Thinking Out Loud

January 7, 2014

How to be Rich is not a Book About How to be Rich

How To Be RichOn the one hand, in these televangelist-saturated, prosperity-gospel-promoting times, giving a book the title, How to Be Rich is probably the dumbest thing ever. On the other hand, for anyone familiar with the annual Be Rich campaign at North Point Community Church, the title is absolutely brilliant. In fact, once you get to know the program, and read the book, your church may want to be rich as well, though it is much easier to do as a new church start-up than it is to try to shift the paradigm of how your church presently does local ministry.

So first the title.  It’s taken from I Timothy:

NIV 6:17 Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18 Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.

Next the book. I enjoyed the book. I read it from cover to cover, some sections more than once. But the Be Rich campaign is the real star here, and if the publisher wants me to create some buzz for the book, a better course might be to create some buzz for what North Point does.

The book merely consists of material that author Andy Stanley (yes, I was going to get to that) presents each year as a set up for the campaign itself. It’s a reminder that we’re already rich. In an interview with Jonathan Merritt of Religion News Service, Andy was asked if this was a prosperity book:

It’s actually the opposite of the prosperity gospel. The prosperity message is “Give and it will be given unto you.” This message is, “It has already been given unto us. Now it is our turn to give.” I don’t need to give one to get 10. I live in the United State of America, so I already have my 10.

That interview however didn’t touch on enough of the history of the campaign for my liking, so let me try to fill in some details. In a nutshell, the team at North Point decided that when it came to doing things like food banks, after-school programs, support for young mothers, addiction counseling, etc., the church was determined not to reinvent the wheel. Instead, they purposed to find the people in the Atlanta area who were already doing well at various charitable endeavors and provide them with a funding boost. It wasn’t about ‘let’s start our program,’ but ‘let’s connect with our broader community.’

The next step was to raise the money — we’re now talking millions — in a single weekend.

At this point, I know some of you are thinking, ‘What does this have to do with the presentation of the gospel?’ The balance between social justice ministry and proclamation is never easy, especially for Evangelicals. But in the second phase of Be Rich (the campaign, not the book) the people of North Point pledge to spend hours in service, many times at the very same organizations which have received funding. They don’t want people simply writing a check or swiping a debit card and feel that they’ve done their part. They want people to also get their hands dirty.

I’ve watched that video* about eight times now, and each time I well up with tears. This model may not import entirely directly to what your church is doing, but you can’t help but want to adapt some of the concepts.

You can’t help but want your church to be rich.

A copy of How To Be Rich: It’s Not What You Have, It’s What You Do With What You Have (Zondervan) was provided by the Canadian division of HarperCollins Christian Publishing.

*If the video isn’t loading go to http://vimeo.com/81844837

December 8, 2013

Reconsidering Christmas Shoeboxes

Operation Christmas Child BoxesSeveral years ago I wrote a post here asking some questions about the whole Operation Christmas Child (OCC) thing. As I said a year later, I didn’t want to be a “grinch” when it came to OCC, I just wondered about some big picture issues.  Then last year, I reformatted the whole article to include some points that a reader had left in a comment.

This year, I was prepared to lay the whole subject to rest. Besides, collection for the boxes in our local churches has come and gone. But the article keeps attracting readers, and last week Lucy, a reader, left a comment that reminded me that as OCC grows — now with an online component that allows you to pack and ship a shoebox from the comfort of your own home right up to a much later deadline — people still have misgivings and second thoughts about the program.  Here’s what she wrote:

Thank you, thank you, thank you. I thought I was the only one who had serious reservations about the OCC program. I just see it as a well-intentioned venture that, in reality, exports Western materialism. Even given the potential spiritual good, do we want children associating Jesus with wrapped goodies? Isn’t that enough of a problem here in America?

I’m a Christian who thinks Samaritan’s Purse has done wonderful things in helping people around the world. But let’s help children by really making a difference in their lives. World Vision and other ministries have programs where you can contribute toward gifts such as farm animals, wells, small business opportunities for women, etc. Much, much better than trinkets.

