By David Strand
In this year like no other, the end of a long and winding road — the setting of a budget for FY21 — was reached at last on Sept. 22 when The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) Board of Directors (BOD) adopted an operating expenditure resolution of $59.6 million.
“We finally made it,” said Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) and Acting Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Frank Simek. “We have put together a sound budget.”
By contrast, the FY20 budget, after adjustments for big “one-off” events — the triennial Synod convention and the LCMS Youth Gathering — was more than 16% higher: $69.3 million. Such a cautious approach to expenditures in FY21 was justified in consideration of major economic uncertainties in the current forecasting environment, not the least of which has been the impact of COVID-19.
“It hasn’t been easy,” said BOD Chairman Rev. Dr. Michael L. Kumm. “We have to be very careful moving forward.”
“This has indeed been a crazy year,” added LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison. “So many difficulties and challenges, but Christ is working things for good.”
‘No wringing of hands’
The Synod’s fiscal year runs July 1 to June 30, and normally the BOD adopts the coming year’s budget at its May meeting. But this year, owing to potential revenue decreases stemming from the pandemic and accompanying external factors, the Board in April instructed the Synod’s Operations Team — Simek and Chief Mission Officer (CMO) Rev. Kevin D. Robson — to have their respective units and other offices implement revised, scaled-down budgets for the fourth quarter of FY20 and first quarter of FY21.
Then, in fulfillment of a resolution adopted by the BOD at the conclusion of the prior FY20 budget-approval cycle, Simek and Robson devised, and asked their respective unit executives and other senior leaders to complete, detailed strategic/operational-plan templates for the Board’s information and consideration prior to adopting the full-year FY21 proposed budget on Sept. 22.
The Board spent the bulk of its meeting listening — and posing questions in response — to one unit’s presentation after another, based on these strategic/operational-plan templates.
CMO Robson, whose five programmatic units — the offices of National and International Mission, Pastoral Education, Mission Advancement and Communications — account for 75% of the Synod’s total operating expense budget, said, “Our chief objective is never to downsize but to extend the mission of the church and the global reach of the Gospel. This calls for prayer and the creative use of resources.”
There is no “wringing of our hands” here, Robson noted. No “fear or anxiety.” No “blame game, and certainly not a ‘woe is us’ attitude toward the problems, developments and trends … that could, if we allowed them, cause us to weaken and wither as a Synod.”
To the contrary, he said, we are “walking and working together in harmony, high energy, high trust and high commitment to our confession of the faith and to one another … living and thriving under the forgiveness of our sins … in mutual encouragement and admonition … and rejoicing over the unending life that is ours in Christ.”
Two days after the meeting, Chairman Kumm sent a letter thanking all those who had participated in it.
“The new climate is mandating change,” he observed, calling for “new ideas and methods of how we provide service to the church at-large. This is challenging, but also exciting, opening new doors for more effective service.
“I ask you to spend time looking inward,” he continued, “not to what we’ve always done, but to what we can do better and more efficiently.” And do this “in the context of looking outward, to those we are meant to serve. … Labor diligently. Support and build up one another. Fulfill your ministry. May the Lord establish the work of our hands together.”
The Sept. 22 meeting was the intentionally deferred second half of a meeting that started on Aug. 28 — the earlier half dealing with general, non-budget-related business.
The August session included an update on the work of Task Force 7-03A, whose chairman, Christian Preus, also serves as chair of the BOD’s Governance Committee. The 2019 convention created and charged the task force with developing a new governance model for the Concordia University System (CUS).
Preus said his committee is “very close to recommending a number of bylaw and structural changes” to the administrative role of the CUS.
The approach may be characterized as a “two-kingdoms” model, he said, with the left-hand kingdom side emphasizing the board of regents’ responsibility for the schools’ financial and legal matters. Meanwhile, on the right-hand kingdom side, a much more transparent and structured process has been developed for strengthening the connection of the schools with the congregations of the Synod and their mission.
More information on the work of the task force can be found in the meeting minutes (proposed, pending approval) on the BOD’s website. The same applies to other business not covered here.
Also in August, the BOD:
- Reappointed Simek to a second three-year term as CAO. At the same time, with Chairman Kumm highlighting budgetary restraint, the Board’s ongoing consideration of how best to structure financial and administrative roles, and the very capable service of Simek as acting CFO, the Board suspended — but did not cancel — the search and interview process for a full-time CFO.
- Heard reports from its Personnel, Audit and Governance committees (again, more details available in the minutes).
- Approved requests — endorsed by CUS Chairman Dr. Gerhard Mundinger and President Rev. Dr. Dean O. Wenthe — of Concordia University Texas, Austin, Texas, to refinance its debt and obtain financing for a new residence hall and a soccer/track/tennis complex.
- Made appointments to the LCMS Holdings Limited (Hong Kong) Board of Directors, the LCMS Board for International Mission, and the CUS Board of Directors.
- Liquidated the Concordia Health and Welfare Fund in Kazakhstan. Part of the voluntary liquidation was the transfer of three properties to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Kazakhstan.
- Amended Board policy to change the frequency of in-depth BOD self-reviews from annually to triennially.
The BOD will next convene Nov. 19–20. Whether this meeting is held in person or via Zoom or some other means of conferencing, it will involve a joint session with the LCMS Council of Presidents.
Posted Oct. 7, 2020