The Lord Gives. Christians Manage.

The May 2011 Lutheran Witness is hot off the press. You can get it from the Lutheran Witness site. (Download here).

Jerald C. Wulf

Why do we give to the church? Is it because it makes us feel good or because everything we have is the Lord’s?

It is suppertime, and the telephone rings. With a certain amount of apprehension, you pick up the receiver. Caller ID does not show a familiar name, so you wonder, “Which will it be: a telemarketer, a political poll or an appeal for monetary support from a charitable organization?”

Across the phone line comes a plea to help victims of some disaster or other. The story pulls at your heart, and when the inevitable request for a gift is presented to you, usually proceeded by, “If only you make a donation, how good you will feel because you have helped someone in need,” you cannot help but respond.

But if we only give because it makes us feel good about ourselves, have we failed to acknowledge the Source of all things?

It is important for Christians to acknowledge that God is the creator—and owner—of everything. If you do not believe this important truth, read Job 41:11, wherein God, as He is talking to Job, lays claim to all of creation. Or read Ps. 24:1, where the Psalmist acknowledges God’s ownership of not only the world, but all who dwell therein. Christians must realize that they are merely stewards, not owners, of the bounty that our God has bestowed and continues to bestow on us. The Lord gives. Christians merely manage. Only when this basic truth is understood can Christian giving occur.

The most important element of Christian giving is trust. When we place our Sunday morning offerings on the altar or when our member congregations share with their districts, we trust that the officers will administer those gifts in a God-pleasing way. So, too, when our 35 districts send a portion of the resources that God has entrusted to them to our beloved Synod, they trust that the officers will use those resources in supporting the ministries and other activities that have been delegated to Synod.

The key term is trust. We first and foremost put our “trust in God above all things,” as the explanation of the First Commandment bids us. We trust that our congregational leaders, our district leaders and our Synod leaders have all been selected with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. When we trust that the Holy Spirit guides those selections, why are we hesitant to allow those servants the latitude to administer our gifts to meet the needs of the ministries we have decided to do together, as a district or as the Synod? It is time for us to return to the Lord, putting our trust in Him, confident that He will reward those who are “good and faithful servants” and will deal appropriately with those who are not.

At the same time, we must realize that at least a portion of each gift will be used to pay for utilities, postage and other administrative needs of the soliciting organization. These activities are vital to the support of the organization. This is true for congregations, districts and the Synod. The challenge is to be as efficient as possible so that the administrative support costs are kept to a minimum.

In the past few years, total giving (both restricted and unrestricted) to districts and to the Synod has decreased. (click on the image to the right for a larger view) While restricted gifts have been declining, yet they have increased since the early part of the decade. (That dramatic increase in restricted funding—it should be noted—reflects the outpouring of gifts in response to Hurricane Katrina and the Indian Ocean tsunami.) Both kinds of giving are needed and certainly welcomed. But church members must understand that it is not always in the best interest of the ministries to receive a majority of restricted gifts.

Gift restrictions do not allow the flexibility to address ministry opportunities as needed. For example, if gifts are donor directed solely for the relief of victims of the Japanese earthquake, but an earthquake occurs in New Zealand, resources received for Japan cannot be directed to earthquake relief in New Zealand. A generous portion of unrestricted gifts are necessary to allow leaders to address needs and ministry opportunities as they occur.

Study the First Article of the Apostles’ Creed and its explanation. Reflect on the Scripture citations above and consider the many blessings the Lord has poured out upon you, the greatest of which is the assurance of the forgiveness of sins through the life, death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Christ Jesus, who willingly wore the crown of thorns that we deserved so that we may wear the crown of life.

Unrestricted gifts are funds the Synod can use where needed most.

Restricted gifts are funds used only for the purpose designated by the donor.

For more, read “Funding: What’s at Stake?” and “Funding the Mission”.

About the Author: Jerald C. Wulf serves as the Synod’s chief financial officer (CFO).

May 2011
Jerald C. Wulf

Found on Witness, Mercy, Life Together

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, LCMSsermons.com, 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 KNFA.net.

Comments

The Lord Gives. Christians Manage. — 14 Comments

  1. Why should I send money to the synod when it sends hardly anything to the seminaries, for instance? Why should I not instead send my money to the seminary of my choosing?

    One of the unintended consequences of restricted giving (resulting in less from Synod) is that the various Concordias have less accountability to Synod. Not too hard to understand, is it? Might explain the goings on in Chicago, for instance.

    How about a graph showing attendance/membership vs. total giving–total and per capita?

    Johannes

  2. For example, if gifts are donor directed solely for the relief of victims of the Japanese earthquake, but an earthquake occurs in New Zealand, resources received for Japan cannot be directed to earthquake relief in New Zealand.