And thank you, Lucy for that comment. Organizations like Compassion, Partners International, The Christian and Missionary Alliance and Gospel for Asia are among the many — and I chose ones with both American and Canadian websites –  that allow you to make significant, life-changing donations to an individual or an entire village of the type Lucy describes.

Shoebox sized giving will produce shoebox sized results, and furthermore runs the risks she described in her comment. If you’re reading this on a computer — even in a library somewhere — you are among the richest people in the entire world. This Christmas, literally share the wealth.

There is a saying, Do your giving while you’re living, so you’re knowing where it’s going. The Christmas “gift catalogs” of the four organizations listed above allow you to know exactly where your money is going. Don’t lose this opportunity.

Comments can be made at the original article — first link above.

March 26, 2013

Standing With The Homeless and Disadvantaged

Filed under: ethics, philanthropy — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:49 am

It’s so easy to be offended when you’re stopped at a traffic light and a scruffy, unwashed man suddenly leans into your open window and offers to clean your windshield.  Or the guy on the freeway off-ramp who is asking for help buying groceries. I don’t know what it is that makes saying no my default response.

However, when you actually get to know some of the people in that situation — as I have in small measure through the work my wife did co-founding a ministry organization reaching those very people — you tend to be offended in the opposite way when governments would restrict the right of those people to simply stand in an out-of-the-way location with a sign asking for whatever pocket change you can spare.

That’s the position that Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove — and anyone else who lives in community — finds themselves in when laws are passed that makes life even harder for people for whom it’s already hard enough.

On Wednesday he wrote:

Jonathan Wilson-HartgroveIn 2003, my wife Leah and I came to Durham to start the Rutba House, a Christian community of hospitality where the formerly homeless and the formerly housed share life together. Over cups of coffee and around our dinner table, we have learned the difficult stories behind the label “homeless” while also knowing the people who bear that label as friends. We have not ended homelessness in Durham, but we have seen that community is possible despite our fears and deep histories of division. We need not be afraid of those who beg for our help. In fact, our experience has convinced me that we cannot become the Durham we hope to be without them.

Our city’s new anti-panhandling ordinance has highlighted for us the importance of what we’ve learned at Rutba House over the past decade. Passed without public conversation as part of a consensus agenda in December, the new law did not go into effect until mid-January of this year. When it did, those who had purchased permits to beg under the old law were informed that they would be ticketed if they continued to “fly signs” at their usual stations. Within weeks, people who were asking for side jobs or spare change faced $250 fines. To date, at least two of them have gone to jail.

I do not believe City Council passed this new ordinance to send poor people to jail…

continue reading at Everyday Awakening

On Friday, this update:

…Last night, we had our first public meeting on Durham’s new anti-panhandling ordinance. Mel Williams of End Poverty Durham greeted the 200 people who crowded into Duke Memorial UMC’s fellowship hall by saying that we evaluate every public policy by one question: how does it affect the poorest among us?

If we are to know, we must listen to them. So we did.

One after another, men who have been ticketed for begging told their stories. Steve told about how, as he was standing on an exit ramp with a sign that said “Will Work,” his old boss saw him and picked him up last month. Now he has regular work and is able to pay the rent. But he came to speak for his friend Keith who just learned that he has cancer and is no longer able to ask for help because it’s illegal. Steve stood to speak for people like Keith who’ve been pushed further into the shadows.

Country shared his story. He told how he started priming tobacco when he was nine years old–how he worked hard every day for forty-one years before he was injured in a construction accident. On disability now, he gets medical care and a $710 check each month. But when his bills are paid, he’s already five dollars behind. For years, friends in Durham have stopped by Country’s corner and helped him make ends meet. But he got a ticket last week for talking through a car window to someone he’s known for years.

These are the stories that have convinced us that this new law is wrong. They are stories that make us ask, “How could a law like this have come to be?”

Some of us have spent Lent asking this question. When we asked the guys on the streets who’ve been getting tickets, they said, “Nobody asked us before the law was passed.” When we asked folks around town who run our homelessness services, they all said no one had asked them. So we talked to the Homelessness Services Advisory Council–the city/county group that exists to advise City Council on issues that affect the homeless. And they told us no one had asked them either.

How could a law like this have come to be? I think the answer is simple. Durham had not heard these stories.

