Restructuring While Clearly Confessing Christ to the World Showing Compassion & Caring for all workers
There are several other areas where we have followed worldly models of operations and sought out worldly models of success. There may not be a specific scriptural mandate, but we have drifted from the wisest and most faithful practices. The time has come to evaluate the following and look to reform for leaner, more wise, and more faithful operation.
Government and the Church
The COVID crisis caught us flat footed. There had not been an actual pandemic for nearly a century. The plagues of the past had been forgotten. Little was written about what the church did then because it seemed like we had advanced past all that. It turns out that so little had been written because the church responded to previous plagues by continuing to do what the church always does: Gather to hear the Word and receive the sacrament, and then show love to our neighbor in need.
The only example we had in living memory was the flu pandemic of 1918. At that time, some churches did close – but the closures were brief, localized, and in response to widespread illness in a specific place.
The closures of 2020, in contrast, were widespread in response to localized illness. Having worked for generations with local governments to provide services to the needy, a level of trust was established, and the government bet it all on telling us to close our doors for the common good.
In retrospect, we should not have been so trusting. What we now know is that the infection rate and death toll are both lower than first predicted. The first few weeks – ostensibly to flatten the curve – stretched into months of draconian measures designed to control the uncontrollable at immense cost and with little actual evidence that the measures were necessary or effective.
Having had opportunity to study the scriptures and the history of the church in this, it is now clear that there must be basic principles of conduct going forward:
- The church will continue to minister to her members, and will meet to receive the Word and Sacrament using whatever means are at our disposal to do so. It may mean less than ideal circumstances. But the church must continue to do the thing for which it was called: Preaching the Gospel of forgiveness and bringing the Sacraments of salvation to those who need them. We can not live without “every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” And we will not again “Neglect the assembling of ourselves together.”
- The church needs to comply, as far as she is able, with local mandates – even when those mandates are unjust. But government oversteps her God-given boundaries when she dictates to the church how the Gospel is to be preached or the sacraments administered. Disobedience against such ungodly laws does not violate the 4th commandment.
- Recent rulings of the Supreme Court regarding male and female have made clear that the church and her members will soon “be counted worthy of suffering for the name” of Jesus. We must be prepared, if it does come to pass. It may mean losing our jobs, having our property and even our liberty taken from us. We can not deny Christ Jesus, or the word of truth which he speaks in the Holy Scriptures. We will continue to confess that truth, even as we show love to our neighbor in need as we are able. We must prepare our members for the coming trial (unless our Lord relents in his judgment), and we must be prepared to sacrifice to help those who suffer because of it, “especially those of the household of faith.” This is a need which the synod and her local districts must be ready to address in the coming years: Those who have lost all not because of flood or fire, but because of their confession of the truth. And we must stand with those who suffer unjustly for that, and offer them what support we can as they are tested and proved true.
Conventions and Bylaws of the Synod
At one time the synod met each year. We had twelve congregations. Eventually, the synod met every other year, alternating with district conventions. Now we have a three year cycle. There doesn’t seem to be a reason for it, other than it is one more than 2, and they wanted to increase it a little. It has not changed in 50 years, despite constant proposals to do so. The convention costs thousands of dollars a minute. A four year cycle reduces convention costs to the national synod by 1/3 – and also reduces them at the district level. It gives a longer period of service for officers between conventions, and allows for proper implementation of proposals. Currently, with a three year cycle, there is only 18 months for discussion, implementation and evaluation of any changes before the next round of district conventions gives feedback. This isn’t enough time. We’re always tripping over our own schedules to accomplish anything.
The greater truth is this: We shouldn’t need to review and revise our bylaws every 3 years. If that is necessary, they are too complex and too poorly written. The section on removing someone from the roster of synod is longer than the similar section of canon law for the Roman church – and men get doctorates in canon law. The tail is wagging the dog. Simplified bylaws that give direction and allow flexibility are needed. A complete review of the bylaws and their purpose is needed to operate more nimbly and with more stability.
For too long roster status has been unclear even as to intent. Men who were not serving were oftentimes candidates, even though they were not seeking a position. Others were seeking a position, but were “Aged out” and listed as inactive. It was simplified to three statuses, but this increased the confusion. Now all inactive pastors were listed as candidates, even those who were not seeking a call. Oftentimes, District Presidents will say a candidate member is not really eligible for a call because of various reasons. This tortures language and causes confusion for our member congregations, leaves candidates confused and often creates bitterness and resentment. It also makes it more difficult for candidates to be considered for a position.
