Thinking Out Loud

November 28, 2014

The Audience Ambush

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:49 am

Of all the times I’m counting on the fact that my blog readership lies outside the local area, this is one time really counting on that…

So tomorrow night my wife and I are going out to a dessert night at the church which also includes a worship music component from a musician and band which are known regionally if not known by some nationally. Based on a sponsorship line that appears in the advertising, there is probably going to be an opportunity at some point in the evening to partner with a fairly high profile parachurch ministry organization.

fundraisingI have no problem with that. First of all, I have given to this organization in the past, and we have at least one family member who gives generously to them. They do good work. It’s not one of those cases where I see the ministry’s logo and roll my eyes. But the second reason I have no problem is that I can plainly see the fundraising appeal coming. I’ve been around enough Christian events. I know the drill.

Others may be surprised, especially when there’s already an admission charge.

In times like these I’m always reminded of the time when myself and girl named Carol were invited to the home of a guy named Steve for what we thought was going to be a social evening. Instead, the whole thing was about Amway. Carol was livid. “When I see him next, I’m going to wring his neck;” is I think how she put it. People don’t like being ambushed. People don’t like to go to “A” only to find it’s about “B.”

Thursday night my wife and I discussed this, and I noted that eventually, people will simply be ambushed too many times and they will simply stop turning up for similar events.

A few months ago we attended another event where we were fully expecting the high-pressure fundraising to kick in near the end. Instead, it was all rather low-key. The event was advertised as an information session, and as it concluded, they affirmed that this fulfilled their expectations. Yes, if you wanted to give there were forms and envelopes and a basket into which to place the envelopes, but for the most part this aspect of the night was fairly easy-going, even though they made it clear that the field worker in question did rely on 100% on donor support.

Maybe it was the cranberry punch, but I felt they handled this superbly. Some people gave. Some did not.

But when you go to see your favorite CCM or Modern Worship artist in concert, and you pay $30 or more for good seats, you don’t expect that 20 minutes of your time will be spent watching a slide show of starving or diseased children.

Yes, we need to be aware of these situations, and we all could do more and we all need to do more. But we need to find ways to accomplish this goal that avoid the entrapment situation that essentially says, ‘Now that we have you all as a captive audience, we’d like to make those of you who don’t sponsor a child feel really guilty.’

We need to change the paradigm, or people will either simply stop coming, or will find themselves urgently needing to use the restrooms en masse as soon as the fundraising appeal begins.

 

November 19, 2014

Wednesday Link List

Rowan and Rowena - The Bishop Bears

Stay here to read classic Wednesday links, or visit PARSE to view nine selected stories with more preview info.

The above image from the Ship of Fools archives seemed appropriate given that women can now officially be bishops in the Church of England.

 

With all the many challenges that gay couples face, I honestly didn’t think of this one:

Name Problem

 

August 26, 2014

This Book is Certainly not Overrated

I’ve been aware of Eugene Cho for several years though his blog and the charity he founded, One Day’s Wages.  As I opened the cover of his book Overrated, with the Superman-esque cover, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but he had me right from the first chapter as his family embarked on a put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is adventure in social concern.

As the video trailer above so clearly expresses, many of us are more enamored with the idea of changing the world than we are with actually doing anything. As you read this, it’s probably one of many blogs you will peruse today where writers like myself might present you with a variety of topics. But making the decision to indulge 2-3 minutes on a subject that challenges our generation to respond is not the same as actually getting our feet wet or even making a donation.

Overrated - Eugene ChoThe subtitle is long enough to deserve a paragraph of its own: Are We More in Love With The Idea of Changing the World Than Actually Changing the World?

The book’s premise is that by talking loud but doing nothing, we are completely overrated in terms of our response to social injustice. I find it interesting that the medium that seems to lend itself most to our schizophrenic response also contains the word social as in social media. Like other issues — the problems in the local church come to mind — we’re very good at articulating the problem of global poverty, very adept at critique.

Much awareness has created the illusion of progress on this front.

So the book begins with Eugene and his family evacuating their home so they can lease it out to a tourist in order to meet a goal they had set for themselves to give one year’s wages. This meant camping out at friends’ houses, a vision that is a little more difficult to explain to your children.

As the best books are, this is one part biographical and one part teaching. The biographical narratives include the perspective of an Asian American, as well as his adventures as a church planter. 

So as to best prod us into action, Eugene Cho leads by example, and he share stories where others are picking up the torch and running with it. His personal ethic is not to ask anyone to do anything that you’re not prepared or willing to do yourself.  

