For individuals who have answered the call to serve in churches and schools in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, financial burdens can be substantial. Today, you will learn more about MinistryFOCUS, an organization whose mission is to help. Executive Director Eric Longman and Chair/President Ken Krueger answered questions to bring this organization to light.
1. What is MinistryFOCUS, and what prompted its creation?
MinistryFOCUS is a grassroots, volunteer Recognized Service Organization (RSO) of the LCMS that provides loan repayment assistance grants to pastors, teachers, directors of Christian education (DCE), and other rostered church workers of the LCMS.
Ken shares: One day, I was sitting in my first class at seminary (Introductory Greek) and started thinking about the financial realities for so many of my brothers in that room. That evening, I went home and, instead of studying Greek, wrote a research paper that explored the financial challenges for ministry leaders and the effects of such challenges, including a sense of failure, an inhibited ability to lead, chemical and spousal abuse, and an increased likelihood of leaving ministry. The recommended solution was a loan repayment assistance program similar to the programs run by the United States government and some law schools. That paper formed the basis of MinistryFOCUS.
2. Why is MinistryFOCUS important to you?Eric shares: I am a second-career pastor, having worked with technology previously. I was blessed to come to the seminary with the financial means to cover the cost of tuition, housing, insurance, and so on from savings, so I entered the ministry with no educational debt. But as I got to know others who were preparing for ministry, I was stunned by the amount of educational debt they accumulated by simply pursuing undergraduate education, a prerequisite for enrolling in graduate-level programs. We saw MinistryFOCUS as a way to help these very dedicated ministry leaders by reducing the stress that comes along with debt, ultimately strengthening the church and the work that Jesus has called us to do.
3. Can you share a real story of how MinistryFOCUS has impacted a life/family?Each year, we receive both electronic and handwritten thank-you notes from grant recipients. The words in these notes express not just a grateful receipt of the grant funds but deep, emotional gratitude for the difference these grants will make in their own lives, in the lives of their families, and in their ministries. Most years, we receive applications from previous grant recipients with essays that speak to the emotional impact made by the grants and the financial progress made by the families. For many reasons, we closely guard the identification of grant recipients—but these notes reinforce our mission and make all the work worthwhile.
4. What kind of financial burdens are ministry leaders facing?The challenges of educational debt for ministry leaders are not dissimilar to the challenges confronting workers who assume educational debt in many other industries. But there are some key differences. The first is that ministry leaders do not compete in the marketplace (at least not for the first placement) but rather are called to a particular place and role. The second is that despite their educational levels, ministry leaders as a group may not always be paid well or even fairly. Some are called to places and roles that lead not to a reduction of their educational debt but an exacerbation of their financial challenges.
5. How are MinistryFOCUS and the Synod working together to help ministry leaders?At the 2023 LCMS convention in Milwaukee, we as a church body passed Resolution 12-03A, recognizing the financial challenges confronting teachers at LCMS schools. As part of the solution, the resolution committed to conduct a national offering during National Lutheran Schools Week to go to MinistryFOCUS to help our teachers who are facing such challenges. The advancement, communications, and school ministry teams at the LCMS have provided guidance and assistance in this effort.
6. What are the benefits of this resolution for ministry leaders?By far the biggest benefit is that it reduces stress and allows ministry leaders to focus on the work to which they have been called by the church! Beyond the practical benefit of simply reducing stress, there is the encouragement that comes from knowing that they are supported and appreciated by their brothers and sisters in Christ. As Christians, we are to bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2), and this is a tangible way in which we as a church body can do that.
7. I’m a called worker in The LCMS. How do I apply for assistance from MinistryFOCUS?Grant applications will open up in October of 2024 for 2025. At that point, called ministry leaders in the LCMS can visit the MinistryFOCUS website and click the “Apply Now” button in the top-right corner to apply for a grant. Grantees will be notified in early 2025. We are also considering the possibility of adding a midyear grant cycle, so keep an eye on our website for more information!
8. How can I help?
First, PRAY! At MinistryFOCUS, we continually offer prayers of thanksgiving for the people whom God has called to serve in the work of the church and for the generosity of those who step up to help offset the educational costs that are necessary to fulfill the demands of those roles. We pray for God’s provision and guidance for all of our called workers and that God would use us to grow the kingdom and bring people to the knowledge of His Son, Jesus Christ, through whom we have forgiveness, life, and salvation.
Second, TELL PEOPLE about MinistryFOCUS and the work we are doing to support LCMS ministry leaders. Many of our called ministry leaders have no idea that there is assistance available to help with their educational debt. When you share what you know, you may be guiding them to a much-needed resource.
Third, DONATE to the institutions that help people prepare for careers in ministry. Obviously, we would love to have your donations at MinistryFOCUS, but our universities and seminaries can also put your contributions to good use to help minimize educational debt earlier in the process. We encourage you to do your research and share your financial blessings as the Holy Spirit moves you.
MinistryFOCUS helps ministry leaders focus less on money and more on ministry.