There should be four categories of roster status, each clearly indicating the status and intentions of a member:
- Active: working in a congregation.
- Emeritus: Retired from service.
- Inactive: Formerly active members who are not serving a congregation for a time but who plan to return to service at some point.
- Candidate: Members who were actively serving at one time, and wish to return to active service, or members who are newly eligible and are not yet placed.
All four statuses would be without limitation as to time, beyond an annual review for Inactive or Candidate members, to determine whether their status has changed, and whether they still meet the requirements for eligibility.
Inactive will include those who are neither serving nor seeking a call, such as those who are continuing full time education, on disability, or are for some personal reason unable to consider a call at this time. Those who no longer meet the qualifications for ministry (as outlined in 1 Tim 2) are not included in this list.
Candidate members are those who are eligible at any time to receive and consider a call. There is no restriction for service, either explicitly or implicitly for candidate members.
An additional sub-category, “Restricted” is for those who are still on the roster, who for personal reasons do not meet the qualifications listed in 1 Tim 2, but may at some point may meet them again. “Suspended” status will be absorbed into this one. It will be a temporary status, imposed for a maximum of 6 months at a time, and subject to regular review by outside evaluation.
Regarding removal from office, the 1992 system (Dispute resolution) was unable to handle the clear lines which must be drawn between fitness and unfitness for the ministry. The current system, imposed in the wake of Dr. Benke’s unjust acquittal was designed to make removal all but impossible, not lead to either justice nor faithfulness. Reform attempts in the past few years have only made this system more over-built, not more competent. Procedures for removal from the roster will be replaced with one modeled on the pre-1992 adjudication system. The only legitimate complaint against it was that it was costly. A new, less costly version will be developed and implemented following biblical principles.
The cost of health care is strangling our congregations. Pastors have a low-activity level / high stress job. This leads to health problems. The demographics do not help: Many pastors are older (second career pastors are more than 50% of seminary graduate, and have been for decades). This means older, less healthy people buying into the plan. And the loss of two Concordias, with potentially more on the way will only skew this further. With not enough young healthy pastors paying in, the cost of health care will spiral out of control even more than we have already seen. Government regulations have made cutting costs almost impossible. The Plans have modeled their options in the last few years after state exchange plans, making insurance more costly, and providing fewer benefits.
Something that is unsustainable won’t be sustained. Our current health insurance is not sustainable long term.
There may be no good options. This may be unsolvable. But congregations can not keep paying rapidly increasing premiums, and workers can not afford increasingly expensive deductibles and copays. It’s not a problem that is unique to our synod. Health Care consumes an increasing percentage of our nation’s GDP. We can not expect to be the one exception to the economy around us.
But we need to look at options for long-term sustainability. What alternatives do we have, and what would that look like? What would it cost congregations? What benefits or drawbacks would there be for pastors? What about alternative models of health care, instead of offering whole insurance plans: Supplemental insurance in conjunction with state exchange plans, Good Samaritan plans, simplifying plans for coverage, increasing the benefit of healthy living options (exercise, weight loss, etc.) to encourage better use of our funds. This problem is not going to be solved easily. Federal and state regulations have made a thorough mess of things. But we need to do more than simply continue to offer lower-benefit plans that endanger our workers, providing coverage with potentially catastrophic co-pays, while slowly bankrupting congregations.
Prior to 1971, districts of the LCMS were flexible. Boundaries changed often to meet changing needs. Since 1971, no district boundaries have changed significantly. Offices were built, and regions of influence settled in. District structure now mirrors many of the synod offerings. One of the biggest arguments against restructuring districts is real estate investments that prefer the status quo. We need to reevaluate this mindset.
Moving District Presidents back to the parish will, almost of necessity, mean reconfiguring districts so they are smaller. Growth in some areas of the nation mean we have District Presidents “overseeing” 500 congregations, pastors, teachers, etc. If you had a congregation with 500 members, you would likely have a second or even third pastor to help. Districts can cover hundreds of miles – far beyond the ability for one man to provide “Ecclesiastical Supervision”. Circuit visitors can assist. But the bylaws as written place the responsibility on the District President and NO ONE ELSE. That’s too much for anyone to handle. Some districts have gotten significantly smaller over the years. Other church bodies manage to keep their officials in the parish with smaller regions of oversight – likely 50-75 congregations each. It’s time to re-asses our needs: Districts are about visitation. If a District President can not visit the congregations he serves, readjustment is needed. A district structure that is leaner, smaller, and more focused on Lutheran visitation will be implemented.