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Messages - Mark_Hofman

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31
Your Turn / Re: Presidents Of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis
« on: August 28, 2019, 03:01:54 PM »

I know this is not in the stream of this thread, but the church is having now to struggle with a shift in the way people give.  Recently our church launched an online giving option, something becoming more widespread.  As a Babyboomer I didn't entirely appreciate the fact that Millenials and those younger are often a cashless group.  They don't carry it.  They do things online and often with phone apps.  The traditional offering plate is something that doesn't work for them because they don't bring anything to put in it.  Also, with people in my area traveling a lot more than previous generations, we realized that stewardship follows attendance.  If they're not there neither is the offering, which means they also don't think of 'catching up' when they return.  Online giving may be a means to move the younger generation back to a more regular form of stewardship.


I posted a LCMS blog article about this very thing back in 2016

https://blogs.lcms.org/2016/how-will-the-lcms-adapt-when-checkbooks-rest-in-museums/

32
Your Turn / Re: Presidents Of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis
« on: August 25, 2019, 03:45:04 PM »
It is time for some serious planning by the LCMS leadership to combat declining resident enrollment at Concordia Seminary,
St. Louis as well as Concordia, Seminary, Fort Wayne

That’s already underway, spearheaded by the Pastoral Formation Committee. But the expectation to combat declines cannot be laid solely at the feet of “the” LCMS leadership. Leadership by congregations and districts, parents and alumni, boards, pastors and other influencers is equally crucial.

A related issue is declining church-worker enrollment in general. It’s happening at the college and university level, including declines in pre-seminary enrollment. That is tied to declining interest among elementary and high school age students in professional church work careers. Where that declining interest comes from will be interesting to wrap everyone’s brains around. I don’t doubt there will be lots of finger pointing at others, and much less self-reflection on the part of those pointing fingers.

For the record, the names are Concordia Seminary, St. Louis and Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne.

33
Your Turn / Re: Missouri Synod News Updates
« on: November 12, 2018, 09:37:55 PM »
There are still Johnnie friends mourning the loss of Winfield, both alumns and those who supported her. Same with St. Pauls in Concordia, the college in Oakland, and perhaps even the seminary in Springfield. The loss is real, no less painful than watching a congregation or a parochial school fold. It leaves a hole, hard feelings and grief.

My son attends the last LCMS parochial school within the boundaries of St. Louis City. Witnessing one urban school after another collapse was painful, and it caused more than a little "Whose next?" fear, ending with "Are we next?"

This (again) is my opinion and not any sort of "official" statement. I wasn't involved in any of the discussions or evaluations that led to the closing decision. I just observed and read and heard snippets along the way. 

Permit me to draw a bad comparison.

US Airways 1549, after ingesting birds in its engines, was going down. Powered flight was no longer possible. Nothing was going to change the fact that its engines had the fire choked out of them. Captain Sullenburger and FO Skiles had a choice to make: put the A320 down in the Hudson River, or let it come down in either a residential or commercial neighborhood that put more lives on the line. They chose a somewhat controllable gear-up landing in the Hudson, despite frigid waters, to try and save as many passengers as they could.

Selma was going to shut down one way or another, and it seems it was going to happen before 2019. It was no longer a viable "going concern." Nothing was going to prevent that because nothing tried before had any favorable effect, not even changes in leadership. No hero or savior donor showed up. No special campaign was going to make a case strong enough to overcome its wide mix of challenges. None of the other Concordias seemed to be in a position to absorb it like CUW absorbed CUAA. A controlled closure was determined to be the better of two bad, awful choices and certainly more humane than a total uncontrolled collapse or state shutdown, especially for the students enrolled.

It's not a perfect metaphor, and people can rip me for even using it. A soggy, totaled A320 isn't the same as a shuttered campus community among an underrepresented, under-served people group. This hurts and there is no debate about that.

