National Lutheran News

WELS president says denomation faces serious stewardship challenge

Dr.Karl Gurgel

Dr.Karl Gurgel

Karl Gurgel says the Wisconsin Synod’s financial shortfall has not all been negative.

With this month’s interview featuring Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) President Karl Gurgel, Metro Lutheran completes the cycle of conversations with the leaders of the country’s three largest Lutheran groups.

An interview with LCMS President Gerald Kieschnick appeared in the December, 2002, issue. Last month the paper carried an interview with ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson.

Metro Lutheran: All Lu-theran denominations are experiencing financial challenges, especially now that the national economy is in a downturn. How is WELS weathering this challenge, and what is the impact on specific ministries?

President Karl Gurgel: We did downsize by about 20% in our national WELS budget. It’s been painful, but I see some benefits coming out of it. We’re becoming even better stewards of the dollars our members send to us. It’s taught us to be especially diligent about careful use of the funds we have. Our focus is being sharpened. We’ve been made aware, once again, that this is God’s mission, not ours. That means, if we thought we could solve the problem with gimmicks, we’d be wrong.

Here’s an example of how the shortfall has created unexpected benefits. We send missionaries to many overseas locations. Our goal is to eventually bring them home and turn those ministries over to indigenous church leaders. Indiginiza-tion is now official WELS policy. Current realities are spurring us to speed up the indiginization process.

And, with the financial challenges we’re facing, our congregations are now coming forth with an outpouring of special offerings for mission support.

Many Lutherans don’t understand why WELS members are not allowed to pray with others who are not in fellowship with the Wisconsin Synod. Why does WELS make such a point of this?

I realize that, to outsiders, our policy looks judgmental. But we’re trying to be consistent in our witness. We recognize that God’s Word is an integral part of our message to the world. We are sometimes seen as arrogant, as though we’re claiming, “We have the truth.” But we say, “It is God’s truth. The truth is not to be sacrificed — devalued, compromised — but it is still to be shared.”
Our stance on prayer is, we believe, a way we can witness to the truth as we know it. It gives us an opportunity to explain ourselves.

WELS and LCMS were once in fellowship. Is the current division likely to be overcome anytime soon?

Sadly, I believe WELS and LCMS will continue to be separate. There is a significant divergence of opinion regarding Scripture. There is a group within LCMS that would be interested in closer ties, but I suspect the majority would like things left where they are.

All Lutheran groups are barely growing, or even losing members. Does WELS have an answer to this?

Actually, WELS took in 200,000 new members in the last decade. Unfortunately, we’ve lost as many as we’ve gained. We’re especially concerned about losses among young people. We have to keep reaching out. The Kingdom is for all people.
(Michael L. Sherer conducted this interview.)