That’s advice that applies not only to our response to the needs of the world, but to other areas as well.

 

 

 

 

 

Watch a video preview of the book

August 5, 2014

Canada’s Evangelical News Story of the Year

Tyndale College and Seminary - Arial View

Morrow_Park_Tyndale_Bayview_CampusIt’s only August, but I’m prepared to call it; I’m just not able to better report it. The short version is that Canada’s Tyndale University College and Seminary announced in the spring of 2011 its intention to “buy the house next door;” that is, to purchase the former Sisters of St. Joseph Convent, a rather imposing structure, visible from Toronto’s Bayview Avenue that more than a few visitors thought was the Christian university for many years.  The acquisition has been a slow and steady process dating back to 2007 and a $58M (CDN) fundraising program.

In fact this has been so long in quietly approaching fruition — students will fully occupy the facility in the second semester of the 2014-15 year — that leads me to make the “not able to report it” clause in my introduction. Basically, I think this story is the hottest news on the rack as far as Evangelicalism in Canada is concerned, but the institution has not exactly been blowing its own horn about it.

Tyndale’s existing property has been sold to a housing developer. This is the fourth significant location for the school which began life in 1894 first in a church and at 110 College Street as Toronto Bible Training School, and then in downtown Toronto at 16 Spadina Avenue as Toronto Bible College (TBC). The move to its current location, 25 Ballyconnor at the very north perimeter of what is now Metro Toronto in 1976 occured eight years after a merger with the London College of Bible and Missions (LCBM) and a change of name to Ontario Bible College. The seminary was later added and a new name incorporates both the undergraduate and graduate programs.

This report is rather sparse because, at least in this writer’s opinion, the new Tyndale campus is probably a story not known to the broadest percentage of the Christian community in Canada’s largest city; the biggest religious news story in town that nobody knows about. Capital projects tend to play to the donor base, who are no doubt better informed, and so far, this has been a very large capital project.  A blog documents the month-to-month progress and contains hints of what the future campus looks like, including state-of-the-art IT equipment in the classrooms and a much improved library.

The chapel, pictured below, will be quite a change from the informality of the present one, though I expect the acoustics are rather amazing. Otherwise, Tyndale seems to be saving all the photo ops for when the facility officially starts receiving the bulk of its student body, expected to be the first week in January, 2015.

Tyndale College - Bayview Campus - Chapel

June 25, 2014

Wednesday Link List

Church Organ - Air Conditioner Combo

While this is list number two-hundred-and-something at Thinking Out Loud — and probably about the 400th link list over all, it’s list #52 at PARSE. A year! Time flies when you’re having links. Since Leadership Journal owns this weekly piece, clicking anything below takes you to PARSE where you can then link to the item you wish to read first.

Thursday through Tuesday, Paul blogs at Thinking Out Loud, both writes and steals devotional material at Christianity 201, and provides hints of the following week’s link list on Twitter.

 

It's not every day that we see a Jaguar X16 with a Jesus fish in our part of the world. Mind you it's a gold fish, nicely framed and matted.

It’s not every day that we see a Jaguar X16 with a Jesus fish in our part of the world. Mind you it’s a gold fish, nicely framed and matted.

April 28, 2014

Community Presence versus Ministry Support

Offering PlateIn the community where I live, a transformation has been taking place over the last few years in how we approach charitable giving. Historically, the mindset that I was raised in suggested that we give toward those organizations which only church people will give to. That’s been my response to canvassers and telemarketers, “Our giving is directed toward church-based charities;” which is slightly inaccurate because we’re talking about parachurch organizations, but it gets the point across.

Recently however, the churches themselves have been turning over the proceeds from some large gatherings to broader community causes. It’s showing that we are supportive and willing to invest in those causes as well as doing our church thing. I think this is a worthy concept.

The problem is, in so doing, Christian ministry organizations serving our community aren’t receiving the proceeds from those annual gatherings. Furthermore, the number of parachurch organizations operating in our area has grown from 12 to 14 in the last two years. Many are under extreme financial pressure at the same time as the size of donations being made to the non-religious charities are rather huge; amounts that would go a long way to fuel various ministry efforts.

Is there a balance to be had here? Is it necessary for the pendulum to swing to the opposite extreme first, before coming to rest in the middle? Should Christians show our support for causes that already enjoy wide community support, or should we stick with organizations that mix compassion with gospel proclamation?

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.

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