What guides the churchwide expression in its decisions regarding mission support?
The members of the ELCA and its various expressions and institutions share a calling. We proclaim in our mission statement that, “Marked with the cross of Christ forever, we have been claimed, gathered and sent for the sake of the world.” This vision shapes all decisions and activities of the churchwide expression, especially budget planning.
More specifically, the churchwide expression looks to the churchwide assembly, the highest legislative authority of the churchwide organization, for direction and guidance. The ELCA Church Council functions as the board of directors of this expression and acts as the interim legislative authority between meetings of the churchwide assembly.
In April 2003 the ELCA Church Council adopted five strategic directions to guide the churchwide organization through 2012:
- Support congregations
- Grow in evangelical outreach
- Step forward as a public church
- Deepen and extend our global, ecumenical and interfaith relationships
- Bring forth and support faithful, wise and courageous leaders
Sometimes I write a check to ELCA World Hunger or to Lutheran World Relief. Is that the same as mission support?
When you designate your gift to one of the many ministries within the pan-Lutheran community, this is not mission support.
Mission support is, by its very nature, an undesignated gift to the broader church. It enables the churchwide organization to respond to ministry opportunities as they come available and ensures the ongoing financial stability so essential to our future.
We applaud your designated support of such programs as ELCA World Hunger, a ministry of this church, and Lutheran World Relief, a partner ministry with the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. But we recommend that such gifts are above and beyond, and never in place of, your commitment to your regular offering in your congregation.
How does my congregation benefit from mission support?
Every congregation benefits as an active partner in the ELCA’s mission to share God’s boundless love with the world. Stories of Faith in Action is filled with powerful examples of how lives have been changed because of our members’ generosity.
More specifically, some mission support funds may return to your congregation in the way of grants, services, programs and resources. Check with your pastor for concrete illustrations that apply to your congregation, as well as opportunities to explore for the future.
Is mission support different from my weekly offering?
Mission support is a small percentage of your weekly offering. It’s best defined as that part of your gift that moves on to the other two expressions of this church—your synod and the churchwide organization—to fund the work of the broader church. Many synods set a goal of 10% from each of their congregations.
The rest of your offering (about 90%) remains within your congregation. You help pay for local ministries, outreach, salaries, utilities and the building, ensuring your congregation’s vital presence in your community.
So mission support does more than fund the work of ELCA missionaries in other countries?
Yes. Mission support is the lifeblood of the work that God does through the ELCA, providing over 80% of the resources for our ministries.
“Mission” is a broad term used to describe all the ministries of this church, not just those relating to missionaries. “Support” is the financial backing that covers the costs of delivering these ministries (including administrative costs, materials and more) here and abroad. Supporting our missionaries through the Global Mission program unit is an example of one of the many ways mission support enables us to do God’s work with our hands.
What is mission support?
Mission support is the portion of your financial offering that your congregation shares with your synod and the churchwide organization, the other two expressions of this church. As members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), we do mission together through our financial giving. We do God’s work in ways that no individual, congregation or synod can do alone.
Designating Mission Support or Offerings
Designating Mission Support for the Synod Only and/or Designating Offerings for Specific ELCA Ministries
- How can our congregation continue to support the Northwestern Minnesota Synod financially without also supporting the churchwide expression of the ELCA?
- How might our congregation support the synod financially along with designating some of our offerings to specific ELCA mission causes (e.g. the Hunger Appeal)?
First of all this synod strongly encourages congregations to share generous mission support offerings with both the synodical and churchwide expressions of our interwoven church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Currently the Northwestern Minnesota Synod shares 51% of all the mission support dollars with the ELCA churchwide organization. The ELCA isn’t someone else, or a national staff. The ELCA is us–a community of disciples of Jesus and congregations in mutual relationship spread all across our country who support one another and do mission together in a whole array of interlocking ways.
Virtually all of the mission support offerings that our synod shares with the ELCA churchwide organization supports ministry and mission we do together. For example, Pr. Keith Zeh is our Director for Evangelical Mission, serving 50% of his time in the Eastern North Dakota Synod and 50% in our Northwestern Minnesota Synod. His entire compensation is paid by the churchwide expression of the ELCA, returning, in essence, a sizable chunk of the mission support dollars our synod share with the ELCA churchwide. This enables Pr. Keith to encourage and support mission development and renewal in our synod, most often working directly with our congregations.
We also enjoy the benefits of pastors and other rostered leaders who come to us through the eight seminaries of the ELCA. The ELCA churchwide organization pays the salaries of many longterm and short-term global missionaries. We are in mission together starting new congregations and helping established congregations that are showing a fire for growing and spreading the gospel among the unchurched. The list of interwoven mission initiatives we support together as the congregations of the ELCA could go on and on.
All of these interwoven mission and support activities require the financial support of all of our congregations to continue to function faithfully and effectively. Our congregations benefit from this mission support whether they are “paying for it” or not. So, as a synod we do encourage mission support for all parts of our church; the benefits of this support flow in many directions (much of it back into our synod) as we give ourselves to God’s mission through the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Having said that, it is true that our synod has for several years had a special Northwestern Minnesota Synod Fund for Mission that was established primarily to receive special or “second mile” offerings from individuals and congregations–over and above regular congregationally budgeted mission support (sometimes called “benevolence”). One hundred percent of the monies collected in this fund support directly the work and mission of our synod only.
While the Synod Fund for Mission was not created for the purpose of allowing congregations to avoid sharing their offerings with the ELCA churchwide organization, it is possible for individuals and congregations to give gifts directly to this fund. If a congregation decides for a period of time that it wishes to express its disapproval of certain actions of an ELCA Churchwide Assembly by not sharing financial offerings with the ELCA churchwide organization, this fund is available to receive contributions “for the synod only.”
However, before taking such an action, the elected leaders and staff of the Northwestern Minnesota Synod encourage congregations to do the following:
- We believe congregation councils should not take this action unilaterally. Rather, they should invite discussion among all voting members of the congregation. Because mission support giving is normally part of a congregation’s budget, approved at the annual meeting, it is appropriate if not necessary to have such an action approved at a special congregational meeting.
- Synodical leaders also request that any such decisions for distributions of congregational funds in be viewed as temporary—that such decisions be reviewed by the congregation at least once a year.
- The synod also strongly encourages congregation councils not to pursue this course of action without first consulting with the bishop or one of the assistants to the bishop.
In terms of designating some offerings toward specific ELCA mission causes, such as the ELCA Hunger Appeal, the ELCA website (which, by the way, is funded by general mission support dollars) is a good resource for discovering how to make contributions to direct mission activity.
Go to the ELCA Good Gifts webpage
In short, the leaders of the Northwestern Minnesota Synod ask that any decisions about redirecting mission support offerings away from the ELCA churchwide organization be made only after carefully considering the overall interdependence of our relationships in the ELCA.
Written by Pastor Steve Peterson and Bishop Larry Wohlrabe
Affirmed by the Synod Executive Committee on 9/1/09