The factors and conditions that contributed to Selma reaching a point where closure was on the table need to be intensely studied for the sake of the remaining Concordias, not the timing of the decision. There was no longer time for decision-making by committee. I also wouldn't doubt if there were issues of law and confidentiality that blocked open, public discussion.

I would certainly be open to hearing from those who would have preferred the uncontrolled collapse option? Who'd like to go first?


34
Your Turn / Re: Missouri Synod News Updates
« on: November 11, 2018, 11:15:12 PM »
The International Center has four "floors" but the 4th floor is only 60 to 60 percent the square footage of the others. The gap is because the 'Commons' - the dining area which doubles as meeting space - uses sky lights and people sit on the 3rd floor level, and the chapel extends up that high.

The first floor is largely Concordia Plan Services - a separate corporate entity. There is also caged storage space, a health/wellness area (exercise space because healthy employees lower health care costs), and the common services area of mailroom/print shop.

The second floor houses the LCMS Foundation in one wing (another separate corporate entity), a museum space curated by CHI, and a wing that is occupied by Concordia Plans, LCMS Communications, and the common services generally viewed as Information Technology. On the the Foundation side are small storage spaces, and both men's and women's locker rooms.  This is the floor where one enters the chapel, a space that extends to the roofline and also has a small balcony area off the third floor.

The third floor (where you enter the building) has the lobby and reception desk, KFUO-AM studios, two conference rooms and a very large meeting/conference space called the Wyneken Room. The dining area includes a kitchen/serving space, the loading and receiving dock, and common services for travel & meetings, rosters and statistics, and risk management. Down one wing and through secure doors a person will find common services of Human Resources, then KFUO staff cubicles, then International Mission staff cubicles, Mission Advancement staff cubicles, and the CUS office cubicles. Along one wall are meeting rooms.

The fourth floor is a "V" that contains the senior executives offices (President, 1st VP, Secretary, CMO, CFO, CAO and Church Relations, including a conference area and administrative support. The other leg is occupied by common services of Accounting cubicles, Internal Audit offices/cubicles, a phone center of cubicles for Advancement, National Mission program area cubicles, and CTCR with its resource library.  There are also a few small conference/meeting rooms. Above the lobby area which extends to the roof are two conference rooms, the large Board room called "Walther" and a secondary recording studio for KFUO.

LCEF does not occupy the International Center. It has a building across Interstate 44, and leases out all but the top floor of that facility.

As an aside, the number of full time employees working for corporate Synod in the I.C. has declined 50 percent since 2002. Between 2002 and 2010 the decline was 25 percent. From 2010 to 2018, the remaining staff was cut by 33 percent. Recently there was another smaller 'trim' of the work force. From end to end, the math works out to 50 percent give or take one percent. In the meantime, the number of deployed missionaries has nearly doubled.  If the bureaucracy is bloated, I'm curious to know what lean looks like if a 50 percent reduction isn't enough.

Y'all are welcome to come visit. It's not the Star Chamber, and almost nobody working there bites.


35
Your Turn / Re: Missouri Synod News Updates
« on: November 11, 2018, 08:40:42 PM »
In response to Dr. Benke's post immediately above (and to him):

a.) Yes. It is a hurtful loss. It was personally tough seeing the head of LCMS Black Ministry in the leading up to and the days after. I have no doubt those who made some very tough decisions prayed for someone else to lift that cup off of them. I was not a part of those discussions, and thank God every so often because I wasn't. How the decision was made and why the timing was as it was can and will be debated. What I pray isn't lost is an opportunity to honestly reflect with one other - and openly talk about - how the situation developed over time and what all contributed to a closure option even being on the table. And I pray that any vision or plans for rekindling Rosa Young's legacy are broadly embraced by the people of the LCMS.


One of the books I've been reading talks about how people's actions are based almost exclusively on the emotions they are feeling at the time, and the assumptions they've made about any given situation they are in. What is absent is the quiet time to calm the internal emotions and test assumptions before acting. Emotion and assumption lay the foundation of perception, which is nine tenths of what a person believes is real, according to legend.  Fact is, no one has every objective piece of information in front of them, and only a Vulcan is trained to squash emotion.

