Lutherans/LCMS District offerings
Dear Pr. Peterson,
I'm an LCMS layman and consider myself to be a Confessional Lutheran as opposed to having loyalty to the LCMS. I feel this way because I've witnessed many things in the LCMS over the years that leave me wanting to leave, or at least feeling helpless. Here's my situation. I want to support my local congregation. After a very difficult search I've finally found an LCMS congregation in my district that has a pastor who actually upholds the Confessions and follows LCMS official practice. I've visited and checked out about 20 LCMS churches in my immediate area and viewed websites of numerous churches further away in my district. Almost all either have female elders/communion servers, or have bought totally into the church growth style approach of dumbing down doctrine etc. I even heard one LCMS preach from the pulpit that there were errors in the Bible, should have women pastors etc. Also, my district has an official Missions director who I've encountered and who practices open communion--and even posted a prayer from the Billy Graham organization of how to "ask Jesus into your heart" on his home congregations website. This Summer (in August) our District had a conference called "4 Ways to Grow your Church". It was a church growth conference officially promoted on our District website and in our congregation's bulletin. The conference was led by a United Church of Christ pastor and a United Methodist pastor who also brought along his wife who is also a Methodist pastor and she also taught.
I'll get to the point now. With all that in view what do I do about any of this. I'm not trying to drag you into problems outside your area of responsibility. Merely asking whether it's appropriate to with-hold my offerings from the District. Perhaps I could write on my offerings that I only designate it for certain things at my local congregation, or even send 20% of them to something like Issues Etc--since 20% is what the congregation pays our district... Is this wrong-headed of me? I've tried speaking to my pastor about this. He is solid doctrinally but he refuses to comment on district affairs saying that it breaks the 8th Commandment. I don't want to break the 8th Commandment however, I feel since the District is publicly flaunting Synod's teachings in a public manner then I do have a right to comment since it's done publicly? My pastor said he's only responsible for his congregation, and synod isn't a church properly speaking and not his jurisdiction or something like that. Basically, I have no one to advise me on whether it's appropriate to restrict my offerings in such a situation or not? Any thoughts? Thank you in advance!
Thanks for your question. This is a common concern among those who desire to be faithful to our Confession as Lutherans.
I regret to hear that it was so difficult for you to find a congregation with which you were comfortable and that you have identified so many problematic occurrences with the district in which you are located. I have been fortunate to live in areas where there were many faithful congregations close together, but I have relatives who describe an experience very similar to yours, and we drive a similarly significant distance to attend services when we visit them.
While I want to avoid crossing the line into criticizing another pastor's work, I am unsure why we would want to avoid discussing the matters of the broader district and synod when we see reason for concern. Your assertion that public sin can be confronted with public response is the approach I have more commonly seen in practice within our synod. Our synod's organization deliberately involves parish pastors and lay members in its governance by appointing a pastor and a layman from each congregation to district conventions and from each circuit to synod conventions, which seems to indicate that we (the parish pastors and laity) are synod and therefore share the responsibility of promoting its faithfulness within the provisions of the constitution and bylaws that govern our life together.
I believe it is a noble effort to desire to give faithfully, but to do so in a way which avoids supporting doctrinal compromise. The way in which you accomplish this will vary, depending on how your particular congregation's business is conducted.
Some congregations designate a fixed dollar amount in their budget to the district/synod (for example $4500 or $10,000). In such a case, I would think you can give without concern, because the same amount of funds will pass to district regardless of how much you give or how you designate it.
Other congregations have a system for allowing members to designate offerings for district/synod. This usually occurs by having categories on the offering envelopes that donors can fill out to designate their gifts. If the envelope doesn't clearly indicate "district," "synod," or something similar, the heading "Missions" is often used to identify district/synod offerings on offering envelopes, because in the past that was a significant use of district/synod receipts. Today, most missionaries are funded by networked donors and direct gifts, and the district/synod offering pays primarily for rent, utilities, salaries, and other administrative expenses related to the synod's support of its congregations and missionaries. In my experience, this is the most common method, and if this is used in your congregation, you could also give without concern, since only funds earmarked by donors for district would be given to district.
A third method that is used by congregations is to give a fixed percentage of all offerings to district/synod (perhaps 5% or 10%). This is the system in which you would need to find another approach to achieve the goal you describe. Since a percentage of any gift you make to the general fund would be passed on to the district, giving in that way would not achieve your stated goal. At the same time, it is important to support your local congregation (otherwise, how could it continue to maintain its facilities and compensate its pastor fairly?) If your congregation operates in such a fashion, there are a variety of approaches you could take to give and support its mission/ministry without compromising your conscience or confession:
One of these would be to use any system your congregation might have in place for giving funds to designated projects or programs. The treasurer, business manager, secretary, or another member of the leadership could probably help you understand these procedures. If your congregation operates a Lutheran school, preschool, daycare, etc. you could also give directly to that.
Another way would be to give in-kind gifts rather than money. Put 1000 gallons of heating fuel on your account at the local co-op; purchase the Sunday School materials for a quarter or a year; or provide a necessary or desired capital improvement like replacing carpet, painting, siding, roofing, etc. If you work in a trade that provides a needed service, provide it pro bono for the congregation. You could even scholarship students to the congregation's school or preschool who could not otherwise afford to attend.
If you desire that a portion of your giving go beyond the local congregation, then you could look into worthy efforts like Issues Etc., LCMS social service agencies in your region, Lutherans for Life, an LCMS career missionary (such as http://www.lcms.org/wildauer
) or mission funding agency (such as http://missioncentral.us
), or an overseas mission agency like the Parma, Ohio-based Lutherans in Africa http://www.lutheransinafrica.com/