ELCA Considers ‘Restructuring’ System of Governance

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America may go through several core changes in its system of governance and operations. Because of the confusion generated by the current governance system within the church, the lead members of the ELCA drafted proposals to “strengthen this church for mission” and to restructure the churchwide organizations. The two proposals, the first written by the church’s executive committee and the second written by the presiding bishop, were released on August 25, 2004.

The executive committee draft, which will be presented to the ELCA Church Council meeting in November, addresses the governance of the churchwide assembly, Church Council, and boards and committees that relate to churchwide units.

The draft says the current governance structure “has worked well” since the ELCA was formed in 1988, but still has some weaknesses.

According to several questions and comments submitted to the Executive Board throughout the year, the members of the Church have "the perception that it [governance] is complicated, unresponsive and confusing."

The current governance structure "has not realized fully its potential for interdependent ministry -- congregations, synods, institutions, agencies and the churchwide organization supporting one another and working together in mission -- that was envisioned for it by the framers of this church," the draft said.

Therefore, to make the churchwide units work together, the draft proposes that churchwide organizations and church council be "in regular and significant" consultation with partner churches and organizations. It also suggests that formal consultations with various groups, institutions and agencies be held during years when no churchwide assembly is scheduled.

Meanwhile, in a separate release, the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the ELCA, proposed the restructuring of the churchwide organizations.

If adopted the restructuring proposal would create five churchwide "program units," and retain two that are separately incorporated, Augsburg Fortress Publishers and Women of the ELCA; retain the offices of the presiding bishop, secretary and treasurer, with some additional responsibilities for the Office of the Presiding Bishop; retain the services of communication, research and evaluation, human resources and the recently created development services unit under the presiding bishop; and retain the services of the separately incorporated Mission Investment Fund and Board of Pensions.

Hanson said the draft is intended to "bring comprehensive proposals for both structure and governance" to the Nov. 11-14 meeting of the ELCA Church Council.

"I am offering this draft in the hope that this proposed restructuring will provide us with renewed energy for doing God's work for the sake of the world," Hanson said in a letter with the draft proposal.

"This draft proposal is offered in hope and confidence that who we are and what we do as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America matters," Hanson said. "It is offered in the belief that the Holy Spirit is at work constantly renewing and reforming our lives and ministry. It is offered with gratitude for the marvelous gifts with which God blesses us, and for God's amazing grace."