Still, if the author of that book is right, we do ourselves and those around us a disservice when we act on only our feelings and untested assumptions, both of which surround us aplenty in the LCMS.

36
Your Turn / Re: Missouri Synod News Updates
« on: November 11, 2018, 05:57:43 PM »
What amount of money would corporate Synod have to finance each year for the Concordias and the Seminaries to get past the "Synod doesn't do enough/Synod doesn't do anything" perspective? How much money would it take for the educational institutions to feel like the Synod supports them?

Don't misunderstand me.  I'm OK with the situation as it is now and am not interested in the synod financing the CUS system nor was I schilling for it.  The synod's budget has been strained for a while as it is.  I am interested in how much they do currently give relative to the actual cost of running the CUS.  And in that perspective, $1.4 million is not very large.

Which is fine, btw.  I personally have no need to feel like the Synod financially supports us (though I do want Synod to pray for us and to vocally support our mission).  We need to be able to have our own houses in order.

I only popped in to affirm Pres. Gard's point which is still valid and which depends precisely on Synod NOT supporting the CUS in any significant fashion.  To wit:

Based on the most bang for your
buck in providing future LCMS church workers......Seward is the crown jewel.

Seward is a great school.

But "bang for your buck"? You do realize that the Concordias receive nothing from the Synod. There is no "your buck". Each school must be self-funding.

The Concordias are the most cost-efficient missions of the Synod. They cost you nothing. But they proclaim the Gospel to thousands on the Synod's behalf. And they train Church workers without costing you or anyone else a single penny.  You are welcomed.

To which, again, I say "Amen."

I'm going to write this as a private person, not as a staff member of Synod. The opinions I'm about to express are mine and mine alone, and not to be seen as the view of the headquarters. I'm writing them on my personal computer from the basement of my home, not on any work-issued equipment.

Having served on staff at one of the seminaries and at one of the colleges/universities for a combined 23 years, and as an alum of one of the Concordias, I personally endorse the value of our higher ed system. I pray for them. Our team prays for our colleagues who serve the LORD at them, the students who attend them, and the families who entrust their sons/daugthers/brothers/sisters/grandchildren/nieces/nephews/uncles/aunts to their care. We need as many of them as we can afford.

I do believe statements to the effect of "the Concordias receive nothing from the Synod" is problematic. If a Concordia has donors who are members of LCMS congregations, or groups within congregations, or the congregations themselves, or the LWML, or foundations established by LCMS congregational members, the statement is (putting the best construction on it) misleading. The SYNOD - the people of the LCMS - aren't giving nothing.

I've seen this kind of statement used - and did this myself at one point - to make the case for contributions. "Pity us and give money to us because the big bad Synod (meaning St. Louis) doesn't give us anything, or such a small percentage of our funding that it is meaningless to us."  It can be a cornerstone of the case to the church for direct funding. All a statement like that does is make people mad at their church body, and question why they want to be a part of such a dysfunctional group. 

It's become part of our culture - blame St. Louis and you can raise more money. Why do I say this? In part because I did it. Colleagues in the profession are still doing it.

The old system of funding mission and ministry through a unified budget hasn't existed for decades. It started in and with the Concordias, hit RSOs, moved through the seminaries, is now hitting Synod, will increasingly hit the districts and finally touch congregations.  The people of the LCMS "broke up" with the unified budget (corporate Synod) four decades ago if not longer.l

In its place God's people prefer to back the things that matter most to them and carry the greatest personal meaning for them. The financing system adapted to that.

Yet people - and especially people of influence - still point a finger of blame as if the old system somehow still exists and should be chunking big money toward certain facets of the overall work of sharing the Gospel. They still talk as if the breakup - which hurt - happened yesterday. Honestly, if I talked to my friends today about a girl I broke up with thirty years ago and blamed her for most of my woes, they'd question my mental state. Why do we seem to still point accusing fingers four decades later?

