Where the LCMS President is Really Elected – The Circuit Forum , by Pr. Tom Chryst

(This is from Rev. Tom Chryst and was first posted on his preachrblogspot.com. It’s also been posted on our LCMSpolitics site.)

“I thought the President was elected at the national convention by the delegates?” Yes, technically, that’s true. But in many ways the election is already decided when delegates are chosen at the Circuit Forums leading up to the convention.

This part of the LCMS governance process is not as well known as the national convention, but just as important! These delegates will go to the national convention in July 2010 and vote in all of the elections and on all other matters (including the restructuring proposals). They are also, technically, delegates for three years until the NEXT convention – should there be a need for a special convention to be called in between. And many of these delegates already have strong opinions and positions on the issues and candidates that will come before the convention.

Who chooses the delegates? Who can be a delegate? Might I be able to serve?
Here’s how it works. Sometime in the summer/fall of 2009, Circuit Counselors will be directed to convene the triennial circuit forum. It’s at this meeting that one pastor and one layperson from each congregation in the circuit are permitted to vote for that circuit’s delegates. Also, an alternate pastoral delegate and an alternate lay delegate are chosen. Under the current bylaws, teachers (“commissioned ministers”) aren’t eligible to serve as pastoral OR lay delegates. The deadline for election of delegates is in October of 2009!

Once the date of the circuit forum is set, and notice is given to the congregations, there is a process of nomination FOR THE LAY DELEGATES ONLY! All pastors serving those congregations are automatically considered nominees (except “Assistant Pastors” but including “Associate Pastors”). A layperson who wishes to serve must be nominated IN WRITING to the Circuit Counselor before the Circuit Forum is held. This is very important! If only one Lay Delegate nominee has been nominated in writing – then the election is basically moot. (This is how it is done in our District, though I am not 100% certain all Districts do the same).

At the Circuit Forum, the pastoral delegate is chosen first. Then the Lay delegate. Then the Alternate Pastoral delegate, then the Alternate Lay. This is important to note because NO TWO of these four individuals may be members of the same congregation. Often, when only one lay delegate is nominated, this influence’s the Forum’s decision on a pastoral delegate, even though the pastoral delegate election happens first (.i.e. “We can’t elect Pastor Smith because then Mr. Schulz, our only Lay nominee, will be unable to serve”)

In the event that the Circuit Forum is unable to elect individuals for all four of these roles, the District President may appoint people to those vacancies. This is often done with the advice of the Circuit Counselor.

Many times, Circuits have established customs or habits regarding selection of delegates, and you may or may not agree with these. Some “take turns” among the pastors. Some have an unwritten rule that no one can go twice in a row. Others have the same qualified and interested people going every convention. Whatever the case, it’s important to know what the rules are and to make sure everyone is “playing fair”.

Sometimes there are even informal conversations prior to the election of delegates which may or may not be helpful. “Pastor Krueger isn’t able to go, due to a previous commitment” might be an appropriate tidbit. But as with all synodical elections at any level, crass electioneering is usually frowned upon.

If you desire to serve as a delegate, consider the following:
1.Am I available to travel to Houston for the 2010 convention? This is mostly an issue of time since the District pays for your travel and lodging, and gives a stipend for meals.
2.Does my congregation know I am willing to serve?
3.Does my congregation need to be educated about the process? Let’s face it, LCMS policy and governance is a mystery even to many long-serving pastors, let alone laity. You could help to inform them.
4.Can I at least serve as my congregation’s representative to the Circuit Forum?

Things to find out:

1.Which congregations constitute my circuit?
2.Who is our Circuit Counselor?
3.When will our Circuit Forum be held?
4.When/how does my congregation choose its representative to the Circuit Forum?

If you are elected as a delegate, you can expect lots of information will be mailed to you from “both sides”. Some of that will be more helpful and some less. But you will have a responsibility to be as informed as possible concerning the issues and candidates. Make use of the people resources at your disposal, both to learn about the process and about the issues. Read the official synodical handbook and other pertinent documents. And don’t avoid the internet, but use it discerningly.

