Mission Creep(s) 7/22/08

July 21st, 2008 Post by

(from Mollie) I can’t remember how large the six-figure salaries are that the bureaucrats in St. Louis make each year. Some certainly are worth more than others in terms of how much they help the church at large. Either way, they are never expected to raise their own funds.

Would that this were true for missionaries. Many of us are waking up to the fact that ordained pastors who are sent into the mission field are forced to raise almost all of their expenses — or even more than their own expenses — while serving abroad. It boggles the mind.

Anyway, Pastor Joel Brondos, from whom I stole the title to this post, reports that things might be even worse than imagined:

Did you know that, ON THEIR OWN, overseas missionaries in the LCMS have to collect 85% of the cost to operate their missions? The Synod graciously picks up the other 15%.

Oh, there’s one exception. NEW missionaries have to collect 100% of their operating expenses.

Brondos suggests that the Synodical and District Presidents raise 100% of their expenses — schlepping their PowerPoint presentations from congregation to congregation in a search for funds — and that we fully fund missionaries instead. Which is a fantastic idea. I’d add a few synodical bureaucrats to that list as well. Seriously, I’ve seen them in action. You would not be impressed.

Anyway, Brondos has more information that may interest you. For instance, his district is not following its own constitution when it comes to mission funds. While the constitution gives the authority to review and approve grants to the district’s board for missions, that authority has been unconstitutionally passed to, you guessed it, the district’s Ablaze! Grant Team.


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  1. SteadfastLutherans
    July 22nd, 2008 at 06:13 | #1

    The truth of this post by Mollie and Pastor Brondos hit home in a too real way for me this summer. We had a nice conservative deaconess field worker in our congregation last year. She also student taught in our school so we got to know her well. A few weeks ago she came and asked if the congregation would help raise funds for her two year internship to Thailand. Upon further investigation I was shocked by the implications of this request on at least three levels:

    1) She was not asked to raise a few thousand dollars to pay for her travel or other expenses. She was asked by the synod to foot the bill of tens of thousands of dollars for every last cent of her internship. I have been a pastor for over 20 years and am just now getting used to the idea of asking people directly to help fund God’s mission but here was this sweet young thing asked to go from congregation to congregation begging for money for her internship! Imagine how such an experience would mold and shape a youngster and thier attitude toward the synod.

    2) I was then shocked to find out that this deaconess intern would be one of those counted as a missionary by the Ablaze program. Pastor May, I am sorry but you will have to come home because this sweet young thing from the deaconess program has a better smile and can tell a better story than you on the fundraising trail.

    3) My greatest shock was when I learned that there would be absolutely no way for our congregation to contribute to this young lady’s needs without attaching the Ablaze logo to the fundraising efforts! What a choice that was. On the one hand, ask the congregation to help out a deserving young lady and on the other hand, plaster the Ablaze logo all over the congregation. The young lady faithfully called up the synod and asked if we could raise money using our own form and they told her that she must use the Ablaze promotional material. Every dollar given to her by any of our congregation members had to be given on an Ablaze form!

    We chose to help the young lady but there was no end to the questions I got about the Ablaze logo being used in our congregation. There are many good things that do come out of the Ablaze program, but it is too bad that the overall concept behind the program (heterodox church growth evangelism principles) is mistaken and being foisted on congregations in the name of sweet, young conservative deaconess interns.

    Pastor Rossow

  2. Jim Sarver
    July 22nd, 2008 at 06:55 | #2

    The example Pastor Rossow cites illustrates another ‘creepy’ technique currently popular that I call ‘budget creep’. My congregation once budgeted for refurbishment of our old sanctuary to be used for praise services (ugh!). Those in control of the project blew the budgeted amount overspending on a lavish sound system, insisted on removing the pews, then came to the congregation with an ‘emergency appeal’ for a ‘special offering’ for chairs. Hmmmmm. No way the need for chairs could have been anticipated. This is how they get their way without having to state their true intentions and be held accountable for them. Obviously this practice has become rampant at the synodical level. Now everything will be an ‘emergency’ that will require giving ‘above and beyond’ with no accounting for how the budget was spent.

  3. Eric
    July 22nd, 2008 at 07:00 | #3

    This is a great idea!

    So, how can we get such a proposal on the floor for a vote at the next convention?

  4. James
    July 22nd, 2008 at 08:55 | #4

    Being innocent of synodical politics, why does the money and control have to run through the synod itself? Our church has a 10% mission budget – does this end up going through the synod?

    If you can pay for things directly, you can have better assurance that the money is being spent wisely and efficiently.

  5. Carl Vehse
    July 22nd, 2008 at 09:08 | #5

    “So, how can we get such a proposal on the floor for a vote at the next convention?”

    You’ll need to get rid of Bylaw 3.1.6.2(c) or any such overture will never make it past the Chairman.

  6. Helen
    July 22nd, 2008 at 10:58 | #6

    If you give to your young deaconess intern, how much will she get, and how much will be skimmed by Ablaze for “overhead” or whatever they call it.