But now we have…

continue reading at Jonathan’s blog

There was to have been a protest meeting on Sunday night. At this point, Jonathan hadn’t posted what the outcome was of that rally.

This type of thing is repeated in city after city in North America. Smug middle class people in their minivans or sedans weary of being accosted as they are stopped in traffic or walking on an errand downtown. People with the very attitude I confessed to myself in the opening paragraph. (My wife usually jumps in at this point and quickly produces some coins; then we drive away; I ask how much she gave; she tells me; I suggest she was overly generous. It’s a recurring scene.)

Not wishing to be thus imposed on for money, they urge their city or town councilors to pass legislation that will end the inconvenience once and for all. So the rich get richer and the marginalized get more marginalized.

But it’s different for Jonathan and the people in his community because he knows the people and their stories. And really, they is us. Anyone sitting in front of a PC or Mac right now reading this is conceivably there but for the grace of God.

January 4, 2013

How a Community Goes About Helping

Think of this as a Part Two to yesterday’s post. It’s easy to curse the darkness, but requires slightly more skill to light a candle. How would a community go about helping one of the students mentioned here?

We live in a very small town.  I grew up in Toronto where resources are more abundant. Actually, we are two adjacent towns with a population of approx. 16,000 each, separated by about four miles (eight kilometres).  In the one town there are three evangelical churches and in the other there are five. I envision these eight churches being able to come together for a project of this nature, though as stated yesterday, the initial reaction I got to this proposal doesn’t bear out that possibility so far.

Twice this year, at one of the churches we took up a cash offering after the service to meet two very specific needs. Some churches call these “retiring offerings.” You don’t get a receipt for tax purposes in this type of giving. Some would call it a “loose change offering” even though you’re tossing in bills as well as coins; it’s money you won’t miss.

One offering was for a guy who needed help paying his rent that month. He isn’t a member of that church, and a very infrequent adherent. But he asked. He had a need. We helped him collect the $200 he  needed and had $100 left over.

The second was for a family that hit a somewhat sudden financial crisis that left their next mortgage payment in doubt, and this is a family that’s never been flush with money to begin with. They are not members of this church either, nor do I believe they have ever attended.

In both cases, I was the only one who knew both recipients and was responsible for delivering the cash to each. I’m not sure that even the pastor knew who the second family was. They trusted my judgement on this.

I thought it would be nice to do a third project like this before the year was over, but then I reconsidered. I don’t want people to think I’m running some kind of scheme here. (We decided it would be a bad time to buy a car!) Actually it would be nice if someone else came up with a third project.

Anyway, this church has an average Sunday morning attendance of around 90 people, and each time we raised around $300.  With some adjusting for the demographic makeup of the congregations, I’ve estimated a typical attendance for each of the three (given letters) in the one town and five (given numbers) in the other, with a suggested offering total.

Benevolent Cash Offering From Eight Churches

Yes, that’s right; we live in a really, really, really small town; we have really, really, really small churches. The combined attendance from all eight churches (1,230) wouldn’t even fill one section in some mega-churches you’re familiar with.

And yet, possibly without even knowing who they are giving to, we’ve raised $4,000; a significant chunk of what R., N., and T., in yesterday’s example would need to kick-start a semester payment. Plus, I’m thoroughly convinced that knowing more details, people would give more generously. (The people in the two stories I mentioned were giving “blind” so to speak; even the nature of the need had to be somewhat veiled to protect the identity of the people concerned.)  I’m also convinced that people currently on the fringes — not presently attending a church — could hear about this via a newsletter — the very newsletter that gave birth to this blog five years ago — and add another $1,000.

And think about what a group of churches in your much larger community could do with a similar project and what a HUGE difference it could make to a student.

Spontaneous, New Testament-styled giving. Approval needed, yes; but no budget committee needs to meet on it, because it’s off-budget.

And yes, ultimately the money goes to some very large institution. I’m not content with that. (See yesterday’s comments.) But it’s the only way to a future these kids can foresee. And what a wonderful statement it makes about Christian community. And what a wonderful thing if those givers covenant to pray for that student throughout the semester. And what a wonderful thing if five years later, graduates are willing to give back something to help kick-start other students on their way to a decent education.

