Great Stuff — The Purpose of the District

Found on Scott Diekmann’s blog, Stand Firm:


This post is written by my friend Joe Strieter, who is on the Ohio District Board of Directors. He provides a nice summary of what our Districts are to do. This paper was delivered at the Ohio District Board’s orientation for new (and old) Board members.


The recent controversy in the Minnesota South District (MNS) has had an unexpected side effect.  People are starting to ask, “What is a district all about?”  The suspicion voiced by some bloggers toward MNS District President Rev. Lane Seitz, and the MNS Board of Directors is palpable, and disturbing.  The question hangs in the air, unanswered: “What is the purpose of our Districts?”  The hostility and indifference towards that entity known simply as “the district” remain:

“Who needs them?”
“What has the district ever done for me?”
“If I ever need the district, I’ll let them know.”

Those questions and comments were not dreamed up—as a member of the Ohio District Board of Directors I’ve heard all of them and a few more.  Such comments give us pause—they cause us to question ourselves, and what we as a district are about.  A friend asked me to write a paper on the purpose of districts, which he intended to post on his blog.  I submit it today for your consideration.  It is necessarily brief, and undoubtedly will serve to raise many more questions.  It is my hope that is will also foster further discussion.

During the discussions on forming a synod, C.F.W. Walther expressed the opinion “That the chief function of the Synod shall be directed toward the maintenance and furtherance and guarding of the unity and purity of Lutheran doctrine.”1  Not surprisingly, the Synod’s first Constitution of 1847 reflects that view:

“ARTICLE I. Reasons for forming a synodical organization.

  1. The example of the apostolic Church. (Acts 15:1-31.)
  2. The preservation and furthering of the unity of pure
    confession (Eph. 4:3-6; 1 Cor. 1:10) and to provide common
    defense against separatism and sectarianism. (Rom. 16:17).


ARTICLE IV. Business of Synod

  1. To stand guard over the purity and unity of doctrine within
    the synodical circle, and to oppose false doctrine.
  2. Supervision over the performance of the official duties on
    the part of the pastors and teachers of Synod.”2

To this end, the President was to visit every congregation at least once during each triennium, and report his findings to the Synod’s convention.

 “Why was this doctrinal unity, this unity in the Word, so important to the founders of the Missouri Synod? It was precisely because of the churchly character of the synod. We know that the marks of the church are the Word and the sacraments. According to the Lutheran Confessions, the Word of God and the sacraments are the marks of the Church because they are the only means by which the Holy Spirit creates and sustains faith.  Synod’s commitment to maintaining the right preaching of the gospel and the correct administration of the sacraments arises, therefore, out of a concern for the salvation of those for whom the means of grace are intended. For false doctrine dishonors God’s name and endangers salvation by leading people away from God’s grace in Christ.   Our Lord Himself said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free’” (John 8:31-32).3

LCMS Historian August Suelflow gives us some background:

“In the Synod’s earliest years there were no districts. Some strongly opposed the idea when it first came up. They feared “splintering” the Synod.  However, the rapid growth of the Synod made it impossible for the President to make the required visitations.  Friedrich Wyneken gave two eloquent addresses dealing with the issue of division into districts, which you can find in “At Home in the House of My Fathers.”  Finally, between 1852 and 1854 the Synod decided to create four regional districts into which its member congregations would be divided. (By 1854, the baptized membership of all these congregations was 10,551.) The Synod acted with these understandings:

• Theological unity throughout the Synod would be preserved by the general president continuing to visit each parish (a provision that lasted until 1864). The 1854 Constitution made the president the greatest coordinating factor in the church body, assigning him total supervision of all synodical work, within constitutional limitations, and supervision of all district and synodical officials.

• The district presidents were to assist the synodical president. They were given basically the rights and duties originally given the general president, including status as CAO of the district and the duty to ordain, install, and suspend.
“The 1854 Constitution set out Synod/District functions and duties, reserving to Synod, among other things:

• General supervision of doctrine and its application in each district, with assistance from the District Presidents, in other words, visitation.

“Districts were to administer their own affairs. The 1854 Constitution said each could adopt bylaws necessary for its own conditions. But the synodical constitution was to be the constitution of each district. District bylaws could not conflict with it.

“Finally in 1866, visitation circuits were established to lessen the duties of district presidents. Circuits were created at the discretion of the districts, and so the office of Circuit Visitor was established—today we use the term circuit counselor.

