LCMS Mission Board Cuts staff and Plans to Lay Off Missionaries

Dec 06, 2002 12:46 PM EST

In an effort to "live within its means" in light of declining revenue, LCMS World Mission this month eliminated 17 positions from its St. Louis-based staff.

The layoffs reduce the size of the mission board's International Center staff from 55 to 38 -- a reduction of nearly one-third.

The cuts were made to offset a shortfall of some $1.6 million in income during the first quarter of the fiscal year that began July 1 and expectations that immediate future revenues also will be less than projected.

The entire national LCMS budget saw a shortfall in expected gifts and grants of more than $3 million in the first quarter. Congregational giving to the national Synod through the districts continues to meet budget expectations, however.

More staff reductions are expected later this month, when LCMS World Mission plans to notify at least 20 "missionary units," individuals or families on the mission-board payroll who serve in overseas fields, that their positions also are being eliminated. Information on which missionaries and countries will be affected by the cuts is not yet available.

About 100 missionary units -- and more than 100 volunteers -- currently serve LCMS World Mission or its partners in 68 countries.

In a Dec. 2 letter to missionaries explaining the staff reductions, Executive Director Robert Roegner said LCMS World Mission was faced with cutting some $3 million from its current $29 million budget, and an additional $6 million from the spending plan proposed for the 2003-04 fiscal year.

"Please note that this is not a problem of over-spending our spending plan," Roegner told missionaries. "We have done a great job of staying within our spending plan. Rather, it is a problem of not enough revenue coming in to support our approved spending plan."

Roegner met Dec. 2 with the St. Louis staff members whose jobs were being eliminated. The decisions on which positions to cut were made by a "leadership team" made up of LCMS World Mission leaders who worked from Roegner's own recommendations, he said.

Eliminated in St. Louis were 11 full-time positions and five part-time positions, which included three retirements and one voluntary resignation. In addition, a vacant position was eliminated, and another full-time post was reduced to part time.

Most of those whose positions were eliminated are leaving their posts Dec. 6, but will receive full pay and benefits through the end of the year. They also will receive severance benefits beginning Jan. 1.

About half of the positions are secretarial. Others include director of world services, a post held by Dr. Allan Buckman, who plans to retire Feb. 28; director of world team support, Rev. Kenneth Greinke; director of information services, Karin Semler, who voluntarily resigned effective Jan. 15; counselor for campus ministry, Rev. Richard Manus; counselor for recruitment, Sean Harlow; and director for missionary performance, Dr. Mark Schroeder.

Some duties of those staff members will be picked up by others, but Roegner admitted that LCMS World Mission won't be able to serve the church at large in the same way it has in the past.

"We may have to tell people in the church, `I'm sorry, I can't do that for you now,'" he said.

About half of the remaining staff work in some way with overseas missionaries, he said. The others support mission work in North America, including armed-forces, blind, deaf, Hispanic and urban ministries.

Since the mission board's campus-ministry office is closing, the Campus Ministry Task Force and on-campus leaders will have to rely more on each other, Roegner said, and some other mission-board services and activities also will be discontinued. For example, the annual Laborers For Christ project managers conference, which was scheduled for February, has been cancelled, and 3The Lutheran Witness2 will no longer be sent at mission board expense to some 5,500 Missouri Synod Lutherans in the armed forces.

Nearly 80 percent of LCMS World Mission's funding is derived from contributions from individuals, congregations and districts, according to Roegner, so "when the economy is down, people have less to give," he said.

LCMS World Mission recently adopted a purpose statement and is currently putting together a strategic plan to guide future work, so Roegner had expected to reorganize the department over the next year or so anyway, he said, eliminating some posts and adding others to better position the mission board to meet the needs of a changing world.

But, "because of the financial challenges, we had to act sooner -- and go farther -- than we had imagined," he said.

Roegner has asked the Synod's overseas missionary force to "be available by phone" on Dec. 11, the day he plans to personally call the missionaries affected to tell them their positions have been eliminated.

He has promised to "do whatever it takes" to help them, including working with district presidents to get their names on "call" lists.

Making staffing decisions has been difficult for all involved, acknowledged Dr. Daniel Mattson, the mission board's associate executive director. "We've been friends and family for a long period of time," he said.

But mission leaders are confident that the changes, though difficult, will be blessed by God, he added, enabling LCMS World Mission to meet its goal of sharing the Gospel with 100 million unbelievers over the next 15 years.

January is "LCMS World Mission Month," and Mattson encouraged congregations to continue to plan observances.

In his 21 years of mission service, "these past few months have been the toughest," acknowledged Roegner. Still, he says he is hopeful about the future of LCMS World Mission.

On Dec. 2, right after his difficult meeting with released staff in St. Louis, Roegner returned to his office feeling somewhat "down and depressed," he said. On his desk was a check for $7,020 from the "mission ministry team" at Webster Gardens Lutheran Church in suburban St. Louis.

"We are very concerned about the need to curtail certain aspects of your work which you and your staff carry out on behalf of all of us," the accompanying letter said, in part. "We pray that this modest extra9 gift will be of some help as you struggle with the making of many difficult decisions."

Said Roegner: "It couldn't have lifted my spirits any higher than to know that there are congregations and Missouri Synod Lutheran Christians out there who are concerned about the work of the church."

The following replaces paragraph #2:

The three members of the subcommittee asked to draft the binding agreement--Dall Forsythe, Russell Palmore and Andrew McMaster--said that conversations with Griswold and senior staff members convinced them that "If relocating the church's headquarters to GTS may result in negative synergy--in problems instead of possibilities--and if the commitment of national church leaders to it is not complete, it is our recommendation that the project should be scrapped."

By Paula Schlueter Ross