The overwhelming number of nominations received by the Rev. Matthew Harrison for Synodical President in comparison to President Kieschnick’s showing can be read as a vote of no confidence from LCMS Congregations. It indicates unrest not just with President Kieschnick’s weak management of synodical resources (e.g. millions being spent on consultants while ordained ministers are brought home from the mission field) but also with his plans to radically restructure the Synod.
We’ve already seen how Districts have sent in a surprising number of overtures to the 2010 convention asking that the restructuring be delayed, halted or significantly amended. One Synod insider noted that it’s not just important that so many Districts sent in overtures against the Blue Ribbon Task Force but that these Districts represent a huge chunk of the membership of Synod. Yet, congregations and district presidents are not the only ones who questioned Kieschnick & Co.’s plan to consolidate $50 or $60 million dollars of the Synod’s budget under the president’s office. So did the very consultants Kieschnick hired to assist him in selling the BRTFSSG to the Synod. In a “Confidential Final Report on the President’s Blue Task Force on Synod Structure and Governance,” dated June 2008, the President’s own consultants noted that a number of the proposals would be a hard sell to pastors and congregations of the Synod. Despite President Kieschnick’s claim that the BRTFSSG was an independent entity, the consultant’s report makes it clear that it was Kieschnick and his staff’s task force all along.
In July 2007, the BRTFSSG hired Bredholt & Co. and Epley Research & Consulting (Epley) to assist with understanding the LCMS’ “perceptions of the need for change – particularly in the areas of organizational development and process improvement.” (pg.3 ) Note that the consultants were hired right after the 2007 convention. From an invoice recently obtained, the originally agreed upon costs to assist with the understanding of the LCMS’ “perceptions of the need for change” was $500,000. Paying any consultant $500,000 to study “perceptions about the need for change” is excessive (particularly when it was done for much less money by the simple nomination process!).
Page 7 of the “confidential” report notes that the interviews of pastors and lay-leaders “is directional in nature-not statistically projectable.” This means that, just like the surveys handed out at the district and regional gatherings, the interviews do not necessarily represent the views of LCMS congregations. Despite this flaw in a $500,000 consultant report, what the consultant found is very telling.
It won’t surprise you, likely that the consultant found (Chapter 1) that the three most powerful unifying forces in the LCMS are (1) Focus on Mission, (2) Confessional Theology, and (3) Confessional Identity. All three of these have been at the core of the LCMS since her founding in 1848. In fact, these three unifying forces are the very reason that the Synod’s Constitution states as reasons for the existence of the Synod – mission, theological education, and publishing. The Synod was founded to promote real, genuine Lutheran mission that is based on Lutheran theology and has a clear Lutheran identity. Considering this, it is not surprising that the Ablaze program has been so ineffective in most Districts and congregations throughout Synod. Once again, it was a top down, consultant driven project that did not grow organically from the Synod’s core values. (I’ll have more on that later. Apparently the consultants Synodical leadership hired at great expense to develop the Ablaze! program (at no small cost to us) are in no way Lutheran and, in fact, better known for their work in helping out Willow Creek. Not that this is terribly surprising considering how foreign the program seemed to a Lutheran identity.) In light of this, it is no wonder that the consultant’s report noted in pastor profiles that “There is little enthusiasm even for Synod-supported outreach initiatives such as Ablaze!. ‘We haven’t done that and I don’t think any of the churches in town are active in Ablaze!.'” (pg. 13) The consultant noted that this was a “lack of urgency” for mission among many congregations. However, it isn’t so much that congregations have a lack of urgency but rather are not enthused about programs that are not Lutheran and that do not provide direct benefit to congregations.
Regarding the perceived need to change the structure and governance of the LCMS, the consultant’s report noted, “Relatively few in the Synod are of the opinion that change is needed and that an altered structure and governance is the change required. In fact, if there is a consensus view, it would be that there is no real need for change and that structure and governance is not the needed change.” (pg. 18) In fact, considering that people in the Synod do not see a need for change, the consultant noted, “Given that there is no groundswell of a call for change, the Blue Ribbon Task Force’s most critical task is to make clear to LCMS members the need for change.” (pg. 18) As we saw in the preconvention delegate gatherings this past year, President Kieschnick and his team have tried to create a sense of urgency and “need for change” in the structure and governance on the basis of financial reasons. It has been reported that President Kieschnick stated at these regional gatherings that if the recommendations of the BRTFSSG were not implemented there would be severe financial consequences forcing the Synod BoD to take drastic action. President Kieschnick holds this position despite the public statement of Tom Kutcha, the Synod’s Treasurer in last June’s Reporter, “In my opinion, the current recommendations by the BRTFSSG will have an immaterial effect on the financial operations of the Synod.” In other words, according to the Synod’s Treasurer, the recommendations of the BRTFSSG will NOT help the Synod’s finances – hardly showing a compelling reason for change. On page 19, the consultants noted, based on their interviews with people in the Synod, “There is much unanimity in what would justify a change … in the words of the study participants, is ‘reasonable and makes sense.'” What is apparent is that President Kieschnick has expended a lot of energy, time, and money trying to make his proposals seem “reasonable.”
