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The Importance of Vision

March 16, 2018Inline Text Rod Irvine
When I became Rector( senior minister in Anglican speak) of Figtree Anglican Church  I inherited a very good voluntary treasurer. He was competent , pleasant and wise. After about four years he told me that as he had been in the role for quite some time, he would stand down after another year giving me time to recruit a successor . The parish was growing and he felt it needed someone more able than he was.
good-treaurer

I was not thrilled about this news as he was doing a very good job and finding a volunteer who would take on such a demanding and time consuming role for no money was not not going to be easy. It certainly was a matter for prayer. The task turned out to be far easier than I had imagined. Only a month or so later a man called Alan who had recently joined our evening congregation invited me to meet him in the city for coffee.

He was a committed Christian who had joined the church on the recommendation of his then young adult son. Alan said he would like to get more involved. So we had a discussion about his faith and his gifts. In his professional life he was the COO of a local transport company. However he added that his basic training was as an accountant. Accountant! I think I looked at him like he was an angel directly sent by God as an answer to prayer.

As it transpired Alan did become treasurer and a senior elder ( warden in Anglican speak)and kept that role as a a volunteer for the next fifteen years with me and continued on for some years with my successor. It proved a very happy partnership. He became a close friend a counsellor and guide.
Why was he so good?

First he was a totally committed Christian who loved God and was committed to the growth and health of our church. Sometimes churches have treasurers who have some vague religious sentiments and do the books as some sort of religious duty without a knowledge of Christ. That was never the case with Alan.

Second he was very competent. The books were always kept meticulously. The parish council had an accurate set of figures on which to base their discussions . Alan would also give a clear lucid account of the finances at the Annual General Meeting. Further Alan was able to successfully negotiate  a significant loan at a very competitive rate that enabled a large building project to proceed. Because he was used to dealing with multi- multi- million dollar budgets at work a couple of million dollars for our loan was not disconcerting. In addition Alan was current and up to date keeping up with the shift to electronic banking and cloud computing.

Third he was scrupulously honest, a man of absolute integrity. The people of the parish knew they could trust him. This is a crucial requirement. The apostle Paul stresses the need for financial integrity and transparency in finances. (2 Cor8:20-21)

Fourth Alan’s faith was bold and wise. Sometimes you can have a treasurer who is so laissez faire they will acquiesce to any crazy scheme. More often you find a treasurer who holds onto the money so tightly that it becomes almost impossible to step out and make progress with new ventures.
Alan was neither of those. He was keen to support innovative new ministries. With two other leaders he accompanied me on an overseas church crawl to get new ideas. But he was also grounded enough to restrain me from any ‘irrational exuberance’.

Fifth Alan was personally generous. He gave a huge amount of time to the finance ministry and to the broader leadership of the church. This commitment only increased when he retired. With the support and encouragement of his gracious hospitable wife Carol he also generously financially supported the regular ministry and the big leaps forward the church attempted to make.
As I sat at our first meeting all those years before, with the pressing need for a treasurer at the front of my mind, I wondered if perhaps  the Lord was sending me an angel. I am sure Carol would disabuse him of any angelic pretensions but he looked like a direct answer to prayer to me.

So if you have an Alan active in your ministry, thank God. And if you don’t you now have a prayer point.

The Importance of Vision

January 2, 2018Inline Text Rod Irvine

Recently I attended a church service for Volunteer Sunday. On this day the minister suspended the normal preaching programme to design a service and preach a sermon celebrating the many volunteers who week in week out exercised a faithful and fruitful ministry in the church and on behalf of the church in the community. I had been to such services before and with the writing of this post in mind I was especially looking forward to this service.  I was not disappointed. This church goes all out. It is never a half- hearted afterthought such as: ‘Hello everybody thanks for your ministry. Now let’s return to normal business’.

On the day the church and foyer were festooned in a celebratory atmosphere. The service and sermon had a theme of ‘hundreds and thousands’. This was meant to embody the idea of hundreds of volunteers ministering to thousands of people. Fairy bread covered with ‘hundreds and thousands’ were distributed in the foyer after the service.
volunteers-hundreds-thousands

The preacher used a very, very large adhesive board and to it, attached dozens of coloured dots which represented people in ministry and reinforced the theme. The bible passage was Romans 16 where the apostle Paul greets a galaxy of otherwise unheralded ministry friends. These are people who were highly significant in Paul’s ministry and had laboured long, diligently and effectively in gospel work but don’t get the attention that we naturally pay to figures like Peter, Paul, James and John.

The connection is easy to make. Congregations are naturally aware of the ministry of the preacher, the music director or people who pray, lead singing or read the bible. Their ministry is prominent and visible. Volunteer Sunday gives the opportunity to thank not only the prominent people but also those who humbly and faithfully serve behind the scenes. At Figtree Anglican Church, where I ministered for many years, there was an unobtrusive lady who had been folding the church bulletins, midweek, since the 1940s! What fantastic devotion and how appropriate it is to thank such a servant.

