President Harrison Demonstrating Sound Headship on Fiscal Issues, by Pr. Rossow

The Brothers of John the Steadfast supported the election of Matt Harrison to the presidency of the LCMS and with his early, difficult decisions on the budget, he is not disappointing. His special issue of the Lutheran Witness was direct and bold about the necessary cuts needed to address the income shortfall in the synod. (See our earlier post on the special Lutheran Witness issue by clicking here.)

Now we read that the Board of Directors (BOD), which if you follow various voting lists at the convention, has a majority of members elected by the same people who elected Harrison, is following suit and budgeting in line with the synod’s current shortfalls. The June issue of the LCMS Reporter states that the BOD cut the budget by $10 million from $86 million in 2010-2011 to $76 million for 2011-2012. (For the full story from the Reporter click here.)

The president and the BOD have been clear that the LCMS is hurting because of decreasing offerings coming into the districts and the synod. The cause of this decrease is due to many reasons chief of which are a difficult economy, a desire on the part of donors to give to specific causes instead of to institutions, and of course, the theological turmoil in our synod.

The Brothers of John the Steadfast are quite concerned about the theological disarray in the synod. It is clearly a more important issue than our fiscal problems. We are pleased that in the special Lutheran Witness edition President Harrison talks about his Koinonia project in the same breath as the fiscal problem. (The Koinonia Project is President Harrison’s long term effort to bring unity of doctrine and practice to the LCMS.) Even though the theological problem takes precedence, its solution requires a much slower, more deliberate process than an annual budgeting process.

We are thankful that President Harrison is making the hard decisions to cut spending. In the Lutheran Witness he mentions that he has eliminated nearly $2 million worth of staff, decreased the over spending of LCMS world missions and eliminated entire departments by consolidating various areas of service.

It is ironic that he was given this authority by the convention despite his opposition to granting such authority to the president of the synod. We are pleased that he is cutting excessive spending but we hope that in future conventions, we will return to the slower, less efficient but more godly system of checks and balances in the synod structure. We are confident that in President Harrison’s hands this authority will be used for the sake of the pure Gospel but in other hands it could be abused.

These budget and staff cuts should please a lot of people around the synod from various perspectives, even those who do not put theological issues front and center. It was an odd “combo platter” that brought us both a traditional president and progressive structural changes. The best explanation we know of for this combo is the desire of many delegates to cut bureaucracy and decrease spending even though it might reduce helpful checks and balances. Hopefully this sort of wide appeal around the synod will create good will that will allow President Harrison to take the faithful steps that are needed to bring unity in doctrine and practice to our synod. In the long run, that sort of unity will resolve our financial problems.

About Pastor Tim Rossow

Rev. Dr. Timothy Rossow is the Director of Development for Lutherans in Africa. He served Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, IL as the Sr. Pastor for 22 years (1994-2016) and was Sr. Pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran in Dearborn, MI prior to that. He is the founder of Brothers of John the Steadfast but handed off the Sr. Editor position to Rev. Joshua Scheer in 2015. He currently resides in Ocean Shores WA with his wife Phyllis. He regularly teaches in Africa. He also paints watercolors, reads philosophy and golfs. He is currently represented in two art galleries in the Pacific Northwest. His M Div is from Concordia, St. Louis and he has an MA in philosophy from St. Louis University and a D Min from Concordia, Fort Wayne.

Comments

President Harrison Demonstrating Sound Headship on Fiscal Issues, by Pr. Rossow — 97 Comments

  1. @Rev. Loren Zell #36
    If we can get along with just one dist. for most of Texas why do we need one for just New Jersey?

    When I lived in NJ, it was part of Atlantic District, which at that time ran all the way to Canada, I believe.

  2. I’m glad things are looking up for those who can afford the stock market.
    Our church and school had to freeze salaries this last fiscal year, and cut every program and board. [Some members already had frozen salaries in their jobs.]
    In spite of being “better off” than most states, we have had a share in unemployment, too. All this “trickled down” about 2008/09 🙁 It isn’t over yet.

