But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”Matthew 20
For nearly a century – through the greatest period of growth and unity our synod experienced – all pastors served congregations. The pressure was immense. But God blessed their efforts. At some point, the synod decided to follow a more worldly model: workers would work, managers would manage. And so District Presidents were taken out of congregations; synod officials are often forbidden from serving in congregations. This new system allowed for the rise of “experts”. We had experts in education that no longer educated, experts in youth work that didn’t work with youth, experts in church planting that didn’t plant churches, etc.
The church is congregations, not office buildings. The church is sheep who hear the voice of their shepherd. She gathers to hear the Word of God and receive the Blessed Sacraments of salvation. The only way to regain a congregational focus is to require all synod workers to serve in a congregation.
Pastors must pastor.
It’s a very simple principle. Getting there won’t be simple or easy. For almost a century we’ve added duties to various officials. District Presidents spend over a month each year outside their own district working on synod matters. But what are those matters? What do they do? I’ve seen reports of these meetings, and their job is mostly trying to avoid legal liability. This has made the focus of their office the law of the land, rather than the Gospel of our Lord. It changes their perspective. Pastors aren’t shepherds to be encouraged; they are potential problems to be managed. This must end. I am not speaking of incremental change, i.e. having fewer meetings or adding bible studies.
There will be a two year deadline. At the end of it all active pastors who wish to remain on the roster must return to parish ministry: This can not be a “status call” i.e. a District President preaches every other month. It must be active ministry, preaching at least 50% of the time, teaching classes to catechumens, visiting the sick and dying, not as opportunity allows, but as the congregation has need of them.
How will this work, with all the other duties that District Presidents currently have? It may mean drastic reduction in the size of some districts. It will mean increasing reliance on district Vice Presidents and Circuit Visitors. (I’ve met those men. They are good men. They can be given greater responsibility than they now have. The Circuit Visitor manual is basically 200 pages of “ask your district president.” CV’s must be given authority to act.) At the synod level, meetings will be reduced, redirected, and rethought. COP meetings will return to just once or twice a year. Chairmen of convention floor committees would be the most qualified person – not always a District President or other honorific. There was a time when the only bylaw-mandated duty for District Presidents was placement of candidates. The church was better for it. Where would the church be without all of the committee meetings? It’s time to find out.
Concrete Proposal :
Return pastors to Congregations.
A) Rostered members of synod :
All rostered members of the synod, except as noted below, must serve in a congregation at least 51% of the time. In recognition of this, they will also receive at least 51% of their salary from that congregation. To insure that the congregation, and not the district, is supplying the salary, the congregation may not be subsidized by the district. The district may make limited arrangements to pay for additional staffing (vicar, secretarial work, etc.) to make up for the time that the pastor is away from the congregation.
Those who are currently serving out side of congregations will have 24 months to either accept a call to a congregation, or have their membership in synod (and therefore any synod offices they hold) suspended. This will not apply to those who are candidates when this proposal is passed.
The only exceptions to this will be :
- Full time, in the field, deployed missionaries;
- Faculty at one of the synod’s high schools (including association or RSO high schools), colleges, universities, or seminaries;
- Anyone who is on disability, or who has emeritus status;
- A person serving full time at an RSO or LCMS auxiliary. But service at one of these institutions is not of itself sufficient to fulfill the requirement for congregational service for district or synod officials. (i.e. District President can’t serve as President and CEO of a local RSO. President’s must serve in congregations!)
B) District Presidents :
The only collective duty of the Districts Presidents as a whole is placing candidates into their first call.
No District President will have any authority or powers over any member of the synod outside of the district in which they serve, except in the case of certification and placement of candidates into their first call.
The primary duty of the District Presidents will be the visitation (personally, or by proxy) of each congregation in the district every three years. They will be required to report to the President of the Synod their completion of this task. District Presidents who fail to do this in one triennium will be admonished. If they fail to do this in a second triennium, they will be ineligible for reelection to office.
Circuit Visitors will act in conjunction with the District President in carrying out visitation. Circuit visitors who do not visit on behalf of the District President at his request will be ineligible for reelection to office.
A committee will be formed, including representation from: Pastors, District Presidents, Circuit Visitors, Synod Vice Presidents, to propose specific bylaw changes to re-order the duties of the district and synod officials.