Lutheran Church Extension Fund’s (LCEF) Annual Leadership Conference, Nov. 22–24 in Houston, continued its 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, work and 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
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 God’s people he 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.
The Hope Movement aims “to help women move forward from an addictive lifestyle to become fully-devoted followers of Jesus as they discover abundant life through Christ.”
According to Rev. Greg Bearss, LakePointe lead pastor, “The Hope Movement gives women the confidence and skills to maintain a job and provide for themselves. The program also teaches them how to have healthy relationships with others.”
LCEF matched Sunday’s worship offering (a record $52,889) and will donate the total amount ($105,778) to The Hope Movement. Both awards are named in honor of Fred E. Lietz, an early church-extension pioneer and LCEF’s first president.
The third award presented was the Merle and Phyllis Freitag Award, which is given to couples who have made significant and long-lasting contributions to the LCMS and LCEF through their faithful and tireless service to the Church and world. Merle Freitag was LCEF’s fourth president.
Rev. Alex and his wife Maria Merlo, who have served at Iglesia Luterana San Pablo in Aurora, Ill., for the past 10 years, received the Merle and Phyllis Freitag Award. Through events like the annual “Prayer Room,” short-term mission trips to Honduras (where Alex Merlo is from), 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 LCEF CFO and senior vice president of finance, received the Art Haake Leadership Award, presented by Rev. Bart Day.
This 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 workplace,” he said.
He also expressed the hardships you go through in ministry work, but added the reward is so much greater. “Even in the toughest moments,” Wuerffel said, “God does some of His greatest work.” This theme was repeated by one of the other speakers.
Tim Tebow said, “He can take the smallest things we do and multiply them just like he did with bread and fish.”
“If you see a really big God, you will have a big vision and big creativity, but if you think God is small or limited then your vision will be small and limited. The thing is, we serve a big God.”
Tebow was a first round NFL draft pick, Heisman trophy winner and is currently signed to play professional baseball with the New York Mets.
On Saturday, Ed Catmull, retired president of Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios, shared advice on creativity based upon his experience at Pixar, the growth of Disney and talked about how to build a culture that outlasts, “with an emphasis on getting the right chemistry with the right people in the building.”
“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, Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler, The Lutheran Hour speaker, 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.
Rev. Day chatted with LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison to learn about his first nine years as LCMS president and how he sees creativity and innovation applied in the church’s future.
The ladies luncheon featured Kristin Schell, who used a simple concept to do something innovative with the Turquoise Table, now bringing neighborhoods and communities together all over the world.
Peter Boumgarden, professor of Practice, Strategy and Organizations at Washington University in St. Louis, spoke about the correlation between religion, jazz and innovation. He reminded the audience how many in the church can be resistant to innovation “ … and the need for psychological safety to allow people to be creative.”
The LCEF servant event is a highlight for many attendees. This year’s participants, with the help of LCMS Recognized Service Organization, UpBring, filled Christmas activity boxes for families with foster children. The boxes contained ornaments, candy, movies and other activities for the family to enjoy during the Christmas season. Over 150 boxes were prepared for Houston and Austin area families.
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, the last day of the conference. 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, summarized that LCEF 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 LCEF board of directors’ posts were Chair Rev. Max Phillips and Secretary Linda Barnes. 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, Rev. Day said, “What a great three days. We have 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.