I'm not angry or upset about this. Honestly, I think we just haven't learned to use different, more accurate, words. Take missionaries. Old language says "missionaries have to go out and raise their own money because Synod doesn't help them." That's not true. Missionaries go out and are participants in raising money because that's how most people/congregations today want to be involved, and because missionaries today depend 100 percent on donor designated (restricted) gifts given for missionaries - not the unrestricted worship offerings passed through the congregation budget to district and then to St. Louis. If you want to see missionaries get out of that process, call me.

The Concordias today depend entirely on the generosity of God's people - many in the LCMS - to keep moving forward in mission. It won't be too much longer and the national headquarters will have to say the same thing. The context of how things are paid for shifted out from under the unified budget. People want to be connected closely to the mission and ministry that matters most in their hearts, and all giving is voluntary. They want to know the missionary or Concordia their voluntary offerings are supporting. And that's not bad. It's just the way the world is.

I'm not angry about it. Dr. Yak isn't angry about it. But it sure seems to me that not a few others still are angry about it. If not angry, pick another emotions (frustrated, resentful, disillusioned,...).

I still believe it is inaccurate and misleading to use the "Synod doesn't support...." statement, as if it had the money and capacity to make a meaningful choice to do things different than the way it handles things now. Corporate Synod, at the current level of funding CANNOT support everything. It would be more helpful to say "the worship offerings you give at church aren't the source of funding for our Concordias, who rely on personal and group generosity from direct gifts."

Synod is prohibited by both law and ethics from taking donations given to support missionaries and redirect them to universities or seminaries, or from taking a gift to the Joint Seminary Fund (seminaries) and use it to fund a missionary. The only dollars where that latitude exists are the undesignated/unrestricted.

We broke up with the unified budget. The people in leadership were too young when it happened to be the cause of the breakup when it happened.  Let's move on.


Again, these are my personal thoughts as a human being, not a Synod staff person. Go after me for having them, not corporate Synod.

37
Your Turn / Re: Missouri Synod News Updates
« on: November 11, 2018, 12:10:00 AM »
That is not quite accurate.  Corporate Synod (hate that term) is still paying millions each year on the combined Concordia University System debt.  That is not nothing.

I would like to hear from Pres. Gard on this, but my understanding -- limited as it is -- is that the synod has underwritten the debt at various Concordias and so is a party to it, but it does not PAY on that debt.  I.e., the synod is liable if if the debt goes into arrears, but they are not the ones actually paying down that debt -- the Concordias finance / pay for their own debt.

If I am wrong, I would be happy to be corrected on this point.


The BOD minutes from May 2018:

"The historic Concordia University System (CUS) debt has been decreased by steady payments from $22 million in 2010 to $13.9 million. Servicing this debt costs $1.4 million a year in unrestricted, undesignated resources that could be profitably applied anywhere else in the budget."

This is found in President Harrison's report at the top of page 3: https://files.lcms.org/wl/?id=g33jCBhLVZ8d10KEcXOLRnesoyHgyAT5

Theoretically and politics aside, buy outs from the marginal Concordias could take care of the CUS debt which would enable LCMS Inc to operate from a more financially secure position.   

$1.4 million isn't particularly large relative to the budget of many Concordias which have budgets in excess of $100 million, and it is peanuts if it's spread across the entire system.  I wonder if this is the cost of servicing the debt at only one Concordia.  No matter what, it is a tiny amount relative to the budget of the entire CUS system.

In any case, I would still like to hear from Dr. Gard or someone with direct knowledge of the details of they synod's role in financing the debt of the CUS.  If this is it, then that role is extremely small.

