The Importance of Vision

April 17, 2020Inline Text Rod Irvine

Robert_LowryHow do you make an appeal for raising money? Here I am talking about the tone and manner of the appeal. I have heard of ministers who have an accusing, belligerent, almost hectoring tone, accusing people of neglecting to support the minister’s pet project. That is rarely going to be fruitful. Alternatively, others can adopt an almost apologetic manner of speech, forgetting that here is a wonderful opportunity to challenge people about their Christian priorities.

I was moved to ponder this issue on Easter Sunday as I listened to the singing at online church. My mind was taken back to the Easter services at the Methodist church of my youth where we would sing the famous hymn, Christ Arose. I was always thrilled by the triumphant chorus that began.

Up from the grave he arose with a mighty triumph o’er his foes.

I decided to research its author and I found it had been written by an American Baptist minister Robert Lowry (1826-1899). Lowry was gifted musically and not only wrote hymns but was very active in producing and editing hymnals. Among his compositions are the famous hymns  Nothing But the Blood of Jesus and Shall We Gather at the River.

Curiously the writing of Shall We Gather has a distinct resonance with our Covid-19 worries of today. In the summer of  1864 Lowry was ministering in Brooklyn. It was frightfully hot and the city was being struck by a typhus/typhoid plague. New York is suffering terribly during this current crisis but it is salutary to remember that it was regularly afflicted by plagues in the C19th and early C20th. The plague of 1864, while dwarfed by the Spanish Flu of 1918 on the city, was still quite severe. As he was severely stricken by the heat, Lowry thought of the river of the water of life that flows from the throne of God in Revelation 22 and penned his famous hymn.

Despite his musical talents, Lowry far more saw his ministry as preaching and he was very highly regarded for powerful sermons.  In 1869, at the invitation of Dr Loomis, President of the University at Lewisburg, Robert moved with his family to take up the position of Professor of Rhetoric and Pastor of the Baptist Church.  Writing in the Union County Historical Society, Dan McDavitt records the following.

The chapel of the new church was dedicated in February 1869, the entire church in June 1870. The financial report indicated the new construction had a debt of $20,000. The Centennial History of Bucknell University indicates the “Rev. Dr. Robert Lowry, then Professor of Literature in the University (and beyond doubt one of the world’s great orators as well as being its leading hymn writer) …”in his sweetly persuasive way…..asked the congregation to subscribe, then and there, half of the remaining $20,000.” The congregation was “small and not too prosperous,” but “so moving were Dr. Lowry’s remarks that before the meeting was closed the entire $10,000 he asked for was subscribed”.

What caught my attention was the’ sweetly persuasive’ way in which Lowry addressed the congregation. Yes, he was a wonderfully moving preacher, but it would be incorrect to think that he had somehow manipulated the people. Rather he was a genuine Christian of great integrity and the wonderful devotional words of his hymns were merely an outward expression of his inner character.

So how did Lowry raise resources? He was obviously direct. $10,000 was needed and he brought that need before the congregation. But he did it in a ‘sweet and persuasive’ way.

For more on this topic of raising resources for a church building see my book Giving Generously where I discuss having a gracious way to ask.



The Importance of Vision

March 28, 2020Inline Text Rod Irvine


I was driving through Brisbane recently and I saw a sign on a church notice board that I must confess filled me with gloom. It said, ‘Hall for Hire’. Sounds innocuous! So what is the problem? First, it was a very prominent sign close to a very busy intersection in a location that made it hard to miss. A church’s main business is proclaiming Jesus so surely something about Jesus would be infinitely better than advertising hall hire.

By contrast a friend sent me a church sign sighted on the notice board of an Anglican church in the southern Sydney region.






The sign is eye catching, humorous and contemporary (in the era of the Corona virus). It proclaims Jesus in a way that makes everyone sit up and take notice. I can imagine there will be some who won’t agree but I take my hat off to that kind of creativity. It indicates to me that there probably is a smart leader and a positive ministry going on at that church. Someone is certainly minding the store.

‘Hall for Hire’ says something quite different to me anyway. It says we are struggling and we are out of ideas and short on money. That really is not the sort of image I want to be proclaiming to the community.