    I think it too bad that we can’t give more when we can have more confidence that it will be spent for Lutheran purposes. I hope things will truly turn around soon, but we have floods in the north and drought in the south this year. Either way our farmers/ranchers are in trouble. (They may be 2-3% of the national economy, but of the Lutheran, a bit more, I think.)

  3. @Steve #44

    > Am I wrong to speculate that if Pres. K. were still in office this story about declining donations to Synod would be attached to the President’s poor performance as a synodical leader?

    I don’t think you’re wrong at all. With his admittedly not being a theologian, his mocking of traditionalists, his persecution of faithful men, his jerrymandering and bending and breaking and changing rules to protect Benke, and so on, ending up with bad financials might have actually been a blessing, because even delegates who don’t care about theology would pay attention to the bucks, and everybody knew Harrison’s wing of the synod had been a good steward of those.

  4. @mbw #53 I assume you actually believe all this about President Kieschnick. But I don’t. He wasn’t an ACADEMIC theologian, and most of us aren’t. That doesn’t mean he is ignorant of theology. I never saw anything from him MOCKING traditionalists, or even criticizing them. Who did he persecute? What did he jerrymander? (You may be referring to electoral circuits, but he worked to get rid of them, well aware of how problematic they were.) What rules did he change? In the case of Benke, he simply quoted a convention resolution that was adopted without his presidential persuasion behind it (if I recall correctly, it was adopted at the same convention that elected him president). None of us is perfect. That includes LCMS president past and present. But come on. You lay out a list that Tammany Hall would have been challenged to live up to!

  5. As for declining revenues to the national budget, this has been going on for some 25 years. It started when Ralph Bohlmann was president. I remember some people (I think Herman Otten was one of them) saying, “Elect Al Barry and the contributions will come flowing in again.” Well, we elected Al Barry, and the contributions continued to decline. Then we elected Jerry Kieschnick, and the contributions continued to decline. The we elected Matt Harrison, and the contributions continue to decline. Are the districts to blame? They are getting less, too … although I tend to agree that we could effect some savings there through consolidation.

  6. John Rixe

    Synod has had to borrow $11.1 million from designated funds (such as WR-HC) just to operate. (May LW pg 1). These loans must and will be repaid. There has been no spending of designated funds for undesignated purposes. The annual audit gives us this assurance.

    Thanks for pointing this out for me, as I had already disposed of the LW. Unfortunately the LCMS Corp. is a little short on funds right now to repay this money. IMHO, it is totally wrong to divert designated funds, given by Christians for disaster relief, and be used for LCMS corp. operating funds. Those people gave that money for disaster relief now, not in some vague pie in sky future date. Yes the audit tells us that the money has only been “borrowed” but it wasn’t given to be borrowed. These are the kind of debts that need to be seriously addressed.

    There is no reason to believe that we can anticipate a surge in offerings to pay off these debts while the LCMS is struggling to to pay current expenses. We may not be as small as the WELS now, but we are headed in that direction. We are always being told by “leadership” that we need to have a vision. Well the vision needs to give way to reality. Any small demographic study and a good review of the statistics in the back of the current Lutheran Annual will tell us where we are going. Most of our congregations have a lot of gray hair and not very many “rug rats”. Look 20 years in the future; most of those gray heads will no longer be contributing members of LCMS congregations.

  7. @Rev. Loren Zell #56

    You are correct, Pastor Zell, that the financial situation is indeed serious when we have to borrow from designated funds just to survive.  What can we constructively do now to fix it?   I’m afraid that district reorganization just isn’t going to happen.

    Although it’s easy to get discouraged regarding LCMS finances, it is such a joy to see the wonderful work getting done at our local congregations and schools.  We are so blessed.  

  8. MBW #53

    Thanks for making my point….

    Donations go down during a president’s term you don’t like – blame the president.

    Donations continue to go down during a president’s term you like – blame something else.

  9. Rev. Zell – Borrowing from WRHC certainly needs to be repaid but the primary gift that gave the flexibility for borrowing was an unrestricted, large bequest. It was not given for a specific disastor.

