Thinking Out Loud

March 28, 2014

The World Vision Story Irony

Despite my frequent rant that more balanced journalism comes with the luxury of time, I wanted to quickly document some of the early reaction to World Vision’s reversal of their hiring policy change before suppertime on Wednesday night. Okay, let’s be honest, I just wanted to be one of the first out with the story. So you ended up with this quick post, which was frequently updated, not the least of which updates were to include my wife’s observation that this was, within 48 hours, a microcosm of the “New Coke” story. I do believe that this is the religious news story of the month, and will certainly end up in the top five for the year.

Bene D. went down the same paths as I did and took the time to copy some extracts that give you a more readable story.  But a quick note from Bene this morning alerted me to the excellent piece at Internet Monk by Michael Bell (which includes an excellent David Hayward cartoon).

Without overly dumbing down what Michael wrote, I want to give you Cliff’s Notes version so you don’t miss this. Here are the bullet points:

  1. The issue for Evangelicals here is homosexuality.
  2. A discussion of homosexuality invariably leads to the use of the term sodomy.
  3. Many Bible commentators would have it that the sin of Sodom was neglect of its poor.
  4. On Monday, some Evangelicals withdrew their support from World Vision over the issue in (1) above, and thereby were guilty of (3) above.

Get it?

If nothing else, it’s interesting to think that (again, according to many interpreters) if you pulled your child support between Monday and Wednesday night, you were guilty of sodomy. I don’t however recommend you actually telling that to anyone who withdrew their support.

(Of course, this take doesn’t eliminate other Bible passages on the subject that cannot be so interpreted.)

Then, Michael goes on to note the interesting timing on this vis-a-vis another recent religious news story:

Do you know how much these young people are repulsed by Fred Phelps sign “God hates Fags”? Well, in the minds of many you have just held up another two thousand signs. Fred Phelps died last week, and many said “good riddance”. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that so many would step up so quickly to take his place.

If the shoe fits…

Let me hasten to add here something that I placed in a comment on Wednesday. It was because of the very high percentage of donor money that World Vision spends on fundraising that I/we never sponsored a child. But a few years ago, my oldest son decided to sponsor a child through Compassion.

Seeing the relationship he has through the mail with someone on the other side of the world has made me realize what we missed out on. We’ve already sent two donations to Compassion’s unsponsored children fund and I do encourage people to consider sponsorships through Compassion, Gospel for Asia, Partners International, etc. Most of these agencies place a high, or perhaps higher priority on the proclamation of the good news about Jesus alongside their humanitarian relief and development efforts.

 

 

March 27, 2014

So What If I Told You…

So what if I told you that about half of all people employed by Christian organizations and churches in North America are in no way necessary to the completion of that organization’s or church’s ministry?

The statistic is hypothetical, but I’d still like to propose the possibility that the thesis is correct. There is a lot of fat in a lot of organizations. As attendance grows at weekend services, many churches opt to either go into building program or to hire more staff. At parachurch organizations, structures and hierarchies become bureaucratized and complex. People grow accustomed to their weekly paycheck, and long-time employees appreciate the burden-sharing and never question the additional expenditures. Why rock the boat, or admit that the job you do each day isn’t a real job? Too few charities and church denominations ever take the step of hiring people from the business world who know how to make cuts.

So what if I told you that about 90% of the people employed by churches and Christian organizations are completely isolated from any opportunity to do front-line ministry?

Again, a hypothetical stat, but when you average in all the people in various support services, office staff, etc., and the various agencies that come alongside these same missions and camps and churches are included, it shows that the structure really does mean that, like an iceberg only reveals a tenth of its mass, only a very small percentage of workers are exposed to situations requiring a presentation of the gospel or engagement with those outside the flock. 

Years ago, I remember hearing the phrase, ‘Making a living off the gospel.’  It’s sad to think that this probably takes place today to a much higher level; a much greater degree. Organizations ask for help meeting a payroll that probably doesn’t need to be as high as it is, but perhaps fruit-of-the-spirit virtues like kindness prevent the hard-nosed restructuring that might be needed. 

What do you think? Do you know people who have a career with a Christian organization, but maybe don’t exactly have a job? Do you think a person would ever have the conviction to tell their Christian employer that their job is completely unnecessary? Do you know of a church that simply has waaaay too many staff positions?

March 26, 2014

Breaking News: World Vision Reverses Hiring Decision

World Vision Comparison Question

Is this “New Coke” all over again?