I see another problem. Often churches do hire out their halls and then use the money to prop up the ministry. This is a very slippery slope from which there is often no return. I heard of one church that had permanently rented both their halls to a parachurch organization. This meant that it was almost impossible to start a youth or children’s ministry or run any sort of midweek activity.

What is the answer? Most churches don’t have a money problem; they have a vision problem. The answer is to start ministries that will utilize the halls. You won’t be able to fill it up seven days a week if you are starting from scratch but that should be the aim. There is absolutely no reason why a vision team can’t be formed to examine what God-glorifying gospel ministry could be run for men, women, children or youth in the space. At the very least, I would be considering running some form of midweek large group bible teaching or course on evangelism, leadership, church history or Christian ethical issues where I would import top quality speakers. A playgroup to engage local families or easy English to make contact refugees could be other options. In other words, anything positive to show we meant business for the kingdom of God. The longer aim would be to commence a range of other ministry groups.

This of course will take the pressure off the finances because more ministry means more people and more people whose hearts are touched by God mean more pockets and purses open for generous giving. The cycle then continues.

I have hesitated to write this article because I know there will be all sorts of situations and there may be very good reasons why your church is a glorious exception to what I have been saying. So please don’t see me as an unfeeling, uncaring person, unsympathic to the reality of church life in difficult ministry settings. What I am hoping for is that if you are in the position of having a Hall for Hire this post will stimulate you to pray, plan for, and activate ministries to fill the hall so it won’t need to be for hire any more.

The Importance of Vision

February 28, 2020Inline Text Rod Irvine

In a previous post, Constructing a Commitment Preaching Series, I discussed the creation of a commitment preaching series based on Ephesians 4 and 5. In this post I discuss a way of preaching for a financial commitment within that series. I must stress that I say ‘a’ way. I don’t mean ‘the’ way as I am sure there are many ways someone could preach faithfully on the text. These are just some ideas from how I might attempt it.

This sermon is third in the series and I provisionally called it a Transformed Thief, perhaps not the best title but it fitted with the rest of the series. John Stott in his commentary God’s New Society spoke of this text as From Burglar to Benefactor.

The key verse is:  

Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need. Eph 4:28

First, while I generally believe in the importance of context, I wouldn’t spend too much time on context in this message. The reason is that this message is nested within a series of six messages on living out the Christian life in the light of our standing in Christ. This context should form part of the series and referred to visually by putting off and putting on a set of clothes each week to emphasize the new standards of the kingdom. I do not feel an extended discussion of the context is necessary here.

Second, it is a good discipline to preach on a text. I love preaching on passages but I can bog down in too many details when I have a lengthy passage with extended content.

Third, this verse is an old time preacher’s delight. It breaks up very neatly into three points; Stop stealing, Do useful work, Share your earnings. The text does not have to be massaged, distorted or manipulated to divide into three heads. However, as this is a commitment series, the point to keep in mind is that aim of the entire series is to ask the congregation to make a financial commitment to the ministry and the vision of the church. Thus while it may be quite correct in another context to spend equal time on each of the three sections , here I would use the first two headings as stepping stones to the third point which would be the major point of this message.

Fourth, I was particularly struck, when I read this passage for the first time by how much my mind was conditioned by my secular environment. I mused that if I had been writing the text I might easily have written the first two parts,

Don’t steal and work usefully, but I probably would have concluded with something like; ‘so you will be able to provide for your own family.’

But St Paul doesn’t do that. He concludes, ‘that they may have something to share with those in need’. He is putting sharing or generosity front and centre as an integral part of the new life required as a committed follower of Jesus.

Fifth, I love visual aids as so many of our congregation process information visually. So I would try to put a set of three stairs on the platform where the lowest stair is labelled STOP STEALING and the second , WORK USEFULLY both leading to the third stair which is GIVE GENEROUSLY.

Sixth, the message would continue by giving the vision of the church and highlighting the gospel

projects and ministry advances that the church was hoping to step into in the coming year. As the particular recipients of generosity in the text are the needy, it is always proper to include a Mercy project in the church’s ministry goals.

Seventh, I would then reiterate that I am asking the congregation to sign the commitment cards and contribute to one of a number of special projects and ask them to return their cards on Commitment Day on week 6

Finally, points 6 and 7 above need to be explored and applied and so I would spend at least half my time here.

