Sunday, May 15, 2011

Finances and the Larger Church

By now you should have received the Lutheran Witness special edition focusing on the finances of our Synod and the pressing issues before us in the areas of finance and stewardship.  I would urge you to reach them over thoroughly and pay sincere attention to the information and to the challenge laid out for us there.

A couple of observations. . .
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
I would suggest that some of these things need to be part of the discussion as well.  I write this as one who has worked with several congregations to increase giving to District and Synod from zero to about 10% of the total annual income, has added special mission projects (both local and international) to expand this figure, and built on buildings.  I am no expect (far from it) but the problems can be overcome.  In order to do so, we have to ditch funding from the worship wars and doctrinal skirmishes being found among us and raise this cause up so that it is so important it does not become a casualty of our discontent.  Secondly, we need to address some of the continuing reasons why money is sucked up at several levels before it ever gets a chance to fund the Synodical things we mandated as part of our life together.  Thirdly, we need to call part of this problem what it is -- smug selfishness that suggests that we know better and should spend more on a local and regional level than those bureaucrats in the national office (whom we treat with about as much respect as we do our Washington politicians and lobbyists).


Anonymous said...

Concerning your point #1

In 1973 the Districts sent 56% of
their remitted funds to Synod.
In 2007 they sent only 28% to Synod.
Most of our 35 District have become
bloated with overpaid staff members.
I know of one District where two
pastors on the staff are working on
their Doctor of Ministry degree to
advance on the pay scale. This is
sick and disgusting.

Anonymous said...

What about smaller families starting in about 1960?

Fifty years have now passed and the result is that smaller families mean fewer people and less resources. I was once at a church council meeting where folks were discussing budget and encouraging members to give. Finally one man simply stated that we didn't need people to give more, we needed more people to give. The world preaches fewer kids, more work, more money per person. Does it really work? Yes, in the very short term and only in the very short term.

"By the late 1960s, the birth rate in the Missouri Synod had dropped by a third to less than 25 per 1000 members.

"In 1960, the LCMS baptized 82,000 babies.

"While total LCMS membership has remained relatively static since 1960, the LCMS baptized only 31,700 children in 2005, a drop of 66% since 1960."

Anonymous said...

The local parish should have gotten
out of the housing business a long
time ago. A Parsonage owned by the
congregation is a cheap way out for
them and gives the pastor no equity
when he retires. The issue is not
the mobility for the pastor to take
calls to new places, but the security
of owning your own home. Most
parsonages were never adequately
kept in good repair as many trustees
looked the other way to get by.

Pastor Peters said...

Having lived in both, I am torn. Parsonages have been both comfortable and problematic but at least when the roof leaked it was not my problem. Now, like any average home owner, I find myself spending a ton of time and money on the upkeep and maintenance of my home. As far as equity is concerned, considering that the average home owner pays 2-3 times the cost of the house over the span of the mortgage, it would be cheaper and more effective to invest in the stock market than to build wealth through the house in which you live.

Anonymous said...

It's about time that the district and national offices cut back on their overhead. Their salaries are way too high and they are out of touch with the local parishes in this regard. Look at the average salary of a district president and compare to an average pastor. We don't need all our universities, either. Close several of them. Local churches are hurting for money and we need to make an appeal for them also.

Anonymous said...

Synod - districts - congregations all need to be more careful how and for what they spend money.