“Between 1854 and 1874, there was an explosion of districts. Thirty were created or redefined, over one a year on average!  It’s interesting to review some reasons for district division given during these years:

• Too many pastors and congregations in one district already
• District too big to conduct effective conventions.
• Serve the Kingdom better
• Make “Synod” more personal to congregations and people
• Give more opportunity for involvement in synodical-district matters
• Districts wanted to give more attention to their peculiar problems.”4

Suelflow notes that by the mid-twentieth century, one of the primary functions of the district was to bring the synodical program on a personal basis to the district constituency.  At the same time, he also notes that growth of districts had increased the distance between congregations and districts, something with which our Board of Directors has been dealing for several years.

What about today?  As we know, the Synod’s Constitution is the Ohio District’s Constitution, and so the objectives of Synod which we reviewed earlier today are our objectives—all of them.  I’d like to speak to just a few of them:

The Unity of the true faith remains the districts’ first priority.  To this end, our Board of Directors has established a “Board-Designated Visitation Account” to assist congregations with the expenses of visitation.5   In response to this resolution, President Terry Cripe has given his whole-hearted support.  The circuit counselors are held accountable to visit all our congregations during this triennium, while the members of the presidium are to visit the circuit counselors’ parishes.  President Cripe will personally visit the vice-presidents’ congregations.

As noted above, this priority serves the second objective: to strengthen congregations and their members in giving bold witness by word and deed to the love and work of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, or as Friedrich Wyneken put it, “The purpose of this unity, to the glory of God and for the salvation of the neighbor, was to bring in even more people through the knowledge of the truth, as the Lord commands us to do, and the Spirit of God who dwells within us accomplishes it.  All the ordinances and regulations that the Synod had established when it was founded were put in place to that end.”6

I’d like to call your attention to Objective No. 9—“Provide protection for congregations, pastors, teachers, and other church workers in the performance of their duties and maintenance of their rights.”7   As the Board of Directors operates largely in the Kingdom of the Left Hand, we can expect challenges in this area of our governance.  The recent Health-Care mandate and the escalating assault upon the Church by the culture will undoubtedly confront the Board in the near future.

And No. 10—Aid in providing for the welfare of our professional church workers.  The recession and the current economic climate will certainly bring challenges to the Board in this area, also.

The Board has established its mega-ends policy, which we believe reflects the objectives of Synod and the District.  In the future, we will be reviewing those ends to see if indeed they are congruent with our objectives, and we will change and fine tune them if needs be.  I encourage all of us to review these ends in the light of our objectives, Scripture, and the Lutheran Confessions.

If I were to summarize the purpose of the District, I’d put it this way:

The Missouri Synod—and all its Districts—exist to enable its members—pastors and congregations—to be the Church—nothing more, but nothing less—that place where the Gospel is preached and the Sacraments rightly administered, to the eternal welfare of all people and the glory of God.

I’d like to close with a quote from Henry Hamann’s “On Being a Christian”:

“As the Lutheran Church that is true to its confession carries out its task, it sees itself…in continuity with the apostolic church in its original doctrinal purity.  And it carries out its task in view of the last judgment, knowing that however weak and sinful it is in itself and its members, the Gospel it has preached will be acknowledged as the truth by the all-powerful Judge Himself.”8

Soli Deo Gloria!

Joe Strieter
September 6, 2012



  1. Meyer, Moving Frontiers, Concordia Heritage Series, CPH, St. Louis, 1964. 143
  2. W. G. Polack, ed., “Our First Synodical Constitution,” CHIQ 16(1943): 5
  3. Cameron A. Mackenzie, C.F.W. Walther and the Missouri Synod Today, Wyoming District Pastors’ Conference, 43
  4. Suelflow, August, The District-Synod Relations of the LCMS in Historical Perspective (Summary by Ken Schurb from CHI archives copy of full report), selected excerpts
  5. See Board of Directors Resolution “To Establish Board-Designated Visitation Account,” March 23, 2012
  6. Harrison, Matthew, At Home in the House of My Fathers ,St. Louis 2009, CPH, pp. 371, 372 : “Friederich Wyneken, Can We Divide and Remain United, 1853 Synodical Address, translated by Elmer Hohle”
  7. 2010 Synod Handbook, Objectives of Synod, 13
  8. Hamann, Henry, On Being a Christian, Milwaukee, Northwestern Publishing House 1996, p. 122


