More on the Special Lutheran Witness Edition

Here is a video announcement of the special Lutheran Witness edition found on WMLT blog; I’ve also included Matt Harrison’s introduction article from this special edition below the video found here.

Just a comment — from the District Pledge report on page 11 of The Lutheran Witness Special Report .. Synod is down $1.8M in pledges from the districts; if each member of LCMS churches simply gave $1 extra to Synod, that would mean that Synod would not have to deal with decreased income from districts; Synod would instead have an extra half-million in undesignated funds this year ($2.3M minus $1.8M decrease).



Convinced the solutions to the Synod’s financial distress lie with the people and congregations of the church, President Harrison exhorts the Synod to read the May Lutheran Witness, which offers a frank look at our many blessings but also the tremendous challenges we face. “The future,” he says, “is now.” And where there is a financial challenge, it’s a “living-together challenge” of “our sharing together with Christ and with each other.”


Blessings, Gifts and Challenges

At my request, The Lutheran Witness staff has put together this issue to inform the good folks of Synod about the financial realities that we face. The funding of this multi-billion-dollar institution called The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod is complex, to say the least. It took me a good five to six years working at the International Center before I actually began to understand it. The first step in addressing a challenge is honesty about its existence and its probable causes. But this must be done with an eye on our blessings, which are truly extraordinary. We are in a definite predicament, but it’s hardly all doom and gloom.

The challenges

The Synod headquarters is in a financial crisis. It is, however, a very specific crisis—that is, a lack of undesignated/unrestricted dollars. Years of stopgap measures and overspending revenues have caught up to us. Throughout this current fiscal year, Synod headquarters has functioned with the equivalent of only eight days worth of unrestricted resources on hand, whereas a minimum of 30 days is where a nonprofit of our size should be functioning. On top of that, Synod had already borrowed some $11.1 million from funds designated for other purposes . . . just to operate! The crisis involves the quickly shrinking pot of undesignated funding ($19.3 million, down almost $10 million in the past decade), most of which comes from districts.

What got us here?

The Synod has conistently spent every penny it receives and more.

There has been a very significant yearly reduction in dollars given by congregations to districts and districts to Synod. These unrestricted funds are used to pay the bills for things you can’t easily raise funds for—like keeping the lights on, maintaining a system for reconciliation and a hundred other things.

LCMS World Mission had consistently overspent its revenues, such that year by year, millions of unrestricted dollars had to be pulled away from other areas of need. Fan into Flame, while bringing great blessings, has cost significantly more and raised significantly less than projected.

There has been a very definite shift in the way people prefer to give. Donors (individuals, congregations and districts) want to give to very specific needs, so it’s harder and harder to fund the basic operations (i.e., the “plumbing” it takes to get and keep a missionary in the field, or a program or service to the church, like maintaining Synod’s roster and statistics, or accounting/auditing, or a Commission on Constitutional Matters, or a Concordia University System Board).

Some 26 percent of the unrestricted dollars received go to service the $20 million in historic debt of the Concordia University System, including interest and to subsidize educational operations.

Theological disagreement and institutional distrust have affected congregational and district giving.

What’s been done thus far?

We have significantly reduced spending and eliminated (with great pain) close to $2 million in staffing paid for by unrestricted dollars.

We’ve taken action to cease overspending in LCMS World Mission.

We have eliminated whole departments and areas of service and significantly consolidated staff for efficiency.

We are launching the “Koinonia Project” to begin to deal with the theological issues that have caused us to distrust each other. We are attempting to lead in a way that does not divide.

The new structure of the Synod is focused laserlike on WITNESS, MERCY, and LIFE TOGETHER—the heart and soul of what it means to be the Church.

The blessings

It’s the devil’s trick to make us think that somehow we are hurting financially or that we don’t have the resources collectively to do what the Church needs to do for the sake of Christ and His Gospel. This is the Missouri Synod’s worldwide moment, and together we have the resources to step forward with the Gospel and Luther’s teaching on the worldwide platform awaiting our arrival.

Lutheran Church Extension Fund (LCEF), with only 4 percent of the LCMS participating, manages $2 billion in investor assets, which are used to provide affordable loans to congregations and other LCMS entities. Thankfully, Synod headquarters has not needed to draw on its line of credit with LCEF in over two years.

Concordia Plan Services manages another $3 billion in retirement and disability assets—kept healthy through the constant influx of young teachers and pastors.

Concordia Publishing House (CPH) has the blessing of $30 million in the bank—revenue due largely to a wildly successful new hymnal!

The LCMS Foundation is doing well as it manages the various financial assets entrusted to it by congregations, organizations and individuals.

Even as undesignated giving from districts has declined, folks from those same districts have exploded in providing designated funds for specific mission and mercy needs!

