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Financial Challenges and Leading Congregations

I’m pleased to introduce a new member of the CSL team, Catherine Malotky. Well, I’ll actually let her introduce herself in the post below! Catherine comes (back) to Luther Seminary with a wealth of experience tackling the financial challenges of leadership in the church. It’s a pleasure to now work with Catherine on Luther’s efforts to address the particular challenges of student debt, educating for stewardship leadership, and our changing church.

Yours truly,

Adam Copeland

Director of the Center for Stewardship Leaders


Financial Challenges and Leading Congregations

Catherine Malotky

Within the last decade, the Lilly Endowment launched a granting initiative they call “Economic Challenges Facing Future Ministers,” (ECFFM). They are responding to the growing awareness of the impact of debt on those who receive a call to be leaders in the church, and have come to believe that addressing the financial awareness and well-being of future church leaders would also impact the financial awareness and well-being of the congregations and organizations they serve.

The ELCA responded to this need by establishing the Fund for Leaders, with the express purpose to financially support those following a call to church leadership so they might be free to serve without the burden of excessive educational debt.

Much good work has been done across denominations and in many seminary settings with the seed money from ECFFM resources. Lilly resources are being leveraged at the denominational level, in regional judicatories, and at seminaries. Luther Seminary is a steward of these kinds of resources, as well.

It is my new privilege to be able to now sit at Luther Seminary’s table for this work, along with Adam Copeland and the Center for Stewardship Leaders. We are stewards of this grant money, but I think our stewardship horizon is much broader. In ways very understandable to those of you who serve in congregations or church-related institutions, tending to financial awareness and well-being is foundational for service to the gospel.

There was a time when culture support for church was something we could take for granted. However, as that cultural support has receded, we have been slow to get beyond our sense of entitlement to people’s resources and commitment. There are many other worthy causes out there today, many of which, though not overtly faith-driven, are in service to values that align well with those that drive us as Christians: focus on the greater good, the equal worth and value of all, sustainable management of human use of the creation, etc.

The problem with having been culturally privileged in the past is that we were not aware enough of our vulnerabilities as an institution (also known as denial). Now we can’t ignore it anymore. Now we see that we live in the intersection of an ever-more global economy, a culturally-sanctioned craving for material excess, and the growing necessity to demonstrate our value as an institution to very busy and highly distracted people.

Unfortunately, as the dollars in our offering plates shrink, there are consequences for mission as well as those who lead for the sake of mission. For leaders, salaries are cut or don’t grow, the benefits safety net offers less resilience, and continuing education is less supported. For institutions, benevolence budgets shrink, buildings become disproportionately expensive as deferred maintenance stacks up, mission outreach becomes more and more challenging to fund. Per the mission to raise up leaders for the future, less support from the larger church, however it funnels down, means the cost of following that call can be burdensome and even threatening to long-term financial well-being.

Not happy news for anyone charged with funding worthy mission! However, one very positive outcome is that we have an opportunity to abandon our denial, and start equipping ourselves, not to not expect people’s gifts, but make the case for them. This is a wonderful opportunity to connect back to the inspiration of the gospel’s radical welcome, demonstrated by Jesus’ insistence on loving anyone and everyone. For the sake of this cause, we can engage the expertise needed to fund the mission, to speak the truth about our lack of ability in these areas, and, by tending to and expanding the skills that underlie financial well-being, release people and our institutions from anxiety about money and into the joy of generosity.

Our experiments at Luther Seminary are all driven by this hope: healthier leaders, healthier congregations, more gospel impact and a better world, all a reflection of God’s vision.

For More Information

With a passion for reducing anxiety about personal finance, Catherine Malotky comes to this work as an ELCA pastor, administrator, writer, retreat leader, and coach. She has contributed at ReThinking Stewardship conferences (2012 and 2014), co-authored the ELCA Stewardship Competencies, and was primary writer of the ELCA’s version of the ECFFM grant. Before retiring from full-time work, she was the Director of Development at Luther Seminary, and prior to that was called as the Retirement Planning Manager at Portico where she trained as a life coach and earned the CRC®.

Executive Certificate in Religious Fundraising: Luther Seminary, in partnership with the Lake Institute on Faith and Giving, is hosting a four-day intensive course, May 7-10, 2018. Click here for more information. 

Author information was updated as of the article's post date. Author profiles may not reflect author's current employment or location.

"Quaint Little Country Church" image by James Mann. Creative Commons licensing via Flickr.

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