    The Ablaze fundraiser (who wasn’t sure he would get to heaven, but that’s another story) told our congregation that, “if they would spend it on approved programs” Ablaze would graciously return 15% of our own money back to us. (15% would be held by District and the fundraiser got 10%, supposedly.) He was told that if we sent a check directly to one of our mission projects, (probably not on synod’s list; it was on K. Marquart’s), they would get 100% of the money.
    And then, I was told, he got a Gospel lesson so the visit was not entirely a waste. :)

  7. SteadfastLutherans
    July 22nd, 2008 at 13:10 | #7

    Helen,

    Great point. At least in this case there is no great sucking sound siphoning off a fund-raising cut.

    Thankfully, the mission dept. asked to be exempt from the LCEF tax and the exception was granted to them so our dollars are going directly to the expenses of her two year internship (with missions dept. overhead however, I would guess).

    Pastor Harrision has asked the same for human care and it has NOT been granted him.

    Issues, Etc. in its previous synodical life had to put up with the same tax.

    Pastor Rossow

  8. July 22nd, 2008 at 15:08 | #8

    Someone commented: “If you can pay for things directly, you can have better assurance that the money is being spent wisely and efficiently.” I don’t find this necessarily so. I can give serious researchers some historical examples. Email me.

  9. July 23rd, 2008 at 09:23 | #9

    It used to be that you could not give money directly to those in the LCMS Mission field in the way that you imagine. If you gave directly to a missionary, that person was obliged to tell the synod about that gift — and the synod would reduce its amount given to that missionary by the same amount. Thus, it was impossible for missionaries to get anything over and above what Synod meted out to them.

    I know because I tried this with my brother and good friends who were LCMS missionaries. We found other ways to support them through the “back door” like giving the money to their parents for the missionaries’ use, but always had to do so under the shadow of appearing “unethical.”

    I don’t know how the missionaries have to report their income to the Synod these days. What would happen today if a missionary happened to raise 150% of the needed budget? Would the Synod claim the extra 50% for its own voracious appetite of printing glossy brochures and hiring non-Lutheran consultants and sponsoring expensive conferences at luxurious retreat centers?

    There have been agencies who have worked as a clearing house for mission offerings and missionary efforts to bypass the Synodical juggernaut, but too many people still think that they Synod is the proper place to give their missionary offerings. Unless something radical happens to bring a total overhaul to the synodical presidency, Board of Directors, Mission executives and Board for Missions, (both at the synodical and district levels) little is likely to change.

  10. anonymous 1138
    July 23rd, 2008 at 11:23 | #10

    “If you gave directly to a missionary, that person was obliged to tell the synod about that gift — and the synod would reduce its amount given to that missionary by the same amount.”
    Is the synod giving anything to any missionaries these days? Certain so-called “Ablaze Alliance Missionaries” tell me that they haven’t received a single $0.01 from Ablaze. Supposedly, the Purple Palace has to first collect some minimum amount $XX,XXX from designated offerings before a single $0.01 is sent. The obvious questions are then (1) Is the $XX,XXX amount what is left _after_ bureaucrats and others siphon off whatever? (2) What happens to any $XXX that are collected before this $XX,XXX is reached if ever? (3) What happens if we fund a “mission” directly and not the “missionary?”

  11. anonymous 1138
    July 23rd, 2008 at 12:01 | #11

    When it comes to the “twelve” “Ablaze Alliance Missionaries,” the “missions” really don’t belong to the LCMS at all, neither do the missionaries who are ordained ministers from other Lutheran bodies within the ILC.

  12. July 23rd, 2008 at 13:01 | #12

    Someone asks: “What happens if we fund a “mission” directly and not the “missionary?”

    I know.

    Roland Allan, a mission writer from the past century, claimed that a mission subsidy to the congregations and workers causes either apathy or resentment.

    Here is a note from my diary when “on the field” a few years ago:

    “UPDATE JANUARY XXXX: It’s worse than we thought. Just about everybody we talk to, both active and inactive members of the congregations, has a comment or two on this question. All of our informants insist on speaking off the record. There seems to exist a high sense of jealousy and mistrust between the various congregations. People are manipulating and strategizing for positions and salaries. And for many honest souls who work for the mission and are communicant members of a local congregation, it is very difficult to continue as a member of the church after they have been fired by the mission administrium. Apathy is reflected in the lack of initiative among those who are not paid by the mission. It is difficult to document these observations, no one wants to be quoted. Many feel a need for open forum meetings where issues can be discussed and clarified. However, rarely do those in charge call such meetings.”

    More personal historical examples if necessary. Email me.

  13. Michael Kumm
    July 24th, 2008 at 11:08 | #13

    I will tell you a story….Together in Missions. Most of us remember that program. My congregation supported a missionary with a fairly large contribution each quarter. One day I read in the Reporter that he has been called back from his mission post, and will not return. No reason given. This article was an “after the fact”, so he was already “done” being a missionary. I learned later that he already had a Call to a parish. Now, no one, not even the missionary, notified us. Synod even sent me a “bill” for our next contribution, AFTER the article was in the Reporter. When I called them and challenged them on this, they were appalled that I would question them. That was the last time we sent any mission money to Synod. Never again. Too much money is wrapped up in administration and diverted to pet programs. It’s worse than the Federal Government! Keep your money at home or send it directly.