After announcing on Monday that it would permit the hiring of gay Christian employees, late Wednesday afternoon it was announced that the organization would reverse its decision.  At play in the confusion are the people who:

(a) canceled child sponsorships because they opposed the decision
(b) sponsored a child because they supported the decision

Some in category (b) are sticking with their decision despite the reversal of policy today. Here are some random — and not so random — reactions on Twitter just after the announcement:

World Vision Reverses Policy

In my view, this is a week that will reflected in the annals of World Vision’s history for a long, long time. Only with the reflection that comes with much time will we see the ramifications of what they did, and then, why they undid it.

World Vision Flip Flop

The original statement on Monday read in part,

I want to be clear that we have not endorsed same-sex marriage, but we have chosen to defer to the authority of local churches on this issue.

Through our many discussions and much prayer, we began to discern some clarity around this issue. You see, World Vision’s mission is not the same as that of our local churches; nor are we a body of theologians whose responsibility is to render biblical advice and interpretations of theological matters. We are, as our mission statement so clearly expresses, “an international partnership of Christians whose mission is to follow our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in working with the poor and oppressed to promote human transformation, seek justice, and bear witness to the good news of the Kingdom of God.” And it is this mission that unites us—Baptist, Pentecostal, Seventh-day Adventist, Lutheran, Episcopalian, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Orthodox, nondenominational, etc.—more than 50 different expressions of the Christian faith represented within WVUS alone. In fact, for 60 years the Christian mission of World Vision has been a platform uniting followers of Christ around the world.

There was much conviction in that decision that now is undone. No matter where you stand on this issue, it’s hard not to be confused right now. 

Update 8:08 PM — Three hours in and Rachel Held Evans is at over 400 comments on this. Definitely the top Christian news story for March 2014. 

Update 8:27 PM — Be sure to read Wendy Gritter’s World Vision: A Drama in 5 Acts. Wendy is the director of New Direction in Toronto, a ministry of compassion to the LGBTQ community.


World Vision in Canada: “In Canada, our situation is different because of our legal and political environment…We do not ask questions about sexual orientation or marriage during our interviews, and we don’t have a lifestyle code of conduct for staff.” Read the full statement here

World Vision UK: “…We are, however, a very broad church and as long as applicants for these positions are practicing Christians and will bring a Christian heart and mind to the role it doesn’t matter what creed or church tradition they are part of.” Read more about jobs at WV-UK.

Related article (published before the reversal): Jamie Wright (Un)Follow, (Un)Support, (Un)Sponsor : What does our response to World Vision say about our Faith?

December 29, 2013

Fantasy Financing: Church Edition

Filed under: Church — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 2:41 pm

Dollars and Ministry

In the small town we live, several years ago I identified 38 “worshiping groups” locally and in the surrounding area, and set out to experience worship at 33 of them, in most cases attending more than a single service. Because of my work, I also am closely attuned to what’s currently going on in our local churches.

I also have an over-active imagination. In one of my fantasies, a tall distinguished looking man walks into my place of business wearing a suit. That in itself would be a rarity in a town that super-casual part of the world where only the funeral director wears a jacket with matching pants and tie.

The well-dressed man explains that he wants to invest a large amount — somewhere between one-and-two-hundred thousand dollars in the ministry of local churches in our region. He then asks me to identify some needs and tell him how to divide the pie. So as the fantasy continues, I get to play God with money that’s not my own; though I also get to apply knowledge as to the needs in our area.

Now the fantasy isn’t an obsession, but I’ve played this mental game several times over the years and each time the dividing takes a slightly amended form. There’s one or two ministries that are consistently at the top of my list, both in terms of need and the impact of their ministry in our community. And to be honest, there’s a few that are consistently near the bottom because either the need isn’t great or nobody’s being impact.

There’s also a few that I can’t guaranty will be around in five years. True, there are some things they’re doing now, but I’m assuming the well-attired gentleman in my fantasy wants to make a ministry investment. It also needs to be said that a huge amount of money that is suddenly dropped into a church’s balance sheet can actually have a devastating effect. So although I don’t write anything down, I know my list changes somewhat over time.

Generally speaking though, I think many of the local churches in my area would be thrilled that they got mentioned in my visit with the stranger in town with the deep pockets.

The other day, while was doing something completely unrelated, it suddenly occurred to me that there was a major flaw in my fantasy.  The flaw is this: Money isn’t the answer for whatever challenges your church is facing. Yes, a financial shortfall may require adjustments, but at the end of the day, someone passing through town with a large bank draft made out to your church doesn’t really make a whole lot of difference to the day-to-day ministry of the place where you worship.

It would be nice. It’s a fun fantasy. But the churches in your area simply need more people who will take their faith seriously and then two things will happen. You’ve heard the phrase, “Follow the money.” I offer you this one, “Money will follow.” If ministry is taking place, people will respond without promptings and urgings and money won’t be a problem. Secondly, the church will grow, and there will be more people contributing.