And why not do this not once, but two or three times in a year? And a couple extra times for a family with unexpected medical costs? Or a family where both wage earners are out of work? Or…

Well… why not?

October 23, 2012

Ministry You’d Want to Be a Part Of

Friday night we attended a fundraising banquet for our local Youth for Christ worker and his ministry. In our little corner of the world, YFC has four staff workers, an administrator and three field workers serving a county so large that, even under the old system used by the phone company, it included three different area codes.

We’ve known Jeff for twenty years now. He was a youth pastor in a local church who was being laid off, and found a way to continue to serve students in the same town. Switching from a church-based ministry model to a parachurch model was a challenge during the first year, but the end result was that he fused together the best of both ministry paradigms.

His ministry extends far beyond anything in the Youth for Christ staff handbook, I’m sure. Hosting a 3-hour radio show on two stations. Working with the town ministerial association on special events. Doing pulpit supply for a variety of local churches. Writing faith-centered articles for the local newspaper.  Volunteering at the local high school and middle school. Studying for an MDiv degree nearly completed.  That’s in addition to YFC events such as a drop-in center, special events and lots and lots of one-on-one counseling.

All those activities, and other things that I don’t know about. I would never accuse Jeff of playing his cards close to his chest, though he doesn’t seek recognition. Rather, I think his left hand truly doesn’t know what his right hand is doing. Bottom line: We think his supporters truly get a lot of bang for their donation buck, and while we originally said we were going to skip the banquet this year, we turned out to show our support.

At the end of the night Jeff — ever frugal — passed out copies of his quarterly newsletter that would normally be mailed. He told us ahead of time that he’d broken the rules of newsletters by including ten stories of kids he’s worked with — present, recent past, and distant past — sharing their personal testimony of what Jeff and the ministry of YFC in general has meant to them and what God is doing in their lives.

Wow! I just finished reading the stories. A vibrant student ministry in our small town is changing lives that are ultimately changing the world. This ministry is bearing fruit. People are finding Jesus.

And as I folded the newsletter back into the envelope so my wife could read it when she got home, I thought, “How can anyone read this and not want to reach for their checkbook or credit card?”  That, and “How can anyone not want to pray, to volunteer or otherwise ‘come alongside’ what the Holy Spirit is doing through dedicated, vocational leadership like this?”

I’m so glad we didn’t opt to skip the banquet this year. It would pain me to get the newsletter by mail a week later, read the stories, and feel that I missed an opportunity to be a very tiny part of all this.

Right now, where you live, there are people making a difference who can’t do it without your active support. Pray about your involvement through serving, giving, praying or all three!


For contact information on Northumberland Youth For Christ, click here.

October 19, 2012

The Shoebox Thing Again

No post here ever got me in so much trouble as this one, when it ran in 2009 and 2010 and I became the Grinch that stole Operation Christmas Child.   I just wanted to be “thinking out loud” and look at the thing from all sides.   That doesn’t mean I would never fill a shoebox. I might just fill it differently. Besides a good blog is nothing if not provocative, right?   Or would you rather not think at all?

Comments are again closed here, but there’s a link to the original November 24, 2009 post where you can add your two cents, or whatever the equivalent is in euros. HOWEVER, this time around we’ve added some additional questions and concerns that came about when Sarah posted her comments. They begin with number 9 in the list below; items 14-16 are from an article she linked to in her comment.

For many years now, I’ve been a huge fan of Franklin Graham’s Operation Christmas Child project. To see the look of ecstasy on the faces of the children in the promotional videos is to really know the joy that comes with giving even something small.

