On this Labor Day weekend it is appropriate to highlight the early labors of the Harrison team in St. Louis. Their chosen work setting and approach in the LCMS International Center (IC) prior to Harrison taking office last week is quite revealing. Rev. Harrison was elected on July 11, he officially became president on September 1 and the installation takes place a week from today. Prior to taking office he and his team made some choices for their work environment that provide an insight into the nature of what will be his on-going leadership style and also provides hope for healing for some of the divisions in the synod.
Before getting to the description of the work setting for Team Harrison let me offer a few thoughts on healing in the LCMS and the role of the synod president. The synod is advisory and has been primarily established by the congregations to provide efficiency in the sending out of missionaries and the training of church workers. That means that the synod president does not have the authority to directly change what is happening in synod congregations. The authority to lead the administrative structure that is responsible for sending missionaries and training church workers is no small thing but the office does not have some sort of authority to wave its magic wand and change the synod. Beyond administrative leadership in missions and church worker education, there are also other significant ways the president can effect the synod. Here are two more as I see it.
First, the synod president has a pulpit, a “bully pulpit” if you will. I know of no other position in synod with as great of potential for communication persuasion as the office of president. That is not saying a whole lot since many congregations on both the left and the right will do what they want despite the president’s leadership. There are several folks in the middle however who are influenced by the directon set by the president. Secondly, according to the Synod Handbookthe president has doctrinal supervisory authority over all synod staff and district presidents. This is significant and I believe does reach into specific congregations. If a district president refuses to discipline a pastor or congregation for unscriptural doctrine or practice, it behooves the synod president to exercise supervision over that district president which should result in changed behavior in a congregation. So despite the congregational character of our polity, there are means by which the synod president can effect change.
Returning to the main point of this post, the manner in which the president-elect conducted his team suggests how he will conduct his business now that he is the president. Here are some details on how things were carried out in the weeks after the election and before September 1st beginning of the term.
These insights have been gleaned from various sources. First a decision was made to have the team meet in the IC. They could have met outside of the IC but they wanted to be with and around the IC staff. The team simply took over an open conference room in the IC. They also made it a point to keep the shades open to send a message of openess and cooperation with all. There were many indivuduals from the IC professional and support staff who made their way to the makeshift transition office and to great and positive effect. It is also worth noting that there is no great house-cleaning of support staff going on. We have no insights on professional staff but do know that where the Blue Ribbon cuts are not involved, an intentional effort is being made to maintain the status quo in support staff.
These chosen methods of transitional labors by the Harrison Team bode well for future healing of divisions in the synod. We would be fools to think that all divisions can be healed via the limited authority of a president in a denomination with such congregational autonomy. We are not foolish however, in asserting that the already demonstrated method of doing business by the Harrison Team is the best approach possible to bringing about as much healing as possible.
“Lord have mercy on us and grant us your peace.”