If your church (or parachurch organization) operates on an “If only we had…” basis, then by all means, start your own financing fantasy. But ultimately, I think God uses our congregations most when we aren’t sitting with budgetary surplus, flush with cash. On the other hand, if you own a nice suit and a large checkbook…you know how to contact me.

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.

November 6, 2013

Wednesday Link List

Link List - Out of Ur

I’ve checked this week and nobody in the Pentecostal community is organizing a Strange Ice Conference. So far.

The last link listed here this week is to an interview that Chrsitianity Today did with me about a month ago that I didn’t think would ever appear. Speaking of which, you can catch this week’s list at Out of Ur; the individual links will take you there now as well.

Wednesday Link List Sign
Yes, blogrolls are now uncool, but if you scroll down the right margin at Thinking Out Loud, for a limited time, there’s a list of a small selection of the places Paul Wilkinson hunts each week for buried treasure.

July 16, 2013

Bad News / Good News for American Evangelicals

If it bleeds it leads.

So goes the adage among newspaper and television reporters when constructing the front page or the evening newscast. We tend to become more engaged by bad news stories, and for statisticians who manufacture and sell reports on everything from the consumption of soup or soap or the latest revelations of sexual trends among youth, shock sells.

The Great Evangelical RecessionThe book The Great Evangelical Recession (Baker Books, January 2013) by reporter-turned-pastor John S. Dickerson is this type of shocker. Forget the thrillers in the Christian bookstore fiction section, this book is far scarier.  The full title is The Great Evangelical Recession: 6 Factors that will Crash the American Church…and How to Prepare. The book describes the challenges that the Evangelical church faces over the next few years. It’s a message that Canadians have been hearing recently through the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada’s Hemorrhaging Faith report, which I covered in this article; and Americans made aware of via a recent Pew Research Forum report which I discussed here.

The book is arranged in twelve chapters, six deal with isolating the particular urgent challenges faced by Evangelicals, and six offer hope and direction, but offered in the shadow of that same urgency.

Of the six issues there are two that I gravitated to in reading the book this weekend. The first has to do with the longstanding suspicion among many that the number of Evangelicals in the United States is grossly inflated. The author, no stranger to interpreting statistics — is more comfortable pegging the numbers at 7% or 22 million. Toward the end he states that while these numbers will be disappointing to some, there is a lot that may be accomplished by 22 million people.

The second issue concerns the financial health of churches and parachurch organizations. With each successive generation, people are becoming more stingy. Worse for local churches, is the tendency among the younger generations to prefer supporting parachurch ministries over local assemblies.

We often tie the drop in giving to the drop in the economy. But a larger undercurrent is also at play. The generation that gives almost half of total donations began passing away about three years ago. Nearly one thousand of them are called home every day. Their funerals and memorials are quietly held every morning, afternoon and evening in rural churches and metropolitan chapels across the country. Nobody seems to be noticing.

Over the next twelve years, this faithful and reliable generation will pass away. As they do, total giving will decrease by as much as half for typical evangelical ministries — nationally, regionally and locally. (p.82)

More specifically,

The older generation accounts for only 19 percent of our national church, but they give 46 percent of our donations. A combining of figures reveals that approximately 361,000 of these most generous Americans die every year, or 969 per day.  (p. 91)

And

Some optimists reason that as the younger generations age, they will become more generous. And certainly, some of them will. However, the Purdue study compares how today’s older folks gave when they were younger folks. It tells us that a 75-year-old giver today was, at age 35, far more generous than his 35-year-old counterpart today. (p. 93)

Perhaps it’s wrong on me to focus on the ‘money chapter’ especially in view of chapters that deal with the erosion of belief that accompanies the drop in church attendance. But in a book that takes its title from an economic event — recession — it seemed an appropriate section of the book to serve as example of what it is the church is facing in the long term unless some of these situations turn around.

Bradley Wright’s unofficial counterpoint to unChristian, titled Christians are Hate Filled Hypocrites, reviewed here, still must have dealt with enough potential negatives that his follow up had the more buoyant title Upside, reviewed here.  In John Dickerson’s case, the half empty glass and the half full glass are presented in a single volume. In a way, the first part of the book grabs us more, the frightful news story does indeed command the front page. But the second half — each chapter a response to the conditions described in the first — while more familiar to us, preach against a background of statistics that give their prescriptive advice much greater meaning.  Of those, I found the chapter on pursuing unity across denominational lines one of the most powerful.

The Great Evangelical Recession released in January in paperback at $14.99 US and is available from a Christian bookstore near you. Though the book deals exclusively with U.S. stats, I believe Canadians would benefit greatly from reading it as well. A review copy was provided by David C. Cook, Canada.

