When times get tight for an organization one of the first orders of business is to go through the budget with a fine-tooth comb to find out what’s absolutely required, what’s important but can wait a bit, what can be put off ’till later, what are frills that needs to go, and sometimes “why on earth were we doing this in the first place?” While some may see lean times as a problem to be endured, it can also be seen as a useful opportunity for the organization to review the “what” and “why” of its operation, sort out the wheat from the chaff, and get back to brass-tacks fundamentals.
In order to successfully navigate this process, the organization has to be completely honest and transparent with itself – that means both its staff and its membership. Only in the light of truth and honesty can an organization improve its operation, overall health, and get to a place where it can carry out its mission with renewed energy and purpose.
How does all this fit in with restructuring? One of the main arguments for restructuring was that Synod and District’s collective income had been shrinking and it was only a matter of time before money in – money out = bankruptcy. Given that an organization can only continue as long as money in – money out >= 0 an organization faced with persistently declining revenue has to make substantive changes in order to get this equation to a positive number. And if the pressure to get the numbers to work becomes strong enough, faithfulness to the organization’s core mission can be put at risk. (Note 1)
For LCC getting this balance right is paramount because every penny of it’s income comes from the offerings of its members – offerings given in faith that it will be used to further the mission of the church, to take care of its membership, and to increase the roster of believers.
How has LCC performed in this mission? While a comprehensive review of LCC’s budget is beyond the scope of this blog, we can look at some documents LCC has published. My source for this review includes
- LCC’s financial analysis,
- CCMS Chair Bill Ney’s paper “Factors that led to the Major Overhaul of LCC Structure“, and
- Answers to the CCMS survey that was compiled when the CCMS was working with the governance consultant.
The specific item I’ll be looking at is LCC’s ecclesiastical supervision budget.
The financial analysis is LCC’s projection of what would happen if the status-quo remained vs how the analyst expected things to look like if the then-proposed New and Improved Structure was implemented. The analysis has a section called “Allocation of Services (Pre-Restructure)” and in that section is a line item
“Ecclesiastical Supervision $524,323.00”
which is ~10% of LCC’s overall budget.
These are important numbers which we’ll return to momentarily.
Next up is the paper “Factors that led to the Major Overhaul of LCC Structure” where CCMS Chair Bill Ney detailed an collection of the driving arguments behind restructuring. Besides the financial viability argument the “Factors” paper also argues that the relationship between District / Synodical officials and the members of LCC that they were tasked with supporting was inadequate:
The most common concern across the country was with the perceived inability of the District Presidents to provide what the congregations, pastors, and deacons most desire…. a close, personal, pastoral relationship with the District President and other District workers. Examples of District Presidents being perceived as aloof and uncaring were shared when situations were vividly described about when a church worker had been hospitalized or had been undergoing psychiatric care or suffered the death of a loved one and received no direct, personal, pastoral help and support from his/her District President.
From Factors that led to the Major Overhaul of LCC Structure page 8. (Note 2)
The “Factors” report then argues that Synod and District officials didn’t have time to spend with the area churches and church workers. Why? “because ‘the “work” of the District operations…the work of the Corporation had to go on‘. (Factors page 9)
This is the second data point.
The final piece of information comes from a survey the CCMS compiled during the consultation phase of the restructuring process. The first statement that the survey asked people to respond to was “Ecclesiastical Supervision of doctrine and practice is effective” My personal experience lines up best with answer #7 “Let it go and maybe the problem will go away seems to be the policy for many years.” This conflict-adverse, “ignore it and it’ll go away” attitude can be clearly seen today in that – three years after ABC CEF’s troubles became public – not one clergy implicated in the fiasco has been disciplined and/or removed from the clergy roster.
What conclusions can we derive from this?
First, I’ll bite my tongue about the implications of prioritizing administration and programs over the health and well-being of churches and church workers. When it comes to deciding between programs and people – there should be no question what the answer is. (Note 3).