Peanuts to one is a "chunk" to another.  $1.4 million is 10.1 percent of what corporate Synod receives from regular worship offerings, which is the source of the money to make the debt payment against the historic CUS debt.  It is not serving the debt at only one Concordia. If memory serves right, at some time in the past each Concordia was financially stressed enough to have corporate Synod absorb some or all of its debt. I was at Seward when it happened there. Maybe Mequon never got there, but I seem to recall each of the others being in the same strained position as Seward.

The debt is held by LCEF because it's LCEF investors that put up the cash. It is a contractual (legally enforceable) debt, meaning we're not talking just a handshake where a payment can be skipped.

I saw a meme the other day on LinkedIn.  It said, A wise organization will point to the elephant in the room and say "Here is our elephant."

I'd like to introduce you to our elephant.

What amount of money would corporate Synod have to finance each year for the Concordias and the Seminaries to get past the "Synod doesn't do enough/Synod doesn't do anything" perspective? How much money would it take for the educational institutions to feel like the Synod supports them?

If a university budget runs, say, $55.5 million on average, and there are nine of them, we're talking $500 million in a collective higher ed budget.  (In FY18, before Selma was closed the CUS combined budget was $555 million.) The two seminaries add another $50 million (roughly). Erring on the conservative side, assume CUS/sem higher ed costs $550 million annually. Hard to tell because budget details aren't readily or publicly available in some cases.

Corporate Synod received $13.8 million last fiscal year from congregations, in a category used to fund the CUS debt and seminary subsidy. That's also an amount likely to decline every year moving forward.

There's the elephant in the room. $550 million in expectations, $14 million in worship offerings that make it to St. Louis. It's not enough to satisfy expectations even if 100% of it went to the colleges and seminaries. Total congregational worship offerings, last I looked, were around $1.3 BILLION. So the CUS and seminaries could potentially consume forty percent of that if they don't raise funds or charge tuition, fees and room/board. And higher ed isn't the only ministry laying claims to LCMS financial resources.

The budget this year for international missionaries is $13.2 million. Projects and programs in international mission are another $12 to 14 million. National mission is roughly $8 million. People want information about what's going on, so Communications tacks on another $3 million.

Don't forget to subtract out of that $13.8 million the $1.4 million that is contractually owed to LCEF investors each year until the historic CUS debt is retired. Or the $3+ million in work mandated by the Constitution and Bylaws or prior Convention action, or Board, COP and commission work. Or the costs that must be financed by the member congregations (like an annual independent audit of the books) to satisfy state and federal regulations. Common services as an area of expense was just cut $800k annually, but is still north of $4 million.

Five loaves. Two fish. Five thousand hungry mouths to feed, not counting women and children.

Synod headquarters doesn't do enough for its colleges and universities, seminaries, missionaries, international partners,.... Do we know that? Absolutely. We're not The Master who performs miracles.

How much is enough to satisfy and not be perceived as peanuts? Lots of grumbling compared to the visible food supply.

There is our elephant. 

This particular elephant also has a little brother, and I'll introduce him too. His name is Truth. Corporate Synod, apart from the people in the pews, has no isolated, independent source of money to do all this. It's not a grant making foundation with a gazillion dollar endowment.

So, when an influential person says "Synod doesn't support <fill in the blank>", to whom is that influencial person pointing?  St. Louis? Or every man and woman sitting in a congregation pew?

38
Your Turn / Re: Missouri Synod News Updates
« on: November 09, 2018, 05:29:53 PM »
You know, I was just going to point out that on the back of the Insert there’s a number and an invite from the folks who put the report together to answer any questions. Just bet they’d be happy to do exactly that. :)

Thank you Chaplain.  ;D

I'll go back to just reading now.

39
Your Turn / Re: Missouri Synod News Updates
« on: November 09, 2018, 05:22:48 PM »

Thanks, Mark - this is pretty much in line with what I thought and wrote in terms of holding onto chunks of the disaster money and the dent in the CUS debt.  I also think this is indeed a good idea to be done in the way you're doing it. 

In other agencies, the failure to file a 990 means that certain donors won't donate and certain grants aren't available.  This level of open disclosure is good for those who want to support the mission.

