Faithless in Big, but Faithful in Little?

bigstock_falling_money_669153The LCMS, Inc. or some such entity connected with this behemoth wants to do for your church’s finances what LCMS, Inc. has already done to your doctrine. Don’t let them.

Evidently this move is predicated on the opposite of what Jesus said. Though they have not been faithful in the big thing of public doctrine, they will certainly be faithful in the little thing of handling your payroll services. Don’t let them.

Don’t you see? The first wrong turn we made was down the road of retirement and health plans. This was foolish because we originally said the Synod only existed, only was a reality, in convention.  Health and retirement – we later got into banking too – need daily minding. Thus the beast was born.

Now, they want you to enter further into the institutional machine by having them be your payroll services company.  Of the four reasons for founding a synod, not a one had to with the health, retirement, or banking. Now they have us so thoroughly dependent on them for these that the thought of endangering these causes us to endanger our conscience. Much more than the camel’s nose has been in your church for some time. Now they want even more to be. Don’t let them.

I have to admit that LCMS, Inc. does far better with the physical side of church than they do with the spiritual.  On the spiritual side, we have a corpus of public doctrine as conflicting, meandering, and meaningless as Cannon Law is to all but those who wish to use its doctrinal resolutions and statements to beat others over the head.

Those doing the beating, the leaders and bureaucrats of LCMS, Inc. are a very limited number of men, and they do in fact change. But when the change happens we experience a change in politics but not in position over against the corporation. The Prime Directive remains inviolate. LCMS, Inc. must survive; all must be done to protect the bricks, the mortar, the retirement and health plans, and the Lutheran Church Extension Fund.

So, I suppose it is little wonder that such an institution would be better at the things of this life for these are what sustain her here.  Doctrine in a fallen world, on the other hand, can only divide an institution as careless about doctrine as LCMS, Inc. has been since the 40s. St. Paul, not this Paul, says that. He says there must be divisions so that those who are approved may stand out. We stand out from each other doctrinally but materially we’re joined at the hip certainly by health and retirement plans and may be by investments, loans, and savings.

LCMS, Inc. tolerates standing out from their Public Doctrine, but they get gritchy when you stand out from their forms, their plans, their programs. Doing so pokes them in their institutional eye. I use the singular on purpose. In a land stone-cold blind to doctrine, the LCMS, Inc. isn’t totally blind. She has one eye, clouded by the cataract of material matters, but you know what that one half-blind eye makes her in the land of the blind, and why she is so protective of that eye.

Anyway, the LCMS, Inc. wants to fold your local church ever more tightly into their bureaucracy. Don’t let them. It’s time to wake up Neo and use your own two eyes.


Faithless in Big, but Faithful in Little? — 24 Comments

  1. Pr. Harris,

    Is there a recent article related to the payroll initiative you mentioned?

    I’m not contesting your points or concerns, but I was curious what sparked the latest reference.


  2. I wonder if this is partly based on requests from congregations for such assistance, particularly those with large staffs and/or schools. My wife formerly did the payroll for our previous congregation’s preschool with a relatively small staff of about a half-dozen. She is quite astute in such matters, but the government is making it so crazy complicated as to be basically impossible for someone not an accountant or lawyer to accomplish.

    Even innocent errors can result in catastrophic, draconian penalties for the worker, congregation, and person doing the payroll, up to and including freezing accounts, seizing property, and going to jail. And of course it is documented now that the IRS specifically targets conservative groups, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all that LCMS congregations and workers would be in their sights for special scrutiny and punishment. We know that they illegally released donor information from a group in California opposed to homosexual “marriage” in order to stigmatize and discourage future donations to such groups.

    My present congregation has only a few staff members but finds it necessary for an accounting firm to prepare the payroll. Whether this is an appropriate service for the Synod to provide, it is an outside service of which many congregations are in need, particularly with the addition of Obamacare. The stock price of H & R Block here in Kansas City recently shot up when they announced their business would increase exponentially as a result of all the extra work needed for their customers to comply. The lawyer who prepares my taxes is also an accountant, and he calls the Affordable Care Act the “Accountants and Lawyers Full Employment Act.”

  3. @John Rixe #4


    Whether the payroll issue is particularly troubling or not, I think Pr. Harris’ original concern is worthy of consideration. What happens in a Synod of congregational polity, when various elements of congregational life are not easily extricated from the Synod bureaucracy? I think his point, is that the Synod becomes an entity unenvisioned by its founders and founding documents, and the congregations become less willing to seriously resist it, by virtue of their deep indebtedness to it.

    That was my read, anyway. It’s hard to critique the establishment, when the establishment controls your paycheck, healthcare, retirement plans, etc.

  4. @Brad #5

    Good point. Please note that Paychex and the GPA firms are independent contractors. No one in LCMS needs to deal with them. It would be poor stewardship to not at least learn what they have to offer.

  5. The average of LCMS church workers is 99% likely healthier than the average US resident. By limiting enrollment to just those folks/family, the plan is easily solvent. The plan just needs to have some kind of way for people to transfer it to Thrivent with no apparent penalties if the worker is more comfortable elsewhere. If someone is heavily invested in Concordia and can’t get out, he will not want to leave. Leaving needs to be easier for those who disagree with the traditions of the LCMS. If the LCMS rewards people financially for staying, of course, they will stay.