  10. @Steve #44

    Steve, you wrote….” And yet, now faced with the same facts, (declining donations) we are reluctant to attribute it to current synodical leadership, nay even are saying leadership is to be commended for performing under such dire conditions.”

    You apparently didn’t comprehend what I was saying regarding the timing of the current budget and the length of time President Harrison has been responsible for Synod finances. Also, I imagine there will be some of the “moderates” in synod that will withold or redirect their contributions as well, now that a Confessional leads the synod.

  11. Paul :Rev. Zell – Borrowing from WRHC certainly needs to be repaid but the primary gift that gave the flexibility for borrowing was an unrestricted, large bequest. It was not given for a specific disastor.

    Paul,
    I’d be curious how much this is gift was and what is your source of information since I had not heard this before. My assumption was that all money given to WRHC was automatically considered restricted, not unrestricted. If its not restricted, why would it need to be paid back?

    John, I never get upset about LCMS finances. Its not my problem. If they go bankrupt, its not really my problem. I have my call and my responsibilities, and that’s what I look after. I don’t run Corp. LCMS, so its not my problem. You’re right, we have lots of great schools and congregations that are doing great work.

  12. Gift was $10M.

    Heard it directly from WRHC. Gifts can be made to a ministry but unrestricted within that ministry, which allows LCMS to borrow against them.

  13. Walter Wagner #60

    Maybe we’re crossing wires here and maybe I’m not understanding the original story but ….

    As I understand it, the anticipated synod shortfall being discussed here is anticipated revenue for this coming fiscal year and the estimates of giving for this coming year have already been made by districts who have already received that information from their congregations (probably within the last 1 to 3 months). So, this is anticipated revenue based on an LCMS president that has already been in office for a year. It wouldn’t have been fair to evaluate last year because that money was already committed by the time he was elected. But this year, I believe, is fair to evaluate. And the trend is downward… and downward by more than it was last year. Are some Pres. K. supporting congregations withholding money? Maybe. Were some confessional congregations withholding money when Pres. K. was in office? Undoubtedly.
    But that is all beside the only point I was trying to make…
    When revenue was falling under Pres. K. it appeared on this blog that it was all Pres. K’s fault and there were not a “variety of reasons” Now, that Pres. H is in office and has had one full year, and revenue is declining even further, it’s not his fault, it’s a “variety of reasons.”
    I believe that revenue shortfall is for a “variety of reasons” and has been for 25 years now. But it amazes me how quickly and easily we will delude ourselves and either make heroes or scapegoats out of our synodical presidents.

  14. @Steve #64

    Your point is well made! Let’s pray that the current administration will start the turn-around of the downward trend of District support. As with rectifying the errors in doctrine and practice, it will, IMHO, take quite some time.

  15. Now we read that the Board of Directors (BOD), which if you follow various voting lists at the convention, has a majority of members elected by the same people who elected Harrison, is following suit and budgeting in line with the synod’s current shortfalls. The June issue of the LCMS Reporter states that the BOD cut the budget by $10 million from $86 million in 2010-2011 to $76 million for 2011-2012. (For the full story from the Reporter click here.)

    Pr. Rossow, you might also note that the LCMS BOD dropped the budget from $100 million to $88 million at least three years before that.

  16. @Steve #58

    Hi Steve. I will never make your point Steve.

    Donations can go up or down – no guarantees.

    But declining finances in the face of bad, non-theological leadership – that’s too much for even the majority of delegates.

    There you go. At least now we believe we have good theology at the top. Finances, shminances. We do not know what size God intends this synod to be. We hope it will grow, and there’s some Scriptural support for that idea, but there’s also support for other outcomes.