Through the prudent management of resources, LCMS World Relief and Human Care is currently operating with a healthy reserve of over $3 million, affording it flexibility to address critical needs during turbulent times. The Synod should strive to operate in the same way.
By the grace of God and for the sake of the mission of this church, it’s time for us, together, to get our financial house in order. We are working hard at it here in St. Louis. Will you help? Will you assist your congregation and district in resolving this challenge? I know you can. I pray you will.

May 2011
Pastor Matthew Harrison
“Let’s go!” Mark 1:38

About Norm Fisher

Norm was raised in the UCC in Connecticut, and like many fell away from the church after high school. With this background he saw it primarily as a service organization. On the miracle of his first child he came back to the church. On moving to Texas a few years later he found a home in Lutheranism when he was invited to a confessional church a half-hour away by our new neighbors.

He is one of those people who found a like mind in computers while in Middle School and has been programming ever since. He's responsible for many websites, including the Book of Concord,, and several other sites.

He has served the church in various positions, including financial secretary, sunday school teacher, elder, PTF board member, and choir member.

More of his work can be found at


More on the Special Lutheran Witness Edition — 6 Comments

  1. The districts should be considering the same spending reductions as synodical headquarters, or more. It’s time to get back to the transfer of more money to synod than is reserved by the districts for their own fat cat expenditures. That would create “trust”!

    [We haven’t got one “pope” we’ve got over 30!]

  2. As Norm pointed out, the LCMS congregations need to support their respective districts and thereby enable Synod to have adequate unrestricted funds, Apparently,too many congregations withhold general funding to focus on local differences and preferances instead of working on the many synergies Synod brings to the LCMS. The whole must be supported by the sum of its parts,otherwise we end up isolated community churches,which will eventually wither on the vine.

    The unrestricted funds do need to be budgeted with allocations to programs of common interest, If general giving isnt increased,then a program of re-alloctaion of dedicated funds should be considered-for example 10% of each gift is deemed general unrestricted.

  3. I agree with Helen. In this age of computers and instant communication, do we really need 35 district offices? I believe that WELS district presidents are parish pastors who receive no additional compensation for their district service nor maintain district office space.

    I was disappointed that the Lutheran Witness didn’t address this. However, I don’t question the dedication and good intentions of district personnel. I just wonder if there are efficiency improvement possibilities.

  4. Do a study, of why, since 1956, districts started to grow fat and sleek on the churches funds and because of this the pew sitters decided to send designated funds to Synod and by passed the districts.

    We, the church, do not trust those who use the churches funds for their own aggrandizement and personal fiefdoms of district programs and staff and Ablaze tomfoolery.

    The seminaries have for more than 50 years seen their support from Synod dwindle to next to nothing and this is a major reason why Synod was formed in the first place!

    If Harrison wants to tackle the problem of unrestricted funds he and they at the International Center must call to mind and repentance those who were truly responsible and those who continue to perpetuate the same reckless overspending and useless fanatical programs based on apostate theology.

    Book of Concord – A Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope:

    79] Since, therefore, the bishops, who are devoted to the Pope, defend godless doctrine and godless services, and do not ordain godly teachers, yea, aid the cruelty of the Pope, and, besides, have wrested the jurisdiction from pastors, and exercise it only tyrannically [for their own profit]; and lastly, since in matrimonial cases they observe many unjust laws, there are reasons sufficiently numerous and necessary why the churches should not recognize these as bishops.

    80] But they themselves should remember that riches [estates and revenues] have been given to bishops as alms for the administration and advantage of the churches [that they may serve the Church, and perform their office the more efficiently], as the rule says: The benefice is given because of the office. Therefore they cannot with a good conscience possess these alms, and meanwhile defraud the Church, which has need of these means for supporting ministers, and aiding studies [educating learned men], and caring for the poor and establishing courts, especially matrimonial. 81] For so great is the variety and extent of matrimonial controversies that there is need of a special tribunal for these, and for establishing this, the endowments of the Church are needed. 82] Peter predicted, 2 Pet. 2, 13, that there would be godless bishops, who would abuse the alms of the Church for luxury and neglect the ministry. Therefore [since the Holy Spirit in that connection utters dire threats] let those who defraud the Church know that they will pay God the penalty for this crime.

    This is an encapsulated program for getting our finances in order.

  5. It might be interesting to see a total of all the districts’ budgets, including that portion that they send to synod.


  6. I might humbly suggest that our Synod leadership, rather than suggesting everyone give more, have some conversations with those districts that are sending in a very small percentage of their offerings as compared to other districts. These districts are shirking their responsibilities and letting others carry the load. The Lutheran Annual has this information in the back statistical tables for anyone interested in identifying these districts. The worst offenders are on the east and west coasts.

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