Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

by Mark Hofman

We are beginning to overtly encourage God’s people to consider giving an annual unrestricted (undesignated) donation to the LCMS. I’ve been told that I’m off my rocker for even thinking about doing this. So, why do it?

It’s a stewardship issue! It’s not the most exciting one, but it is immensely important to the mission of the church.

Yet, we don’t quite know how to articulate just why this kind of donation is so vital. Bear with me as I attempt to share some of what I’ve been thinking. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts as well.

Routine Maintenance

A few years ago I took our car to one of those quick oil change places. As I was driving home, I checked the rearview mirror and saw a trail of fluid on the road behind me. The oil was draining out of the engine at an alarming rate.

I quickly turned around and headed back to the service shop, where the mechanic found the culprit: the ring seal on the new oil filter had slipped out of place. He made the repair, and an expensive disaster was averted.

The engine in your car, without enough oil flowing through it, will eventually fail. Without oil, parts can’t move together as quickly or smoothly as designed. They will get hot, bind or break, and the engine will seize up.

The same is true with a congregation, a parochial school and even our Synod’s national office.

Follow the Trail

When people express frustration about what the Synod is or isn’t doing, we sometimes discover that the root of the frustration is found in a steady, decades-long decline in unrestricted gifts, which come mostly from the offering plate. Like oil, unrestricted funds don’t restrict motion — they lubricate it.

Our “oil” as a Synod is spilling out of the engine. Frustrated that the Synod doesn’t support seminaries at more significant levels?

Look at what is happening to the unrestricted funds, because that’s where seminary subsidies come from. The Synod not paying the full freight of international mission work, including missionaries? Look at the unrestricted funds.

Some pieces of the Synod, Inc., machine can only be funded using unrestricted dollars: paying down debt, like the historic loans of our treasured university system; elected officers and boards; various constitutionally mandated commissions; the independent audit of the Synod’s finances; legal services; compliance with state and federal laws; and the list goes on.

These things are all parts of the engine, and many are rightly the responsibility of the whole LCMS — all of us who claim affiliation. Most have an important role to play in our Synod’s mission; some we have no choice about.

Take one or more of those parts out, and the machine begins to sputter, clank and grind. And we get frustrated, angry or anxious.

For decades, our oil level has been falling. The joy of designating a donation for something specific has overwhelmed the simple act of taking care of what God has already provided.

I, for one, don’t want to look in the rearview mirror and see signs that our capability to do important work in Jesus’ name is being compromised because I failed to lift up this vitally essential element — the value of the unrestricted gift.

In the new year, how can we “walk together” so that we continue vigorously to make known the love of Jesus in word and deed at home and abroad?

I believe there is value in checking the condition of our oil every so often — and topping it off — so that the various parts perform as we all want and expect. We’re beginning to encourage unrestricted gifts to ensure this can happen.

Mark Hofman, CFRE, MBA, is the executive director of LCMS Mission Advancement.