Thinking Out Loud

March 5, 2019

When the Ministry You Supported Crashes and Burns

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:30 am

I had something else planned for this space today, but then as we were discussing giving to God’s work yesterday, this comment stopped me in my tracks:

I want so much for our giving to be to organizations that are truly and totally sold out to Jesus and living sacrificially as they seek and spread His kingdom. We gave to Gospel for Asia for years, until they were exposed for being a different organization than we’d believed when we read Revolution in World Missions etc. We have given to Walk in the Word… and now…I would be interested in hearing about ministries like 20 Schemes who are reaching the poorest neighbourhoods with little fanfare…or people who reached out to our brothers and sisters in Nigeria last week after the massacre.

In 2009, we wrote a fictitious story and made up the name of the church — you’ll see the irony here — that went like this:

Joel had a major disagreement with the pastor of Covenant Harvest Church following a sermon that was preached in January to launch the new calendar year of ministry.    There were some follow up attempts by both parties to find common ground, but an unofficial visit from one of the elders ended up burning the bridges it was supposed to mend.

Now, eight weeks later, the church has received a registered letter from Joel.   He regrets greatly the amounts of money — over $3,500 — he gave to the church in the four months prior to his departure and wants a “refund” on his offering. In the letter, he says nicely, “I want my money back.”

Though the names and circumstances are altered, what do you think of the principle at issue here? Were the story entirely real as presented, should the church give Joel his $3,500 back?

I know there are people who feel that way. They’d like a refund.

A lifetime ago I gave money to an organization which crashed spectacularly. I won’t name them, but the ministry was front page news for several weeks back in the day.

I’ve often tried to go back in time and ask myself if I knew how things were going to end, would I give the money? There is a sense in which the answer is, ‘yes.’ The reason is that in those early days, while I’m sure there was the beginning of financial corruption, there was also money which was going to the projects being promoted; or at least I want to believe that.

Furthermore, if our giving is to God; then we in effect lay our gift on the altar and invite God to do whatever he wants with it, including burn it up if that’s his will.

There was something positive happening at the time and I wanted to come alongside and stand with the people on the frontlines and be able to say, ‘I am a part of making that happen; even if only in a small way.’

…Or am I just rationalizing a poor decision?

I know there are people who gave money to James MacDonald’s ministry, and Bill Hybels’ ministry, and Perry Noble’s Ministry and Tullian Tchividjian’s ministry and Mark Driscoll’s ministry and… Oh wait! Do you see the problem right there? Do we give to a great work that God is doing, or do we give to a celebrity with a captivating personality? If I’m being totally honest…

Back to the comment I received. I think we need to be intentional about making our giving less corporate, even to the point of handing $100 (or £75 if you prefer) to a young couple with a baby and a lot of financial stress.

I also think we should look for new organizations and new works which God is raising up and support those in their early (more sincere?) days of operation.

Finally — and our comment writer already addressed this — I think we need to give in a way that gets our money out of North America and Western Europe and puts it in the hands of people in the poorest parts of the world.

 

 

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March 4, 2019

Boasting About Your Giving … Sort Of

Filed under: Christianity, missions, philanthropy — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:41 am

We’ve all been taught that giving is supposed to be done in secret, right? You’re not even expected to know yourself when being charitable; that’s the essence of ‘not letting your left hand know what your right hand is doing.’

For that reason many people are protective of information concerning their philanthropy. It may be that there isn’t any, or it may be that, like some health conditions, they feel this sort of thing shouldn’t be shared.

I want to propose an alternative: Talk about it.

Why?

Without mentioning amounts, or percentage-relative-to-income, I think that by simply saying something like, ‘We directly support a farming community in ___________ through the work of __________;’ you are actually providing a model for your friends and family. You’re saying that this is something that you do each month, as naturally as you eat breakfast each day.

I’m assuming here that you support your local church, if you have one.

Many don’t have a local church right now — about 20% of the Christian people I am in contact with each week — and never got into the habit of giving to parachurch organizations, or foreign missions. So they do nothing. In a world where giving can happen at the click of a computer, there’s really no excuse.