To critique the program would be unthinkable. It would be like criticizing motherhood or apple pie or little kittens. But I have some concerns about this that I had not seen in print or online when I wrote the original post and thought I’d wade out deep into dangerous waters:

  1. A lot of people fill their shoeboxes with trinkets from the dollar store. When these items break — which they will — how will third world children deal with the disappointment that Western kids are accustomed to? Especially if they don’t own much else.
  2. Which begs the question, how are such items disposed of — sooner or later — in countries that don’t have an active recycling program? What happens to all those boxes? As barren and arid as some of those places are, dotting the landscape with red and green boxes seems a bit irresponsible. Maybe they can use the boxes for something.
  3. What’s the mileage on some of the trinkets and toys? Check out the country of origin, factor in the purchase point in the U.S. as an example, and then plot the destination point. We’re talking major carbon footprints. And not the Margaret Fishback Powers kind of footprints.
  4. What about the inequities of what the kids receive? One kid gets a cuddly Gund-type plush animal, while another gets socks. I would be the kid getting the toothpaste and cheap sunglasses, while my friend would get some kind of awesome musical instrument toy. Socks don’t make noise. I would learn jealousy and covetousness all in a single day.
  5. Which begs the question, is there ever theft? World wars have started over lesser things. Do kids in faraway places take the inequities into their own hands? Do they revere the licensed pencil case more than the one with geometric shapes and colors? Is there trading? If so, who sets the rules?
  6. Maybe not. Maybe they share better than kids in the West do. But somewhere along the line, it’s got to create a situation of personal private property. I live on a street with ten houses where everybody owns a lawnmower. We all could probably get by with one or two. What I really need is access to a lawnmower. But human nature being what it is, it rarely works that way unless you’re Shane Claiborne, or you live on an Operation Mobilization ship, or you’re one of the aging hippies living in the Jesus People project in inner-city Chicago. (Apologies to Glenn Kaiser.)
  7. What about expectations? If my kids don’t get what they’re hoping for there is always a great disappointment, and trust me, this year they aren’t getting what they’re hoping for. Reminds of me that old song, “Is That All There Is?” Some people get downright depressed after Christmas. BTW, anyone remember who the artist was on that song?
  8. What’s the follow-up for the giver? None. Unlike sponsored children — which is another discussion entirely — the gift is really a shot in the dark, unless in next year’s video you happen to see a kid opening a box containing a rather unique action figure and a pair of furry dice which you know could only have come from your attic storage the year before. (But furry dice? What were you thinking? The kid’s expression is going to be somewhat quizzical…)
  9. Does this encourage children to value Western cultures more than their own?
  10. Do “shoebox” gifts become better than something simpler made lovingly by a family member?
  11. Are they introducing commercial gift-giving into a culture that doesn’t celebrate Christmas in that way?
  12. Do they respect people of other faiths who don’t celebrate Christmas at all? Is our intent to evangelize or convert with our gifts?
  13. Do they portray one race/culture as being better or more successful than others?
  14. When we include personal care products such as soap and toothpaste in our gifts, are we sending a message that we feel they are not able to maintain their personal hygiene?  Toothpaste may be perceived as candy. Should we be rethinking some of our efforts to help people?
  15. How do they work to bring about real change, in places where the needs are for justice, peace, and access to the necessities of life?
  16. Imagine yourself as a child living in a family where all resources go to obtaining food and shelter and suddenly you receive a package with a doll or a toy car. What does it feel like to receive something from someone who has such excess income that they can buy something that is not needed?

The link Sarah provided contains many, many position papers on the Shoebox program, that are good reading for any thinking person. Click here to access the .pdf file which contains notes from people who were actively involved in the distribution. Sadly, that article is no longer online.

Okay, so maybe there is  good that outweighs any potential downside. I am NOT saying don’t do this.  But it’s philosophy that I majored in, so somebody’s got to view things from outside the box — the shoebox in this case —  once in awhile. That’s why I call it thinking out loud.

Comments are closed here so that you can add your comment to the original collection on November 24, 2009. Click here.

October 9, 2012

Lone Ranger Christianity

Increasingly, many people are following a solo track in their Christian life. With a proliferation of streaming church services, online sermons and podcasts and Christian books appearing at rate we’ve never before experienced, it’s both tempting and easy to go it alone.

In the past I’ve challenged some people to wrestle with a few questions:

  1. What do you do for Christian fellowship?
  2. What people or group comprise your covering when you need prayer?
  3. Where do you experience the Eucharist/Lord’s Supper/Communion?
  4. How do you experience corporate worship?

These are all serious questions which have theological underpinnings; and anyone who is actually maturing in their Christ-following is going to run up against these sooner or later.

But with the fiscal year-end serving as a reminder — though hopefully not fully the motivation — it’s also a good time to look at another question:

  • Where or how do you experience alms-giving or tithing?