    Actually, I have seen a statement that funds unused in one disaster situation may be used in another. I don’t think anyone has a problem with that.

    We’ve been unhappy with some of the “programs” that come out of St Louis.
    Well, they are cutting back there; at what point do we decide that we’d better support the necessary expenses of a synodical office?

    In response to the sufficiency of “one more $1 per member” I suggest that perhaps districts should trim their costs so that they can forward that to synod.

  3. There, fixed it for you…

    “> Unrestricted gifts are funds the Synod can use where needed most.

    > Restricted gifts are funds used only for the purpose designated by the donor.
    “Unless funds are really needed in the unrestricted gift areas, then there will authorization to ‘borrow’ to use restricted gifts for unrestricted areas without fear of interest for the repayment (should it ever occur) of said ‘loan’.”

  4. The vast majority of unrestricted gift dollars are retained and spent by the districts. It’s not clear to me what efforts are being made to consolidate districts and trim district expenses.

  5. There are two bottlenecks that prohibit money getting to the Synod:

    Large Congregations which have money have spent these funds on
    adding staff like assistant pastors, DCE’s, Music directors, Preschool
    teachers etc. plus building programs to expand their ministry.

    Large Districts have siphoned off money to add more bureaucrats
    who are not really necessary as well as spending money on
    pet projects in their fiefdom.

    50 years ago the Districts were presided over by parish pastors and
    congregations did not attempt to become mega-churches.

  6. Dear BJS Bloggers,

    Pastor Knuth (comment #6) has his finger on one important factor on the revenue side of the ledger, i.e., huge congregations that don’t “pay their fair share,” justifying their practice by all the “ministries” at their location that they need to support. Where that is true, I don’t have a problem with that. Huge congregations are part of God’s plan right now in the U.S., and we should not denigrate their work. However, where this is just used as an excuse to pay their staff exorbitant salaries, then their lack of good stewardship can hardly be justified or seen as a virtue.

    Regarding the districts, the issue is more complicated. Page 11 of the May 2011 “Lutheran Witness” has important data about the districts. I would have liked to see one more column, i.e., the ratio of Pledge ($) per Baptized Members. The more important question is NOT whether a district decreased its pledge this year, but whether it is significantly above or below average. Some districts may have decreased their pledge this year, but actually pledged the most per baptized member (Mid-South; good for them!). Other districts may have kept the same pledge, but are near the bottom in pledge per baptized member (Pacific Southwest; bad for them!). Other districts have significantly decreased their pledge, and are near the bottom in pledge per baptized member (Eastern and Northwest; what is going on there?).

    I did my own calculations on this, and barring errors, here are the results in dollars pledged per Baptized Member to the National Office from that district for 2011-12:

    Atlantic – $1.67; Cal-Nev-HA – $3.95; Eastern – $1.59; English – $3.53; Florida/Georgia – $4.13; Illinois Central – $7.82; Illinois Northern – $5.21; Illinois Southern – $5.80; Indiana – $6.77; Iowa East – $3.31; Iowa West – $12.15; Kansas – $9.01; Michigan – $8.93; Mid-South – $16.01; Minn North – $10.24; Minn South – $10.57; Missouri – $4.04; Montana – $9.25;Nebraska – $10.67; New England – $6.18; New Jersey – $3.54; North Dakota – $10.44; Northwest – $2.60; Ohio – $4.85; Oklahoma – $9.12; Pacific Southwest – $2.02; Rocky Mountain – $4.30; SELC – $12.14; South Dakota – $10.12; Southeastern – $7.29; Southern – $4.40; Texas – $12.87; Wisconsin North – $6.33; Wisconsin South – $2.69; Wyoming – $10.90

    The “stewardship winners” here are, in descending order: Mid-South (16.01), Texas (12.87), Iowa West (12.15), SELC (12.14), Wyoming (10.90), Nebraska (10.67), Minn South (10.57), North Dakota (10.44), Minn North (10.24), South Dakota (10.12) .

    The “stewardship losers” here are, in ascending order: Eastern (1.59), Atlantic (1.67), Pacific Southwest (2.02), Northwest (2.60), Wisconsin South (2.69), Iowa East (3.31), English (3.53), New Jersey (3.54), Cal-Nev-HA (3.95).

    The average pledge $ per Baptized Members for these statistics is $6.94.

    You cannot fix the blame, necessarily, on a District President for these figures. DPs inherit previous patterns of giving and stewardship, as well as decisions of the Board of Directors of districts and their district conventions. Still, these figures DO tell us something about the stewardship health in specific districts.