But if people who are currently giving would simply talk about the thing which they are passionate enough about to give up part of their income each month, then I believe that giving would be contagious.

Don’t keep it a secret. Tell them about the orphanage in __________, or Bible distribution in __________, or the village hospital in __________. Talk about the people who came to Christ after the movie was shown in __________, or the church plant taking place in __________, or the underprivileged kids who get to attend a Christian summer camp in __________.

Don’t say how much. Don’t reference a dollar amount. Don’t do anything where you are getting your reward now (instead of later.) Just share your passion and excitement for the work you see God doing in __________, and wait for them to say, ‘How can I get in contact with that organization?’

December 21, 2018

When Doctrine Overrides Character

Not everyone is on Twitter, and not everything people post on Twitter is appropriate for the theme of their blog. So as we’ve done before — Skye Jethani, Mark Clark, etc. — when someone has posted a longer string that we feel is of great importance and deserving of a wider readership, I want to give you a chance to read something that author Sheila Wray Gregoire* posted to Twitter two days ago.

by Sheila Wray Gregoire

Why is it that Christians have such a difficult time denouncing pastors who have done horrendous things? I have an off-the-wall theory, and I’d like to share it in this thread.

Two incidences this week: Tim Keller offered George Whitefield, the man largely responsible for the legalization of slavery in 18th Century Georgia, as someone to emulate; and Harvest Bible Chapel elders and members continue to support James MacDonald, despite credible accusations of spiritual abuse.

We are told “we can’t judge” and “we all have our failings.” But most of all “He’s such a great preacher!” We live in an age where preaching and doctrine reign, and anyone who has the correct doctrine must therefore be a staunch Christian. Yet is this biblical? Let’s take a look.

In Jane Austen’s time, the phrase “Christian charity” was common. It was our love that distinguished us from others. In those days, pretty much everybody “believed” the same thing. What showed that you were a true believer was if you actually lived it out.

Things have changed. First, few believe today. But church trends also elevated belief over practice. [Billy] Graham’s crusades, though amazing, gave the impression that if one said the sinner’s prayer, one would always be right with God. Graham himself lamented the lack of discipleship.

Neo-Calvinism elevated doctrine over anything else, and a church’s preaching became key to its reputation. Then politics fused with Christianity. Christianity became synonymous with a certain viewpoint in the world, cementing the idea that it was about beliefs, not practice.

Today, if you were to ask someone what a Christian was, they would echo, “someone who believes X and Y.” The idea of “Christian charity” being our distinguishing characteristic has largely gone by the wayside.

Yet what does the Bible say? Jesus said they would know us by our love. James said faith without works is dead. Works do not save us; but works show that we truly are saved. Many people believe the Christian tenets and preach Christian doctrine for entirely the wrong reasons.

Paul admitted this—some preach Christ out of selfish ambition or vain conceit (Phil. 1:15). James said that even the demons believe—and shudder. A person can preach excellent sermons and write amazing books, but that says little about whether they have the Spirit of Christ in them.

Yes, God saves us through our belief in the saving work of Christ. But what makes our faith REAL is that it changes us. Until the church stops idolizing the person who simply preaches an amazing sermon and teaches the right doctrine, we will never get back to the heart of Christ.

If the gospel does not change how you act—if it does not affect your view of marginalized people; if it does not make it unthinkable to yell at a restaurant server; if it does not compel you to give—then ask yourself if you are believing for the wrong reasons.

And then tremble.

To read reactions and responses from Sheila, click this Twitter link.


*Sheila Wray Gregoire is a published author with Zondervan, Kregel and Waterbrook Press and is a featured speaker at women’s events. Her blog deals with marriage, family and parenting issues and is called To Love Honor and Vaccum.

 

November 2, 2018

You Can’t Throw Money in the Kettle if You Don’t Carry Cash

For 120 years, The Salvation Army’s Christmas kettles have been synonymous with the holiday season and the spirit of giving. Kettles are already on the streets in more than 2,000 locations across Canada, collecting spare change and cash from passersby to help us serve more than 1.7 million vulnerable people in 400 communities across the country each year.