  6. There is no mandate to use the Concordia Health Plan. For example, all our church/school employees are covered by our local Blue Cross.

  7. It’s a pet peeve of mine when people call the Church a business. The Church is the body of Christ, not a business. It has been rightly pointed out that synods and districts are not the Church even though they are made up of people who are part of the Church.

    It appears to me that synods and districts have become churchly unions with schools and business offices. They provide training, information, business services, health and welfare plans, and representation for their members as well as provide a clearing house for “Lutheran” mercy projects and political work. They have become service organizations. When their members have grievances against one another so they deal with them in their politically expedient ways.

    As I understand it the district and synod officers are elected to be overseers of pastors, teachers, congregations, and other inter parish institutions. They are tasked with seeing to it that members are following God’s Word and the Lutheran Confessions as they have promised at their ordinations and installations. Are they tasked with leading pastors and congregations in new programs and services? Perhaps so by the conventions they lead, but I think that is a mistake. Any of these necessary tasks could be contracted out to the lowest bidders so that district and synodic officers could head back to their home altars and pulpits where they belong.

  8. @ross #9
    Any of these necessary tasks could be contracted out to the lowest bidders so that district and synodic officers could head back to their home altars and pulpits where they belong.

    Oh, my! Give up those traveling and expense accounts!?

    Stefan would be shocked, shocked!

    [Practically speaking, a new bureaucracy of accountants would have to see that the church got full value from its “lowest bidders”.] 🙁 Not entirely a solution…

  9. “Any of these necessary tasks could be contracted out to the lowest bidders so that district and synodic officers could head back to their home altars and pulpits where they belong.”

    How does this relate to the original article?  Payroll service was contracted out to the lowest bidder, Paychex.  You are free to use them or not.

  10. Oh, my! Give up those traveling and expense accounts!?

    Assuming such motivation seems unworthy of a Christian.

  11. It is a myth that the Concordia Retirement Plan or Concordia Health Plan force congregations or pastors or other workers to stay in the Synod against their better judgment. I have dropped out of both at times over the years and used other plans. With the retirement plan if you are vested you don’t lose anything, or can get a payout. These plans are not holding anyone hostage, only people’s uninformed misconceptions about them.

  12. @John Rixe #13
    Assuming such motivation seems unworthy of a Christian.

    John, you aren’t really suggesting that some of our recent bureaucrats ran for office because they loved Lutheran theology!? In the face of their frequent denials of that motive?

    I did forget the smiley, John…
    but I thought the reference to Stefan would indicate humor by itself. 🙂

    [Not as unworthy as forcing a brother Pastor out of a call so you can “re-purpose” his salary for your own benefit…. ] 🙁

    @ross #11

    Glad you got it! 🙂

  13. @Rev. Kevin Vogts #14
    I was told by a former pastor that our congregation needed to keep the Concordia Plan (with some upgrade offered at the time) if we wanted to be able to call a pastor in the future who was already in the plan. The reason being that a pastor already covered by the Concordia Plan would not consider a call to a church which hadn’t kept it up.

  14. That would be the judgment of the chairman, which may or may not be correct. However, there is not a requirement for congregations to remain on the plan, as evidenced from the fact that your congregation was considering withdrawing. I don’t necessarily think this affects people accepting calls. For example the Lutheran High School of Kansas City has been on Blue Cross Blue Shield for decades instead of Concordia Health Plan and they do not seem to have difficulty getting called LCMS workers. My sister is the guidance counselor there, and I believe their entire faculty are called LCMS workers.

  15. @John Rixe #13
    “Oh, my! Give up those traveling and expense accounts!?” ‘Assuming such motivation seems unworthy of a Christian.’

    You can scale that back to wanton waste of other people’s money. Case in point, synod or district official A receives an annual salary of $150k. Rev. A goes around his district or region or whatever and gives “rah-rah synod!” presentations, all on the treasury’s dime, and at more expense than it should be.

    Missionary B gets to spend a whole lot of time traveling around to raise money for his own Missionary activities. Rev. B, who spends all that time away from his family trying to get enough $$ to actually go do the work of his Call, figures out how to travel cheap real fast.

    One of these is a task and purpose of a Lutheran synod. The other is not.

  16. Mrs. Hume :The plan just needs to have some kind of way for people to transfer it to Thrivent with no apparent penalties if the worker is more comfortable elsewhere.

    What does Thrivent have to do with the LCMS or the Concordia Plans? They disbanded the Thrivent club at my congregation.

  17. Stephen :

    What are the four reasons for founding a synod?

    (Current) LCMS constitution lists two in the Preamble:

    1. The example of the apostolic church. Acts 15:1–31.
    2. Our Lord’s will that the diversities of gifts should be for the common profit. 1 Cor. 12:4–31.

  18. @R.D. #20
    You can scale that back to wanton waste of other people’s money….

    Excellent illustration! The only thing I could add is: If these wandering “rah rah boys” were halved in number perhaps we could go back to funding Missionary B, so that at least part of his home leave isn’t more exhausting than his field work.

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