Conflict and controversy "must never stop us from being a forward looking and forward-moving church," Synod President Gerald Kieschnick told this year's LCEF Fall Leadership Conference. "The mission goes on."
The annual Lutheran Church Extension Fund conference, held Nov. 22-24 at Irvine, Calif., drew nearly 700 Synod and LCEF leaders and volunteers. Kieschnick took the opportunity Nov. 23 to reflect on challenges facing the church body and to offer a vision that he put into a phrase: "One mission, one message, one people."
Kieschnick acknowledged the past year as one of "introspection and soul searching in our Synod," citing last year's post-Sept. 11 "A Prayer for America" at New York's Yankee Stadium as the "flash point." But, he said, "With God's help, I believe we'll get past this controversy, and I believe we'll emerge even stronger as a result of that controversy."
Despite any differences, the president said, our calling is to be "a Synod with one mission. That mission is to win the world for Jesus Christ by reaching the lost."
While he said "one mission" is the "centerpiece of my vision for this church," he added the two other "ones": The Synod is called to proclaim one message -- "Jesus Christ and Him crucified." And, "we are called to be one people. ... We need to work together -- as one -- to meet the challenges before us."
In spite of controversy and financial challenges, "there's lots of good news to report concerning the health and vitality" of the Synod, Kieschnick said. He cited, for example, the "many congregations" that are "beehives of mission and ministry activity."
On the national level, he listed a variety of endeavors:
-- LCMS World Mission's effort to reach 100 million people with the Gospel in the next 15 years;
-- Pentecost 2000, which aims to begin 1,000 new cross-cultural ministries;
-- "What a Way!," an initiative to boost the recruitment and retention of professional church workers;
-- "For the Sake of the Church," with its goal of raising $400 million to double the number of LCMS students at Synod universities;
-- the Mission 21st Century Task Force that's looking for ways to reverse the Synod's decline in membership; and
-- the Next Generation Task Force, which is seeking to help nonsynodically trained teachers in LCMS schools receive affordable theological education.
He also pointed to the sponsor of the conference: "The Lutheran Church Extension Fund is certainly an outward-looking, future-oriented organization," Kieschnick said. He added that LCEF "is a great American success story, the envy of other denominations far and wide."
For his part, LCEF President Merle Freitag, in his address to the assembly, said, "Church Extension and LCEF are alive and well."
He said that when LCEF was incorporated 25 years ago, its assets totaled $78 million. Today, total assets are approaching $1.3 billion.
Freitag reported that some 9,000 new investors joined LCEF two years ago under a program that sought to increase investments to meet growing loan demands. On average, he said, 75 percent of those have remained with LCEF.
Loan demand continues. LCEF loan approvals have averaged $225 million for each of the past two years, and Freitag reported that this year appears to be at about the same level.
"Ladies and gentlemen, that is a lot of building to provide space and place' for ministry to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ," Freitag said. "Based on this fact alone, I am optimistic about the future of the LCMS."
Freitag also reported on two other components of the LCEF loan program:
-- To date, more than 380 pastors and teachers have received loans through LCEF's Professional Church Worker Loan Program, now more than two years old. The program offers loans to rostered LCMS church workers for housing and for debt consolidation. "In both loan types, LCEF is helping our church workers stretch their available dollars to better support their families," Freitag said.
-- Working with the Synod's Board for Mission Services, LCEF has approved loans of more than $7 million to LCMS partner churches overseas. As the mission board launches an effort to reach 100 million people with the Gospel in the next 15 years, Freitag said, "LCEF is ready to assist with loans that may be needed by partner churches around the world to advance mission and ministry."
Freitag said the future of LCEF is tied to the future of the Missouri Synod. He, too, spoke of the controversy in the Synod.
"The future of the Missouri Synod, in my opinion, must be focused on job one, telling the Good News about Jesus. All other tasks pale in comparison" Freitag said. "So, let's concentrate on the things on which we agree, determine the direction of the church accordingly, and pray for unity."
The theme of the conference was "Serving the Church -- Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow." It marked the centennial of church extension work in the Synod, the 25th anniversary of LCEF's incorporation and the 10th anniversary of Capital Funding Services, which assists congregations with fund-raising efforts related to capital projects.
By David L. Mahsman