For an illustration of a great and fruitful message on this verse listen to the audio preached my friend Ron Irving, senior Minister of St Matthews West Pennant Hills, Imagine a church of Radical Generosity . For more on preaching on Commitment Series see my book, Giving Generously.

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Related Post: The Use of Money






The Importance of Vision

January 10, 2020Inline Text Rod Irvine
Dessert and Coffee 2It is a truth universally acknowledged that money follows vision. (I apologize to Jane Austen)
Thus an important role for the minister is to constantly share the vision of the church in as many ways as possible. One way that I found particularly enjoyable was in the form of dessert and coffee evenings.
When I first became senior minister (Rector) of the Anglican parish of Figtree in 1987, my wife Helen and I invited groups of people to our home (rectory) for ‘get to know you events’ designed to make contact with members of our new parish family. The prime purpose of these gatherings was a good one: fellowship. I continued to hold such events as the years went on but their focus broadened to include sharing the vision.
I was asked recently just exactly what we did. I briefly referred to this concept in my book Giving Generously but I elaborate more fully here.  It is not particularly rocket science and I am sure there can be many variants but our evenings generally took the following course.
The People
First Helen would mail out invitations from names I would give her. Generally we would try to invite about 16 people, normally 7 couples and two singles. The singles were not invited for any match making purposes but simply to invite them as I was advised that married people often unconsciously exclude singles. There was no magic in the number 16. It was just the approximate limit to our lounge room and I always reckoned that not everyone would be able to accept.
While I certainly invited people from all areas of parish life I tried to include mostly the people who were contributing significantly to the health, vitality and progress of the ministry with their time talents or treasure. Is this being selective? Yes! But the simple fact was that the parish had around two thousand people on the contact list. I would have liked to invite everyone and certainly tried to connect with as many as possible in other ways. However, in these evenings (almost always on a Friday), I wished to purposefully speak into the lives of people who were contributing most to the progress of the parish.
The Evening
Second, when people arrived, they were welcomed into the lounge room of our home. I always believed the home venue was important. Of course we did have different types of functions in other venues such as the church or a restaurant but inviting people into your home is an important pastoral function that provides a real connection.
The evening was broken into three parts. The first, at 7:30pm, would be some sort of getting to know you game. We often found that asking couples how they came to meet was an excellent discussion prompter as it often lead to many funny stories. There are endless variants that could be used, such as ‘tell us about your favourite movie and why?’ While some of the group may have known each other for years, such questions often give new insights even to old friends.
Then, at 8:30pm we would break for supper with tea, coffee and an assorted array of really nice cakes and goodies, some of which we purchased from a local cake shop and some Helen cooked herself. I was really blessed that in Helen, I had a wonderful hostess who could not only provide and present the food beautifully but socially oiled the evening so people really felt welcomed. This took a huge amount of pressure off me as I am an introvert, for whom social occasions are not my long suit, even though I see them as vital.

 At about 9pm after supper, we would reassemble in the lounge. There I would say something like, ‘I would like to share with you where I see the church going over the next few years. Nothing is set in concrete at this stage. It has not been signed off in any detail by the parish council. But these are the sorts of things that on my heart. I would just like to talk about them and get your feedback.’

Then I would give an overview of the ministries we would like to start, the staff members we would need to support them, the buildings we might need to house them. I would encourage the room to ask questions, seek clarification and challenge the assumptions. Sometimes people would want to know why certain past decisions had been made. Other times a group member might make a really good suggestion which I endeavoured to act on later and acknowledge when it came to pass.But overall I wanted to let people know that the church was not on autopilot and that the leadership were actively thinking planning and praying about our future.

At 10 pm promptly I would thank them, pray for them and conclude the evening as I did not want them to feel they were stuck till the wee hours.

Could these evenings have been for dinner? Helen and I certainly had people over for meals on many occasions but for these particular evenings we preferred dessert and coffee. Over dessert and coffee you can invite more people and they are far easier to host and maintain. Remember the purpose of the evenings is to have a friendly relational way to speak into the lives of as many people as possible and to keep doing so over many years. It is often the persistence with a ministry like this that ultimately makes it effective.
All it needs is a bit of Sense and Sensitivity and the evening is a wonderful form of low key Persuasion. I am sure Jane would agree.

