By Roland Lovstad
Emphasizing the need to strengthen the understanding and appreciation of the “common good” activities of the Synod, the Blue Ribbon Task Force for Funding the Mission recommends a “Stewardship Renaissance,” improved communication to congregations and their members, exploration of additional management efficiencies, triennial Synod-district fiscal conferences and support from corporate entities and Recognized Service Organizations.
First among 11 task force recommendations is investment in staff and resources to rebuild a national stewardship department. A second recommendation is to equip pastors and people for evangelistic outreach. And, warning that no funding plan will succeed if energies are diverted from the church’s mission, the task force calls for intentional effort to restore harmony in the Synod.
Requested by the 2004 LCMS Convention, the task force’s assignment was to study and recommend how the Synod should fund essential services of the national office. The task force was instructed to report one year before the 2007 convention.
At issue is the decline in unrestricted funds for basic LCMS ministries and services. Three decades ago, the Synod’s “unified budget” funded nearly all ministries — including world mission, colleges and seminaries, services to congregations, ecclesial services and administration. The funds flowed from the offering plates through congregations, to districts and to the national office. Today, 75 percent of the Synod’s $80 million spending budget comes from direct gifts — restricted to specific ministries such as world mission, higher education and world relief.
As restricted funds from direct gifts increase, the unrestricted funds have decreased. As a result, the Synod’s national office has eliminated or consolidated departments and services.
“That has gotten to the point where there can’t be more cuts,” says Dr. David Buegler, fifth vice president and task force chairman. “The alternative to our recommendations will be that some of these services will have to end or congregations and districts will be charged to pay for them. The abilities of the national office to fund with unrestricted dollars is just about done.”
In its report, the task force says its funding model “celebrates the freedom of direct giving” while acknowledging the responsibility to support the “common good.” It cites a 2001-2002 plan, developed by representatives of the Board of Directors and the Council of Presidents, that isolated $11 million as the minimum needed for common good activities to support bylaw- and convention-mandated administration, ecclesial supervision, debt repayment and national communications.
The report adds, “From the beginning our task force committed to the biblical foundation that should guide every funding discussion in the church.” It offers a dozen “Theological Reflections on Stewardship” based on 2 Corinthians 8 and 9. The concluding reflection says, “Giving, including our finances, for the sake of the mission of the Church is a response to the indescribable gift the Church has received in the crucified and risen Christ.”
Prefacing its recommendations, the task force cites three assumptions:
- the Synod desires to make known the love of Christ to both the lost and the saved.
- division and mistrust seem to impact funding decisions at every level of the Synod.
- the Synod is a voluntary organization, so the recommendations depend on a “coalition of the willing.”
In its first two recommendations, the task force calls on the LCMS Board of Directors to invest in staffing and resources to bolster stewardship and evangelism services. By rebuilding a national stewardship department, the report says, the education and motivation of pastors and lay people in biblical stewardship “will repay itself ten-fold and more in funding the mission.” The report says the Synod needs to reorganize a strategy to increase membership, adding, “It is a disgrace to our faith and practice that we are losing membership.”
Observing that stewardship and evangelism services were cut because of funding issues, Buegler comments, “The assumption was that congregations through nonsynodical sources could get resourcing for stewardship and evangelism and that they were just as healthy even though the Synod wasn’t producing programs and materials. The evidence we have is that this is not happening.”
The report says division in the Synod became a “significant roadblock” to every model the task force considered. It calls on the Council of Presidents and the Board of Directors to initiate a a strategy to restore harmony in the Synod. The task force encourages a summit of respected leaders to author a plan.
Citing the need for more aggressive communication that is both educational and motivational, the report offers four recommendations:
- a task force to produce a pastoral training event on funding the mission.
- recruiting and training 70 volunteer “story tellers” to visit congregations.
- a new periodical, circulated to every member’s home and available on the Internet, that highlights successes, builds mission momentum, and gives practical ideas from national and district sources.
- place more responsibility on districts to represent the national common-good activities to congregations, with the Council of Presidents to develop a strategy for better communication through the current national-district-circuit structure.
“Communication to the person in the pew is probably the third systemic issue that we think has diminished over the years,” Buegler explains. “As we acknowledge the reality of direct giving, we have to be proactive in sharing the wonderful story of the work that’s being done through the Synod’s district and the national offices. That’s got to get to the people in the pew. That’s got to get to the pastors as they are the leaders in congregational decisions about direct giving.”
Discussing structure issues, the report says the task force conveyed concerns about potential duplication of services to the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Synodical Structure and Governance. The report does recommend review of the historic legislative representation system of two votes per congregation. With congregations now numbering several thousand members, the task force says two votes per congregation does not represent the baptized membership and has “significant funding implications.”
To achieve management efficiency, the report encourages an operational audit at the