faith, unfeigned love, and genuine godliness; c. take an enthusiastic and, as much as possible, active part in all God-pleasing organizations dedicated to the spread of Christ’s kingdom in the world.”

    These trends are beyond disturbing, and I question the judgment of anyone who suggests such a change. Bold, or foolhardy? I think the latter, and I personally think that it shows a lack of leadership. These notions were advanced in a book titled “Hit the Bullseye” (authored by an American Baptist as I recall – I can easily document that) which, I have reason to believe, has been widely read by some of the leadership in our synod.

  2. Rev. Wollenburg, I appreciate you thoughtful comments and presentation at last years Walther Conference. In particular, your reference to Walther’s essay “Duties of an Evangelical Lutheran Synod.”

    I find it interesting that the April 2007 BRTFSSG paper titled “Congregation—Synod—Church: A Study Document On Basic Theological Principles Underlying LCMS Structure and Governance” contains a brief summary of this essay.

    The following quote is from the concluding paragraph (p. 36) “For anyone who would understand the distinctive approach of the Missouri Synod to its organization and government as well as the doctrine of church and ministry that lies at the foundation of the Missouri Synod and has shaped its life as a Christian community, Walther’s essay on the “Duties of a Synod” is indispensable reading. It reveals the theological acumen, the churchly vision, and the evangelical heart of the man whose writings and positions continue to influence the life of the Synod today”

    If only, the BRTFSSG would follow there own advise. Rather than following Walther’s lead, we are in the process of selling our birthright for a bowl of stew.

    I am reminded of a C.F.W Walther quote from this same essay that Pastor Wilken quoted in his 2007 banquet address at the SID Pastoral Conference.

    “This is something the Missouri Synod needs to remember! It should prefer to go out of business rather than to let the Church suffer harm by its continued existence. Those who want to see the synod continue under all circumstances, regardless of whether that would harm the kingdom of Christ, are not to being led by the Spirit of Christ, but by the spirit of selfishness.”

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