  17. In order to accurately say that the leadership is the issue for declining finances, one would have to examine the entirety of the giving record. Is giving to the weekly offering in churches going up or down? If that is trending downward, it is safe to assume declines will be felt all the way through to Synod. If giving is stable or trending upward locally but downward to district/Synod, then I think the argument of leadership carries more weight. I recall total congregational giving being in the neighborhood of $1.2B about 4 years ago, not sure where it is today. However, giving to Concordia’s, RSOs, seminaries, etc. has certainly increased over the past 20 years, several have done recent campaigns of a very impressive nature (CSL, CU Nebraska, CU Wisconsin). It seems Lutherans are giving in impressive – but different – ways when compared to previous generosity. It may be that Synod will need to adopt a different funding structure to respond to the changes in philanthropic giving. Not a change in priority, just a change in process.

  18. IMHO, LCMS corp may need to explain the need for its existance. From the hinterlands, it appears that the colleges and seminaries are largely self sustaining, with their own fund raising. CPH and CHP are self sustaining. The districts are self sustaining also. Some congregations have organized, funded and sent or supported missionaries without help from St. Louis. On top of that, St. Louis even skims money given to the missionaries. So the bottom line is, from the pew, it appears that Corp. Synod is not all that important, and maybe can even blow away because they are unnecessary.

    Now I know this is not the case. They provide an overall head which is necessary, but it may be that the funding for LCMS Corp will have to change. Possibly a fee charged to all the colleges and seminaries, and maybe a percentage fee charged to all districts based on offerings or membership.

  19. Alternatively, we could get rid of districts.  Many corporations eliminated district offices decades ago because of computers and instant communication.   Most of the unrestricted dollars going to districts are used for administration – not local mission fields nor synod ministries.

  20. John Rixe :
    Alternatively, we could get rid of districts.  Many corporations eliminated district offices decades ago because of computers and instant communication.   Most of the unrestricted dollars going to districts are used for administration – not local mission fields nor synod ministries.

    I would challenge you to support your claim.

  21. I too think it should be the districts that are eliminated. What has arisen is about 35 fiefdoms. I have lived in over half a dozen districts over my years. At the parish level about the only thing the district would do is to sponsor an annual youth gathering. (Most of those were of very low quailty). Where the district could have been help, they were just the opposite. At the time of a vacancy, the district tried to stick the parishes who was liberal and who would be another district “yes man”. We had to ignore the list from the DP’s and find our own pastors by word of mouth, etc.

  22. Pres. Harrison may have to exercise his headship in another trip behind the woodshed with a district president.

    From the LCMS Mid-South District newsletter, Encourager, June 2011 (p. 11):

    “30-15-5 Challenge”

    “For most churches, the number of first-time guests on any given Sunday morning is relatively low and in fact there may not be any. As hard as you might be trying, very few new people are coming.

    “We would like to help your church change this by offering what we call the 30-15-5 challenge. It’s fairly simple: the Pastor, DCE, or school principal makes 30 contacts per week. The goal is to get contact information from at least 15 of the 30 contacts made. The final part of the challenge is to pray that at least 5 of these people will come to your church the next Sunday.

    “Past experience from Pastors who have consistently done this shows their churches grow, and the members begin to emulate what the leaders have modeled by engaging people in their everyday life.

    “If you are a professional church worker and are interested in taking this challenge, we’ll provide $500 of seed money to help get you started. The funds are to be used at your discretion. They will be sent to your church with a letter explaining their purpose.

    “In return, you will commit to the following:
    • Try the 30-15-5 challenge for six months.
    • Send the names of those contacts you obtained information from on a monthly basis to me, Todd Jones at [email protected]. That means 15 people with information times the number of weeks in the month.
    • Share with us your stories and what you’ve learned.

    “We look forward to hearing from many of you, and see what God does as you share His love in your communities.”

    Ken Lampe has been the Mid-South District President since 2003.

    (HT: Rev. Larry A. Peters, Grace Lutheran Church, Clarksville, TN)

  23. @John Rixe #70

    Agreed. Districts are a total waste of money. According to the Church Growth Movement evangelists such as Rick Warren and Bill Hybels, the Church should be run like a business. Districts provide a layer of office bureaucracy that the LCMS does not need. Therefore, all of the Willow Creek Association LCMS congregations and other promoters of Church Growth should support the elimination of all districts with vigor.

