By Demian Farnworth
Lutheran Church Extension Fund’s (LCEF) Annual Leadership Conference, held Nov. 22–24 in Houston, continued the organization’s decades-long tradition of presenting the Gospel-inspired results and benefits of LCEF’s work.
Organized around LCEF’s annual corporate meeting, the conference — held since the early 1980s — serves as an opportunity to acknowledge and applaud all that God has done through LCEF’s partnerships with The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS).
With the 2019 conference theme of “Ignite Creativity,” speakers from a wide range of disciplines shared how to be creative and innovative within the church, in work and in life.
“This weekend you will be stretched and pulled to think differently, to dream beyond the ordinary limits and see a future for the work of the church in the world that is truly extraordinary,” said LCEF President and CEO Rev. Bart Day.
The conference began by recognizing those who have shared their creativity to further God’s kingdom.
Celebrating those who give selflessly
The Rev. John Kieschnick, pastor at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Houston, for 33 years and now-retired LCEF campaign consultant and advocate, received the Fred E. Lietz Individual Ministry Award for the energy and enthusiasm for God’s Word and people that he has put into his role as a pastor and his work as a campaign consultant.
“There were many times when congregations would specifically ask for John and put their campaign on hold until John was available,” said Diane Heagney, assistant vice-president of LCEF’s ministry-support services. “To some, he was the rock star of the LCMS campaign world.”
The Fred E. Lietz Mission Project Award went to The Hope Movement, a ministry of LakePointe Lutheran Church, Hot Springs, Ark. The award recognizes the outstanding efforts of ministries associated with the LCMS.
According to the Rev. Greg Bearss, LakePointe lead pastor, “The Hope Movement helps women move forward from an addictive lifestyle to become fully-devoted followers of Jesus as they discover abundant life through Christ.”
Both the Individual Ministry and Mission Project awards are named in honor of Fred E. Lietz, an early church-extension pioneer and LCEF’s first president.
The Rev. Alex Merlo and his wife, Maria, received the Merle and Phyllis Freitag Award, named for LCEF’s fourth president, Merle Freitag. The Merlos have served at Iglesia Luterana San Pablo in Aurora, Ill., for the past 10 years. Through events like the annual “Prayer Room,” short-term mission trips to Honduras, marriage retreats, a missionary school for Hispanics and a vacation Bible school, Iglesia Luterana has found great success with the members of San Pablo and those from the surrounding community of Aurora.
Finally, Tom Helfrich, retired CFO of LCEF, and LCEF’s senior vice-president of Finance, received the Art Haake Leadership Award. The award celebrates the life of the late Art Haake, LCEF’s second president, and honors a retired LCEF staff member for his or her service to the organization and the LCMS.
“Tom did his fair share of improving and uplifting the quality of life for people at every level throughout the LCMS,” said Day, who presented the award. “He understood the mission of our beloved church and worked tirelessly to assure that dollars were available for ministry.”
What innovation looks like
Addressing the conference theme in their one-of-a-kind ways were presenters such as Danny Wuerffel, Ed Catmull and Tim Tebow.
Heisman Trophy winner, NFL quarterback, executive director of Desire Street Ministries and Friday’s keynote speaker, Danny Wuerffel shared a framework for creativity and innovation through humility — “something incumbent upon all leaders, whether in our homes, churches or workplaces,” he said.
He also expressed the hardships of ministry work, but said, “Even in the toughest moments, God does some of His greatest work.”
Heisman trophy winner Tim Tebow echoed the sentiment, saying, “[God] can take the smallest things we do and multiply them just like he did with bread and fish.”
On Saturday, Ed Catmull, retired president of Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios, shared advice on creativity based upon his experience at Pixar.
“Innovation is tied to values where you balance risk and build trust,” he said. “I believe that managers must loosen the controls, not tighten them. They must accept risk; they must trust the people they work with and strive to clear the path for them; and always, they must pay attention to and engage with anything that creates fear.”
A collection of creative people
Over the weekend, the Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler, speaker for “The Lutheran Hour,” led two Bible studies, encouraging the audience to listen and meditate in the “pre-print” way (Zeigler recited the first three chapters of Genesis from memory).
Kechi Okwuchi, “America’s Got Talent” finalist, singer, speaker and burn survivor advocate, shared how a tragedy transformed her faith and allowed her creativity through music to flourish.
Dr. Bernard Bull, president of Goddard College, taught about the organizational ruts that hinder creativity and innovation, along with the importance of empathy and listening.
Day chatted with LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison about his first nine years as LCMS president and how he sees creativity and innovation applied in the church’s future.
And participants in the conference servant event, along with the help of LCMS Recognized Service Organization UpBring, filled over 150 Christmas activity boxes containing ornaments, candy, movies and more for families in the Houston and Austin, Texas, areas with foster children.
Church extension business
LCEF’s annual meeting — an official review of the fund and current objectives of the organization — took place after worship on Sunday morning. Attending the two-hour meeting were LCEF’s Board of Directors, officers, members-at-large, former staff, district vice-presidents and district voting delegates.
During the meeting, Kevin Bremer, chief finance officer and senior vice-president of Finance for LCEF, reported that the organization emerged from the 2019 fiscal year achieving or exceeding many of the core targets and goals outlined in the prior year. One such goal was the $100 million LCEF was able to raise in less than four months on a limited-time 40-month note.
Re-elected to posts in the LCEF Board of Directors were the Rev. Max Phillips, chair, and Linda Barnes, secretary. Phillips is pastor of Christ Lutheran Church in Bouton, Iowa; CEO of The Perry Lutheran Home; and executive director of Lutheran Family Services. Barnes is an executive vice-president/manager of the Retail Banking Division of Independent Bank, a community bank in Memphis, Tenn.
At the close of the conference, Day said attendees had been “encouraged and equipped to ignite creativity … in word and deed. It’s been a wonderful time to connect with old friends and an opportunity to make new ones. We appreciate all of our investors and borrowers and friends. We look forward to seeing you next year where we will celebrate all of God’s blessings that have been poured out on LCEF.”
A nonprofit organization, LCEF offers funding and resources to congregations, schools, RSOs and rostered church workers through the investment support of LCMS members.
For more information, visit lcef.org.
Demian Farnworth (firstname.lastname@example.org) is content manager for Lutheran Church Extension Fund.
Posted Dec. 19, 2019