If you are currently outside of a faith family, may I make a few suggestions? 

First you should give something to whoever does provide you with teaching and nurture: The online church, the radio ministry, the provider of devotional literature you receive. I’m assuming that one or more of these exist in your life because absent those factors, plus the ones listed above, I’d question the arena in which your faith journey operates.

Second here’s a stretched analogy to help you find some giving possibilities:

Jerusalem

In our area this could include:

  • a ministry reaching youth such as a local chapter of Youth for Christ
  • a faith-based ministry reaching the poor and marginalized such as The Salvation Army
  • the local Christian radio station which relies on donations more than commercial revenue
  • the local crisis pregnancy center
  • the local Christian school which needs donation to supplement parent fees

Judea

Here you’re looking at regional ministries. In our area this might be:

  • Christian camp ministries, making a difference in the life of children and teens
  • organizations that place Bibles in prisons, schools, hotels such as The Gideons
  • faith-based group homes and residences for people dealing with addictions or family crisis

Samaria

In the original passage, Samaria is more of a descriptor of “the place you don’t want to go” than a geographic reference. To me, this represents a ministry to a select people group than a particular place. We’ve known of ministries to a select ethnic group within our country; to street people in urban centers; to Gay/Lesbians; to professionals; to people needing jobs; to people with a specific medial condition;  to the elderly; to a specific arts community; etc.

Uttermost Parts

This could include:

  • worldwide Bible translations organizations such as Wycliffe or Bible distributors such as the various Bible societies or Megavoice
  • faith-based relief and development agencies such as Compassion
  • ministries raising awareness of religious persecution of missionaries and Christians in nations claiming religious liberty; and/or dealing with issues such as human trafficking
  • evangelistic organizations with worldwide impact such as Billy Graham’s

These are just suggestions.

As a Lone Ranger Christian, you are still part of the body if not a local assembly. Addressing the giving question still doesn’t address the prayer and worship and fellowship and communion issues, but it’s a place you can begin, even on a weekday.

Comments?

March 25, 2012

Inspiration Network CEO Pay Tops $2.5M US

In the part of the world where I live, they’ve just published the 2011 edition of the “sunshine list.” Basically, it requires that the compensation package for anyone working in the public sector totaling $100K or more has to be made public. Each year’s announcement is usually followed by the predictable amount of outrage, but each year the list gets longer.

So I was somewhat distressed to see this story in the Charlotte (NC) Observer:

Inspiration Networks, a nonprofit Christian broadcaster based near Charlotte, paid chief executive David Cerullo nearly $2.5 million in total compensation in 2010, newly released IRS returns show.

His pay increase since 2008: 47 percent.

Operating from a 92-acre campus in Indian Land, S.C, the cable television network has become one of the world’s largest Christian broadcasters, bringing religious programming to more than 120 countries.

With a budget of more than $95 million, it has raised much of its money by telling viewers that God brings financial favor to those who donate. Televangelists tell viewers to expect miracles if they send money.

A 2009 Charlotte Observer investigation found that Cerullo was the best paid leader of any religious charity tracked by watchdog groups…

Continue reading here.

One of the challenges that we face living in the Christian bubble involves interacting with a larger world where the concept of “right and wrong” has vanished off the radar. Yet here is a Christian organization with a situation that so clearly flashes “wrong.”  Their defense?

His pay is determined largely by an independent committee that studies executive compensation at “similar organizations” – including cable television networks, media companies and national ministries – and then makes a recommendation to Inspiration’s board of directors, the network said.

But many philanthropy experts say it’s unfair to compare salaries in nonprofit organizations with those in the for-profit world. That’s because nonprofits get substantial tax breaks – a form of public subsidy. In exchange, they’re expected to keep salaries at reasonable levels.

Ken Berger, president of Charity Navigator, said that he considers it “outrageous” for a nonprofit of Inspiration’s size to provide a $2.5 million compensation package, no matter what the organization’s pay studies say.

“You can manipulate the studies to put a good face on something that defies common sense, which is what we’re talking about here,” said Berger, whose group evaluates nonprofits.

