Thinking Out Loud

September 5, 2011

A Lesson in Humility

There are times we can be so convinced that God is leading us to do something, that even afterward, when the particular vision or project doesn’t meet expectations, it’s hard to believe that, in terms of its original goals, the project was a bit of a failure.

Many years back, I would wake up in the morning, have breakfast and brush my teeth, and somewhere between the cereal bowl and the restroom sink my brain would flash this:  “$100,000.”  I tried to interpret this in different ways.  Was it a reference to Canada’s daily Christian television show, 100 Huntley Street? No, I decided that what it meant was that I was to raise $100K for Camp Iawah.

Iawah — pronounced the same as Iowa — is an acronym for In All Ways Acknowledge Him. It’s the camp my wife and I met at, and the camp where our two boys served on staff this summer. I guess I was hoping that in the process of raising some money for them, I would be welcomed more warmly when I arrived on the property. The camp — though already a second home — would become my “Cheers” bar, where everybody knows my name and they’re always glad I came. Plus, like most parachurch ministries, they could really use the money for capital projects. Secretly, I hoped my efforts would raise $200K.

My strategy was to advertise in Canada’s national Christian magazine, Faith Today, a publication of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. To draw in interest on a national scale, I would focus on the ‘mission field’ aspect of eastern Ontario, the part of the province designated by the “K” postal code.

It’s important to note that this area stands in contrast to the relative ‘Bible belt’ of western Ontario. “K” at the time didn’t have more than 100 churches where there would be more than 100 adults present on a Sunday morning. Most of these were in major cities like Ottawa, Kingston, Peterborough, Belleville, etc. and “K” wasn’t the home of any major Christian organizations or Bible colleges.

“Name a mission field that starts with the letter ‘K'” was the tagline for the advertisements.

Yes, several ads. One for Camp Iawah. One for Northumberland Christian School, a ‘diamond in the rough’ where I had taught part-time for a year, which really needed a financial kick-start; and one for CHRI radio in Ottawa, Canada’s first-licensed commercial Christian radio station. The series of three advertisements would be a win-win-win. The magazine would be an immediate winner with some advertising revenue. My three (at the time) bookstores, also all located within the “K” code, would get fine-print mention at the bottom of the page, also ensuring a business write-off. And of course the organizations in question would be placed on the hearts of readers across the country who would respond with donations.

The first advertisement hit a bulls eye of sorts. The magazine was already running a cover story on Christian camping, and within a week, I was emailed that a family had signed up their kids for that summer. But after a couple of months, I was told, “If any donations we’ve received are a direct result of the advertisement, we aren’t aware of it.”

That was disappointing, but by then the next advertisement was already running. These were 1/3rd page display ads, and I was reminded that, “The effectiveness of any advertising campaign increases after several repetitions.” And due to a technical error, that second one got run twice. But six months in, money was neither pouring into the camp nor the school, and my attempt at raising awareness of ministry need in “K”-land was clearly flawed. I ran the third one anyway for CHRI Radio in Ottawa. After the eight month campaign, I wondered if just giving the money directly to the organizations in questions might not have been a better use of funds.

These were good advertisements, persuasive, informative and well written. So what went wrong? Here are some thoughts, you might have more to add:

  1. The first one, for the camp, was done with mixed motivation. I wanted greater acceptance there, so I sought to earn it somehow.
  2. I acted as a lone ranger, “gifting” my promotional and writing abilities to the organizations, but not working with those people to optimize the opportunity.
  3. I overestimated those same abilities, forgetting that I was, after all, a person who once held a yard sale to which absolutely no one came. A bit of a record, wouldn’t you say?
  4. I possibly needed a lesson in humility.
  5. I got confused by thought patterns like the “$100,000” thing that got stuck in my head, forgetting there are people who, every time they drive by a certain tree or stop sign on the way to work have a song that triggers in their brain for no apparently connected reason.

Since then, I’ve also learned the line, “The voices in your head may be due to the pizza you ate last night.”  But there are also some things that came out of this I need to remind myself:

  1. I did provide some needed revenue to the magazine.
  2. There was the family that signed up for camp, and apparently one that learned of the school.
  3. I will never know if some donations were sent as a direct result of the campaign but just not connected by the donors or the recipients. Or perhaps the ads served as a reminder to people who were already on the mailing list of those organizations.
  4. Despite a lack of tangible results, I did raise awareness of the needs in the “K” postal code, an area that continues to struggle.
  5. I was obedient to the vision I thought I had received with no negative complications or side-effects for pursuing that vision.

Fall is a time in ministry to dream dreams. You need to know with clarity that those dreams are God-sent, but that won’t always present itself with 100% assurance; some of it has to be a step of faith. You need to be willing to risk failure. You need to be willing to do the necessary analysis afterward to see if there’s anything you can learn. I believe that doing something is better than doing nothing.

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Camp Iawah is growing and meeting spiritual needs in the lives of hundreds each year. If someone were wanting to invest in the lives of the next generation, this ministry organization would be at the top of my recommended list.  CHRI Radio has moved from being a commercial music station to the financially-safer format of selling blocks of air-time to radio ministries, but still requires donations to meet its budget. I believe that the Christian school still faces some long-term challenges, though its larger family of schools is worthy of support. 

And yes: The magazine Faith Today continues to be published by the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, our equivalent of — but not connected with — the National Association of Evangelicals in the U.S.

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