Among the many things done by our synod president, I believe nothing has had such good effect on our synod as his decision to accept the call to serve as an assistant pastor of a local congregation. What better way is there to tell congregations that the synod exists to serve them, not the other way around? President Harrison has made it clear to all that he considers the congregation to be “where the action is.” Bringing the Gospel to people is the most important thing we do – not the meetings and discussions and resolutions.
Next year we will meet in convention to once again deal with resolutions. The President has a great influence on the direction of the convention (and by extension the synod) in this, that he alone has authority to appoint floor committees (in consultation with the Vice Presidents, but he can absolutely ignore their advice if he so chooses). The final decision is his. The floor committees bring resolutions to the floor of the convention. Although the final decision to accept or reject lies with the convention, it is almost impossible for the convention to take up business not brought to it by the floor committee. The floor committees decide what business will be conducted.
Once again, President Harrison has an opportunity to send a clear message that the local congregations are the ones who are most specifically about the business of our Lord. For over a hundred years, the floor committees were staffed and chaired by pastors, teachers, and professors. District Presidents served only on Committee 1, Seminaries and Colleges.
At the 1950 convention, the synod adopted a resolution that allowed District Presidents to serve on other floor committees. This is not in itself a bad thing. As was noted at the time, “the traditional concentration of District Presidents on Committee No. 1 at the convention of the synod unnecessarily restricts the general availability of their experience and judgment.” However, when you look at the change in floor committee composition over the years, you see the drastic consequences of this small resolution. By 1956 almost all committees bringing business to the convention floor for action not only had District Presidents as members, but as chairmen. Today, the change is absolute.
No longer are parish pastors or seminary professors appointed to chair convention floor committees. Seminary professors, once widely used to chair floor committees, are no longer even serving on them. There is no rule about this, but it has become the custom. At the 2010 synod convention, Each floor committee was served by District Presidents, Ordained Ministers, Lay-persons, and Advisory Delegates. On no committee were there more people serving in any one category than there were District Presidents on that committee. And each floor committee had a chair and vice chair from among the Council of Presidents. Put another way, no constituency was more heavily represented than the District Presidents, and no one but District Presidents were appointed to be chair and vice-chair of the committees.
There is nothing inherently wrong with appointing District Presidents to serve on floor committees, if they are the most qualified to do so. Often they are, and so it is wise to appoint them to serve where they can offer their experience and judgment. There experience and judgment are why they were elected as District Presidents in the first place. And there is nothing wrong with appointing District Presidents to serve as the chair of a floor committee, as long as they are the most qualified to do so. I would not argue for going back to the old system, where District Presidents were only allowed to serve on one specified floor committee. They may have no special knowledge of the matters to come before that committee, and so have no helpful contribution to add. But by the same token, merely placing every district president on a floor committee as a sign of goodwill, and only appointing District Presidents to chair floor committees is similarly short-sighted. If a particular District President is the most qualified to serve on a committee, then he should serve. If the President of synod believes that this District President is most qualified to serve as chairman, then he should be appointed to that position. But let us suppose that our synod is blessed with many who have unique gifts and experiences, who could do as well or better than the District Presidents a particular floor committee. Suppose (as it used to be) that a college or seminary professor were most qualified to serve as chair of a particular committee (Theology and Church Relations, anyone?) The currently accepted “gentleman’s agreement” is that a District President must serve as chair and another as vice chair. Is it such a radical thought to consider that parish pastors, professors, or lay-delegates might also have the unique knowledge and expertise to serve as chair of a floor committee?
I would love to see the next convention have the most qualified people nominated to floor committees, regardless of the position they serve. If that means that some people who are used to serving by virtue of their position are excluded from the process, then they should graciously admit that “there are different varieties of gift, but the same spirit”, and defer to those who are more qualified. It would send several important messages to the convention, and to the synod at large:
1. The most important thing is not reputation or earthly honor, but getting the job done, using the people to whom God has given the talents and gifts to do so.
2. It’s not about who knows the most about synod political process, it’s about the Gospel.
3. Synod doesn’t exist for the sake of synod administration, but for the congregations (pastors and people) who are actually doing the work of bringing Jesus to people.
4. Custom and precedent is all well and good for keeping the peace, but they must always serve the work of the Gospel, not the other way around. If this is true regarding such precious things as the traditional ceremonies of the church, how much more is it true of honors bestowed on sinful human beings?
I would expect that such a revolutionary appointment process would still yield a large number of District Presidents serving on floor committees. They are men who have long years of service at all levels of the synod, who know the “ins and outs”. As I mentioned, they have earned the respect of the church for their wisdom and judgment. But I suspect that we would also find many pastors and laymen that are also qualified to serve. We might surprise ourselves with our own competence.