  14. jim claybourn
    July 25th, 2008 at 09:07 | #14

    To paraphrase Max Yasgur: “I’m just a layman”, so somebody help me see how this thread relates to what I saw in the “Reporter” about 46 new international missionaries being commissioned:

    http://www.lcms.org/pages/rpage.asp?NavID=13658

  15. July 25th, 2008 at 09:55 | #15

    Jim:

    This looks like good news.

    More missionaries to support –directly!

    TW

  16. anonymous 1138
    July 25th, 2008 at 17:58 | #16

    Support missionaries directly like Rev James May?:
    http://www.lcms.org/pages/internal.asp?NavID=10156
    Why is money still “collected” for somebody that was fired months ago? Mr Kumm’s example is not isolated.

  17. IC Insider
    July 25th, 2008 at 22:14 | #17

    I certainly hope that information like this and what Pr. Brondos writes becomes well known in synod. Another example of how LCMS Missions doesn’t believe in a Lutheran missiology is how it expects its “missionaries” to raise their own money. Then, when these poor people go back to the field, they can’t get any response to synod about the money THEY KNOW a congregation or a person sent in for the purpose of their mission work!

    Recently a young couple were in the “southern hemisphere” and were doing great Lutheran education for women and the pastor was preaching and faithfully offering the sacraments. Once their commitment to a confessional Lutheran approach was behind their teaching and preaching, suddenly, the Mission dept. no longer funded their positions, most of the money raised by THEM, and they abruptly had to make arrangements to move back to the U.S..

    Not only was this a travesty, but, they have story after story how the “administrators” of Ablaze funds wasted so much on traveling and staying in expensive resort hotels etc… while they people they were suppose to serve were in poverty…

    No wonder that so many churches no longer give to synod… Synod doesn’t deserve it.

    ICinsider

  18. July 26th, 2008 at 11:25 | #18

    For one thing, when you read an article in the Reporter about “46 Missionaries,” you at least need to ask, “How does the Synod define the word missionary?”

    Then, compare that with what most parishoners have in their minds as the definition of missionary.

    Would you make a distinction between the terms “missionary” and “disaster relief volunteer” or “international aid worker”? I think it is possible to use the words interchangably. When we send Christians to verious places for human care relief, they no doubt share the faith and build relationships.

    Still, my “bias” is to think of missionaries as well-trained pastors who proclaim and administer the means of grace to the lost — and they also roll up their sleeves to help the communities in which they serve. I think there is a distinction to be made between the purview of Board for Missions and the Board for Human Care. There is a distinction to be made between formally administering the means of grace and formal administrating relief to the needy — but I recognize that many people in our Synod don’t see the need to draw this distinction too sharply. They see acts of love being tantamount to acts of faith; if we are loving to people, then they will become Christians.

    In any case, Synod can’t have its missionaries and eat them, too. The news story that 46 missionaries are being sent out sounds pretty rosy, doesn’t it? But then, that makes it a bit more difficult for Synod to say that it isn’t getting enough for missions, doesn’t it?

    One other fact — if you will suffer another of my lengthy posts:

    The new “direction” of the synod’s missions program is to recall missionaries who are pastors and to replace them with educators.

    Foreign governments (if I may, I’d call them atheist governments) do not want pastors working within their political boundaries. What they ARE willing to accept, however, is American teachers and aid workers.

    So the Synod’s apparent strategy is to accede to the wishes of these foreign governments by recalling pastors and replacing them teachers who will teach English — and also sneak in a Bible story or two. Will those teachers also preach, absolve, baptize, commune? I know that there are those who believe that laypeople can and should do this.

    I don’t mean to make the teachers or relief workers out to be bad people. I commend them for being willing to work in this way. It is a wonderful work of love. But if I may simply say this — I don’t think that teachers and aid workers can or should replace pastors who are being withdrawn from or not sent to mission fields.

    I don’t think that the work of the synodical mission board is to be sending English teachers or relief workers to foreign lands. That is the work of our Human Care board – which is doing an absolutely SUPERB job making headway in those areas.

    No, the work of the missions board is, in my opinion, to be sending pastors into the world who will preach and administer the Means of Grace. But I admit to being biased and perhaps even narrow-minded about this in light of the history of Lutheranism.

    If I am being too narrow-minded then it would occur to me that we could save (and redirect) hundreds of thousands of dollars and subsume the Missions Board under the Human Care Board (which is being expertly and efficiently run by the Rev. Matthew C. Harrison).

    If “Missions” is essentially indistinguishable from “Human Care,” then why have two boards with all their executive and administrative operating costs — which could be better spent supporting missionaries (however you define them) in the mission field? (The mindset which practically identifies “missions” with “human care” is the lamentable liberal position at odds with confessional Lutheranism.)

    That’s what I think when I read in the Reporter about 46 missionaries receiving “certificates of completion” and being “commissioned” for missions.

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