Do you get the feeling, after having read the report of the LCMS Blue Ribbon Task Force on Synod Structure and Governance (BRTFSSG), that they’re trying to sell us something? What is it they’re urging us to buy? According to the Task Force, they want us to buy off on their proposals, which are presented in glowing terms: “The recommendations seek to broaden the voice and participation of the congregations in the Synod” (Final Report, p. 15) and will cause “expansion of the mutual influence and persuasion by the grassroots…” (p. 49).
But the proposals actually consolidate power in the hands of the Synod President and diminish the persuasive power of individual congregations. As Publius Aequillus points out, “Program Boards and Commissions are eliminated, thereby placing the tasks and functions handled by them under the Synod President.” With priority given to circuit and district overtures at the national convention, “it will become next to impossible for a small congregation to have a voice in the Synod,” and “all of these recommendations [#’s 3, 10, 16] take power away from the local congregations and transfer it to districts and the larger Synod.” (Brackets added)
Dr. Martin Noland, in a comment following Publius’ post, notes that this restructuring “…is the single biggest proposed concentration of power in one person that the Missouri Synod has seen in its history.” That’s a very significant comment, coming from the former Chief Historian of the Lutheran Churchâ€”Missouri Synod.
The Task Force ideas represent a huge change in the structure and function of the Synod, as well as in how it sees itself. The move from a congregational basis to a top-down structure is nothing short of a paradigm shift. Changes of this magnitude can be difficult to achieve, and must be carefully orchestrated. There is certainly ample evidence that the Task Force has worked hard to achieve this paradigm shift.
The presentation of the BRTFSSG at the District Conventions, as well as the poll that was taken, were carefully controlled to generate support for their changes by pointing out the “positives,” while never once examining the down side – a perfect example of poor stewardship. As Pastor Charlie Henrickson made clear in his post on the Missouri District Convention, in the BRTFSSG presentation given by President Kieschnick’s Executive Assistant, Rev. John Braunersreuther, “he kept emphasizing what he called the ‘congregational bias’ of the Task Force. However, it seemed like a case of ‘he doth protest too much,’ in other words, that Braunersreuther knew what the objections would be and that if he just said ‘congregational bias’ often enough, people would believe it. It did not work. Most all the comments from the floor were against the restructuring plan.”
The Task Force report itself has all the markings of an engineered paradigm shift, complete with the classic steps of 1) creating dissatisfaction with the current structure, 2) creating a sense of urgency, and 3) offering an enticing new alternative (that you could reject only if you don’t care about the “mission and vision of the church”). All of these steps can be seen in the following representative quotes from the report:
- Creating dissatisfaction: May no longer be ideal; broken; the Synod… now struggles to serve; lost some degree of connectedness; too few… circuits are functioning; often unable to provide; unequal representation; lack of consistency; confusion; this disparity in size creates inequality; unclear lines of accountability; this problem; poor stewardship of human and fiscal resources; currently complex and inefficient system; we still have significant confusion and disagreement; foster division; lack of understanding or agreement; the problem is exacerbated by; taken their toll; inefficient and expensive; the current framework of structure and governance lacks accountability; begs for improvement; no longer adequate and practical; confusing; further complicated; it is a disgrace to our faith.
- Creating a sense of urgency: These issues concern me deeply; there is a great need for a thorough and fundamental review of what our Synod is, how it is organized, and how it functions; the current global economic crisis and financial strains at every level of the church have escalated the need to evaluate just how much and what kind of structure is really needed; indicated a strong need to improve support; the Synod must restore the effectiveness of its circuits; must be modified in order to respond more quickly and cost-effectively; the time is now; the need for change; losing members; it is time to find new ways… in addressing the increasing challenges; declining membership; it is imperative; the national structure could no longer be fiscally supported; move forward with structure and governance now; it is time to grow this church.
- Enticing: Abandon those areas of programming that have run their course; work cooperatively and collaboratively; seeks to broaden and amplify the participation, voice, and support of the congregations; more equitably equipped; restore the effectiveness of its circuits; will be a big asset; the importance of stronger relationships; the significant benefits include; operations are streamlined; we are all in this together; bold new initiative; ownership of the collective mission; equitable representation; will have as a reward.
The irony in all of this is that while the power of persuasion of the congregations will be diminished if the Task Force recommendations are put into practice, the power of persuasion of the Synod President is in full swing as he travels the country, using his bully pulpit in the upcoming regional gatherings to further the Task Force agenda and close the deal on this paradigm shift. The cost of all of this additional campaigning, will of course be passed on to you, first through a district levy, and then via the trickle-down effect through a congregational assessment. Welcome to the “congregational bias.”
photo credits: rskura