National Bishop Susan C. Johnson

Rev Susan Johnson, National Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, writes a regular column for each issue of Canada Lutheran.

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National Bishop's Turn

Financial Reality Check

A sober look at church finances inspires our leaders to seek a new approach to mission and ministry.

Feb. 6–8, the officers of the National Church, the five synods, and an observer from Evangelical Lutheran Women met in Winnipeg for a facilitated consultation. The consultation focused on examining our church's current resources and the need for structural change.

This gathering was in response to the visioning process that National Church Council began last March, asking the question, where is God calling the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada? You will remember that through this process, five organizing pillars (Effective Partnerships, Compassionate Justice, Spirited Discipleship, Focused Framework, and Diverse Faces) emerged to guide and support us in our work as a National Church In Mission For Others.

So what do these pillars have to do with an officers' consultation and structural change? I'm glad you asked!

First of all, the entire conversation was focused in mission and ministry. I can't tell you how often one of the participants would say, "how is this going to help us be a church In Mission for Others?" Any structural renewal is only worth considering if it will help us be more effective in mission. But each of the five pillars played an important role in our discussions.

We took a sober look at the current financial environment within the church and what it means to work within a Focused Framework. In the 20 years since the church was formed, giving by congregation members has steadily increased, keeping up with inflation. At the same time, financial support from congregations to synods has flatlined, so that over time, synods have been greatly affected by inflation. Synod support to the National Church has decreased in actual dollars, and when compounded with inflation, this means the National Church is operating with just over one-third of the purchasing power it had in 1986. This has resulted in staff and program cuts and has impacted our ability to do mission. Given the demographics of our church membership, we anticipate this pattern will increase sharply over the next few years.

The consultation group realized we have an infrastructure that is consuming too great a percentage of our resources, which is not responsible stewardship. We will need a broad-based consultation to look at what the best options for change might be, but in the end, it's got to be about enhancing our ability to do mission.

The whole consultation exemplified Effective Partnerships. There was a wonderful collegial spirit in the room. People were willing to put everything on the table without showing signs of protectionism or territorialism. It really felt like Team ELCIC—synods and the National Church working together!

Diverse Faces and Compassionate Justice came into the mix because even as we were discussing the possibility of a smaller administrative structure, the need for increased evangelism and outreach resources was continually voiced.

Finally, the Spirited Discipleship really flowed. The high level of commitment to our God and our church was so apparent. The desire to go deeper into discipleship in our evangelism, stewardship, and mission was ever-present. And the high degree of respect, transparency, openness, and accountability that permeated the conversations (not to mention the laughter) were sure signs of spirited discipleship.

This recent consultation is only the beginning of a process that will require courage, imagination, openness to God's guidance, and a lot of discussion. But as one participant mentioned after our study of Mark 6:30–44, "maybe we are bringing what Jesus has given."

Bishop Susan C. Johnson

Canada Lutheran, March 2009