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See also the article The Importance of Vision


The Importance of Vision

December 16, 2019Inline Text Rod Irvine
photo-1476490358217-f4f7e59d4081In my book Giving Generously I advocate a five to six week preaching series as the centre point of an annual Commitment series to raise resources for ministry in the local church. When I first began this process I wondered how I could produce fresh sermons on this topic year after year. In fact I found it surprisingly easy.

The key to a commitment preaching series is that you don’t preach multiple sermons on money. (There may be exceptions to this if a series on money management is helpful or there has been a stock market crash of the order of the GFC.) I generally embedded one or two sermons on money in a series related to either personal spiritual growth or the vision of the church. It is relatively easy to do this because money, its uses and its pitfalls, appears in numerous books of the bible.

The following is an example of a series from the book of Ephesians.

After the wonderful doctrinal section Ephesians 1-3 laying out God’s purposes, the apostle Paul turns to the implications for Christian living. He speaks of putting off the old self and putting on the new in the way you might discard a shabby old set of clothes and dress in a brand new wardrobe.  

For the commitment series I propose that a 6 week series could be constructed on the implications of being a fully committed Christian. The object of the series would not simply be to educate but to inspire and to give opportunity for some kind of response that would include a financial challenge.

I would give it a series title such as: Living a Transformed Life

 I suggest preaching six messages around the specific practical issues raised in Eph 4:32 -5:4. These are simply and helpfully broken up with his customary clarity by John Stott in his commentary, God’s New Society. Each verse, or set of verses, is relational and indicates clearly the change in standards. They also give wonderful theological reasons for the commands that would save the preaching series from a descent into moralism.

I would probably pluck out Eph 5:1-2 and use it as an overall verse for the entire series.

 Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

The put off, put on theme could be visualized by some form of clothing change at each message of the series. Creative people in the congregation will probably have a field day producing some memorable visual images that would reinforce the thrust of the series.

The detail of the series could be as follows.

1 Transformed Truthfulness Eph 4:25

2 Transformed Temper Eph 4:26-27

3 Transformed Thief Eph 4:28

4 Transformed Tongue Eph 4:29-30

5 Transformed Temperament Eph 4:31-32

6 Transformed in Thanksgiving Eph 5:3-4

Sermon 6 would be preached on Commitment Day. Normally I would preach the sermon relating to money, generosity or finances, the week before Commitment Day, ie week five. Here the ‘money sermon’, which would highlight the virtue of generosity, would fall naturally on week three. However since a properly communicated series will be highlighted in notices, videos and dramas throughout the six weeks, the generosity message will not be diluted too much.

I recognize that any attempt to produce alliterative titles may be a little artificial but I proffer these as an example of what may be attempted. If you can improve on these, well and good. I also recognize that these six are very short passages, sometimes even a verse. Some preachers may like more verses to play with. However, while I understand the old saying that a text without a context is a pretext for a proof text, I don’t believe that this stricture applies here as each text is part of the whole series, which would supply the context each week. This series would allow the preacher to preach both topically, thus focussing the application, and as exposition, drawing out the specific insight of one or two texts. Further, if there is an objection that you need to preach on the whole book, simply preach on preceding sections of Ephesians earlier in the year and later sections on a subsequent occasion.

I commend the above series to you. There is another sample commitment series on Philippians in my book Giving Generously. Buy the book.








The Importance of Vision

November 10, 2019Inline Text Rod Irvine

one dollarI have heard a preacher lament that most of his congregation were tippers rather than tithers. He meant of course that when it came to giving, he felt the people were giving the ‘loose change’ of their income rather than proactively and conscientiously planning to give a tithe, ten percent of their income,to God’s work. Certainly statistics of church giving seem to bear that out with somewhere about three percent being the average figure that is given. That minister obviously felt the ministry would financially flourish if the congregation had a tithing mentality rather than a tipping frame of mind.