Dave Benke


Thank you, Dr. Benke. The request/invitation (pleading) for feedback is serious. I'm serious. This is the first attempt, and it won't satisfy the bulk of people. We did the proverbial toss-the-spaghetti-against-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks. Annual Reports by their nature sacrifice granularity of data for the sake of brevity, thereby creating a new set of puzzles to figure out. I have donor designated funds to do this two more times (FY19 and FY20) to find the sweet spot for readers.

In grad school we received a heavy dose of "continuous process improvement" thinking.

For others who may not be as aware, the LCMS is exempt under IRS regulations from filing the Federal Form 990. Please do not read Dr. Benke's "failure" as negligence on the part of St. Louis, a district office or other LCMS entity. The law grants that exemption under the First Amendment, and we graciously make use of it.


To see what is happening between congregational offering plates, districts and Synod, you can view this white paper document (dealing with the funding of official LCMS missionaries), and go to page 6.

https://www.lcms.org/Document.fdoc?src=lcm&id=2437

The chart has not yet been updated with 2017 and 2018 data, but its enough to get the gist. Bloated districts are not the cause, as some have surmised. I've seen and sat in enough of them to notice the fraying edges.

Would this kind of chart on worship offering funding merit space in a future Annual Report? That's the kind of question we find ourselves asking.


40
Your Turn / Re: Missouri Synod News Updates
« on: November 09, 2018, 04:52:28 PM »

Drilling down a bit from the online glossy report I could find,


b) If you look at the Disaster Response line, you'll see major discrepancy numbers - FY17 is 1.7 million, and FY18 is over 10 million.  Of this close to 5 million went through the regular budget.  So somewhere in there, there's a 5 million dollar discrepancy.  I would risk stating that this becomes that item all organizations need - cash flow.  It's used, stored, moved about, and goes where it needs to go, but it's available.  The "downside", so to speak, is that it depends directly on the amount and severity of disasters.  Which we pray against.
c) University education, our topic of conversation, shows 2 1/4 million in the budget, and then has an intriguing calculation stating that "available net assets released" tallies (?) $5106.  I take that to mean that after the ramping over of the debt "payments" (moving the number from one side to another) all that was left was 5k.  Maybe I'm wrong on that.  It's just a weird numeric.

Dave Benke


I'll probably regret doing this...

Friends, I am the Synod staff person who worked with the LW team on the annual report - the first time such a report has been disseminated since the 1980s. This conversation is getting interesting because it is giving me/us feedback on what we could have done differently, and what we might do differently the next time. That's a different conversation.

To answer the Bishop's curiosity about those numbers:

The "missing" disaster money is reported under "Assets and Activities" in the Statement of Financial Position as: Net Assets / Net Assets with Donor Restrictions. The amount increased $10 million over the prior year, and half of that is the disaster money still on deposit for long(er) term recovery work. Prudent management of funds in accordance with mission priorities and our designed strategy for long-term disaster response, which can last many years.

The particular table (Our Giving) showing 1.7 million in FY17 and 10.2 million is only about the contributions received/given in those years. Spending isn't a variable in that table. Neither does it show funds on deposit from one year to the next.  Just the generosity of God's people.

The issue of University Ed is, a bit more convoluted. The budget planned to spend 2,282,379 and actual FY18 spending was 2,277,270.  But only 5,016 of that came from donor-restricted contributions. Notice the 90-degree text stating "Net Assets with Donor Imposed Restrictions" running near the communion cup/wafer graphic.  The rest was a draw on unrestricted net assets, including what was received from worship offerings via districts. That's down in the greenish line called "Net Assets without Donor Imposed Restrictions", the source. The bulk of spending was the legally-required principle and interest payment on the historic CUS debt, dropping the balance of the debt from 14.655 million to 13.745 million. A dent, albeit not necessarily an impressive one.