After a break of a few years, we’re back with another year of providing our online friends in Canada an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of people in need. (American readers: Just wait a few paragraphs!) The program in Canada is called iKettle. Any of my Canadian readers can host a kettle with a few clicks of the mouse.

So first this is where my Canadian* blog readers kick in. You can’t toss spare change in the kettles anymore because you pay for everything with plastic cards, and you don’t get change. Any bills in your wallet are probably there for emergencies. Plus, while it pains me to say this, a lot of you shop online and don’t even have the collection kettles in your face anymore. (Maybe that’s why you shop online!)

So here’s where you go to contribute*

Donations stay in the community where you live, so if that’s Winnipeg or Calgary or Ottawa or Halifax or some place in-between, that’s where the money will be applied to the Salvation Army Family Services branch; including smaller towns where they have an active presence.

I really hope you’ll help us launch this over this weekend. We will be repeating this appeal on the blog several times during. Our giving can meet the needs both in overseas relief and development and in the cities and towns closer to home. This is an opportunity to do something on the domestic front in yet another year that’s been rough on many people.

*For my American readers there is a secure online donation website just for you.

There are also online opportunities to give in most parts of the world where the Salvation Army operates.

This is a trusted, respected ministry. When you give, you’re giving locally. But don’t just give. Consider volunteering. Share the link to this article with Facebook friends. And by all means, find one of the many books that tell the William Booth or Salvation Army story and read every page.

Do your giving
while you’re living
so you’re knowing
where it’s going.

November 30, 2017

Short Takes (4): Alumni Association Appeals

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:20 am

You chose your college…
You selected a residence…
You paid your tuition…
You bought your textbooks…
You took the classes…
You wrote the exams…
You repeated the cycle for several more years…

And now they want money.

Even if you completed a one-year certificate course from a trade school, it’s possible that you’ve received a letter in the mail asking if you’d like to contribute financially to your alma mater.

But included in this mailing list there are people who attended that university or college for the express purpose of earning a sufficient income that would allow them to support very specific charities of their choice. In other words, people who do have a philanthropic bent; who do see themselves as among the givers; but who have other passions and world concerns that they would like to make the object of the charitable giving. Some people would simply rather build fresh water wells in Africa than have a first-world educational institution put a new wings on the library.

Chances are, the alumni appeals are among the few donation solicitation lists you can get on without having made an initial contribution. Furthermore, if my experience is any indication, while other organizations will drop you from the mailing list if you don’t give, alumni appeals will probably persist over the course of your lifetime.

If find the whole thing rather guilt-inducing. Furthermore, my life has taken me down a different path and having surplus income has not been part of that equation. When we are able to give, we give to Christian causes that, if Christians don’t support them, no one else will. Even so, any level of success or achievement I’ve felt in my chose career of being in parachurch vocational ministry has been due to other influences and wasn’t dependent on the courses taken toward my undergraduate degree.

If I had completed that MTh I always wanted, maybe I would feel differently about a Christian college asking for money. But — and I’m not saying this to be provocative — with the higher tuition that Christian universities and seminaries charge, it’s hard for some people to believe they need anything.

So what about you? Are you, as the Beach Boys would say, “true to your school?” Or do the appeals from your college end up unread in recycling?

 

 

October 9, 2017

A Godless Generation That Doesn’t Give; Doesn’t Tithe

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:57 am

At a weekend family gathering, my nephew shocked me somewhat. We were talking about a situation in three neighboring towns where Episcopal (Anglican) churches are losing money at a rather alarming rate and there is some discussion about which which church should ultimately survive, as each feels great emotional attachment to their land and buildings.

I’m not sure what happened, but there was a transition in the conversation and suddenly he said, “I’m part of a Godless generation; we don’t tithe; we don’t give money.”

So I asked him, “What about secular charities?”

“No… Nothing.”