I pondered this thought recently as I contemplated a trip to North America. Australia does not have a tipping culture and on my first trip some years earlier, I remember thinking it was outrageous that people, like waiters and porters, should get extra money just for doing their job. Since then,  with a little more wisdom and experience, I have modified my opinions. First it was explained to me that people in service industries are not well paid and the tipping culture of North America is the way that their remuneration can reach respectable levels. Second, the prospect of an excellent tip is a driver of above average service. I remember a waitress in Los Angeles fairly dancing attendance on our every need and explaining that she was in line for employee of the month with a big bonus and invited us to rate her highly, which we duly did. I generally receive reasonably good service in Australian restaurants but nothing like that provided by that lady.

Now I understand the system I don’t resent paying a tip anymore. The issue now is what is appropriate. Cafes and restaurants were not a problem as I gather that ten to 15 percent is an acceptable figure sometimes just automatically added to the bill. But it is porters, tour guides and cabbies that provide a puzzle. On one bus tour no one seemed to tip the guide, but on the next tour everyone seemed to be tipping.

As we were going on a cruise we booked a mini cab for six people to the cruise terminal. Thinking I had nearly mastered the system, I had the appropriate number of dollars ready for the driver. But I had forgotten the hotel porter who was hovering like a predatory eagle ready to move my bags two metres from the hotel entrance to the curb edge.

Then at the cruise terminal the driver unloaded our bags, received his tip, and I turned around expecting to pull my bag to find yet another porter and consequently another tip. Later in restaurants I found the EFTPOS machines required a number of stages before I could actually pay the bill. That included OK-ing the amount  Then I was directed to another screen where the tip percentage was nominated, and then finally I could pay. As I have said, I don’t resent tipping anymore but it takes a little time for a boy from down under to get used to it.

But what about being a tither or a tipper in church? I realised after giving my first restaurant tip, it was probably better to be a tipper than a tither. That was because a tithe is ten percent but that is a stingy tip. A generous tip is 15 percent or more. As someone who has written a book entitled Giving Generously I figured I ought to be a generous tipper.

So now if it is between tipping and tithing I am recommending, be a tipper, a generous tipper which will certainly exceed the tithe.


The Importance of Vision

October 2, 2019Inline Text Rod Irvine


Driving through Brisbane I saw a neon sign in a couple of locations. It said,

‘Worry works. 90% of what I worry about never happens.’

Funny but true! Yet we do worry about health, about family or about employment.  Often we worry about money. I certainly get this. I am retired and in the back of the mind of many retirees is the thought: ‘Will I have enough? Superannuation that is. Will I have enough to see me out.’

You can look at all the facts and figures and do the sums upside down and back to front but the concern is often still there. This anxiety often stops us being generous. We wonder, ‘If I give generously to kingdom of heaven causes, will I have enough to feed my family and put a roof over their head put the kids through a good school?’

In the wonderful sermon on the mount, Jesus tell his disciples to put God first and to serve God not money  (Matt6:19-24). But then he goes on to assure his disciples that they are not to worry about their physical needs. This is not because 90% of the things they worry about will not happen. It is rather that when they give themselves to God’s kingdom, He who clothes the lilies of the field and the birds of the air will surely look after them.

I have found that to be true in my own life on a number of occasions, but never more so that when I was contemplating training for the ministry. At the time I was a post graduate student in physics on a scholarship. I had a wife, Helen and an infant son and another child on the way. We had very little cash flow and no savings and a debt on our home. I wanted to apply to Moore College in Sydney in another state as I am a Queenslander. I received the opportunity to spend a week in the physics department at ANU and in transit dropped in to see Moore College. It was Easter Saturday morning, the college was not open and the surrounding side streets were empty.

I was just about to leave when I saw a young man with a baby in a carry basket in the alley at the back of the college. He turned out to be a current student, Stephen Miller. He answered many of my questions about the life at the college. When I asked him about how you survived financially he encouraged me to persevere and said that,’ Nobody goes broke in Moore College.’ It went a long way to calming my financial fears. Later I wrote to him with more questions and in his reply, he   continued to encourage me, concluding the letter with the famous words from Jesus in his exhortation to his anxious disciples.

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Matt 6:33

I was accepted into Moore College the next year and despite knowing no one in Sydney and this being before the days of government financial study assistance, the truth of those worlds were proved on many occasions. Stephen Miller had been a former physics student, in fact the only other ex-physics student I came across in my four years at Moore. Funny I should run into him!!!He had told me I could possibly get tutoring in the physics laboratory at Sydney University right next door to the college. But would they have any openings? Would they take me? I knew no one, or so I thought. However, when I made an appointment to see the director of the first year labs, I found I did know him. He had lectured me at the University of Queensland ten years before and remembered me favourably from the UQ physics department. I was immediately hired.

