Thursday, July 15, 2010
An Historic LCMS Convention - My Reaction
I am still in shock!
For six years or so President Kieschnick has been working to overcome what he called the "silos" of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. These are the program boards and commissions such as Communications, Missions, Human Care, etc. I remember first hearing about this at one of the president's strategic planning programs several years ago. I was part of the planning for one of these meetings. I asked what they meant by "silos," and I was told that these boards tend to work on their own and aren't under the control off the president. Some of the boards are also blessed with restricted funds which I guess went into the "silos." I remember saying at one of those meetings that it is still important to keep power balanced in any organization. I also specifically warned that you must not alienate "the loyal opposition."
Then came the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Synodical Structure. This task force was oppointed by President Kieschnick to address this problem. Their solution was to transfer the work of most of these boards to only two boards: one for national missions and one for international missions. My big problem is that all the staff for these boards report to the president. In the past the directors of boards could only be dismissed by their elected boards. Now the president has total control over them. It would be the same as if I had a problem with a staff member (youth director or music director), and I decided not to renew their contract. I wouldn't have to work through the Board of Elders or Church Council. The effect is to make the president much more like a chief executive officer than a pastor.
As the convention began, a motion was made to move the presidential election to the front of the convention. By moving the election to the beginning we would know who who would inherit these tremendous powers. It made perfect sense, and I thought it would surely pass. That motion was voted down, and the restructuring proposals were brought to the floor.
Some of the proposals are good, and I support them. But Resolution 8-08, which created the two boards mentioned above, was the worst. I stood in line for 40 minutes along with 50 or so other pastors and laymen hoping to speak to this resolution. In particular I was interested in knowing how this new structure would affect the relationship between the synodical president and seminary presidents. But the convention was getting frustrated. There were technical difficulties with the microphones which caused some of the delegates to sound like they were drunk. We also wasted a lot of time trying to find anyone who would speak in favor of this motion. (Most of the speakers were against, but the convention alternates between "pro" and "con" speakers to keep the debate balanced.) One of the delegates called the question. Discussion ceased, and to my amazement, the resolution passed - just barely - bringing sweeping changes to the way we conduct ministry at the national and international level. Now the president has total control of all synodical communication, offerings, missions, human care, educational services, youth, etc.
Additional structure changes were brought to the floor, and several of them continued to give the president more power; for example, the power to approve the synodical treasurer and to require the Synod to elect a vice president from a list that he approved. All of these were close votes around 51%.
Three days into the convention we finally prepared to elect the president who would have this unprecedented power. I simply prayed that God's will would be done. I supported Matthew Harrison for president and Herb Mueller for vice-president. But I braced myself for yet another close loss. I took comfort in the fact that God knows far more than I do, and that the person the convention chose, whoever he was, would be His choice. It was in His hands.
Then the election results came in. Matt Harrison was elected on the first ballot by 54%. Herb Mueller was also elected vice-president! Harrison gave a beautiful acceptance message that particularly addressed the pain now felt by the Kieschnick supporters. He said, "When one part of the body hurts, the whole body hurts." I can't imagine the shock being felt by those who were ceding more and more power to the presidency, and then to see that office go to their opponent.
Quo vadis? (Where do we go from here?)
I am very happy for the election of Harrison and Mueller, but I am not at all happy about the structural changes. They must be revisited and revised for the sake of our Synod. Perhaps this was God's way of intervening in the predominant "corporate mentality" that has corrupted a healthy view of spiritual leadership in the church. My prayers go with Matt and Herb. But one of my most intense prayers is that they not be taken in by the temptation to keep this power that they will inherit. Satan, more than anything, wants them to think that they have all the answers for this church body. But they too, must work with the loyal opposition. I pray even more that God would use them to bring this Synod back together through the Word of God in truth and love. Yesterday was an historic day for the LCMS, and I pray that the mistakes that have been made can be corrected. God help us.