Father Hollywood (one of my favorite bloggers) has a post called “we are all beggars…” about churches that got caught speculating in real estate (“The Lord opened doors for us…”) abandoning the “doctrine of the blessed apostles” and the Divine Liturgy, and now, with the real estate bubble gone, begging money from other churches that remained faithful.
What he doesn’t mention, and what I just realized, is that these churches have learned from our synod leadership. And no, I don’t mean the English District, which got caught in the same thing and had to retire a $2.5 Million dollar debt ten years ago (“Raising the Anchor”, they called it).
Back in the 50’s the synod saw ongoing growth in its future. So they bought land, built colleges, expanded the beuracracy, and built all the infrastructure that would be required for the inevitable 5 million members that would soon need shepherding from above (Saint Louis, not heaven.)
Unfortunately, the people did not materialize. Birth and migration rates plummeted. The synod now has 2 million members and falling (Fast – average age in LCMS congregations is something close to 65 – we couldn’t have more kids if we wanted to.) Yet, throughout the 70’s and 80’s the structure kept expanding. The last convention re-instated evangelism and stewardship executives. The next convention may very well add an ENTIRE EXTRA LAYER of administration. (Regional VP’s – Rome calls them “archbishops”). The CTCR continues to issue reports that are read by fewer and fewer pastors, because they are not so much theologically insightful as they are adminsitrative documents designed to approve of whatever it is that the LCMS does today. (Why we keep re-visiting issues. Our practice is changing more often than my socks.)
Now, what is going on? According to our synod treasurer, we have begged, pleaded, and even wept for more money from local congregations to national office. It hasn’t happened. In fact, one district, (not mine) month’s after the LCMS convention said, “no more cutting the synod giving at the district level”, cut by almost ten percent their level of giving to synod.
So the synod goes on weeping and begging, and will finally have to cut back to ONLY those things mandated by convention action. Meanwhile, there is crippling debt, which I am informed, is not held by LCMS, INC. A subtle deception. It is guaranteed by LCMS, INC, for organizations that will NEVER be able to pay it back. (Various Concordia Universities that will remain nameless.)
The recent economic downturn will make the situation worse, because the doners that were keeping it all afloat are now underwater themselves. Instead of trying to foist a new structure on us at the District Conventions, they should have had a list of everything the synod does, and have people rank their importance. How many people would really give the CTCR $20,00+ for each of the four meetings a year, plus the two executive directors, etc. How many would rather send missionaries to places with few or no Christians (Like Chicago, New York, Detroit, etc. One African country the size of Michigan has more Lutherans than the LCMS) How many would rather fund the seminaries than two full time assistants to the President?
Unlike the US government, which can print more money, we can’t. The pockets of our members go so deep, and then no deeper. There is this idea that, if only we beg harder, the pockets filled with limitless money will open up for us at last. But those pockets are getting smaller everyday. And we have fewer and fewer of them each year.
Congregations have simply adopted the methods of their district and synod leadership. Borrow now, pay later. Except the mortgage is now due. Father Hollywood is right, more letters are coming. From congregations, from District headquarters, and from the home office in Saint Louis.
The funny thing is, the LCMS, INC figured that, if only they explained all the good things they do, we would talk with out pocketbooks. They explained. We talked. They still don’t get it.