 I was able to get supply teaching with the NSW education department and found a student minister’s job on Sunday.  Further the theological students at the college had a system of purchasing food in bulk from the Flemington markets so living expenses were cheaper than I thought.

 Yet money was always tight. Helen had her hands full with two small children with a third arriving during our time there. But we both remember vividly a number of occasions getting saddled with unexpected bills and then finding money left in our letter box or being given to us for precisely the amount of the bill when we had in not made our need known. After three and a half years I was ordained took up an assistant’s job in a church and received a regular salary. As you might imagine, all that manna from heaven ceased as it was provided for the season when I was a student.

So if you are contemplating ministry or concerned that your generosity may come back to bite you, don’t be! If my experience,

 or far better still the words of Jesus, are any guide, you can’t bank on getting rich, but  you can proceed,  trusting that the God who clothes the birds of the air and the lilies of the field , will look after you. No worries!

 For more on generosity and raising resources for ministry see my book Giving Generously

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The Importance of Vision

September 2, 2019Inline Text Rod Irvine

Research worker

In January 2019 the University of Sydney announced that it had reached a target of $ 1 Billion dollars raised from donations to the University’s Inspire campaign that had been started in 2009. Yes, the figure I quoted was one billion dollars. That is not a mistake.

So what did they do? ‘What was the secret sauce’, some people asked.

The first major initiative was to recruit someone, Tim Dolan, who had great expertise and a track record in the field in the United States. The USA has a far more developed culture of philanthropy than Australia. The next initiative was not just to ask for support but to ask in a particular way. Dolan pointed out that Australian Universities tended to have a menu-based approach to raising money. By this he meant the University would give out a list of projects that it wanted to proceed with and ask people to get on board with their list.

By contrast Dolan advocated a personal approach where the resource raiser became a conduit for the donor and the University. This involved making a relationship with the donor, sitting down with them and exploring the sorts of projects that light their fire.

There is also recognition that not everyone can give equal amounts. Some, because of hard work or sometimes accident of birth, are endowed with far more of this world’s goods than others. In major campaigns every gift is valuable however some can give far more than others.  The University of Sydney has recently been receiving about 13,000 gifts per year. It has received around $120 million per year with about $20 million in bequests. Of the final $100 million, while there are many small gifts, most of the money comes from a couple of hundred very large donations. It is a ‘top heavy’ process

Another factor is that the projects are transformative. By transformative I mean that the gift goes to a project that can totally transform lives or environments. Recently I received a letter from my old alma mater, the University of Queensland.  The heading in large bold letters read.

Can you create the change
you want to see in the world?

It then told me of a gift that a distinguished professor had received for his research thirty years ago that enabled research that produced a vaccine to prevent cervical cancer. Truly this is a life transforming accomplishment.

While not everything about a university campaign is applicable to the church, much is. Both Church and University are not for profit. People in both communities are inspired by vision. In both communities every gift is valuable. However it is good to recognize that there will be people in your church that have the capacity to give significant gifts to projects that ‘turn them on’.

It actually should be easier for ministers to fund their churches’ mission than university leaders. This is because for many weeks of the year the people are sitting in front of the preacher who should be casting an enormous kingdom vision as part of the message. The minister should be building an ongoing relationship with the people. And part of that relationship should be discussing with the congregation, sometimes personally and sometimes together, the sorts of projects that light their fire. The minister also has the use of the pulpit and can bring scriptural messages to bear that will transform stubborn hearts into generous ones.

Finally, kingdom of God projects should be inherently transformative. Many of the causes represented by the universities are of totally life changing and I applaud them. Kingdom of God projects should be eternal life changing.

Nothing in what I write here is to advocate slippery underhanded dealings or viewing members as walking dollars signs. It is simply that people give to inspirational projects when they are taught to be generous, and asked to be generous to a cause that is truly out of this world. 