We did find a couple of minor editing corrections that weren't done before everything had to go off to the printer. Those corrections were incorporated into a PDF that is available as a no-cost download at www.lcms.org/giving/transparency. The PDF is the definitive version.

On the back cover is an invitation to provide feedback, call with questions, etc.






41
Your Turn / Re: The Fleeting Fame of "Big Name" Preachers
« on: September 19, 2018, 09:46:12 PM »
Dr. Benne's article in First Things is a must read.  He makes a distinction between the average ELCA member with
a bound conscience  and the Synod leaders  and Denominational leaders of the ELCA  who push homosexual marriages
and transgenders as a normal thing.  The sad news is that the recent  ELCA Youth Gathering subjected the audience
of teenagers to the ranting of Nadia Boltz.  As Dr. Benne reminds us , today's teenagers are tomorrow's ELCA
seminarians.

Unfortunately, the ELCA has no Scriptural foundation for homosexual "marriages" and transgender engineering
of our God-given body we received at birth.   If ELCA denominational leaders and seminary professors continue to
encourage a homosexual agenda for their church, then  the membership decline will continue.

Lurking a bit (confession).

After reading Dr. Benne’s article, and then your last sentence, the thought struck: such leaders and seminary professors and pastors (especially those speaking to an entire youth gathering) perhaps should be choosing the size of the millstone (Luke 17: 1-4).

Back to lurking, and contemplating.

42
Your Turn / Re: Another Explanation
« on: May 22, 2018, 07:33:58 PM »
(Full disclosure: I do own several firearms, including a couple that some view as inappropriate for a civilian to possess. I am not a member of the NRA and will not be until or unless Wayne L. steps down.)

We had active shooter training at work not too many weeks back. The presenter, a wonderful Lutheran police officer, said something I shall not forget: 

“Right now, there is a person somewhere focused on how to top Las Vegas.”

Whether they do it with firearms or another truck bomb, or even barreling into a crowd driving a vehicle at high speed. The notoriety of topping Las Vegas is out there, just like the notoriety of topping Columbine, or the club in Florida.

Take all guns away. The desire for notoriety, fame and attention - driven by some deep kind of hurt or anger - will drive someone to figure out the answer to the puzzle, and do it using whatever is available.

“Right now, there is a person somewhere focused on how to top Las Vegas.”



43
Your Turn / Re: Concordia Selma to Close
« on: February 27, 2018, 08:04:59 PM »
Maybe I'm missing something here, Mark, but in my remembrance you were brought aboard the good national ship Missouri because of your work at the St. Louis Seminary.  Larry, who seems to be unhappy somehow and for some reason about this, has told us that the St. Louis Sem has put together a goodly amount of endowment and institutional money - some of that must go back to the efforts you led or initiated. 
Dave Benke


I Corinthians 3:6



44
Your Turn / Re: Concordia Selma to Close
« on: February 27, 2018, 01:50:46 PM »
I’m sorry. I wasn’t stepping in to take a bullet (for someone else).

If Selma is primarily a financial failure, who is responsible for the revenues that could have prevented the closure?

I am responsible for the people, processes and tools that are supposed to generate sufficient financial resources to carry out Synod’s mission and ministry as defined and laid out by the Constitution and the numerous Convention Resoultions delegates lay at the feet of Synod. Their stated expectations. Those expectations go even deeper, and can be seen, read or heard in the kinds of comments people make about “the Synod”.

“The Synod” failed to adequately fund Selma. It is failing to adequately fund its seminaries. It is failing to fund its missionaries. It is failing to fund national mission programs. It is failing to fund the various convention-mandated projects, initiatives, task forces, etc.  It is failing to quickly retire the historic CUS debt.

I am responsible for the reduction in the number of major gifts staff who go out to work with people of means. I am responsible for cutting the number of people available to serve contributors with information best classified as “transparency and accountability”.  I could go on.

This is one organization where the President and Board(s) are not expected to bear a significant responsibility for “fund raising”.  God’s people do not want them doing that.