  24. In the vein of Daniel Gard’s ALPB Forum Online comment, here’s a double-dactyl poem on the Mid-South District’s “30-15-5 Challenge”:

    Higgledy-Piggledy
    Mid-South Encourager
    hypes 30-15-3’s
    “John Tetzel” plan;

    Incentivized Revs can
    spring Great Commission souls,
    missionalisticly,
    for half a grand.

  25. @David Hartung #74

    In all fairness, I believe the $500 is to help cover expenses not to provide an incentive.  30 contacts x 26 weeks means 780 contacts.  That’s a lot of work for $500. 

  26. “The goal is to get contact information from at least 15 of the 30 contacts made.”

    Does this mean getting contact information on 15 people who are not already members of some Christian church?

  27. And what is the contact information to be used for by the district? Wouldn’t it be better to keep that information at the local church?

  28. Will the people be told that their contact information will be passed on to others in the district (and higher?), or only if they ask?

  29. @James #76
    . Districts provide a layer of office bureaucracy that the LCMS does not need. Therefore, all of the Willow Creek Association LCMS congregations and other promoters of Church Growth should support the elimination of all districts with vigor.

    Or, they could dissassociate from Willowcreek and other non Lutheran organizations and donate the money currently spent for memberships, non Lutheran speakers at District events and other non Lutheran activities to synod.

  30. Steve #25,

    So you think the economy is improving huh? I guess you are liberal in both your politics and your theology.

    TR

    P.S. Out of the string for a while – just catching up.

  31. Just a little added info, and I am not saying there is any connection, but its interesting to note that the Mid South Dist. in 2009 had over a 6% decrease in membership in its congregations, the largest decrease of any district in the LCMS.

  32. “The districts are self sustaining also” (Loren Zell, I think)

    Districts, as an entity, don’t have a dime except what they skim from congregations, most of whose members faithfully believe that they are giving to Synod!

    Given the common perception of what Districts do, there would be far more “by passing” of them if the average member knew how their “mission” money is really directed.

  33. helen :
    @James #76
    . Districts provide a layer of office bureaucracy that the LCMS does not need. Therefore, all of the Willow Creek Association LCMS congregations and other promoters of Church Growth should support the elimination of all districts with vigor.
    Or, they could dissassociate from Willowcreek and other non Lutheran organizations and donate the money currently spent for memberships, non Lutheran speakers at District events and other non Lutheran activities to synod.

    That raises two questions:

    1.) What are LCMS churches getting from the Willow Creek Association that Synod and/or District cannot provide.

    2.) Why do LCMS pastors allow their congregations to support non-Lutheran charities such as Habitat for Humanity and the Red Cross. Granted, those are fine (secular) organizations, but how does supporting them advance LCMS belief and practice. Do we help just to be “nice.” How does supporting them with church dollars increase membership numbers in the LCMS? You would think that we would want to help those people around the world who have a strong interest in joining the LCMS. Otherwise, why help at all?

  34. @James #87

    Galatians 6:10
    As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.

  35. @James #87

    Are there LCMS organizations which do what groups such as Habitat and the Red Cross do? Does every ministry of a congregation have to tagged to an LCMS organization?

  36. @James #87

    My congregation gives generous support to Jews for Jesus, SF Gospel Mission, Alpha Pregnancy Center,  City Crossroads, and several others that are not LCMS. These are certainly  part of our “household of faith” and provide local mission opportunities that currently are beyond our local LCMS capacity.

  37. “Are there LCMS organizations which do what groups such as Habitat and the Red Cross do?”

    A 2006 Reporter article, LCMS housing corporation begins first fiscal year,” talks about the LCMS National Housing Support Corporation (NHSC), the charitable and education organization established by the LCMS Board for Human Care Ministries to assist LCMS congregations, districts, social ministry organizations, and other partners in developing capacity for local housing initiatives.

    According to the 2011-12 Mission and Ministry operating budget in “the May 2011 BOD Minutes,” the budget for the LCMS National Housing Program increased from last year’s $1,586,341 to a plan of $6,302,717. Missions, on the other hand, has a planned decrease from $30,539,874 last year to $27,817,181 for 2011-12.

