National Lutheran News

Money brings them together

Lutheran development executives overcome doctrinal divisions when sharing stewardship strategies

Money may or may not make the world go around, but it can throw a spoke in your wheel when it gets scarce — and you need more of it for ministry. Nonprofit groups, whose financial margins are usually slim, are particularly sensitive to the availability of needed cash for programs and projects, especially during lean financial times.

Concern for paying the bills — and building healthy stewardship patterns among supporters — led to the creation of a unique pan-Lutheran group. The Association of Lutheran Development Executives (ALDE) came into being to help Lutheran fundraisers hone their skills. ALDE (not to be confused with a discount grocery chain with a sound-alike but slightly different acronym) was chartered in 1980 and has grown to include more than 800 members. It represents constituencies across the Lutheran spectrum.

While inter-Lutheran cooperation has seemed to be on the wane in recent years, ALDE forges ahead with conventions, workshops, and seminars attended by members reflecting a wide diversity of the church. Current membership includes 362 ELCA, 290 LCMS, 30 WELS, and 21 other Lutheran groups. When members gather, it’s like going to a reunion. War stories, success stories, human interest stories shape the conversation in the hallways and meeting rooms. A few lame Lutheran jokes are probably in that mix somewhere, too.

The only impediment to sharing at ALDE meetings tends to be worship. According to executive director Phyllis Castens Wiederhoeft, “The board established a policy that we will offer corporate worship at [our meetings] and be sensitive to fellowship issues. Those who choose do not worship together at ALDE.”

Otherwise, Wiederhoeft says, at structured program sessions and networking times members may not even be aware of anyone else’s synodical affiliation. “They are always delighted to be together to discuss their concerns, issues, and challenges with others who come from the same [foundation development] perspective.”

That sentiment is echoed by Mark Hill, who does development work for pan- Lutheran Valparaiso University. Hill, a member of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS), says, “I think a great deal of ALDE and I have made many friends [through my participation in it].”

What sorts of Lutheran nonprofits are represented at a typical ALDE gathering? There are five main categories: social service ministry groups, Lutheran colleges and universities, health care institutions, Lutheran elementary and secondary schools (most of which are LCMS and WELS), and national church bodies.

So, if Lutherans can differ so passionately about doctrine, does that mean they don’t see money and fundraising as a doctrinal issue? Says Glenn Thiel, who does development work for the Minnesota South District of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), “My experience has been that ALDE members accept a common theology of money and stewardship.”

And that theology, says Kathy Hansen, is one of abundance. “My colleagues in ALDE have a wonderful theology of generosity rather than scarcity. I think almost all, perhaps all, of us would say that God has given us more than enough to fulfill God’s mission for us in the world.”

But every Lutheran who’s ever participated in “stewardship Sunday” in their local congregation knows how uncomfortable it can be to hear a temple talk about the need to increase one’s financial pledge. And even pastors often seem to feel that talking about money from the pulpit is like touching the third rail — it’s a short path to trouble.

Hansen has some theories about that. “I think lay people pick up on the anxiety that many pastors feel when talking about money. Many folks these days were not raised in environments where money was talked about in a healthy way. Often it is not talked about at all, or it is surrounded by guilt, fear, and/or shame. It’s no wonder that pastors, who often have left seminary without adequate stewardship training, have anxiety about the subject, and this reinforces or creates anxiety in the congregation.”

At Luther Seminary, where Hansen works, there is now a Center for Stewardship Leaders, a program offering classes, workshop, online resources, and other educational tools for both seminary students and pastors and other church leaders. And, of course, pastors are welcome at ALDE meetings as well.

For those who think money should not be a topic of discussion in churches, Hansen shares a startling observation. “Jesus spent a lot more time talking about money than sex, but you’d never know it by the public conversations in our church today!”