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
Bethesda-Orphanage-Georgia-founded-by-George-Whitefield-Internet-Archive.’

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.  

file:///F:/Google%20Drive/Documents/Personailities/franklinwhitefield%20(1).pdf

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

The Importance of Vision

June 7, 2019Inline Text Rod Irvine

The subject of tithing is highly controversial and can raise stormy passions. I spent some months researching this topic for my book Giving Generously.  Sometimes, in reading some authors you think you may be sent to outer darkness if you come down on what they considered to be the wrong side of the discussion. To further misquote Shakespeare, you could have to bear the slings and arrows of outrageous criticism! The following verses can be used as a framework for a bible study on this debated topic.
Pondering Tithing










  • Tithing predates the law.
    “Then Abram gave him, Melchizedek, a tenth of everything.” Genesis 14: 20 b.
  • Tithing was taught under the law.
    “A tithe of everything from the land, whether again from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord; it is holy to the Lord.” Leviticus 27: 30.
  • Failure to tithe described as robbing God.
    “Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. But you ask ‘how do we rob you?’ In tithes and offerings.” Malachi 3: 8.
  • Bring the tithe into the “storehouse”
    Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this.” Malachi 3: 10 a.
  • Jesus endorsed the tithe and lifts the standard.
    “Woe to you teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You give a tenth of your spices – mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practised the former without neglecting the latter.” Matthew 23:23.
  • Hebrews uses the tithes as illustration not command.
    “One might say that Levi, who collects the tenth, paid the tenth through Abraham.” Hebrews 7: 3.

This of course is just a starter, and I encourage you to read my book, especially Chapter 6, for further discussion and further reading. So what about the question to tithe or not to tithe? The answer I came to was that tithing is the right practice for Christ’s followers, not as a slavish obedience to a legal code, but as the first step to a joyful expression of generosity.
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The Importance of Vision

April 5, 2019Inline Text Rod Irvine

St Joseph’s church, (name changed to protect the guilty) was an old building established many moons ago. It was showing its age. The external appearance was unimpressive. The gardens needed tender love and care. The adjacent church hall had been built in happier times and looked old and neglected. The church sign was almost entirely covered by a large shrub so that service times were almost invisible short of a forensic examiner.

I walked by the property just before one Easter to see that someone had typed out a tiny notice, about A5 size, describing the Easter service times. It had been attached to the concealed notice board in such a way that you had to prise away a branch to read it.

This church was in stark contrast to its surroundings. This was not in some decaying high crime area but in an upmarket booming suburb. The street in which it was centrally located in one of the happening streets of the city. There were an abundance of cafes, fancy boutiques, bars, as well as a well-attended hip pub and a popular cinema. The whole precinct was pumping most evenings and on weekends there were traffic jams.

Now a very interesting change happened. A developer appeared and bought the church hall, redeveloping the site for another trendy restaurant and constructing nice new offices in the rear for the church. The church building itself underwent a remarkable transformation so it was newly painted, with manicured lawns, good signage and was well kept. The church property now looks appropriate to the community in which it is situated. Maybe this facelift came because of the initiative of the church authorities but my suspicion is that it was a condition of the redevelopment process. Truly in this regard ‘the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than the children of light’. ( Luke 18:8)
Paint church building
Why do I mention this? Why are the external features of the property so important? Consider the visitor or the person who may feel a religious urge at Christmas or Easter, or a time of crisis and wonders whether it would be a good thing to go to a church. Such a person will often judge the ministry and vitality of your church, which they cannot see, by the externals which they can see.
Whether you like it or not, the crumbling state of the property fairly screams at outsiders that this place is on the skids.

It also makes it so much harder to raise money for ministry because the physical surrounding speak loudly to the regular parishioners too. They may like the clergy but are not going to commit their treasure if they feel it will be frittered away.

So if your property looks a little the worse for wear, announce a project. Perhaps call it a ‘Home and Away’ project where the object will be to raise resources for a church make over and simultaneously raise resources to aid a mission church or a struggling country ministry. Let the minister lead the charge. Appoint someone with managerial competence to run it. Ask boldly for support. Receive the money with integrity. Thank the congregation for their gifts. If this is a little daunting, about this process in my book Giving Generously.

As to the church I mentioned at the start, I have no knowledge about the quality of its ministry but it is my sincere hope that its preaching, fellowship and pastoral care are as good on the inside as the property now is on the outside.

