Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Synod Finances. . .

According to a few things I have read, the Missouri Synod is in debt about $45 million -- mostly due to capital projects and the colleges.  This is not the pressing operational debt that threatens to sink us but investment debt in our ministry.  According to other things, cash flow is a problem.  It seems that the Synod has been using other funds to float the general expense budget when cash flow is light.  If this were but an occasional problem, it might not be so problematic but it is a chronic problem due to the fact that our Synod has no reserve or rainy day funds to sustain the work of the Church in months when income is lighter.  Many congregations have this problem and in that respect are but one Sunday offering from not being able to pay the bills.  For a congregation this may be a matter of a few thousand dollars but for Synod the total needed is more like $5 million of reserves or rainy day funds.

What is of greatest concern is the fact that total income passed from congregations through districts to Synod has actually declined since the early 1970s -- in real dollars and not adjusted for inflation.  At the same time the income of the local congregation has exploded.  This is a real problem and not one that complainers can chalk up to bad management or bloated bureaucracy.  We could fire everyone at 1333 South Kirkwood and we would still have the same financial crisis.  We do not have money for career missionaries.  We do not have money to support those in church work vocations.  We do not have money for the seminaries.  We do not have money to fund development of parish resources (the development of our last new hymnal was the result of Schwann's grants).  This is a crisis situation which the new Synodical President will have to face fairly quickly.

The consequences of this lack of income are manifold.  For one, we have turned missionaries into fund raisers who are not only charged with sharing the Gospel on the mission field but also convincing folks in the pew to directly support their work.  For another, we have turned the colleges and seminaries into functionally independent entities who are forced to hit the fund raising trail and their Presidents chosen as much for their money making skills as leadership skills.  With these administrations so busy getting the schools signed into wills, developing trusts, and seeking direct donations to support annual operating expenses, they are not free to do what they need to or should do shaping leaders for our Church in church work careers as well as many other vocations.  I am not blaming them but the system in which we fail to support them in what we have given them to do.  The end result will be an ELCA system of independent schools and seminaries whose ties to the Church are shallow and not deep.

The worst of it all is that the functions of Synod which we were formed to accomplish in partnership have to sold to people by convincing them there is something in it for them if they assist.  When this happens, the great temptation is to give people what they want and not what is good or right or true.  So, for example, when non-liturgical worship becomes the thing that parishes want, the Synod will be forced to sell them what they want or risk being superfluous to these parishes.  Is this what we want the Synod to be?  Is this worth the stinginess of parishes and districts who think they can spend the money more faithfully or wiser than the Synod?

It is not enough to rebuild the trust.  We have much more to rebuild and that is the way our Synod accomplishes the work we are given to do together.  It is my hope and prayer that we can re-establish the work of God's kingdom that we accomplish in partnership through the Synod as a good and noble work, worthy of our faithful and sacrificial support -- for the glory of God and for the good work of His kingdom.


Rev. Paul T. McCain said...

It is a conundrum, Pr. Peters. Let me take this one step further.

We are all, whether we like to admit it or not, deeply enculturated in the "values" of American capitalism and commercialism.

Let me give you but one example. At CPH we simply can not make a "go" of our high end professional books unless we offer an "incentive" to the "customer" to buy our books.

The customers are pastors.

Could we simply tell them, "This is what we have to charge to even begin to recover our costs on producing these books." No. We can't.

We have to set a "list" price and then offer a discount from that price, a standing 20% off for pastors, so they feel like they are "getting a deal" or else they won't buy the book.

I don't know how to dig ourselves out from under this kind of thinking.

Rev. Paul T. McCain said...

Thanks for your comment.

My point simply is that we are all children of our consumerist culture where we are always "looking for a deal."

If we were simply to put a price out there and say, "Buy it" we would never have the same level of response that we do when we say, "Here's the price but here's your discount. Here's the deal. Here's your price" and so forth.

I don't know anyway around it. We are all so used to this mentality.

Some may say this is "cynical" but, sorry, it is simply the way it is. I can show you the hard data that proves pastors, as much as anyone else, are always looking for the "discount" ... can't blame them ... but it says something about how deeply we have all drunk at the well of American consumerism.

Something to ponder.

Pastor Peters said...

It is a sad state of affairs when the Church must compete with a bargain mindset which has, at its root, the idea that I win and someone else loses... Perhaps stewardship is in worse shape than we realize...