by John Edson
The mission and ministry of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod are dependent on gifts from congregations and individuals. These gifts to the Synod come in two forms. The first is referred to as restricted gifts where the funds can be used only for the purpose designated by the donor. The second type is referred to as unrestricted or undesignated funds, which means the Synod can use the money where needed most. Both types of gifts are important to the financial stability of the church.
By law, if a donor designates a gift to go to a specific purpose, it cannot be used for another purpose without the permission of the donor. There are many ministries of the Synod that are funded by such restricted gifts. Donors make specific gifts to disaster relief work, such as the earthquakes in Japan and Haiti or Hurricane Katrina. There are also direct gifts in support of international missionaries, human care, life ministries or assistance to our international church partners. These are ministries we can each identify, and we might feel a particular desire to support them.
Unrestricted gifts, as the name implies, have no strings attached. The Synod Board of Directors, in cooperation with the President of the Synod, establishes a budget each year. Through this budget, they determine how the unrestricted gifts will be used by the Synod. Included in this budget are the Synod staff and the functions of the International Center in St. Louis.
None of the national or international mission programs could be carried out without the support of our National Synod and staff at the International Center. The staff at the International Center is the backbone of these ministries. This staff provides services to congregations and districts, missions, church relations, and World Relief–Human Care. This also includes the President’s office, accounting and human resources functions.
Restricted funds cannot be used to pay for the Synod’s day- to-day operations. You can see that if we do not have adequate unrestricted/undesignated gifts, the structure that holds the Synod together cannot be supported. When a disaster occurs, it is the Synod staff that responds first. Without the staff supported by unrestricted dollars, we would not be able to properly deploy the restricted funds that congregations and individuals donate for disaster relief.
The financial issues the Synod faces are, in fact, created by the lack of unrestricted funds to support Synod operations. Both restricted or designated funds and unrestricted funds are equally important. Donor recognition of the need for unrestricted funds is critical to eliminating the budget shortfalls in the future.
About the Author: Mr. John Edson is the vice chair of the Board for World Relief–Human Care and a certified public accountant.