If you are looking for help you probably won’t be able to recruit Tim Dolan. He has gone overseas to help another university fund its mission. However you can find help in my book Giving Generously and I comment it to you. Buy the Book


The Importance of Vision

August 1, 2019Inline Text Rod Irvine


At the back of the St Andrews Uniting Church in Brisbane CBD there is a stained glass window to the memory of a forgotten gospel patron, William Robert Black. Gospel Patrons is the name of a very helpful book by John Rinehard and tells the story of the little known philanthropists who financially supported seminal Christian leaders like Matthew Tyndale, George Whitfield and John Newton.

William Robert Black was one of Queensland’s greatest philanthropists long before philanthropy became an academic discipline. He was born in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland in 1859, the son of Robert Black a farmer. From his family who were touched by the 1859 revival, he absorbed both his capacity for hard work and his devotion to Christ. He emigrated to Maryborough in 1880 where he worked as a timber getter and fencer.

In 1885 he moved to Brisbane, initially working for a coal merchant, he soon was selling coal from his own cart. Within fifteen months he had multiplied his business to become a coal merchant himself and to have fifteen horses and drays working for him. Black later entered the Brisbane River trade and bought lighters and launches which enabled him to source coal direct from the Ipswich coal fields. He sought and won interstate sales for Queensland coal and vigorously sought overseas markets at a time when Queensland coal was not highly regarded.

To secure supply he entered into a number of contracts and joint ventures with colliery owners. By 1902 he decided to further strengthen his supply chain by becoming a colliery owner himself with mines at North, South and West Ipswich. By 1908 Black’s mines were supplying one third of Queensland’s coal a figure that increased in the coming years.  He operated his mines by setting strategic direction and delegating responsibility to highly skilled and trusted managers. Further he invested in cutting edge technology to make his mines extremely productive and profitable.

In 1920 he sold his businesses and retired. He had always been philanthropic but he devoted the rest of his life to actively supporting charitable causes that are almost too numerous to mention. However they include, Homes for orphan boys and girls, Home for the Aged, support for a deaconess to work among distressed women in Spring Hill, the Mission to Lepers. He was on the board of Somerville House Girls School and his money was significant in the founding of Fairholme School in Toowoomba, Brisbane Boys College in Brisbane and a school in Charters Towers. He was an active member of the Presbyterian Church and gave to the support of St Paul’s Spring Hill, St Andrew’s Ann St, Brisbane and many other churches including the Jersey Church in the Channel Islands and his home Church, Orritor Presbyterian in Ireland.

He had an active interest in the temperance movement, a very significant Christian cause at that time, and gave a total of £41000 to the building of the Canberra Temperance Hotel in the Brisbane CBD.

Furthermore, as he was in business, his philanthropy was active and strategic. He would not merely hand out money but would often give on the basis that the recipients raise £1 and Black would give £1. He wished to encourage enterprise and initiative. He was widely respected and of outstanding character and motivated by his belief that he had been greatly blessed and his money was a sacred trust that must be used to bless others.

By the time of his somewhat unexpected death in 1930, he had given away approximately £150000. The terms of his will revealed again the strategic nature of his giving. After money left to family members, (Black never married) the remainder of the estate, approximately £180000 was placed in a trust fund for the Presbyterian Church to use in extending its ministry throughout Queensland. It was to accumulate compound interest for 21 years and when this time elapsed the trust total stood at £430000. It could then be used.

At Black’s graveside, the Rev J Gibson, a former Moderator General of the Presbyterian church of Australia, said:

‘No man in Queensland lived more simply and with less ostentation than Mr Black did, and the reproach that rich men did not give freely has been wiped out by the life and record of him whose body they are now consigning to the grave.’

Thus Australian Christian leaders who have a great gospel vision do not need to look merely to other countries and other centuries to find men and women of Christian commitment, vision and generosity. In William Robert Black there is a hero much closer to home. You can read more about encouraging generosity in the William Robert Blacks of your congregation in my book, Giving Generously. Buy The Book

The Importance of Vision

July 6, 2019Inline Text Rod Irvine
There is a statue of the George Whitefield in the grounds of the University of Pennsylvania of which he was a co-founder. On the statue are the following words by Benjamin Franklin one of America’s greatest sons. Franklin was not a believer but nevertheless a long-time friend of Whitefield.  The inscription reads: ‘I knew him intimately for upwards of thirty years. His integrity disinterestedness and indefatigable zeal in prosecuting every good work I have never seen equaled and shall never see equaled

Whitefield is arguably the greatest preacher of the gospel of Jesus the English language has ever known. His powerful voice and penetrating words transformed the lives of multitudes on both sides of the Atlantic during the C18 revival. Contemporary accounts record Whitefield preaching a message of new birth in Christ to crowds of 25000 people. It is possible to access many of Whitefield’s sermons on the web and they are still incredibly powerful even if you cannot get the ‘thunder and the lightning’.