During the sermon the preacher invited people in the various ministry groups , pastoral care, missions, service, children, youth, mentoring, men’s women’s ministries to come onto the platform where he prayed for them and the congregation celebrated their service with acclamation. Many hundreds came forward and crowded the front. They were invited to stick a coloured dot to the adhesive board indicating their ministry and giving them a tangible participation in the message. Apart from the virtue of thanking God for his goodness and thanking his people for their ministry the celebrating of volunteers has other benefits in the life of the church.

First, it introduces a sense of real joy. The entire atmosphere of the service was one of delight in the Lord and his goodness. This congregation loves their church and this service is just one reason why. Second, Volunteer Sunday always acknowledges the vision and mission of the church. The ministry is not being done as a chore but for the glory of God. Celebrated leadership author Peter Drucker says that ‘Volunteers work for a cause’. Volunteer Sunday gives ample opportunity to remind everyone of the gospel imperative by which we live.

Third, it makes raising money so much easier. I discuss in detail raising money for ministry in my book, Giving Generously. It is a simple fact that people who serve in the ministry of the church in a practical way also give more money to that ministry. Volunteers are involved, invested and they are committed and are consequently more likely to be generous regular donors and respond to special appeals for financial support.

The church I refer to is a large, healthy church of very generous givers. It has over 1000 volunteers in ministry and given the way the church thanks them and celebrates their ministry, it is easy to see why.

You can find the sermon “Volunteer Sunday” by Andrew Sercombe from Gateway Baptist Church here.

The Importance of Vision

September 4, 2017Inline Text Rod Irvine

In 1995 my wife Helen Irvine and I went on a trip to the US where we visited a number of churches and I went to two conferences. One of the speakers I heard was Rick Warren, the Baptist pastor of Saddleback church south of Los Angeles. He spoke of a large Capital Works campaign to finance the construction of their building. It had been called ‘Time to Build’. The campaign had raised an amazing $US22 million in money given on the day and pledged over three years.

I found later that Rick had conducted a number of such campaigns, the first being ‘Possess the Land’. Saddleback church had commenced in Rick’s lounge room and as the church grew had met in a variety of properties that the church didn’t own. As the titles suggest the ‘Possess the Land’ campaign was to finance buying of their first property, and then ‘Time to Build’ was to finance the erection of a suite of buildings. Later Rick ran a further campaign called ‘Build for Life’. In fact conducting campaigns for a variety of purposes has become a hallmark of Saddleback’s ministry. The campaigns 40 Days of Purpose and 40 Days of Community have been used fruitfully all over the world.
Giving Generously church fund raising campaign

As I discussed in my book, Giving Generously , when I came to financing Figtree Anglican Church’s building development I thought that I would need professional assistance to help raise such a large amount of money, many times the church’s annual operating budget. However, such a professional needed to be chosen very carefully. I believed they needed to have a good track record with engaging with churches as opposed to schools or other not-for-profit organizations. They would need to fit the culture and theological ethos of Figtree Anglican. A cultural mismatch in theology or methodology would be counterproductive at best and disastrous at worst. And of course they needed to be available and willing to come. My problem was that I couldn’t find any who met all three requirements.

However all was not lost. I found that Saddleback had produced a relatively inexpensive Time to Build kit showing in great detail precisely what we needed to do. With the invaluable assistance of my extraordinarily capable administrator Karen Dixon and a legion of wonderful volunteers we bought the kit, put it into practice and conducted a very fruitful campaign. Three years later we needed to repeat the process and by then the kit was called Build for Life. It contained very similar material.

Until quite recently the Build for Life kit was available to be purchased from Saddleback but it appears to have been withdrawn from sale. However, very similar material can still be accessed. As I noted above, conducting campaigns and helping other churches conduct campaigns is a feature of Saddleback’s ministry. An overview of what needs to be done can be found on the Campaign Central section of the Saddleback website. See https://store.pastors.com/pages/campaign-central

For more detail go to the free 33 page Campaign Success Guide

https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0545/9317/files/Daring_Faith_Success_Guide.pdf?3657149131282000050

This is for a series called Daring Faith but the material in the Guide relates to campaigns in general.

Each of these campaigns has, at the core, a related sermon series of approximately six weeks. I found such series invaluable because at the start I had no idea how to preach in such a campaign. What I needed was simply to listen to other preachers to see just what they would say, and find a way I say something similar in my own voice and in my own context.

The original Build for Life sermon series is still available for purchase at: https://store.pastors.com/collections/building-for-life

They are certainly worth hearing.

Finally of course, read my book Giving Generously, especially chapter 14, where I explain in some detail how we applied these concepts at Figtree Anglican Church.

The Importance of Vision

August 4, 2017Inline Text Rod Irvine
Holy Spirit Church has to make a major renovation. It involves air-conditioning the church, upgrading the hall and installing a new kitchen. The projected cost is $450,000, a significant sum for a church whose annual operating budget is $200,000. The board ponders the issue. Giving for the first six months is 5 percent under budget. What should they do? The church is freezing in winter and stifling in summer. The church hall is getting to be an embarrassment so the need is obvious. To most on the board the solution is also obvious. The church owned a second house, occasionally occupied when the church had a youth worker but now rented out. They would sell the house and use the proceeds to fund the new development.