In the car on the three hour drive home, we discussed the implications of this for not only local churches but also charities which depend on the kindness of a donor base. What happens when those builders and boomers die off?

On the positive side, we know that while Episcopal churches are bleeding money and members, there are many megachurches that are packed each week, with the very demographic you might have expected to have given up on church.

Second, I look at North Point Community Church (Andy Stanley) where they’ve “kicked the bucket;” giving up on passing a collection plate/bucket/basket/bag because so many of their members have automated their giving.

(Before moving on, I think any church that struggles with support needs to look carefully at what’s working at North Point in Atlanta.)

I feel sorry for my nephew; he never gets to be part of so many good things that so many great people are doing in so many needy and hurtful parts of this world. He doesn’t get the reports of how the donations helped or read the letters from his Compassion sponsored child. He doesn’t get to share the pain of loss with hurricane victims or be part of facilitating the transplantation of a family in war-torn Syria to a place of peace in Canada or Germany.

Of greater concern of course is that he considers himself Godless. Quite opinionated about which Episcopal churches should close mind you, but involved only to the degree of an armchair quarterback questioning the coach’s decision to run a pass play when it’s fourth and fifteen.

My heart aches for him.

May 20, 2017

Giving Anonymously

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:35 am

The church I grew up in had a small 1′ x 3′ brass plaque on the end of every pew showing the name of the donor who had sponsored that pew. As far as I know, those plaques are still there. The senior citizens complex where my mom spent her last years had a wall which showed the donors for the building project, classified into various categories by size of donation. The university I attended does the same thing in their quarterly magazine showing the names in several amount ranges.

But what if you want to give anonymously? It isn’t always easy.

Still, some hold to a Christian ethic of doing good works in secret. They really don’t want themselves to be part of the picture.

The Direct Approach

This approach simply foregoes the anonymity. It says, this is something the Lord told me to do; or I don’t want credit for this, I am simply doing what the Holy Spirit is directing. I witnessed this just yesterday. It’s beautiful. But later I was asked by the recipients, “Who was that person?”

Online

If you’re giving to support a missions project (or something similar) that offers the option of giving online, the way these programs are set up make it difficult for the funds to reach the recipients without some type of notification being received which has a name attached to it. Some sites do allow the donor to remain unknown.

Other Electronic Options

You can email funds these days, but not knowing where it’s coming from, the recipient would probably suspect spam. Unfortunately that’s the world we live in.

Cash and Dash

We were the recipients of such donations on a few occasions. We opened the mailbox and there was an envelope containing, I believe $100 in cash. This is risky these days, and many people don’t carry enough cash to do this sort of thing spontaneously. Of course a check (that’s cheque for my UK readers) would cancel out any anonymity as the name and address are quite visible. I wouldn’t recommend actually mailing the cash envelope, so you might be seen dropping it off, unless you knew when they weren’t home. Complicating this are addresses which no longer have physical mailboxes.

The Intermediary

I have to do this over the next few days. I was given the gift card last week with clear instructions not to tell the recipient who it’s from. This is probably the best form of the type listed here, though the recipient might still connect the dots.

Gift in Kind

You could go to the utility office and offer to pay their bill. Would the local power company allow you to do this? Would they notify the recipient? Things are so bureaucratic these days that some might refuse.

Any other suggestions? How would you anonymously give someone money in a paper trail world?

 

December 27, 2016

Year End, Tax Receipt Incentive Giving Can Be Creative

decemberBeing self employed and in retail means Christmas time isn’t a lot of fun. We‘re still short on one of our supplier payments. We don’t pay ourselves a salary, so getting bills paid is a major goal.

It’s also a good time to start thinking about our personal finances, and in particular, our charitable donations. Not knowing exactly what our income is going to be makes it harder to figure out what we should be giving, but I don’t know anybody who, at tax time in April, looks at their receipts and says, “I should have given less.

Giving shouldn’t be done in December just to get a tax receipt. We give because we’ve been blessed, and because God commands it. But December is a good time to take stock of our personal finances and see what we can do to help others.