Even religious nonprofits with far bigger budgets pay their leaders less than Cerullo, the Observer found. The Christian Broadcasting Network, founded by Pat Robertson, has a budget that’s nearly three times as large. Its CEO got total compensation of $383,000 in 2010.

This story also feeds those who feel religious charities and churches should pay their share of property taxes. And who can argue that with executive compensation of this degree, INSP is nothing more than a business?  The ministry relocated from Charlotte to Lancaster County. “I’d love to tax them at market value, for the county’s sake,” said Smith, the deputy assessor. “In the long run, it would help every taxpaying citizen in Lancaster County.”

In addition to David Cerullo’s pay package, the article goes on to state that according to 2010 tax returns:

  • Wife Barbara got $191,000
  • Daughter Becky got $195,000
  • Son Ben got $188,000

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

As someone I know once said referring to a similar situation a few years ago, “Do these people get to heaven or are they exempted because they’ve experienced it already?”

And all these salaries are paid through the donations of people naively sending in their monthly donations of $10 or $20, which they can ill-afford; people who will never hear how much the ministry boss takes home.

Again, you’re encouraged to read Ames Alexander’s article at The Observer (click here)

March 5, 2012

The Business of Charity

This weekend I had two widely different experiences which were both connected by the theme of philanthropy in a Christian context.

The first began with an article I read about an organization which annually pools funds from a handful of wealthy donors and foundations and then receives grant applications from ministry organizations from which a few are selected to receive funding for various projects.  I’m guessing that you have to be giving around $100,000 to play in this league, but I wondered if in the process of collecting applications they had uncovered any organizations that might be of interest to people whose charitable donations were closer to $10,000 annually.

My motivation was that I believe that many people of means who are looking beyond their local church for worthy projects tend to go with what I call “the usual suspects.”  These high profile Christian parachurch organizations and relief and development agencies have frankly, in my opinion anyway, grown fat. They’re well known, well-established; they receive money in bequests, and honestly don’t need as do other charities.

On the other hand, there are a number of what I would call “next generation” missions and ministries which are just starting out, haven’t been corrupted by largesse, and are trying to meet new challenges; while at the same time being relatively unknown among the people I would call “the givers.”

However, when I delved into this further, what I found grieved me deeply, and when I use the word grieve, I am not trying to be overly dramatic.

In case you don’t know, charity is an industry.

This industry is greatly focused on self-perpetuating and while some revenue definitely goes to charitable purposes, a surprising amount goes to assuring that there will be even more revenue in the future.

As I examined some of the successful grant applications, a large number of them had gone to improving websites, integrating technology systems, streamlining data processing, hiring IT specialists, increasing web presence, etc.  The phrase, “proposals that demonstrate a thoughtful and innovative approach to increasing an organization’s impact will be more favorably considered” should have been a red flag.

The organizations themselves are doing work worthy of support, but these large donors would never have the satisfaction of seeing their money used for those more noble goals.  Instead there was money for proposals and studies and initiatives to increase further fundraising. Quick, gag me with a response card.

There was money for Christian colleges, but it wasn’t going to bursaries or keeping tuition costs flat for the next three years.  There was money for a Bible distribution organization, but it wasn’t buying Bibles.  There was money for an organization that helps out young mothers in poverty, but it wasn’t going toward infant formula or subsidized housing. There was money for a Christian camp, but it wasn’t providing for summer leadership training for students or giving free weeks of camp to children in poverty. There was money for a medical mission, but it wasn’t going to buy pharmaceuticals or first aid supplies. There was money for a student ministry that wasn’t going to hire another high school or college worker; perhaps one that is qualified but not networked enough for the rigorous deputation required.

There was money to buy an organization new laptops, to help another promote a promotional DVD, for another to hire a consultant, for another to start an arts journal. And more consultants, IT directors and website improvements. And then there was the one for a well known inner city mission to improve the acoustics in a meeting room. “Seriously, I just can’t work with the echo in here.”

Do you see the problem?

I was hungry and you hired a consultant. I was thirsty and you improved your website. I was in prison and you merged with another organization. I was naked and you lobbied your government for increased freedoms to raise more money.  I was homeless and you were worried about room acoustics. I was sick and you bought inventory management software.

