Blessings, Gifts and Challenges

by Rev. Matthew Harrison


At my request, The Lutheran Witness staff has put together this issue to inform the good folks of Synod about the financial realities that we face. The funding of this multi-billion-dollar institution called The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod is complex, to say the least. It took me a good five to six years working at the International Center before I actually began to understand it. The first step in addressing a challenge is honesty about its existence and its probable causes. But this must be done with an eye on our blessings, which are truly extraordinary. We are in a definite predicament, but it’s hardly all doom and gloom.

The challenges

The Synod headquarters is in a financial crisis. It is, however, a very specific crisis—that is, a lack of undesignated/unrestricted dollars. Years of stopgap measures and overspending revenues have caught up to us. Throughout this current fiscal year, Synod headquarters has functioned with the equivalent of only eight days worth of unrestricted resources on hand, whereas a minimum of 30 days is where a nonprofit of our size should be functioning. On top of that, Synod had already borrowed some $11.1 million from funds designated for other purposes . . . just to operate! The crisis involves the quickly shrinking pot of undesignated funding ($19.3 million, down almost $10 million in the past decade), most of which comes from districts.

What got us here?

  • The Synod has conistently spent every penny it receives and more.
  • There has been a very significant yearly reduction in dollars given by congregations to districts and districts to Synod. These unrestricted funds are used to pay the bills for things you can’t easily raise funds for—like keeping the lights on, maintaining a system for reconciliation and a hundred other things.
  • LCMS World Mission had consistently overspent its revenues, such that year by year, millions of unrestricted dollars had to be pulled away from other areas of need. Fan into Flame, while bringing great blessings, has cost significantly more and raised significantly less than projected.
  • There has been a very definite shift in the way people prefer to give. Donors (individuals, congregations and districts) want to give to very specific needs, so it’s harder and harder to fund the basic operations (i.e., the “plumbing” it takes to get and keep a missionary in the field, or a program or service to the church, like maintaining Synod’s roster and statistics, or accounting/auditing, or a Commission on Constitutional Matters, or a Concordia University System Board).
  • Some 26 percent of the unrestricted dollars received go to service the $20 million in historic debt of the Concordia University System, including interest and to subsidize educational operations.
  • Theological disagreement and institutional distrust have affected congregational and district giving.

What’s been done thus far?

  • We have significantly reduced spending and eliminated (with great pain) close to $2 million in staffing paid for by unrestricted dollars.
  • We’ve taken action to cease overspending in LCMS World Mission.
  • We have eliminated whole departments and areas of service and significantly consolidated staff for efficiency.
  • We are launching the “Koinonia Project” to begin to deal with the theological issues that have caused us to distrust each other. We are attempting to lead in a way that does not divide.


The new structure of the Synod is focused laserlike on WITNESS, MERCY, and LIFE TOGETHER—the heart and soul of what it means to be the Church.

The blessings

It’s the devil’s trick to make us think that somehow we are hurting financially or that we don’t have the resources collectively to do what the Church needs to do for the sake of Christ and His Gospel. This is the Missouri Synod’s worldwide moment, and together we have the resources to step forward with the Gospel and Luther’s teaching on the worldwide platform awaiting our arrival.

  • Lutheran Church Extension Fund (LCEF), with only 4 percent of the LCMS participating, manages $2 billion in investor assets, which are used to provide affordable loans to congregations and other LCMS entities. Thankfully, Synod headquarters has not needed to draw on its line of credit with LCEF in over two years.
  • Concordia Plan Services manages another $3 billion in retirement and disability assets—kept healthy through the constant influx of young teachers and pastors.
  • Concordia Publishing House (CPH) has the blessing of $30 million in the bank—revenue due largely to a wildly successful new hymnal!
  • The LCMS Foundation is doing well as it manages the various financial assets entrusted to it by congregations, organizations and individuals.
  • Even as undesignated giving from districts has declined, folks from those same districts have exploded in providing designated funds for specific mission and mercy needs!
  • Through the prudent management of resources, LCMS World Relief and Human Care is currently operating with a healthy reserve of over $3 million, affording it flexibility to address critical needs during turbulent times. The Synod should strive to operate in the same way.

By the grace of God and for the sake of the mission of this church, it’s time for us, together, to get our financial house in order. We are working hard at it here in St. Louis. Will you help? Will you assist your congregation and district in resolving this challenge? I know you can. I pray you will.

Pastor Matthew Harrison
“Let’s go!” Mark 1:38

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May 2011

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