Hamann, Henry, On Being a Christian, Milwaukee, Northwestern Publishing House 1996

Harrison, Matthew, At Home in the House of My Fathers, St. Louis; 2009, CPH,:  “Friederich Wyneken, Can We Divide and Remain United, 1853 Synodical Address, translated by Elmer Hohle”

LCMS Constitution, 2010 Handbook

Mackenzie, Cameron A., C.F.W. Walther and the Missouri Synod Today, Wyoming District Pastors’ Conference, 1997

Meyer, Moving Frontiers, Concordia Heritage Series, CPH, St. Louis, 1964.

Polack, W. G., ed., Our First Synodical Constitution, CHIQ 16(1943)

Suelflow, August,  The District-Synod Relations of the LCMS in Historical Perspective (A Report to the Synodical Survey Commission, 1960-1961 for the Task Force on National/District Synod Relations) Summary prepared by Dr. Ken Schurb (from CHI archive copy of full Report)

About Norm Fisher

Norm was raised in the UCC in Connecticut, and like many fell away from the church after high school. With this background he saw it primarily as a service organization. On the miracle of his first child he came back to the church. On moving to Texas a few years later he found a home in Lutheranism when he was invited to a confessional church a half-hour away by our new neighbors.

He is one of those people who found a like mind in computers while in Middle School and has been programming ever since. He's responsible for many websites, including the Book of Concord,, and several other sites.

He has served the church in various positions, including financial secretary, sunday school teacher, elder, PTF board member, and choir member.

Norm has been involved behind the scenes in many of the "go-to" websites for Lutherans going back many years.


Great Stuff — The Purpose of the District — 12 Comments

  1. There is nothing to stop the Ohio district (or any other LCMS district) from engaging in the same kind of behavior as MNS.

    LCMS districts need to be restructured and reformed. If restructuring is good enough for Synod, then it is good enough for the districts.

    This has been discussed before:

  2. As an executive member of my church council concerned with our dramatic decline in membership, I could not secure even a short teleconference with someone at the district level to get some advice. It seems they had no framework for responding to a motivated lay leader who called discreetly for help.

    If membership numbers are reported by congregations, perhaps a district policy could establish that, say, a decline of X% over Y years would trigger a supportive visit to the struggling congregation.

  3. some districts are not following the oath and it is sad for churches and faithful servants and become obstacles for TRUTH

  4. Regarding Objectives 9 and 10:

    When I was in the Ohio District and being forced out of my congregation, I don’t remember once hearing from the Board of Directors about my protection, rights or welfare. I pray that this has changed in recent years.

  5. On September 29, 2011, Rev Scott T Porath of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Eagle, Nebraska gave a presentation on “The Unbiblical Removal of Pastors.” He has served as District Reconciler and currently serves as 3rd Vice president of the Nebraska District. His paper will open many eyes to the naughty behavior that is happening in the LCMS. His paper is frank and fair and you can read it here:
    Sadly, Objectives 9 and 10 do not seem to be a high priority among many districts…

    In Christ, Clint

  6. Visitation? October 2010 the then second vice-president of the district met with a handful of members from the congregation I had served for eleven years at their home. This meeting occurred without my knowledge. When I asked the second vice-president the “statement of matter” he remarked there was “nothing of substance”. Why had he not contacted me first? Answer: “The district president asked him to meet with this small group since the district president was going to be out of town.” I discussed this with my circuit counselor and with the brethren at our November 2010 winkel. The circuit counselor requested the district president to visit our circuit to discuss the protocol of “investigating a pastor’s ministry”. The district president from December 2010 to June 2011 never met with our circuit after repeated requests.
    Thus, in June 2012 the LCMS MNS Convention passed the following resolution, “To Recommit Ourselves to the Scriptural Rationale for Ecclesiastical Discipline” which included “that all congregations, pastors, and officials of the District acknowledge that the Scriptural process for ecclesiastical discipline is honest, face to face, collaborative, and openly inclusive of all involved parties.”

  7. @Rev. Clint K. Poppe #5
    His paper will open many eyes to the naughty behavior that is happening in the LCMS.


    “Naughty” is a 4 year old who climbs on the kitchen counter to get into the cookie jar.
    “Naughty” is a house dog, who gets mad at you and chews up something.