Here’s a principle I believe to be important:

You may be tempted to give something to charities in the broader market, but remember that the broader population will respond somewhat to their appeals. I believe there are Christian causes that only we can give to, and we should “do good to all… especially those which are of the household of faith.”

So who can we bless this year? Here’s some suggestions:

  • Our first responsibility is to our local church, the place we call our spiritual home, where we receive teaching, prayer support and fellowship
  • If there’s a “second” on the list, for many this year it is giving to relief and development in the third world, especially projects which are bringing fresh water wells to areas that don’t have potable water, aid the fight against human trafficking, provide start-up funds for micro-businesses, deal with health issues in countries where access to medicine is still limited, or assist oppressed people — especially women — see justice.
  • Is there someone in your area who does student ministry who is lacking in financial support? Consider urban missionaries and youth workers with Youth For Christ, Campus Crusade, InterVarsity and YWAM.
  • What about camp ministries? These make a huge difference in the lives of children, but aren’t fully supported by fees. Is there a Christian summer residential camp that is in need of funds for capital projects or to sponsor children in the summer?
  • What about your local Christian school? A regional Bible College, or Christian University College? Do they need money for capital projects, or are they operating at a deficit?
  • Do you have a local Christian radio station? This isn’t limited to the “preacher programs,” the stations themselves often need additional support to pay staff and overhead. I also find you get more balanced doctrine with most Christian radio than you do with Christian television, plus, you really never, never know who the station is reaching.
  • Who is working with the poor in your community? Is there someone providing meals, or transportation or moral support to people who are disadvantaged economically? If no specific organization comes to mind, consider the work of The Salvation Army.
  • If you own or work in a bookstore, that means you love the written word. Consider those who are putting the scriptures in the hands of people who don’t have them, such as Wycliffe Bible Translators, The Gideons or the various Bible Societies. 
  • What about those invisible ministries that come alongside other organizations? Previously on the blog we’ve written about Engineering Ministries International, Christian Salvage Mission and Partners International.
  • You first considered your local church. Is there another church in your community that is doing good but struggling financially? This year we heard a story of one church putting another local church on their missions budget with a sizable donation. We’re all playing on the same team, and what a wonderful witness this is to those who think we’re competing. 

Also, there may be a family in your community, or in your extended family, or someone you work with who cannot provide you with a tax receipt but needs a blessing this Christmas. Consider also directly donating to someone who is in need. 

You can’t leave this to the last minute, but secure online giving means you can cut it pretty short. Wait on whatever you were going to click to next, and respond as your heart leads you.

April 2, 2016

Being Needy While Wanting to Help Others in Need

Filed under: blogging, Christianity, writing — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:44 am
Crowdfunding websites make it possible for ordinary people to get financial help and support when needed.

Crowdfunding websites make it possible for ordinary people to get financial help and support when needed.

Because of the particular path our lives have taken, there have been times when we have accepted financial help from friends and acquaintances. In the process, we’ve often said that the people who are least able to help are usually the ones who give. I’m not positing this as a universal truth, I’m just saying that it’s been the case in our situation.

In Wednesday’s link list, I felt moved to post a story about a family who faced unusual financial hardship during Lent because of their daughter’s illness and are asking for help. You can read that link here. 48 hours earlier, my wife showed me a crowd funding page that was set up by students (or former students) in a local high school for a guy who part of our church plant ten years ago and has had a medical diagnosis that will result in unexpected costs. You can read that one here.

I’m reading these through the lens of our own situation.

My wife came to me a few weeks ago — she’s our family and business bookkeeper — and said, “We have enough in the savings account to last us one more month, and then we’re done.” By ‘done’ she means we don’t have a back-up plan, unless we cash in one more savings fund — which is currently locked — and take a huge penalty for so doing.

I announced in Monday’s column here:

We’ve never monetized Thinking Out Loud, but this labor of love — along with our Christian bookstore — have totally depleted our savings. Still, how does one do effective fundraising in the face of other families and individuals with seemingly far more urgent needs? After our US/Canada 800-number, toll-free, call-in-a-pledge appeal failed last year, we’re looking for something that will actually help us keep going. We hope to have an answer late this week. 