    What I don’t understand is how all the Northeastern and the West Coast districts have ended up on the bottom of the list (Eastern, Atlantic, Pacific Southwest, Northwest, New Jersey, and Cal-Nev-HA). If you look at distribution of wealth patterns in the United States, these are the wealthiest regions of the US. You would think that some of that would end up at the synodical offices, not in gross figures, but in per capita figures. We definitely have a stewardship problem in these districts, which may be an indication of other problems.

    On the expense side of the ledger, the Lutheran Witness article, page 1, tells some very important stories: 1) LCMS World Mission has been a budgetary “black hole,” sucking in millions of unrestricted funds from other areas EVERY YEAR; 2) Fan into Flame, though well-intentioned, cost significantly more and raised significantly less than projected; 3) 25% of synod-national office unrestricted funds go to service historic debt of the Concordia University System! OUCH!

    I know that the previous LCMS Board of Directors and Treasurer have done everything possible to address all these issues. Their report was stymied at the 2007 convention, so you can’t blame the LCMS Board of Directors or Treasurer. They did their job and did it well, in my opinion. Other persons intentionally obstructed their work, for reasons that are still unclear.

    President Harrison and his staff, and the new Board of Directors and new Treasurer have done a great job with this communication piece to the synod. I hope every church-worker and every leading layman reads this issue of the “Lutheran Witness” and keeps it handy for future discussions.

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  7. Pledges are nice, I suppose. (I rarely make them.)
    I’d be more interested in dollars actually paid.

    [As the news gets out about the financial disaster that Abaze and Fan the Flame were/are, would you pour good money after wasted, if you had made a pledge?]

  8. Martin R. Noland :Dear BJS Bloggers,

    What I don’t understand is how all the Northeastern and the West Coast districts have ended up on the bottom of the list (Eastern, Atlantic, Pacific Southwest, Northwest, New Jersey, and Cal-Nev-HA). If you look at distribution of wealth patterns in the United States, these are the wealthiest regions of the US. You would think that some of that would end up at the synodical offices, not in gross figures, but in per capita figures.

    You have to realize that the cost of living in the wealthier areas is astronomical and that Lutherans are not necessarily the one’s making the big bucks!

  9. @Lifelong Lutheran #9
    If you look at distribution of wealth patterns in the United States, these are the wealthiest regions of the US.

    Ah, but does it say that the wealthiest there are Lutheran?
    I haven’t met many of them.

    [Quick, somebody, convert Bill Gates?]
    [No use; CNH needs its “mission” money to support Sherri Strand, as we all must know by now.]

  10. What I meant to say was that we Lutherans in the coastal areas are not any wealthier than the Lutherans in the middle of the country because the cost of living here is so high. There aren’t many wealthy members at my church (if any). We Lutherans aren’t usually so concerned with accumulating riches on earth and we have been hit hard by the recession all over the country.

  11. @Lifelong Lutheran #11
    Not any more wealthy, but the bottom of the heap?

    Maybe you should be making suggestions to your district about sending a little more through to synod? Or planning to use that envelope in the May Witness (and keeping the address around).
    All our “college of cardinals” could tighten their belts like Wisconsin.

  12. Considering the membership declines in the Synod, the decline in the economy and the giving in the Synod, I would humbly suggest that the leadership work harder to correct their own financial situation without expecting more to come in from the congregations. Many of our members are unlikely to feel confident in sending more money to the leadership in light of financial mismanagement over the years.

    My suggestions would be

    1. Cut spending in line with what is being received.
    2. Starting planning on selling some assests, like some of the CUS. A shrinking synod is not going to need all those schools.
    3. Start making realistic assumption based on current trends and stop with the constant warings that “we’re going to be short of pastors”. They’ve been crying wolf for over 20 years and no ones listening to that one any more. All it does is tell the congregations “we still can’t trust you”

    And if the leadership wants to get a clue as to why Ablaze/Fan into Flame didn’t work so good, that’s the answer. The people in the pews don’t trust the Synod leadership to spend money wisely and for its intended purpose. $18,000,000 in fund raising cost instead of $10,000,000?

    I do appreciate the hight level of candor from the new leadershp.

  13. @Rev. Loren Zell #13
    I do appreciate the hight level of candor from the new leadership.

    Now that IC has candidly told us that they need money for the utility bills, and that they have taken steps to put “world mission” expenditures (apparently the biggest “black hole”) in line with income, perhaps we’d better give them the benefit of believing it. (And try sending money directly to synod…subject to future reports on what was done with it.) No use punishing present leadership for past sins; that will only get us more of past leadership if these guys give up on us.

    What do you all think?

    [If I never heard of Ablaze/Fan the Flame again, it would not be too soon. Surely “losers” can be wound up ahead of schedule, instead of sending good money after [other good money] to keep them going!

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