Posted by: Johnold Strey | June 19, 2009

“Walking Together” Follow-Up

Last Sunday, we celebrated “WELS Walking Together Sunday” at Gloria Dei.  A few years ago, our church denomination, the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS), encouraged congregations to begin the custom of observing a Sunday each year to celebrate the common confession of faith and commitment to Christ’s mission that we share in the WELS.  Typically, a Sunday in May is set aside for this occasion, but this year a mid-June observance worked a little better for us.  As a follow-up to last Sunday’s celebration, and in light of the severe financial shortfalls facing the WELS right now, I sent the following message out to my congregation this week via our email server (we’ve essentially gone “paperless” in our church communications here).  I am posting that communication here and will offer a few follow-up comments afterward.

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Gloria Dei Email Update: Tuesday, June 16, 2009

 A Follow-Up to “WELS Walking Together Sunday”

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Last Sunday, June 14, we observed our annual “WELS Walking Together Sunday,” a yearly celebration of the common confession of faith and commitment to mission that we share across our church body, the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod.  This occasion provided a natural opportunity to briefly discuss the challenges currently facing the WELS.  If you have read the WELS news updates that arrive via email and are placed in your member mailboxes, you know that the WELS is facing severe financial shortfalls that are jeopardizing the core work of our synod.  Because of significantly lowered Congregational Mission Offerings (CMO), foundation support, and special gifts from individuals, next month’s synod convention may have no choice but to adopt a budget that leads to recalling dozens of world missionaries, shutting down one of our ministerial training schools, and slashing an already bare-bones administration.

Does the lagging economy have a part to play in this situation?  Certainly.  But this is hardly the only reason for lowered support.  As I mentioned in Sunday’s sermon, some of our brother and sister Christians in one of our WELS mission fields have said that they fear that we, the American church, are falling into the sin of materialism.  Another fellow pastor noted at a recent WELS meeting in our area that we generally give out of our wealth (Mark 12:41-44); we are not in the mindset of making sacrifices, even small sacrifices, to support the mission and ministry of the church.  Another factor may simply be forgetfulness; we hear about the situation in our church and synod on Sunday morning, and we sincerely desire to support this work, but as the work week begins and our lives move on, we may forget the good gifts we intended to give.

On Sunday, we also remembered and applied St. Paul’s words: “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).  Jesus descended from the riches of heaven into the spiritual poverty of this sinful world, where he took our sin on himself, won our forgiveness by his death on the cross and opened heaven by his resurrection from the dead.  He now promises us the riches of heaven through faith in him, and his grace to us now empowers and enables our Christian living – and giving.

I want to encourage each of you not to forget the encouragements that we heard in Sunday’s service.  With a synod-wide commitment from our communicant members, the situation in the WELS could be easily changed.  For example:

  • The WELS Year of Jubilee offering was designed to pay down the synod’s internal borrowing debt of $22.4 million.  If the 300,000 communicant (14 and older) members of WELS congregations each gave on average a special one-time gift of $75.00, the debt would be completely eliminated, and funds currently used for debt repayment would be freed up for actual ministry.  Practically speaking, not everyone is in a position to do that (teenagers, the unemployed, families with smaller incomes, etc.).  But many of us are in a position to give a gift far above and beyond the $75.00 average noted above.  I’d like to recommend that our confirmed members consider giving a special Jubilee gift for themselves, and perhaps also for someone else who may not be in a financial situation to give a special Jubilee offering. 
  • The projected $8 million annual shortfall in the WELS annual budget could also be eliminated with an average annual gift of $27.00 per communicant member.  That’s about $2.25 a month!  This very modest increase would keep our four ministerial education schools open and prevent any further cutbacks in our home and world missions.  (I’ll also note that an average synod-wide offering increase of $4.50 a month per communicant member would increase the WELS budget by $8 million annually and allow WELS to restore previous cuts from past years).

Giving a gift for the ministry of our synod, whether it is regular offering or a Year of Jubilee gift, is quite easy:

  • To give an offering through our congregation, simply note on your check memo line or on your offering envelope what portion of your offering is designated for a special gift (either “Year of Jubilee” for debt reduction, or “WELS” for general synod support).  Your gift will be forwarded to the WELS through our church treasurer.
  • To give an offering electronically, go to the synod web page for on-line donations.  This page allows you to select the specific area your gift will support if you would like to designate your gift.  “Year of Jubilee” is among the options.  To give a gift and allow the synod to put your offering to use wherever it is most needed, simply select “WELS Operating Fund.”

Note:  The presentation at the end of last Sunday’s service spoke about a “Walking Together” offering.  These are offerings given in connection with a congregation’s observance of “WELS Walking Together Sunday.”  A “Walking Together” offering is essentially the same thing as an offering for the “WELS Operating Fund.”  The “Walking Together” designation simply lets the synod know that the gift was a part of the local congregation’s celebration of “WELS Walking Together Sunday.”  But, practically speaking, a “Walking Together” offering is the same as a “WELS Operating Fund” offering.

Thank you for taking the time to read this message and for considering a gift to support the ministry that we carry out through our membership in the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod.  Don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.  May God move the hearts of our congregations and their members to generously support the work he has called us to do!

Blessings in Christ,

Pastor Strey

P.S.  Here are some related video links from the WELS Streams website that you may find interesting:

Allow me to add a few follow-up comments to this letter:

I know that some pastors and church leaders are hesitant to list specific dollar amounts when it comes to stewardship or explaining the extent of a financial deficit.  There is certainly reasonable thinking behind that practice: Our Old Adam can view those statistics as a “required minimum” for giving, and willing, generous firstfruits gifts may not be considered in light of the published statistic.  The statistics I used above should in no way be construed as a minimum level for synodical stewardship.  Rather, I have shared those figures to demonstrate the extent of our synodical stewardship issues.  While some WELS members have been affected by the economy, surely figures like $2.25 per month per communicant show that these financial shortfalls are easily within our reach and resources to overcome.  Perhaps the only obstacle is our sinful nature.

In light of this news, my wife and I sent in an offering to Martin Luther College, the ministry-training college of the WELS.  Under normal circumstances, I believe it would be best to simply designate the gift for the WELS Operating Fund, which is the most general/flexible designation for an offering to WELS.  But by sending our gift to MLC (or any of the WELS ministerial education schools), we could have it matched by Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, since we are Thrivent customers.  If anyone is interested in using this option to extend the value of your gift, you can download and/or print a copy of the Thrivent GivingPlus form.

Although this blog is normally be devoted to subjects like worship, music, and theology, I felt strongly enough about this issue that I wanted to communicate it beyond my congregation to the WELS readers that visit this site.  I sincerely hope that, in light of the gospel riches we have through faith in Jesus Christ, our WELS members will support our synod’s ministry with their sincere prayers and generous gifts.  Christ has given us a wonderful treasure in the gospel!  May his Spirit move us to give of our earthly treasures so that the gospel’s treasure may be shared with others!

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