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Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod faces into tough budget choices

Budget discussions took center stage at the biennial convention of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS), in late July. Held in Saginaw, Michigan, under the theme “Christ’s Love, Our Calling,” delegates wrestled with faithfulness to that calling while needing to eliminate eight million dollars from the next biennial budget.
Going into the convention, the Synodical Council, the governing body of the synod, had proposed two budget options to offset the decline in anticipated income. Option A included a proposal to eliminate $500,000 each from home and foreign missions line items. Option B included a decrease in funding to the Michigan Lutheran Seminary in Saginaw, one of the synod-supported educational facilities of WELS.
The Rev. Joel Otto, chair of the Finance and Budget Floor Committee, noted that many delegates going into the convention expressed concern for either approach. “The two previous synod conventions have pretty clearly stated that our core ministries are to be ministerial education and missions,” Otto explained. “The two options give the perception that they are being pitted against each other.”
In response, the budget committee heard testimony from delegates and took alternative proposals. In the end, neither Option A nor Option B were selected. The committee offered a new proposal, which decreased the budget items for communications, financial services, technological upgrades, parish services, and corporate travel. This proposal then superseded the two budget options brought to the convention by the Synodical Council.
After several hours of deliberation, the committee’s budget proposal was adopted by a vote of 291 to 69.
Synod President Mark Schroeder, overseeing his first synodical convention since his election two years ago, encouraged delegates to be thankful for their gifts even in times of struggle. He emphasized the importance of WELS maintaining its identity as a confessional Lutheran church body. “Maintaining our commitment to doctrinal truth is the only effective way to carry out the mission God calls us to do,” he said.
He warned against ministry that focuses on human emotion rather than God’s love. “The theology of glory focuses on outward accomplishment, on growth in numbers, on external things that tend to make people feel better,” Schroeder warned. “The theology of the cross focuses purely on what God has done for us.”
Otto believes the budget discussion reflected these WELS core commitments. His budget committee, he said,was filled “with men who are concerned about practicing good stewardship with the finances the Lord has blessed us with as a synod.”