  38. Considering that “missions” has meant “coffeehouses” and non Lutheran doctrine, the reduction is probably appropriate. What part of it is related to defunding TCN (although not eliminating the program, to my disappointment)?
    Weren’t there some other questionable activities hiding under the banner of “missions” that had little to do with spreading the Lutheran faith?

  39. @James #87
    1.) What are LCMS churches getting from the Willow Creek Association that Synod and/or District cannot provide.

    Non denominational propaganda… for a price.

    I would object strongly if our congregation donated money to Red Cross. What that organization does best is fund raising. I have been told stories of three different disasters, in Florida, Pennsylvania and Texas where the Red Cross came late and did little of value. But their appeals were on the air constantly, elbowing out the appeals of organizations which actually had people on the scene working and providing needed aid. A Lutheran Chaplain was in Pennsylvania; LCMS disaster relief was in Texas and Haiti.

    [Haiti was another occasion where Red Cross collected the bulk of the money, had very few people on the ground and were unwilling to share with those who had been helping in Haiti before the earthquake (and are probably still there). That story, out of Boston, was in the papers.]

  40. David Hartung :
    @James #87
    Are there LCMS organizations which do what groups such as Habitat and the Red Cross do? Does every ministry of a congregation have to tagged to an LCMS organization?

    Individuals can donate time, money, and talent to whatever charity they see fit. I refuse to engage in arguments such as “My charity is better than yours”; or “Your charity is (perhaps rightly so) run by frauds”. That is not the argument I am trying to make.

    It is “ok” if a group of LCMS members wants to support secular and non-Lutheran charities; It is (or should be) unacceptable if an LCMS congregation provides official financial support to such charities.

    Question: How does supporting such non-Lutheran organizations spread the (confessional, LCMS) Lutheran faith. Have such efforts increased the membership of your congregation.
    Answer: Nope.

    Of course I would like to read an Steadfast article that proves me wrong.

  41. @James #94

    In our town, we are the sole Lutheran church of any kind. We are a small congregation, and our ability to engage in local charity work is very limited. However, by joining our charitable efforts with those of other churches, we are able to help many more people. Is this wrong?

    Just so you know, within a fifty mile radius there is exactly one other LCMS congregation. This other congregation is over 20 miles away, and is also a small church(under 50 on Sunday). In fact, in our entire state, there are less than 30 LCMS congregations. LCMS resources are few and far between.

  42. @James #94

    My congregation joyfully and officially donates to the agencies I mentioned earlier (comment 90) out of our general offerings and school tuition.   We have no expectations that any of the clients will become LCMS Lutherans.  We love to help share the gospel and expect to meet in heaven many of those we have helped in our small way.

  43. I think a lot of discernment is needed in charitble work. Organizations mentioned by John Rixe would be the type better in line with support. My criteria would be, do they spread the Gospel, and what Gospel message is that? Habitat is nice, but do they really do much for advancing the Word? Could we be plugged into more effective mission/outreach endeavors, like the LC-MS National Housing Support Corporation? I have gotten into tussles with Mark Louderback over the Salvation Army. I reject them because they really are NOT a charity, but a denomination. As such, I would rather directly support recipient (for example a food bank) than to go though a heterodox church, who may skim a little off for admin costs. Even at say a minute 1%, that is still supporting some of their false Gospel messages.

    For many like Daivid’s congregation, do the best with what’s available, especially because there are so few to choose from. With few endeavors, which may receive a sizable percentage of our support, make it count. (big churches in big cities need diligence in that with many options, be careful to give to the ones that work in harmony with our beliefs, not just any organization)

    @John Rixe #96
    And this should be our guiding priciple. It would be nice if they did join, but far more important that the hear the Word. Getting members by saying whatever niceties needed if of no use. (gain the world, lose the soul) Many other threads right now (usually the worship or evangelism ones) discuss this. But if we stand for the Truth and proclaim it boldly, then maybe God will grant us new members who also wish to spread the Gospel. The Good News of salvation through Jesus should be our reason why we go into the world.

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