This is the very type of liberal spending that grates on so many people when it’s done by government, but we forget that there is much excessive spending in the religious charitable sector as well. I’d really like to know how that arts journal is going to make the world a better place.

By contrast, on Saturday night, we attended a fundraising dinner for a missionary in eastern Europe. He got on a plane and landed in a foreign place with nobody there to meet him at the other end. No idea where he would stay when he got there or where his first meal would come from. No covering from a mission agency or church denomination.

The spaghetti dinner we attended — and church fundraising doesn’t get any more basic than this, except for car washes — was put together ostensibly because the church had no proper means by which to receipt donors. The missionary in question was working with the gypsy population until the government forced most of them out of the city in question, and so he now works with ethnic minorities. Any extra money he has he spends on the people he works with, including needs they face for prescription medicine. He has apparently put off his own medical care several times, preferring to look after the needs of others.

The money collected on Saturday night will be given to his mother here in Canada, who will then credit an account that he can access. This is real grassroots fundraising for a real grassroots missionary. What it should be all about. They raised $840; nothing in that number to attract the interest of the elite donors club.

Charity is a business; there’s no getting around it. Its participants end up with confused priorities and misguided visions. The term, “misappropriation of funds” needs not refer to people who are stealing or embezzling from the organization in question, you misappropriate every time fail to meet the genuine needs for which the organization or program was established in the first place.

In all fairness, I should add that all the examples above apply to 2010, and in 2011, the “faith-based funders,” as they call themselves elected to support more realistic projects, and required that each one represent a partnership between two established Christian charities. Still, many of the projects were described in a somewhat nebulous form of charity-speak that belies what the actual invoices for goods and services actually pertained to; and also, as a footnote, the money in both years all stayed in North America; there was no consideration of projects undertaken by U.S. and Canadian organizations overseas.

Sigh.

…If you wish to support the missionary in the story above, contact me off the blog and we’ll try to provide some direction. I guarantee it would be money well spent, even if you don’t get a tax receipt.

James 1:27 Religion that is pure and genuine in the sight of God the Father will show itself by such things as visiting orphans and widows in their distress and keeping oneself uncontaminated by the world.

J. B. Phillips Translation

 

THIS IS TRUE RELIGION

 


January 9, 2012

Our Post-Christmas Credit Card Crisis

Each year we say that instead of giving gifts to each other, we’re going to do something significant to help the third world, and a couple of years ago we got more serious about this and began a Christmas tradition of donating to water projects — the repair and restoration of fresh water wells — through the organization Partners International.

This year Partners sent us a catalog containing a variety of projects to which we could donate, and I decided to let the family have greater input into this than in previous years.  The various needs  in the Canadian organization’s mailing called Hope in Action were divided into different categories such as,

  • Children and Education
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Justice Issues
  • Women’s issues
  • Christian Witness
  • Health and Wellness

while Partners in the U.S. has a greater variety of potential giving themes in their catalog called Harvest of Hope.

The family seemed especially interested in projects which keep young women out of the sex trade overseas, or projects which help them not end up there to begin with.  One of these is listed on my receipt as item 8007C — Mahima Home — A Refuge for Girls Rescued From the Sex Trade — $300.00

We selected three projects that were certainly more expensive than our previous investment in water wells, and then added one more to top it off to an even number, a number that was larger than I expected when we first sat down around the computer.  “Oh well, it’s only money;” I remember saying at the time.

But then, like so many other families that overextend themselves over the holidays, we got a credit card bill which contained both our Partners projects and our regular expenses, not to mention the Christmas gifts that we actually gave.

And it’s all due on Friday.

“I think we need prayer;” I said to my wife when she read me the bill.

I then told her, “I think we should ask the pastor for prayer because I’ve run up our credit card on prostitutes.”

It would be funny if it were funny.

It got me thinking however, what about the person who does find themselves with an impossible credit card bill because they did spend too much on hookers?  You’ve got the sin of fornication combined with the sin of overspending, and they don’t cancel each other out.

I might just leave the prayer request at our church’s prayer email address anyway.  We’ll call it increasing global awareness.

Older Posts »

The Silver is the New Black Theme. Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.