By Joe Isenhower Jr.
RALEIGH, N.C. — “It’s about keeping it real.”
That statement often heard in these uncertain times could sum up — in a positive sense — what the 2011 Lutheran Church Extension Fund (LCEF) Fall Leadership Conference here Nov. 18-20 was all about.
“Making a REAL difference” was the conference theme, based on the apostles’ joy-filled statement in Acts 4:20 about their mission after Christ’s resurrection: “… we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
Participants say they are better prepared for their own part in that mission because of LCEF and this conference, which gathered 620-some LCMS and Church Extension leaders representing congregations, districts and the national Synod.
The conference included keynote presentations by LCEF and LCMS leaders; small-group sessions; worship; LCEF honors given to individuals, congregations and districts; and making and renewing Christian friendships.
LCEF, through an array of services and financial offerings, “support[s] the church in fulfilling its mission of sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ by being a Christ-centered servant partner of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, ensuring that funds and services are available now and in the future,” according to its mission statement.
The Rev. Ben Haupt, pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Gainesville, Ga., who was a first-time voting delegate at this conference, told Reporter that LCEF has helped support his congregation’s ministry in several ways.
Good Shepherd called on LCEF’s CFS (Capital Funding Services) to help guide its capital campaign to build a new fellowship space for young people.
Haupt said pledges for the project totaled more than $750,000 — far exceeding expectations.
“It went phenomenally well,” he said of Good Shepherd’s experience with CFS.
Haupt and his wife, Celina, were among many in the Synod who participated in a short-term, high-interest investment opportunity LCEF offered several years ago. The couple found it “added significantly” to funds they used for a down payment on their home.
Good Shepherd’s members also are sharing their insights on the ministry of their growing congregation through a new “Project Journal” feature LCEF added to its website’s “media hub” last April.
To read those insights,” go to www.lcef.org/media_hub/default.cfm and look for “Project Journal.”
Other congregations interested in sharing their stories with others through the journal may call 314-885-6308 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
“I have learned about so many aspects of ministry and have met so many people from different areas of the church at this conference,” said Celina Haupt. “It’s been great!”
“These LCEF conferences are among the best things the church does,” said George Albers, a retired architect from Bella Vista, Ark., who has attended many of the yearly events after first becoming involved in church extension at the national level during its formative years in the 1970s. “They are inspiring, positive and they are formatted just right,” he added.
Albers, who was appointed to LCEF’s Architectural Advisory Committee in 2009, added that the “the resources and material LCEF has prepared for the church are just great.” For example, he mentioned the Architectural Handbook for churches, schools and other ministries that are planning to build facilities.
LCEF’s work, partnerships
Rich Robertson, LCEF’s president and CEO, told the assembly that a question he often fields is how LCEF has fared in recent years as it navigates the shaky financial environment that is causing stress for ministries and individuals. He said he’s also asked how LCEF will face the changing future of ministry.
“With the grace of God, we will continue our strong partnerships with [the Synod], its districts and ministries,” Robertson said in his conference keynote address.
He noted that LCEF investors “have entrusted us with resources that provide the means to support ministries of our church. Our future remains bright and opportunistic, not only for what we can accomplish together here in the United States, but throughout the global mission field.”
Addressing what he termed “the new normal” — the environment of wild stock market swings in reaction to even small events, a depressed housing market, staggering government spending, high unemployment, anemic consumer confidence and the negative impact of foreign-country default threats — Robertson emphasized that LCEF has made changes to remain flexible and responsive.
“Within the context of a changing economic climate, LCEF is embracing change, working hard to be nimble and seeking ways to adjust to the ‘new’ future of what ministries need. We work hard to maintain our strength to ensure adequate resources now and for the future.”
Robertson continued, “We are exploring new ways to become the best financial resource partner possible. Developing stronger and lasting relationships is key to our future success. … We seek to live out Jesus’ encouragement to teach others and bring them into the church for baptism and salvation. We do that by being a partner to LCMS ministries — not a bank.”
LCEF’s traditional operations may not necessarily be what future ministries need, Robertson said — citing, for example, that those not in a church family may require a non-traditional approach. He said the organization continues to watch and listen to LCMS ministries in order to provide the services most needed.
Also in his keynote, Robertson gave a general overview of LCEF’s financial results.
At the close of the fiscal year (June 30, 2011), LCEF posted total assets of more than $1.8 billion, an increase of $27 million from the fiscal year before.
“Our investor payables grew to just under $1.6 billion,” Robertson said. “These funds come from you, our loyal and dedicated investors, who have a heart for ministry and show it through your investments.”
LCEF provided $147 million in new loans to LCMS ministries during the 2010-11 fiscal year, Robertson said, and LCEF’s cost of borrowing is “at the lowest level in over a decade.”
He also said that in spite of the difficult economic environment, LCEF’s loan delinquency rate continues to decline and staff at the national and local levels work with congregations and ministries coping with declining cash flows.
“That care is equally appreciated by investors, who know we are a partner to the ministries they hold dear, while watching over their wisely invested funds,” Robertson said.
‘An unbelievable gift’
LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison, in his keynote for the conference, thanked Robertson and LCEF “for what you do. LCEF is an unbelievable gift.”
He pointed out that LCEF is unique in its size and scope as compared with other denominations’ financial resources.
“All of you are called to sacred vocations of service locally, in your local church, in your family, in your districts,” Harrison said. “You are called. The Lord has put you in a place to make a difference — a real difference for people, and the Lord promises you the strength, all of the strength you need to do what you do, where you do it for good. It is an honor to serve you. I covet your prayers.”