This is my best understanding of the process, as a Circuit Counselor and delegate to 2 national conventions. I hope it helps!

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.


Where the LCMS President is Really Elected – The Circuit Forum , by Pr. Tom Chryst — 11 Comments

  1. This summary is generally helpful. There are a couple of additional points that should be noted.

    1. Circuit Counselors will be elected at your District Convention. It is the new Circuit Counselor who will be responsible to call the Circuit Forum and supervise the election. You’ll need to wait until after your District Convention to know who your new Circuit Counselor is.

    2. The official regulations for the election are found in the 2007 Handbook of the LCMS. Each congregation in the synod was mailed a copy of the Handbook after the last synodical convention. Check with your pastor if you’d like to see a copy, or go to the following link: http://www.lcms.org/pages/internal.asp?NavID=13003
    In the Handbook the information concerning election of delegates to synodical conventions is found on pages 90-91. At the link you’ll want to click on section three, National Organization and Responsibilities, which will take you to a .pdf file of appropriate section of the book. (The page numbers are the same.)

  2. How would the proposals of the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Synod Structure and Governance change the way this process works?

  3. That’s hard to say since nothing is final yet. How delegates to the synodical convention will be selected is something of a moving target. At one point I believe the proposal was that they be elected by district conventions from delegates to the district convention. If I understand correctly, now the proposal is simply that districts be allowed to determine how delegates to the synodical convention would be elected. At this point I don’t know that even the members of the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Synod Structure and Governance could tell you with certainty what the final proposal look like.

    To be clear though, the 2007 Handbook provides the rules to be followed in selecting delegates for the 2010 synodical convention. Changes in structure and governance, if approved, will not take effect until after that convention.

  4. Thanks, John that is helpful too.

    The major changes, as I understand them, would be:

    Delegates would be elected no longer by circuits, but by Districts as a whole(however each district saw fit to elect them, but likely at district conventions).

    Also, larger congregations would have more district representation (extra delegates to District conventions), and thus a larger say than now in the selection of national delegates.

    Furthermore, there would be less delegates over all (roughly half).

    Finally, when Commissioned Ministers (teachers/DCEs) are allowed to serve as delegates, there will be that much less strictly “lay” representation.

  5. A couple things jump right out (there may be more):

    •“Allow congregations with more than 750 confirmed members to be represented by two additional delegates for each additional unit of 750 confirmed members or majority thereof.”

    •“Increase the number of districts from 35 to 100 with approximately 60 congregations in each district.”

    •Omit the action of electing convention delegates. There will be no need for electoral circuits. The district president will be involved in the selection of circuit counselors.

  6. “If the bishops wanted to be true bishops and to attend to the church and the gospel, then a person might — for the sake of love and unity but not out of necessity — give them leave to ordain and confirm us and our preachers, provided all the pretense and fraud of unchristian ceremony and pomp were set aside. However, they are not now and do not want to be true bishops. Rather they are political lords and princes who do not want to preach, teach, baptize, commune, or perform any proper work or office of the church. In addition, they persecute and condemn those who do take up a call to such an office. Despite this, the church must not remain without servants on their account.”
    + Smalcald Articles, Part III, Article 10,1-2 +

    “St. Peter prohibits the bishops to rule as if they had the power to force the churches to do whatever they desired [1 Peter 5:2]. Now the question is not how to take power away from the bishops. Instead, we desire and ask that they would not force themselves into sin. But if they will not do so and despise this request, let them consider how they will have to answer to God, since by their obstinancy they cause division and schism, which they should rightly help to prevent.”
    + Augsburg Confession, Article XXVIII,76-78 +