Second, when membership is saying Synod and Districts are engaging in the Sin of Eli by failing to correct errant members in their area of responsibility or that Synod / District personnel don’t have the necessary tools to address issues when they arise – that’s a huge issue. (Note 4).
Third, if we assume for argument’s sake that Synod and District presidents had to spend their time on corporate / program matters as opposed to churches and church workers in their area – that means their time was not spent on ecclesiastical supervision.
Finally, if CEF wasn’t enough to result in swift and certain disciplinary action by the ecclesiastical powers that be, why is LCC even spending a penny on ecclesiastical supervision?
What does that leave us with? An absolutely disturbing question – if Synod and District clergy didn’t have time for ecclesiastical supervision what was the $524,323.00 budgeted for ecclesiastical supervision actually spent on? If that budget line represents the aggregate salaries for the various Presidents and those Presidents had to spend the majority of their time on programs and corporate administration to the exclusion of churches and church workers – then that should be called “corporate administration”, “program development and delivery” and the like – not “ecclesiastical supervision.”
This becomes an even greater issue under the new structure. One of the main non-financial reasons for restructuring is so regional pastors can focus on the health and well-being of churches and church workers to the specific exclusion of corporate affairs and program development. What happens if they instead focus on administration and programs because that’s easier and less risky than shepherding sinful people when they get contentious? Synod has demonstrated that it’s incapable of policing its own ranks – if such administrative shortcomings continue in the new structure then the membership will have no effective recourse other than to pull their support completely.
This is clearly not an acceptable state of affairs.
That such a question could be seriously entertained is also not an acceptable state of affairs.
And yet – here we are.
All this goes to a fundamental question LCC needs to address as an organization. The issues that led to restructuring goes beyond one of structure and budgets to the core of any healthy relationship – transparency and trust. An organization’s membership will support leadership that is transparent in the direction they’re heading, makes a good case for why they’re going there, how they plan to get there, and the time and treasure they’ll need to work on the task.
Having said that, on the flip side if membership feels the administration
- is abusing their trust by saying they’re doing something when they aren’t,
- fails to support membership when they need it the most,
- is neglecting its workers and members to the detriment of the organization’s overall performance,
- has caused members significant loss by selling what is purportedly a no-risk investment in order to invest in a high-risk real-estate development project,
there’ll come a time when the members will have had enough, they’ll withdraw their support, deploy their time and treasure somewhere else, and may even leave the local LCC church for other, safer pastures.
At that point, it won’t matter what the structure is. (Note 5)
Note 1: If this sounds a lot like CEF, you’d be right.
Note 2: The concerns listed in Pr Ney’s report are real. In this specific case we have Synod saying that ecclesiastical supervision gets a significant budgetary priority while a Synodical Committee reports that the on-the-ground reality is “not so much.” The article “Commission on Adjudication Plays “Get Out Of Jail Free” Card” documents how the COA used a contrived technicality to avoid rendering a decision. “Ecclesiastical Supervisors as the Devil’s Accomplices” details how Synod’s policy of funneling reports of false doctrine / practice into a dispute resolution process ends up imposing a gag order on the complainant while allowing the false teaching / practice to continue. These examples show how Synod’s ecclesiastical supervision process has not just failed the church and its members but has actively worked against the preservation and continued proclamation of pure Scriptural Law / Gospel doctrine.
Note 3: This is hard because I have both personal experience and direct knowledge of cases where a festering issue between a church and its pastor was communicated to District with a plea for help , and the response was either late in coming (ie six weeks to return a phone call) and/or totally inadequate to the situation (ie figure it out for yourselves).
Note 4: A significant issue identified by the CCMS survey was that Synod / District personnel didn’t have the authority to decisively deal with issues when they arose. This is a natural result of a Synodical structure that has intentionally limited its disciplinary options to the suspension or termination of a member’s Synodical membership.
Note 5: I’ve gotten reports and emails telling of life-long and multi-generational Lutherans leaving LCC – partly because of CEF directly, and partly because of the church’s actions after it became public.