A couple of observations. . .
- This is not a new problem. In fact, our unrestricted income from Districts and congregations of Synod is less than or about the same as the unrestricted income from the Districts and congregations in the early 1970s -- exactly the same in real dollars and unbelievably less in dollars adjusted for inflation. So this problem pre-dated most of our theological controversy and cannot be assigned to either the theological left or the right.
- This problem was exacerbated when inflation and other factors increased the costs to the local congregation. Some of you may recall when you paid 15% on your home mortgage and when CDs were earning you 17% or more. Those years of rapid inflation quickly sapped up parish resources and made it harder for marginal congregations to cover the cost of full-time Pastoral care AND put money in the budget for missions. Add to this several rounds of oil embargoes and gas hikes and the cost of the local congregation escalated quickly and well beyond the ability to adjust without painful choice. The easiest of those painful choices -- give up a mission budget in order to keep a Pastor in the parsonage.
- Districts grew quickly and grew fat on the idea that they were providers of parish programming. Districts which once had part-time District Presidents who were also full-time Parish Pastors soon gained large program and support staffs. Full time DPs were supplemented by several F/T executives in the areas of education, stewardship and finance, congregational services, etc. They came with secretarial support, a car, and a host of other necessities some might call perks. But parishes liked having District people close in time of trouble and they did not balk at the rapid expansion but paid for it by decreasing the money that went to the national church and missions.
- Building booms, capital campaigns, and expansions of colleges were the norm on the parish, District, and national level. Some were essential but some were less so. District offices became self-standing buildings to house the larger staff of the District. Congregations built and built (remember the family life center boom?). National church structures also built a national headquarters, buildings for support functions (LCMS Foundation, LCEF, etc.) but the colleges built and the Synod ended up covering the entire debt for a portion of this building boom. Forgotten amid some building programs were factoring in the costs of maintaining and using these structures which also sucked out the excess out of the budgets and the most common area to cut was missions or direct support for colleges and seminaries.
- Giving has been treated as a program and so people have come to expect and have grown resistant to programmatic methods of addressing the problem. The "time, talent, treasure" idea was a thinly veiled way in which the leaders could say to the sensitive "no, we are not talking about money" when, "yes we are talking about money." The end result is that people stopped listening or listened only to find out how creatively the money issue could be buried under talk of faith and values and the like. Stewardship is not a committee issue or a programming concern. Stewardship is a faith and life issue and needs to be treated as such.
- Our attempts to increase funding by sidestepping District (and, to a lesser extent, congregation) with direct appeals has grown a restricted budget very well but left us captive to economic upturns and downfalls that always affect this kind of giving. Our use of foundation monies to replace restricted income from Districts and congregations has left us captive to Thrivent or Schwan concerns and has not helped at all the drying up of the Synod's leaking ship. We have expanded a number of things through this foundation giving but we have forgotten, as good as it is, it is not the regular source of income to fund what our Synod has determined is our calling to work together to fulfill.
- The death of the parsonage and the rise of Pastors owning their own homes has also contributed in a small way to this (I am writing as one who owns his own home). Who would deny it is both cheaper to the congregation and easier to move Pastors around when the congregation owns the real estate. The boom of Pastors owning their own homes has brought with it higher costs to the parish (especially in high cost of living areas) and had an impact on the mobility of Pastors.