    “…All this evidence makes clear that the church retains the right to choose and ordain ministers. Consequently, when bishops either become heretical or are unwilling to ordain, the churches are compelled by divine right to ordain pastors and ministers for themselves. Moreover, the cause of this schism and dissension is to be found in the ungodliness and tyranny of bishops, for Paul warns that bishops who teach and defend false doctrine and impious forms of worship are to be considered accursed.”
    + Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope, The Power and Jurisdiction of Bishops,72 +

  7. Just as world history is in large measure a history of warfare, even so church history is chiefly a record of the rise and refutation of false doctrine within holy Christendom. Since Satan is not yet cast into the lake of fire, the church militant can know not a single hour undisturbed by doctrinal dissension. The Word must be contended over as well as confessed (1 Cor. 11:19). Doctor Luther bluntly reminds us that “dissension and contention over the Scriptures…is a divine quarrel wherein God contends with the devil…Eph.6:12.”

    John R. Stephenson. Eschatology – Confessional Lutheran Dogmatics (Volume XIII). (Dearborn, MI: The Luther Academy, 1993); p.74

  8. Prior to the last national convention, our circuit met to select delegates. Being new to the ministry and the process, I just accepted what went on. First a Pastor was selected as a delegate, then a lay member. Since there were only two lay delegates in nomination, once the first was selected, the second (a member from my congregation) was automatically selected as the alternate. That dropped my name from consideration as the alternate clergy delegate.

    My problem with the process however was that never did we discuss the “politics” of the man being selected. In fact it was subtly suggested that that wasn’t necessary or even proper. As it turned out, the alternate lay delegate from my congregation was the man who went to the convention, and I am sure that he voted for the current president, even though our congregation did not nominate him for office.

    I believe that the delegates should be selected based on what the circuit decides is their agenda rather than just picking individuals. Unfortunately, when the choice is limited the decision becomes difficult. Perhaps it would be better to send no delegate, if they are intending to vote against the wishes of the circuit.

  9. I suspect that the blasphemously-named Jesus First political pressure group organizes before the circuit forums to ensure that as many of their candidates as possible will be delegates. In both 2003 and 2006, I was selected as my congregation’s lay delegate to the district convention, and have been selected for that again this year.

    In 2003, I was also nominated as a lay delegate to the synodical convention, even though we knew that there was little chance that anyone from our congregation would be elected as a delegate. The day of the circuit forum was that day that my pastor conducted his last service at our congregation and thus did not go to the meeting. He had already resigned as circuit counselor because he was taking a call in a different district.

    The new circuit counselor announced that, although he knew he couldn’t demand it, the district president wanted all of the district’s vice-presidents to be delegates to the national convention. The district v.p. who was in our circuit was indeed selected as the pastoral delegate and the circuit counselor was the alternate. I commend the v.p. in question for being strongly pro-life, but he also was quite against the direction that CPH was going (Paul McCain was interim CEO at that time). He said that one of the books that he read made him want to jump of the aiplane he was flying on when he was reading it. (I found out later that the book had been authorized before Paul McCain became interim CEO.) I openly challenged the v.p., citing the fact that CPH had been returned to profitiablity and cited examples of several good books CPH had recently published.

    The woman who was elected as the lay delegate was (and I presume still is) a member of a congregation whose pastor is a big J.F. supporter. This congregation is one of those that was pushing for women as elders and which unanimously supported David Benke’s participation in the Oprahfest at Yankee Stadium. This woman was not even present at the circuit forum, though both a layman and her pastor were there to vote for her. After she was elected, it was noted that she doesn’t even have an email address. The alternate lay delegate came from a congregation them being served by an angry intentional interim pastor who made a remark about people crapping in their back yard. Apparently this was a reference to those who opposed the actions of David Benke.

    In 2006, I never found out when and where our circuit forum was being held, but it selected the J.F. pastor as the pastoral delegate to the 2007 convention.

    Therefore it appears to me that in some cases the circuit delegates are pre-selected by J.F. supporters even before the circuit forum takes place.

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