    What’s been going on in Missouri for at least a decade is not “naughty”; it’s criminal.

  8. @Rev. Clint K. Poppe #8
    @helen #7
    Webster’s Dictionary: hyperbole-exergeration for effect, not meant to be taken literally.

    Understatement: [which I think you meant?]
    A figure of speech in which a writer or speaker deliberately makes a situation seem less important or serious than it is. Contrast with hyperbole.

    “A soiled baby, with a neglected nose, cannot be conscientiously regarded as a thing of beauty.”
    (Mark Twain)

    “Last week I saw a woman flayed, and you will hardly believe how much it altered her person for the worse.”
    (Jonathan Swift, A Tale of a Tub, 1704)

    I have seen some men flayed mentally, and it was too painful to brush aside with your
    minimizing adjective! I hope it never happens to you! They are good men and didn’t see it coming either!

  9. Helen,

    Please read the paper at the link I provided earlier. I have been very involved with supporting pastors and their families who have been abused for being faithful. I was in no way trying to minimize their plight and the plight of many faithful pastors in the LCMS. I’m sorry for offending you by my comment, which was intended not as an understatement but as hyperbole.

    Remember, when a child is “naughty,” a loving parent diciplines them; where is the discipline for the often shameful treatment of pastors who are deposed without cause? With proper discipline, “naughty” behavior is often slowed or even stopped…

    In Christ, Clint

  10. @Rev. Clint K. Poppe #10
    I have been very involved with supporting pastors and their families who have been abused for being faithful.

    That has been my impression of you, which is why I reacted strongly to your choice of words.

    Someone who is not aware might think the problems are only of the “time out” variety, when I tend to agree with Carl Vehse that some “leaders” need to be “taken to the woodshed” and then relieved of office.

    That there is a need for church discipline, from the “Fuller DP” to the errant congregation, is a thing we fully agree on!

  11. It’s pretty obvious that there remains a great deal of residual mistrust toward district officials, boards, and staffs. I had hoped that this little paper would promote discussion on how best to encourage districts to fulfill their ultimate purpose—to build up the Church. I also expected that there might be some disagreement about what districts ought to be about. Perhaps nobody disagrees with the thesis of this paper—that is a “first” for me. But permit a few comments.

    First, to Pastor Kornacki (#4 above). Your experience in the Ohio District is tragic and unfortunate. However, I don’t think it’s particularly remarkable that you didn’t hear from a director or the board. It is not the function of the board to be directly involved in such matters, and it’s possible that the board would not have heard about that particular situation until it had been resolved. The Board of Directors operates largely in the Left-hand Kingdom, in service to the Kingdom of the Right Hand. It certainly would not be directly involved in ecclesiastical supervision. However, it is certainly the Board’s duty to hold the DP accountable to carry out the functions of his office (Synod Handbook, pp. 192-195), including matters of ecclesiastical supervision, and disputes. So, you certainly had the privilege and right to contact the Directors from your region and bring your situation to their attention, asking for whatever assistance they could render. At the very least, the Directors should then contact the circuit counselor, and even the regional VP. And they can continue to follow up, even contacting the DP if necessary, without interfering. It’s a tightrope-walk, but can be done. I speak from personal experiences. I hope that all who read this thread will keep this in mind.

    Second as to visitation. I have heard that there is no small amount of fear and apprehension that the visitation process will “drive a wedge” between the circuit counselor and the pastors. As Pastor Porath correctly observes (see link in post # 5 above), a proper administration of visitation should mitigate against this. Again, the mistrust and suspicion is palpable, disturbing, and frankly disheartening. I pray that, as visitation is restored to its proper function, the “unity of the true faith” (Handbook, p. 13) is also restored, renewed, and invigorated.

    Finally, as to the work of the Board of Directors. The Board is the both the servant and the guardian of the Church, indeed the Gospel. Directors cannot be “rubber stamps” and must be proactive, fiercely independent, jealous of their high calling. The Board needs to hold the DP accountable to his duty and calling: the Church must remain the Church—that place where the Gospel is proclaimed and the sacraments correctly administered—this is the Board’s ultimate responsibility. Operating largely in the Kingdom of the Left Hand, the Board of Directors supports its pastors, its congregations, its district leadership, even the synod—always in service to the Gospel.


    Joe Strieter

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