There is a long line of people out on the front sidewalk banging on the front door whose sole desire to take over this responsibility from me. They are able and willing and excited to do this work in ways that can meet all of those funding expectations if I will just get out of the way.  I’m sure you’ve had to push your way through that crowd when you’ve been to the International Center.  You might even know two or three and could endorse them to the CMO when the time comes.

I’d go outside and seek their counsel, but I have to go to a meeting with another organization who wants to know what I can do to help fund them as they move forward with their mission.

Not a bullet for someone else.  The “buck(s)”, literally, are supposed to flow like Niagara Falls out of my departement. It isn’t happening.

Blame me.

45
Your Turn / Re: Concordia Selma to Close
« on: February 27, 2018, 11:59:56 AM »
My point, perhaps foolishly made, is that the Synod operates on the basis of what funds come in and in this respect the members decide whether or not something like the rescue of Selma would or could happen.  I do not know of anyone in Synod (and that includes CUS) who has it out for any individual school -- much less Selma.  I do know that if all the funds were available, different choices might and probably would be made.  But in the way the mission is funded, the members do decide.  In this classic way, people vote with their pocketbooks more loudly than their voices.  That said, funds are not the only thing.  Many things have conspired to make closing Selma perhaps the only decision anyone could make at this time.  Funds are big on that list but they are not alone.

I was responding to those who think that Synod should fund everything (from a national level) but who refuse to admit that there are no funds on that level to fund everything.  On the other hand, stats tell us that while the Synod national budget has remained stagnant or declined, congregations are taking in more money than ever in the plate and some schools in Synod are doing very well in raising money to ensure their own individual survival. 

It is not the best system in the world but it is not the worst, either.  We have to live with the structure we have unless we are willing to change it.

We've got stats going back to 1980 that show both contributions in cash, and contributions adjusted for relative purchasing power (inflation effects).  Self-reported contributions received by LCMS congregations has gone up as a general trend; however, adjusting those figures by inflation, to show the comparative purchasing power in 2017 dollars show that congregation's are dealing with flat giving in terms of impact.  Add flat impact with above average inflationary increases in things like some utilities, health care and aging facilities maintenance, and congregations have less to spend on mission and ministry today than they did in 1980.  Now add shrinking active membership bases, less frequent worship, and giving pattern changes from one generation to the the next.

Districts are having to deal with an overall loss of purchasing power in what congregations forward for "work at large" or "missions" or whatever their budget calls that line item. Congregations designated more of that line item - even if its flat - to non-district missions agencies close to home and internationally.  But inflation chews into what districts are receiving, and they find themselves challenged to do work at the regional level, let alone pass funds on to the national headquarters.

There are other influencing factors that I won't get into here.

What do we do? Instead of seeking to understand the environment we're in so we can adapt and make wise choices, we typically find it easier and more satisfying to point fingers. We can oversimplify the situation to suit a predetermined narrative. We do the same thing over and over and over and over, expecting that THIS time (if we only do it harder, or more of it) things will change. When they don't, we have another reason to point fingers.

I agree with your basic assessment, Mark.  However, what the deaconess has written takes precedence over your last paragraph. 

Leadership is vocationally charged with discerning and determining the direction of decisions based on a picture that is larger than simply the financial chart.  Leadership is selected or elected to represent the organization's deepest values for the betterment of the whole.  When there's a failure - and the closing of Selma is a major failure - leadership is called to account.  It's not enough to say "this is sad" or to hoist in Rosa Young platitudes.  The Christian education of poverty stricken young black people in the South by an institution of the Missouri Synod provided a beacon of hope to thousands and thousands of individuals and their families.  That beacon shines no more. 

When the organizational leadership makes public its decision to sell property for tens of millions of dollars in one corner of the world and then news is released that in another corner of the world it is closing its historic black college because of debt, the messaging is both embarrassing and illuminating in terms of the organizational leadership's core values.

Dave Benke

Okay.

Blame me.

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