Great Redeemer Church was centrally situated in a regional town that was experiencing considerable population growth. Numbers at church services were steadily increasing and the auditorium was ancient and obviously too small. The projected cost of a new worship centre was in the vicinity of $ 2 Million. The operating budget was $750,000. How could they fund the new centre? Again after wrestling with the problem in prayer and dialogue, the board thought the solution was evident. For as long as anyone could remember the church had owned a large block of land adjacent to the church, currently used as overflow parking at Christmas and other large services. This property was becoming increasingly valuable. Why not sell a large portion of this land and resourcing the new auditorium would be straightforward?
Giving Generously Farm landscape


The above examples are typical of decisions regularly being made by churches desiring to upgrade facilities or construct new buildings. Those decisions are often very ill-advised. I say often because there is no hard and fast rule and sometimes selling property is the only way to get a project up and going. I have known some outstanding ministers who have sold property for this purpose. But very often it is not the only way to proceed, and parishes sell valuable property in prime positions that they will never get back, in the process compromising future development.

In my book ‘Giving Generously: Resourcing Local Church Ministry’, I discuss conducting a capital campaign: one that involves sums in excess of the church’s annual budget. In my time at Figtree Anglican Church we conducted three such campaigns and they all were very fruitful. Under my successor Ian Barnett, Figtree church has now repaid a multimillion dollar loan that helped fund a wonderful auditorium. The Figtree project was so large it needed even more than capital campaigns could realistically raise.

Conducting a capital campaign is very daunting because of the large sums involved and because often ministers don’t know where to start. I completely understand this because I led the three campaigns mentioned and initially had no idea what to do. So if you read this and are feeling nervous, I totally empathise. However, there are many, many positives in attempting to raise the money.

 A successful church capital campaign is based around vision, mission, generosity and then asking for support sensitively and confidently. It is simply a marvellous opportunity to crystallise what your church stands for and where you are going, and to build faith and hope and generosity into the congregation. These are opportunities too good to be missed.

It may be necessary to sell property to fund future development, but I hope that ministers and boards will not make that their default option. At least give serious consideration to a capital campaign. Read my book, give it your best and most prayerful shot, and only consider selling the farm if the project is too enormous or the appeal is not supported.

The Importance of Vision

July 5, 2017Inline Text Rod Irvine
Recently Helen Irvine and I were asked to give money at church and now that process is over I reflected on why we gave and why we were happy to give.
First, we trust the minister. We have seen him ask for money in the past and have seen the money put to good use. The projects that we have been asked to support have always been acted upon. Furthermore, we know the minister well and believe he has a high moral character.

Second, on the week prior to the appeal, the minister announced in 
church that there would be a giving message and that he was getting excited about preaching it. He gave us all a friendly warning that if this was going to be a problem, maybe it would be a good day to stay home. In fact, rather than deter me, it made me more keen to come and hear what he had to say.

Third, this appeal was a final message in a series about, ‘What is the 
gospel?’ There had been a general build up over around six weeks about the grace and salvation of God in Christ and how this has blessed us. This message was just spelling out the implications of giving generously in response to the generosity of God.

Giving church money joyfully
Fourth, the message itself was based on a famous passage of the bible, 
1 Timothy 6. I had spoken on the same passage for similar purposes some years before and was pleased that it was explained correctly and applied properly. There were no smoke and mirrors.

Fifth, this was the culmination of a mission month and the funds were 
generally to support ministries external to the church. While this is positive, this particular aspect was not a great determining feature for us because we believe in the ministry of the church locally as well. However it may have been a very significant factor for others, as people give to what excites them and may not give to other appeals.

Sixth, we engaged emotionally with the message. While the body of the 
message was well explained, visualised and communicated, the end was very powerful. The minister concluded with about twenty short stories of changed lives. Each story was short enough to be written on a small card and contained testimonies from all over the world of how the church’s support had built a hospital, rescued girls from sex slavery, assisted refugees and introduced people to the love of Jesus. The cumulative effect of multiple testimonies was very compelling.

Seventh, there was a clear call to respond and give to God’s work all 
over the world. It was not done hesitantly or apologetically or coercively. But it was bold and it was direct and I knew exactly what I should do to respond.

Eighth, there was, as there usually is, a great and joyous response as 
people were invited to walk to the front and give their special offering.

In the week before, Helen and I had agreed on a figure that we would 
give. It was not the greatest charitable amount ever given, but it wasn’t minuscule either. After hearing the message, Helen said she wanted to double our amount and after momentarily gulping, I agreed. Deep inside, I know Helen is always more generous than I am, and she is always right as I have never looked back later and wished I had given less. Were we manipulated? No, I am certain we were not. However we were inspired to give to a work bigger than ourselves that would go to a cause that would last for eternity. I don’t recount this experience to hold ourselves up for some acclaim as generous givers; far from it as I know the stingy recesses of my own heart too well. My purpose is simply to encourage those engaged in such appeals to press on with both courage and integrity.