Yet for all his evangelistic zeal he was not backwards in asking for money for the alleviation of the poor. Benjamin Franklin wrote about his the character of his friend and the power of his appeal.

The American colony of Georgia had only recently been founded and many of the new colonists were unsuccessful businessmen or of a criminal element and ‘many of indolent and idle habits’, not the rugged hardworking types needed to succeed in a hostile environment. Consequently many died leaving numerous orphans uncared for. Whitefield was moved by their plight. Franklin records:

The Sight of their miserable Situation inspired the benevolent heart of Mr. Whitefield with the Idea of building an Orphan House there, in which they might be supported and educated. Returning northward, he preach’d up this Charity, and made large Collections; ⎯ for his Eloquence had a wonderful Power over the Hearts and Purses of his Hearers, of which I myself was an Instance [example]. I did not disapprove of the Design [plan], but as Georgia was then destitute of Materials & Workmen, and it was propos’d to send them from Philadelphia at a great Expense, I thought it would have been better to have built the House here [Philadelphia] and brought the Children to it. This I advis’d, but he was resolute in his first project, and rejected my counsel, and I thereupon refus’d to contribute.  “The Sight of their miserable Situation inspir’d the benevolent Heart of Mr. Whitefield with the Idea of building an Orphan House there”  I happened soon after to attend one of his sermons, in the course of which I perceived he intended to finish with a collection, and I silently resolved he should get nothing from me. I had in my pocket a handful of copper money, three or four silver dollars, and five pistoles [Spanish coins] in Gold. As he proceeded I began to soften, and concluded to give the Coppers. Another stroke of his Oratory made me asham’d of that, and determin’d me to give the silver; and he finish’d so admirably, that I emptied my Pocket wholly into the collector’s dish, gold and all. At this sermon there was also one of our Club [Junto literary club], who being of my sentiments respecting [opinions concerning] the building in Georgia, and suspecting a collection might be intended, had by precaution emptied his pockets before he came from home; towards the conclusion of the discourse [sermon], however, he felt a strong Desire to give, and apply’d to a neighbor who stood near him to borrow some money for the purpose. The application was unfortunately to perhaps the only man in the Company [audience] who had the firmness not to be affected by the Preacher. His Answer was, ‘at any other time, Friend Hopkinson, I would lend to thee freely; but not now; for thee seems to be out of thy right senses’.  Some of Mr. Whitefield’s enemies affected to suppose that he would apply these collections to his own private Emolument [profit]; but I, who was intimately acquainted with him (being employ’d in printing his Sermons and Journals, etc.) never had the least suspicion of his Integrity, but am to this day decidedly of Opinion that he was in all his conduct a perfectly honest man. And methinks my Testimony in his favor ought to have the more Weight, as we had no religious connection. He us’d indeed sometimes to pray for my Conversion, but never had the satisfaction of believing that his prayers were heard. Ours was a mere civil Friendship, sincere on both Sides, and lasted to his death.  


Franklin’s testimony illustrates a number of points. First, Whitefield was a man of integrity but even so his pure motives were questioned. Transparent honesty is a non negotiable in any giving campaign. Second Whitefield did not see any incongruity with boldly preaching the gospel and forthrightly asking for financial support. Third that proclaiming the vision and the need can unlock the purses of some who are determined not to give. Fourth accept that not everyone will give whatever you do. It may not necessarily be that they are not generous. It could simply be that the cause you proclaim is not compelling or that they have other priorities. Finally, even admittedly unconverted people like Franklin may give to a noble cause even though such people may not be your focus.

For more about George Whitefield see the wonderful two part biography by Arnold Dallimore. For more about raising money for ministry see my book Giving GenerouslyBuy Book