By David Strand
Convening in person for the first time since February 2020, the LCMS Board of Directors (BOD) capped its May 20–21 meeting in St. Louis by adopting a FY22 expenditure budget of $62.7 million. By comparison, the budget for FY21, which ends June 30, is $59.6 million.
The FY22 budget, whose revenues come from gifts (conservatively estimated at $58.7 million), materials and services ($3.8 million), and the release of $1.2 million in BOD-designated funds, was approved as presented and features an anticipated operating surplus of more than $900,000. This planned surplus will, if realized, continue to reduce the long-term undesignated net asset deficit, which on April 30 stood at $9.3 million, already down from $17.3 million the year before. The Board separately approved a capital budget for FY22 of $632,000.
Gaveling the meeting open, Board Chairman Rev. Dr. Michael L. Kumm looked around the room and said, “After all this time of lockdowns, protocols, virtual meetings and everything else COVID has brought, what a blessing it is to be with everyone again. How wonderful to see you in real life!”
Following a pattern set in the prior FY21, the Board, working with the Synod’s Operations Team, remained focused on an expanded understanding of budget requests from the various offices and departments of LCMS, Inc. The Board received “strategic/operational plan templates” from officers and unit executives, indicating key uses of requested funds to achieve clearly defined “desired outcomes.”
These templates were updated quarterly over the past year, right up until the Board’s May meeting, where no fewer than 16 leaders, starting with Synod President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison, gave successive 10- to 15-minute budget presentations to the BOD members.
Setting the stage for these presentations, Chief Administrative Officer and Acting Chief Financial Officer Frank Simek offered a “top-line review of the budget,” showing revenue expectations, a proposed expense summary and the resultant bottom line.
Citing such favorable factors as “revenues exceeding expenses by $6.8 million as of April 30,” “unrestricted gifts up 50% from where we’ve been in the past,” and “investment trust income going up with the rising markets,” Simek said, “Strange as it sounds, we’ve been having a banner year for the wrong reasons — the ‘wrong reasons’ being how the pandemic substantially slowed things down for quite a while. But our generous donors never missed a beat; they have come through incredibly, and we thank the Lord for them.”
Harrison shared those sentiments. “It’s been an amazing year,” he said. When COVID hit, “we didn’t know how things would turn out, so we sent a letter to thousands of our donors telling them about the challenge.
“Well, the donors kicked in in a big way,” he said, “and the work of the church marched on. It’s one of the most remarkable things I’ve ever seen. It’s been a humbling moment for me.”
Harrison praised LCMS Mission Advancement on its overall performance and on its renewed accreditation by the Better Business Bureau (BBB). “This is a rigorous process,” he said, “and the LCMS met all 20 of the BBB’s accountability standards. I’m very proud of our Mission Advancement staff.”
Most of the president’s other remarks involved updates from overseas mission fields.
“Much of our work abroad is with foreign seminaries and planting churches through those seminaries,” Harrison said, pointing to recent examples of such activity in Eurasia and Latin America. “And now we’re working on a strong improvement in seminary education for the Mandarin-speaking Chinese world.”
He said he looked forward to the arrival of Chaplain (Col.) Jonathan E. Shaw, U.S. Army (Ret.), to oversee Church Relations on behalf of the Office of the President for at least the next several months. “Col. Shaw is going to shepherd our relations with the International Lutheran Council and be in regular touch with our partner churches.”
Further, he said, we continue “to make progress in our fellowship discussions with the enormous Malagasy [Madagascar] Lutheran Church.”
Besides the president’s report, another staple at BOD meetings is the report of Chief Mission Officer Rev. Kevin D. Robson, who, later in the meeting, upon the Board’s concurrence with Harrison’s recommendation, received reappointment for another three-year term.
Robson affirmed to the Board that the work of his program units — National and International Mission, Pastoral Education, Mission Advancement and Communications, which together account for 75% of the FY22 operating expenditure budget — remains grounded in the triennial emphasis of Making Disciples for Life and guided by the seven mission priorities of the Synod, adopted at the 2019 LCMS National Convention.
One reason for the Synod’s solid financial position, he said, is that “the units have been strategically underspending their budgets.” COVID-19 brought about “reduced travel and fewer in-person events. Meanwhile, the staff has gone to great lengths to pursue fiscal austerity.”
Concerning operations, Robson said, “Our overarching goal is to assemble and run at utmost efficiency a global corporate enterprise, strongly supported by a networked constellation of Synod stakeholders, domestic and foreign — all under a shared vision, mission and strategy — a large, complex organization that responds to today’s climate of rapidly changing opportunities with a shared vision, trust, flexibility and speed — all marks of a highly effective team.”
Looking forward to FY22, he said, “It will be critical to inform and invite the faithful souls of the Missouri Synod to join in this endeavor, and to keep you, the Board of Directors, well-informed so that you can carry out your duties with confident, sound decisions that make a beneficial impact.”
Keith Frndak, chairman of the Board’s Audit Committee, which meets every quarter with officials of the Concordia University System (CUS), said CUS leaders “want to stand with our schools feeling pressure from society for their Christian values.”
Both the Rev. Dr. Dean O. Wenthe, president of the CUS, and Dr. Gerhard Mundinger, CUS chairman, appeared before the Board via Zoom to give their own budget presentation.
Wenthe based his comments on Matt. 5:13: “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.”
“The saltiness of Christ’s pure Word has been lost at many colleges and universities,” Wenthe said. “The schools of other denominations have been in a freefall into acculturation, moving farther and farther away from the Scriptures.
“We’re not having that,” he said. “The CUS and its institutions are solving this problem in greater measure. We meet regularly with our school presidents on education, marketplace forces, faith and doctrine, and on their duties as functionaries of the church.”
Added Mundinger: “Secular and humanistic forces outside the church are significant, and they have gathered strength with the change of administrations in Washington.”
Of note from the Personnel Committee was that Val Rhoden-Kimbrough, executive director of LCMS Human Resources, has tendered her resignation and taken another job. Also, the search for a full-time chief financial officer continues, with the hope of having him or her in place by the end of the calendar year.
More information on the committee reports (including the Governance Committee), the operating budget overview, the budget-strategy template presentations, appointments made by the Board and other business can be found in the Synod Secretary’s minutes (pending) on the BOD webpage.
The Board next meets on Aug. 27–28.
Posted June 15, 2021