Thursday, December 2, 2021

The cost of change. . .

It is soon that time of year when the sitting Synod President will decide whether or not to go for one more term.  Whether you adore him or despise him, such a decision is significant in the life of our church for many reasons.  It is not just about the man who seeks to lead the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod but also about those who are led.  This is not about this year or the man who must decide but the process and the impact of that process upon us as a church body.

With each succeeding change in leadership, there is a cost to be borne.  This cost is the distraction from the things of God to the politics of cementing new leadership from the top down.  For a while the only thing we are concerned about are roles and choices -- who serves where.  This cost is magnified in that we have so few pastors working in national offices.  The cost of change extracts a great deal from those who serve us in Christ's name and, because there are fewer of them, we put an even greater burden on their service and their leadership.  I worry about things like that -- knowing the faithful few who work in the International Center doing a great deal while consuming as few of the precious monetary resources we give them.

The cost that is paid by those who are already stretched thin in their work in the nation and in the world is similar to the cost that is paid by those in pews.  We do not have a visible or deep back bench.  We live at a time in which there are fewer and fewer national leaders in our church body -- perhaps in any church body.  Some of that may be due to cultural changes that affect the whole fabric of our society -- including church.  Some of it is due to the fact that we have fewer opportunities to develop nationally known leaders from whom the church can call her leaders.  The fragmentation of our political landscape is similar to the divisions we have experienced in our churches.  We have more leaders identified with ideology than we do leaders with the stature to bring together and heal the divisions among us.  While this is also true of our nation, it is no less true of our church body.

Because of the way the process is now structured, everything happens long before the delegates sit down at the national convention to address the rest of the elected leaders and to chart the course before us for another three years.  While I once thought this was a good thing, I am no longer so sure.  Without the clear and visible places for the church to look and listen to those who would vie for leadership positions, we lack the ability to raise up a leader from almost nowhere -- the way a convention could once be swayed by eloquent oratory or passionate speech.  

I wish I had a solution.  I do not.  I have only the lingering suspicion that until we figure this thing out, our leaders will continue to struggle to bring together the diverse positions and people that make up our church.  I fear that without people of stature to address those on the very edges, there will not be people who have the authority and gravitas to tell the extremes enough already.  We are fractured enough and already comfortable in our divisions, who and what has the ability to unite us in a strong doctrinal confession, a common liturgical expression, and a formidable force to share the Gospel.  While some may not care, I am convinced that national structures and leaders are not extraneous to our success but profound helps in the task of remembering who we are and why we exist as a church.

Yes, we have good leaders.  Many of them.  But few of them are well known outside a district or region or caucus.  We do need to work to figure this out or the backbiting, division, self-interest, and loss of momentum will prevail and the work of the Kingdom will suffer.  I will say one thing.  Now more than even we need someone who can preach Christ and rally us through the proclamation of the Word to the cause of Christ -- much more than we need an administrator to dot all the i's and cross all the t's.  A program is not what we need or lack but solid, reliable, faithful, and visible leaders across the span of our church body are needed.


Carl Vehse said...

"With each succeeding change in leadership, there is a cost to be borne."

There is also cost to be borne in not having a change in leadership. For a synod to continue to have a congregational (rather than episcopal) structure, district and synodical conventions should not become rubberstamps, and synod leadership should not be considered as a tenured position.

Paulus said...

National structures and leaders are certainly important in remembering who we are and why we exist as a church. This must find its way to the local level in order that our congregations might be united in strong doctrinal confession and common liturgical expression. I suspect that the average parishioner has little or no knowledge of the outcomes of
national synod conventions. Many could not tell you the name of the Synod President.