Also in his keynote, Harrison referred to a comment the Rev. Ted Krey, regional director for Latin America with the LCMS Office of Inte
rnational Mission, made when he addressed the conference earlier during the LCMS president’s prayer breakfast.
“Don’t make missionaries beg,” Harrison said, quoting Krey.
“My friends, you have some of the finest people … on this earth working for this church body because they love Jesus,” Harrison said. “Don’t make them beg,” he added, in reference to funds needed to support missionaries and their work.
Harrison also answered questions posed by speakers at microphones during one of the Saturday small-group breakout sessions.
In a servant event during another small-group session, participants finished wrapping 5,000 copies of children’s books about Christmas — from Concordia Publishing House — for children of needy families. They were to be distributed through LCMS Recognized Service Organizations in five states.
Two other conference keynote speakers — former Oklahoma Congressman J.C. Watts and Reinhild Niebuhr, trustee for the Themba Trust in South Africa — reminded attendees of the importance of Christian education.
Watts thanked the Synod for “being the people in the gap” in American communities and “giving kids good Christian education. … I think God needs Christian schools like never before,” he said.
Niehbuhr asked that, in light of the bountiful resources in America, those in the Synod not let “a single Lutheran school close.” She noted that the Themba Trust, a Lutheran nonprofit that serves South African families primarily through education, does so with limited resources.
She urged LCMS Lutherans to “reach out to people [who] cannot afford your quality of education. Because every empty seat … is a lost opportunity to connect a child to Christ, and you cannot allow that to happen.”
Other conference speakers included:
- William B. Greiner of Scout Investments, based in Kansas City, which advises LCEF in financial matters. Greiner addressed LCEF’s annual meeting on Saturday.
- Vonda Skelton of the Greenville, S.C., area, a Christian author and speaker who led a conference Bible study for women and spoke to those at a women’s luncheon.
- the Rev. Greg Bearss, pastor of LakePointe Lutheran Church in Hot Springs, Ark., where an average of 800 people worship each weekend and where 200 had been baptized so far in 2011. In 2008, that congregation received LCEF’s Fred E. Lietz Mission Project Award.
For 2011, LCEF presented the Lietz Mission Project Award — which recognizes outstanding efforts of mission projects associated with the Synod — to Tabernacle de la Grace Lutheran Church of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
A news story from LCEF explains that “the congregation was chosen for creating a vibrant ministry through two congregations.” And a video shown during the award presentation explained the congregation’s formation through a partnership between Faith Lutheran Church and School and Grace congregation (which is predominantly Haitian).
“Through an LCEF Specialized Ministry Loan, the Grace mission bought the Faith property,” the release points out, “allowing both to proceed with their ministries.”
LCEF matched the offering of $8,411.60 from the Sunday-morning conference worship service, providing a total of $16,823.20 for Grace de la Tabernacle.
Other LCEF awards presented during the 2011 conference were:
- Million-Dollar Congregation Awards, given to those that for the first time have reached $1 million invested in their respective district’s Church Extension Funds, in addition to having at least 10 percent of their membership invested.
- District Awards to the Iowa East, Mid-South and Missouri Districts for “outstanding efforts.”
- the Antioch Reflection Award to The Lutheran Church of St. Andrew, Silver Spring, Md., and Immanuel Lutheran Church, Norton, Kan., for excellence in stewardship during a capital campaign conducted in partnership with CFS.
- the Fred E. Lietz Individual Ministry Award for exceptional volunteer service to the community, congregation and for the mission of LCEF and the LCMS to Dr. Bill Nau of Richmond, Va.
- the Arthur C. Haake Leadership Award honoring a past or present LCEF staff member for service to LCEF — to Carolyn Schlimpert of St. Louis, who retired last March as vice-president for loans, after serving LCEF since its incorporation in 1978.
Those 11 congregations are St. John Lutheran Church, Napa, Calif.; Holy Spirit Lutheran Church, San Francisco; St. Paul Lutheran Church, Miami; St. Paul Lutheran Church, Peachtree City, Ga.; First Lutheran Church, Charlotte, Mich.; Trinity Lutheran Church, Fenton, Mich.; St. Paul Lutheran Church, Hamburg, Mich.; Redeemer Lutheran Church, Anaconda, Mont.; Zion Lutheran Church, Norridge, Ill.; Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Midland, Texas; and Zion Lutheran Church, Pasadena, Texas.
Also during the LCEF annual meeting, the following were elected to the LCEF Board of Directors, by region:
- Michael T. Kzirian of Cranford, N.J., for the East Region;
- Leon E. Langemeier, Billings, Mont., West Region; and
- Pamela Moksnes, Chanhassen, Minn., West Region.
‘Lutherans are realists’
In his sermon for the Sunday-morning worship service, LCMS Southeastern District President Rev. Dr. Jon Diefenthaler, who also served as conference chaplain, said that “Lutherans are realists about life. … We don’t tend to look at the world through rose-colored glasses because we recognize the reality of sin in our world. This helps us and others see the Gospel as the Good News that it truly is. We not only recognize that there is forgiveness for all of our sins in Christ Jesus, we know that we are called already at our baptisms to carry on the same work begun by hHm in our world. It’s faith that is always active in love.”
Diefenthaler noted that poverty, death from starvation (as for countless refugees in the Horn of Africa), immigrants and migrants, and terminal disease (including for more than 800,000 “mostly in Africa [who] needlessly die from malaria” each year) provide ample evidence of this same “reality” in our world. In addition, he cited the Gospel reading for the day — Matt. 25:31-46 — in which Jesus teaches about His separating the “goats” and “sheep” at the Last Judgment.
He said t