But as the week went by I keep fighting taking this particular approach. Surely the two stories listed above are far more worthy of my readers’ support, right? Still, I know there are longtime readers both here and at Christianity 201 who might give if we created the right vehicle for processing donations.

Within the Christian realm, there are bloggers like Tim Challies who is able to blog full time because of referral income and sponsored posts. Author Skye Jethani is not currently on staff at a church (or at CT) and is supporting his writing and podcast ministry (and his family) through the sale of monthly devotional subscriptions, and eBooks. (Check out, How Churches Became Cruise Ships.)

Because of my involvement in a brick-and-mortar Christian bookstore (which loses money almost every day the doors are open) I still can’t bring myself to be a referrer to A-zon or even CBD, both of which have contributed greatly to the closing of such Christian shops all over North America. So I’ve never monetized the blog in that manner.

And there is the pride issue. As a twenty-something, I was told that I have difficulty accepting hospitality in all its forms. Plus there is the fear of putting it out there only to find the donations embarrassingly meager. Add to that wanting to be hero; wanting to be the one helping others, not the one asking.

So the announcement I was going to make this week is postponed for now. I leave you the comments section — if you wish — for two purposes today.

  1. If you can recommend a crowd funding type of website that isn’t time-limited and would allow people the opportunity to support Thinking Out Loud and Christianity 201, I’d love to hear it. Bear in mind that I’m in Canada, but nearly 80% of my readers are in the U.S., so it has to be American-based, but able to pay us up here.
  2. If it’s got a Christian connection, feel free to mention any fundraising page you’re aware of that’s running now. Honest! I don’t mind. (I might delete the comment after any relevant expiry dates.) Today is one day you can use the comments to promote a cause.

 

 

 

 

 

December 18, 2015

Strike Up The (Salvation Army) Band!

Fill the Kettle

At this time of year, my thoughts always turn to the great work done by The Salvation Army around the world. It’s too bad that William Booth wasn’t Roman Catholic, because he would definitely get my vote for sainthood. Or to be more particular, I see William (along with wife Catherine) as:

  • the patron saint of all who do urban ministry
  • the patron saint of all who work with the poor
  • the patron saint of all who help people dealing with addictions
  • the patron saint of all involved with what we now call missional outreach

The first and second may appear similar but they’re not. Urban Ministry deals with more than just poverty, and poverty can strike those in the suburbs. (Trust me, this I know firsthand.)

As to my 4th point, I’ve written here before how in some respects the Booths invented missional. Their story should be required reading at all junctures of ministry training. I’ve posted this here and on Twitter more than once:

Q: Why are there no Salvation Army bloggers?

A: While everybody else is writing about it, The Salvation Army is out there doing it.

This year the Army celebrated its 150th anniversary. While reading an infographic on the back page of the Canadian edition of Salvationist I learned a few things.

  • Although 1865 is considered the year of its founding, it was 1877 before Elijah Cadman began introducing military terminology
  • A year later, The Fry Family introduced the first Salvation Army band in 1878
  • The Army is now active in 126 countries
  • The Army has built 350 hospitals, health centers and clinics
  • The Army has founded 2,700 schools

In my part of the world this is the time of year the local corps (congregation) raises its entire year’s budget for the Family Services division. They can’t shake the sleigh bells anymore — retailers think it’s too disruptive, though the atmosphere it creates is great — but they are present in or at a number of grocery/department stores here.

Salvation Army Christmas 2012Many people here don’t carry cash anymore. For that there are online kettles in most parts of the world where the Salvation Army operates.

This is a trusted, respected ministry. When you give, you’re giving locally. (Do your giving / while you’re living / so you’re knowing / where it’s going.) But don’t just give. Consider volunteering. Share the link to this article with Facebook friends. And by all means, find one of the many books that tell the William Booth or Salvation Army story and read every page.

Also check out these Booth quotations.

 

 

 

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