When the consultants interviewed people regarding the essential functions of the Synod, they found near unanimity among everyone surveyed. “Four functions stand out as being viewed by almost all as more essential for the core functions of the LCMS. These include missions, human care, education, and pastoral preparation.” (Pg. 31) In light of this, it is interesting that President Kieschnick and his staff have proposed the elimination of LCMS World Relief and Human Care (recommendation #18 of the BRTFSSG) and have suggested the closing of one seminary. These suggestions seem contrary to the recommendations of President Kieschnick’s own consultants.
President Kieschnick has stated that the program ministry boards need to be eliminated because of waste and overlap. Yet his consultants reported, “There does not appear to be any disorganization or overlap occasioned by the number of distinct boards providing supervisory direction for Synod executives. Even in areas where there is a significant need to work together-notably, missions and human care-there appears to be good working rapport and accommodation in the areas where the two functions meet and carry out similar outreach efforts.” (Pg. 32) Once again, what we have heard as recommendations from President Kieschnick and the BRTFSSG do not seem to agree with that of his consultants.
On page 75, the consultants note, “Many opinion leaders, pastors, and others in the LCMS are of the opinion that the Synod needs to do nothing in terms of changes in structure and governance.” In regards to the current proposal to centralize more authority under the Synodical President, the Consultant notes, “In our judgment, this centralization of function of the International Center seems to have little merit other than the surface appeal of the concept itself. It is also not in keeping with the LCMS aversion to hierarchy.” (pg. 76)
As for some of the other recommendations of the task force the consultant noted, “It is unclear how reducing or increasing the number of districts would have an effect on pastors’ lack of inclination to turn to districts for help and support.” (pg. 77) On page 79, the consultant discusses the idea of giving larger congregations a greater voice or more votes at the Synod convention. The consultant notes, “There is no issue as incendiary or potentially divisive as this. Pastors of small congregations, which constitute–by far-the majority in the LCMS, commonly express the view that the congregation is the basic working unit within the LCMS, and that a small congregation should have as much say as a large congregation in the deliberations of the Synod. To these individuals, the LCMS is fundamentally a group of congregations as opposed to a group of members of congregations … If ever there were what politicians call a “wedge issue” for the LCMS, this is it.”
Again on page 84, the consultant notes, “most people believe there is no need for change in the structure and governance of the LCMS.” In light of this, it is interesting that President Kieschnick is so adamant on changing the structure of the LCMS. Each day, the BRTFSSG looks more and more like Obama’s health care bill – a top down proposal that is force-fed into the mouths of Americans. Regarding this top down approach the consultant noted, “The centralization of power and authority on the office of the president could certainly be viewed as anathema to the history and traditions of the LCMS. Certainly a number of study participants commented on the intrinsic distrust of a centralization of authority within the LCMS. This observation did not surface to any substantial extent among the advisory panel members. However, one advisory panel member believed this model placed too great a concentration of power in the office of the Synod president, and was particularly concerned about the communications function reporting to him. Overall, advisory panel members did not feel this model would gain the support necessary for adoption.” (pg. 88) This is why President Kieschnick and the BRTFSSG members spent so much time saying, “We have a congregational bias.” It is as if by repeating “congregational bias” they could over come what the consultant noted and advised against – the centralization of power and authority.
Ironically, the consultant noted that a “congregational model” was the one that resonated best with congregations. “One advisory panel member characterized it as a “back to the future” model, capturing C.F.W. Walther’s original concept of the Synod, using technology and tools to preserve his intent in the context of the larger church body. Several others echoed similar comments about Walther’s concept of the Synod with respect to this model.” (pg. 90). While President Kieschnick has noted time and again that “It’s not your grandpa’s church,” it seems that most pastors, congregations, and members of the LCMS are “At Home in the House of My Fathers.”
Please note, in this short piece I could only highlight small portions of the report. So here is the entire “confidential” report so you can read it for yourself. One wonders why anything of this nature would be “confidential,” but it is apparent that the consultant identified “red flags” or causes of concern regarding the Synod’s acceptance of the President’s BRTFSSG. We would encourage the President of Synod and the BRTFSSG members to have a full discussion about this report with the Floor Committees which will be meeting May 21 – 24 in Saint Louis. Perhaps, the floor committees will see the wisdom in eliminating the many questionable areas of the BRTFSSG before the delegates of Synod have to vote on it.