  • Watch a 6-minute interview with the author at Fox News

April 3, 2013

Wednesday Link List

Not new, but too good just to link; you have to watch this…

  • Edith Shaeffer, wife of the late Christian philosopher Francis Shaeffer, has died at age 98
  • A member of The Church on the Way in Valencia,CA — and grandson of Jack Hayford, the church’s founder — is now back home uninjured after being kidnapped last week in Mexico.
  • Singer Carrie Underwood and NHL hockey player Mike Fisher discuss their shared faith in Jesus.
  • Know the song “‘Tis a Gift To Be Simple”?  Terry Mattingly says that definitely applies to the new Pope.
  • Yes the Easter story really happened in a real place, and if you want, you can even get the GPS coordinates.
  • And did they play that “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s a-Coming” video at your church this week? Here’s the text for all you aspiring preachers to give it your best shot.
  • And don’t miss this story about church pyrotechnics gone awry. This could have ended very badly.
  • Also at Parchment Pen: Did the author of the Gospel of Mark sleep in the nude?  The public wants to know.
  • Sandy Patti is headlining at Carnegie Hall with the Manhattan Pops Orchestra and the pianist formerly (and still) known simply as Dino.
  • For 32 years, Rick Warren said ‘no’ to the idea of doing a radio show. But then a year ago
  • A friend of ours, Rick Webster, pastor of The Third Space church in Peterborough has written Introducing Jesus — but he doesn’t use the word pastor, preferring Spiritual Wilderness Guide and Community Architect. We don’t normally do this here, but you can order the book online
  • From the artist who brought us the Reimagine song, a cover of Larry Norman’s UFO song.
  • Canadian author and blogger Sheila Wray-Gregoire says that if you are concerned for someone, you need to ask yourself three questions before you say anything.
  • Another Elevation Church high-tech year end summary. Does your church’s annual report look like this?
  • Maybe some cartoonists can illustrate complex issues, but Dave Walker finds himself somewhat lost for ideas in Uganda
  • Okay, Doug Wilson, curiosity was killing me when you wrote Good Friday and the Death of Same Sex Envy. (And then he also discusses pattern recognition, too.)
  • Shauna Niequist is the wife of a Christian musician and daughter of a world famous pastor. And a published author.  But she still deals with jealousy.
  • Money Where Your Mouth Is Department: Michael Kelley offers us two things we can learn from the Veronica Mars movie campaign on Kickstarter.
  • How about another 30-or-so links, all on the subject of apologetics? And don’t miss the first comment. 
  • Blog flashback — one year ago: James MacDonald’s holiness test.
  • The latest addition to our “lost song” collection at YouTube is this original version of God and Man at Table by Craig Smith. 
  • And I didn’t realize until today how much this song and this song sound alike. Guess some classic gospel music or CCM just flies under the copyright radar.

Top Bible Sales 2012

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?

November 1, 2012

Hurricane Sandy: The Unheard Story

Today’s guest post is by Ruth, aka Mrs. W., the better writer in the family.


Hurricane Sandy came ashore.

Dozens dead. More dozens missing. Thousands homeless. Damage and repair costs in the hundreds of millions. Transportation crippled. Livelihoods destroyed or at risk. Infrastructure wiped out. Government in crisis. A population of in the range of 10,000,000 souls thrown into chaos once again, while still in recovery, still living with the ghosts of that earlier devastating hit.

Hurricane Sandy’s ‘hype’ has given way to the reality of trying to clean up the mess and put lives back together.

Oh, sorry. Did you think I meant New York?

Haiti and neighbors such as Cuba and The Dominican have been ploughed under yet again. And yet again they’re stumbling to their feet, shaking the mud out of their hair and looking around, wondering what the heck happened. The images are horrific. The statistics are numbing.

Most American and Canadian news coverage in the last few days has been focused so close to home that we’ve heard little about the three day drenching that has damaged more than 70 percent of Haiti’s food supply and created fears of a cholera epidemic like the one after the great earthquake. The epidemic that killed 7,000 people.

The poor are getting poorer.

New York has suffered a terrible blow. They have lost good and beloved people. Homes. Businesses. Entire neighborhoods. It’s easy to look at the pictures online of a damaged roller coaster and a yacht on the train tracks and forget that our friends to the south are genuinely suffering far more than just inconvenience. They are grieving and wondering how to rebuild.

But, like we in Canada, they are among the wealthiest people in the world. The poorest American is richer than the bulk of the people in other parts of the world. We have resources and forces and systems in place that are effective and well trained. Haitians have no such reservoir to draw from.

It’s time to look further than the six o’clock news and see the need that is born out of need. Lack upon lack. New York will take time to put things together again. Haiti doesn’t have that luxury.

New York needs our prayers and encouragement. Haiti needs our support. Food, medicine, building supplies. Find out how you can help.

~ Ruth Wilkinson

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