The Constitution and By-laws of the Synod describe a very important working relationship between the Synod President and District Presidents. Sadly, during the past eight years, President Harrison broke that relationship.
It’s time for a change in Synodical leadership.
Our LCMS Bylaws create a relationship between the Synod President Harrison and District Presidents (DPs) somewhat akin to that of our United States President and the Senators.
President Harrison is bylaw-bound to “advise and counsel” the DPs. Conversely, the DPs are bylaw-bound to advise and counsel President Harrison.
President Harrison’s relationship with our elected DPs is one–way. The mutual “advise and counsel” doesn’t happen now because President Harrison does not allow it to happen.
Council of Presidents: A LCMS Strength
A strength of our Synod, prior to President Harrison, was a good relationship between the National Office and each District. The Council of Presidents (COP) is designed to strengthen our work together. The Bylaws state:
“The Council of Presidents shall provide opportunity for the President of the Synod to advise and counsel his representatives in the regions and districts and for the regional vice-presidents and district presidents in turn to give counsel to the President. The Council of Presidents also exists to provide opportunity for the presidents of the districts and the Praesidium of the Synod to counsel with one another on matters regarding the doctrine and administration of the Synod, its regions and its districts, and to edify and support one another in the work they share.” (Bylaw 188.8.131.52, Page 144 in the 2016 Edition of the LCMS Handbook)
Harrison Ignores the COP
Under President Harrison’s leadership, the relationship between the Synod President and the District Presidents has broken.
President Harrison has communicated both formally and informally that he does not need, nor perhaps does not want, the counsel of the District Presidents.
Here are just two of many dramatic examples:
1. Convention Floor Committees
The Synod President has the responsibility to appoint the members of the Convention Floor Committees.
Because the District Presidents have the best understanding of their local district delegates, in past administrations DPs would give recommendations of possible committee members to the Synod President.
For the three Synod conventions for which President Harrison has had responsibility (2013, 2016, and 2019), Harrison made it clear to the District Presidents that Harrison and his staff were more than capable of making committee appointments without any assistance from the District Presidents.
Again, these important decisions were made in St. Louis — far away from those who are closer to the delegates. Who knows our congregations and church workers and lay leaders better: St. Louis or the locally-elected District Presidents?
2. Ecclesiastical Supervision
Synod bylaws give responsibility for ecclesiastical supervision of called church workers in the District to the District President.Prior to the 2016 convention President Harrison determined that he wanted the final say in cases when a District President does not remove a worker from the roster as quickly or in a way Harrison desires.
In February 2016, Harrison appointed a task force to review ecclesiastical supervision and propose a means to give him his desired final authority.
There were no District Presidents included in this task force nor were the District Presidents even consulted by the task force.
The first knowledge by the church and the District Presidents of this task force became public when the convention workbook was published!
Discord and Disunity
Harrison’s short-sighted and autocratic decision to try to centralize ecclesiastical supervision in Synod brought discord and disunity into our Synod. You can read more about this – and the opposition of the District Presidents to Harrison’s power grab – in the following Congregations Matter articles from the past year:
- Ecclesiastical Supervision: What’s the Big Deal?
- COP Chair Challenges Ecclesiastical Supervision Decision
- PSW President Opposes Ecclesiastical Supervision Change
- District President Denniger Also Opposes Dangerous Bylaw Change
Bylaw-Bound Partnership Design Broken By Harrison
District Presidents are elected by the congregations and workers they serve and know them best. District Presidents, not the President of Synod, are given the responsibility in Synod’s Constitution and Bylaws of representing Synod to their districts AND their districts to the Synod.
So why does President Harrison ignore our local elected leaders? These District Presidents are faithful men. When our District Presidents are installed, they commit faithfulness to the Scriptures, our Confessions and the Constitution and Resolutions of the Synod.
A Great Loss for Our Synod
The tragedy for the church is the loss of their counsel and leadership by President Harrison. While District Presidents continue to serve their districts faithfully, the ignoring of their counsel by President Harrison is a great loss for the LCMS.
This has to change. We need new leadership at Synod from top-to-bottom. It’s time for your congregation to nominate leaders who will build relationships in Synod, not break them. We need leaders like David Maier who was elected by his peers to lead the Council of Presidents and a proven leader like Tim Klinkenberg, known for his Facebook blog “LCMS Encouraged and Encouraging” and his active support of fellow pastors and leaders in our Synod.
In addition, Congregations Matter proposed a list of other qualified candidates for your congregation to consider. As you are making your choice, consider which candidates will:
- Support congregations in their work of ministry for the sake of Christ Jesus and the salvation of souls for His Kingdom.
- Lead transparently and build relationships and consensus in our Synod.
- Restore our Synod to its historic roles of strengthening and supporting congregations as our LCMS Constitution so plainly describes in Articles III and VII.
- Create a vision of hope for the future of our Synod.
And when our delegates get to Tampa in 2019, let’s elect a Synod Secretary and other men and women to serve on boards and commissions who will restore our Synod to its historic roles instead of concentrating all authority, direction, and control in St. Louis.
Congregations — and decentralized leadership that builds consensus — matter.
Pastor Larry Stoterau is the immediate former District President of the Pacific Southwest District and the former Chairman of the Council of Presidents.