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The Importance of Vision

January 15, 2019Inline Text Rod Irvine

It Is not unusual in churches for offertories to lag behind what is required to sustain their ministry. This causes particular consternation towards the end of the year. It is not merely because of the current shortfall but it also casts gloom over the planning for next year.

Some years ago, when I was on holidays, I attended a church with such a problem. It was a good church with a healthy congregation and a multi-staff ministry. Yet they were obviously under financial stress as the following notice was in the bulletin.

  • Up to the end of October offerings have averaged $9381 per week, well below budget and a little less than last year.
  • While expenses are below budget we have not been able to contain them to the same extent that offerings are down
  • We expect to finish this year with a budget shortfall of approximately $24,000
  • No budgeted change to staff currently in place
  • Expenses reflect current trends with some allowance for cost increases
  • Offerings are budgeted at $10113 per week
  • While this is a $732 per week increase on current offerings, our average Sunday attendance is close to 400 so if each person attending put in an extra $2 we would be covered
  • If offerings do not reach the budgeted amount in the first quarter of next year, the Leadership Team sees little alternative but at that time to recommend to the church reducing staff

What is wrong with this approach?              sad                                       

While it is good to bring the congregation up to date, I do not believe an announcement like this is the way to do it. Sadly, a similar notice appeared in this church’s bulletin in subsequent years. So how should the announcement be handled? Here are a few suggestions.

  1. The issue should be addressed by the senior minister. Remember the senior minister is the chief resource raiser.
  2. Frame the notice in terms of mission and vision not money and budgets. Parishioners rarely give to budget shortfalls. Remember money follows vision.
  3. Think about the effect on the congregation. The framers of the notice may not realize it but the people in the pews will hear that their church is going down the gurgler. What they hear is:
    ‘Our church is worse off than last year. People are not giving enough money.  The situation is not getting any better. There are probably lots of things wrong we don’t know about. We are not going to do anything new or bold in ministry advances next year. We are addressing this situation by cutting spending. This means fewer ministries. If this downward spiral keeps occurring, we will cut staff which will mean we will go down the gurgler quicker and the downward spiral will continue.’
  4.  The comment about $2 per week per member looks like a drowning person desperately clutching at straws. It will not succeed. See my article All we need is just the cost of a cup of Coffee. 

A better way to make the Announcement                         

Ask confidently and boldly for support. The raw numbers of the money required can be placed in the bulletin without the gloomy commentary. Omit the word budget. It is a money term not a ministry term.

The senior minister could say something along the lines of the following.happy

‘You will see a note from the treasurer in the bulletin indicating the giving is a bit down.  That’s important but I want to tell you about some of the really great ministry that our staff and our volunteers have been doing. There are so many good things and I only have time to talk about a few.

  • Our recent youth camp had record numbers.
  • More people are in bible study home groups than ever before.
  • Our compassion ministry helps twenty families each week.

 ‘This church has been consistently generous over many years in supporting all the great work that goes on here. So I have no hesitation in asking you to be generous again. I am announcing a Christmas appeal where we will give ten percent to our mission offertories and use the rest to be cashed up and ready to go for another exciting year in ministry.

Don’t forget the summer ministry programme in January, or our first ever camp for seniors, or the Easter outreach that our music team is planning right now. That is just a start.

Some people might say, ’Why not just reduce the staff? That will fix the shortfall’. Frankly that is the very last thing I am proposing. Staff are employed to empower and multiply ministry and my desire is to increase staff not to decrease them. In fact we wish to employ an additional Children’s ministry intern starting next February to help make our great Kid’s Church even better.  What I want to emphasize Is that changing lives through Jesus is what we are on about.

What I am asking is that you make a special Christmas donation in the envelope provided or go to the website and donate through ‘The Christmas Appeal’ special account.

I am asking everybody to contribute, but for those who have been specially blessed financially or receive a Christmas bonus, I ask you to be even more generous than usual this year.’

Such an announcement will obviously need to be tailored to the particular local situation. I do not say it is perfect but I do believe it will yield more fruit as it will remind people of why the local church exists, and will invite them to be part of something that has eternal consequences.  To read about how to raise money for ministry so you are not stuck in crisis mode see my book Giving Generously: resourcing local church ministry.

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