Thinking Out Loud

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?

January 3, 2013

Helping Youth Attain College Education

University LibraryThis fall our youngest son began attending a Christian university. In the process, we are quickly learning that higher education really means higher priced education. Dang, this is costly.

When were helping him transfer some funds in September, I really though he was paying for a full year, only to realize later that we had only covered the first semester.  Double dang.

But as hard as this probably was for some of our local acquaintances to believe, I didn’t have Kid Two in mind when I drafted a letter to some of our local clergy suggesting that university and college education is priced out of reach of many kids leaving high school, and where these students are a part of our local churches, if we are really family, we should rally together and offer to help.

By rally together, I’m forming a mental image of some ethnic groups where, when one family wants to buy a house, everybody contributes to help maximize the down payment. That sort of thing.

The actual students I had in mind are difficult to pin down here, since I have a handful of local readers  at a blog that is written with a worldwide audience in mind. So I’ll use initials:

  • R. wanted to attend an out-of-town two-year business program this fall. But in the process of getting housing he was, for lack of a better word, swindled out of much of the money he had set aside and is now working a lackluster job to try to gain enough from scratch to revisit the process next fall. R. has so much potential; I feel like he was simply born into the wrong family, and wish I could just hand him the life he wants.
  • N. has actually completed almost half of a four-year degree program at a Christian college. Her major is her passion and her giftedness in this area is renown among students her age. She would love to go back to this Christian college, but as the days tick by, it seems less and less likely.
  • T.’s story is the one I am least familiar with. Essentially, he was among the brightest and the best in his high school, but university remains just a dream, though I keep thinking that whatever he winds up doing, he’s going to excel; but right now probably feels a little lost with most of his cohort off to school while he works a low-paying job.

So on September 5th, I asked our local clergy if we couldn’t borrow a page from the ethnic house-buyers and have money pooled together to kick-start education (or return to school) for at least one student per year.

…This is a community that stands behind people in crisis.  Is there something we can do for kids in our local churches who need a ‘leg-up’ in the area of higher education?

Currently, a couple of churches offer a small scholarship for kids pursuing Christian education, but this is a drop in the bucket compared to what is needed in the three stories I described above.

I now know this first-hand. [However,] the program that I am envisioning would not be something [our two kids] would subscribe to; rather, I’ve tried to approach this with some objectivity and with a vision for students like the ones I described, two of which find it impossible to get started

Furthermore, I want to recognize that there are young men and women out there who desire to serve God with all their hearts, but have an education vision that does not necessarily involve [various Christian universities].  I also believe that if something were established long-term, there are recipients of this type of help who would be willing to give something back after they graduate.

Is there something more we can do as the body of Christ … to come together to support students in a significant way?

I hope you’ll pray about this; and I would hope that pastors receiving this would be willing to discuss this at the next … ministerial meeting.  While we are often ‘tapped out’ in our giving, and while it would be easy to say we don’t need one more ’cause,’ I believe that this is the kind of project that is worthy of our consideration and viable, but only if we work together.

So that’s what I wrote. And that’s what I believe. And I would love to be able to report that our community established a scholarship fund and this fall one or two students will be able to create a proposal and receive some significant help. And that we now have a structure in place that is going to be of benefit to students for the next decade and beyond.

But it never happened. The response was under-whelming. As in nil. Another email from Paul that got quickly deleted.

There is a saying that “if a man thinks he is casting a vision that nobody is actually catching, he is merely throwing a tennis ball against a brick wall.” 

Well, it should be a saying.

I’ve been tossing visions in our little corner of the world for years, but few have been caught. But maybe, just maybe, someone in some other part of the world is reading this and will adopt something similar that will brighten the corner where you are.

It may not help R. or N. or T., but it may change a student’s life, and that student may change the world.

October 2, 2011

Serve God When You are Young…and Ready

I’ve written before, including just four months ago, how increasingly, so much of what goes on in the modern church is a young man’s game.  We often tell teens and twenty-somethings that they need to “maximize their impact for God” while they are young.  And certainly, when it comes to serving in tropical rainforests, helping out in the high arctic, or ministering in communities located at high elevation, you want to have youth or fitness on your side.

But I’m also reminded of the number of times those opportunities were afforded to me — especially those where a church turned their worship time or pulpit time over to me — where I honestly didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t have anything close to resembling the wisdom of age, and I’m still not sure I do.  But I do know that I wish I had known then what I know now.

So here we have a dichotomy between offering ministry experience to the young and inexperienced, and then denying the older and wiser those same opportunities because all the time-slots are full. 

However, I also have to ask myself if I would be that older, wiser person if those early opportunities to fall flat on my face had not been offered to me.  So…

To the young:

  1. Take the opportunities as they present themselves.  Paul told Timothy not to allow anyone to look down on him because of his youth; but
  2. Get all the training and preparation you can get for each individual assignment.
  3. Know what ministry roles not to accept because of lack of spiritual fitness in that particular area, or lack of Biblical understanding.
  4. Get connected with an older — the older the better — person in your faith community who can mentor you in specialized ministry positions, as well as a general mentor for your overall spiritual journey.

To the old(er):

  1. Yes, you have more experience and can do a better job.  Now get over it.  The chain of grace isn’t constructed that way.  In some institutions, maybe, but not a fully functioning organic church.
  2. Find young people who are teachable and are willing to be mentored.  Meet them halfway by learning about and connecting with their culture, their technology, their family situations.
  3. Mold and shape them through encouragement, not criticism.  Avoid the “in my day this is how we did it” type of stories, and instead, use non-directive responses, i.e. questions.
  4. Become a translator.  Not a Bible translator, but someone who takes solid spiritual concepts from past devotional writers and Bible commentators, and asks, “How would the next generation communicate that same idea?”

Those are my suggestions for today, and you should listen to them, because I am older and wiser, and if you don’t, I’m calling the pastor and telling him that everybody’s doing it wrong and instead, they should all listen to me.

Seriously, I do think there’s something here worth considering. Does your faith family give equal weight to encouraging the next generation and appreciate the wisdom and experience of older participants?

The graphic above is from a book on inter-generational ministry, the other side of the coin, how churches can reach a wide variety of ages. Read more on this topic from Zondervan author Dr. Jeff Baxter

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