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The Importance of Vision

September 10, 2020Inline Text Rod Irvine

Many years ago, probably from the library of a clergyman entering retirement, I acquired a copy of The Life of Christ by Frederic Farrar who was born in Bombay in 1931, the son of missionary parents. It sat on my shelf for over 20 years and finally I have gotten around to reading it. I have been enjoying the journey immensely. Writing a life of Jesus seems to have been more popular at other times but the shelves of Christian bookshops today are not groaning with modern books on the same topic. Farrar’s book is immense, 770 pages with illustrations and foot notes in fine print. It is extremely erudite. The book was enormously popular in its day, being reprinted many times and being translated into numerous languages.

 As it was written in 1874, it is obviously not abreast of current debates and it is lacking in modern insights. However that is not entirely a problem as the book is refreshingly free from some modern foibles. Further, Farrar had visited the Holy Land so his insights into geography and customs lend the book fascinating insights. Farrar was also an outstanding classical and biblical scholar with detailed knowledge of the views of the Greek and Latin church fathers that don’t often get an airing today. The other astonishing point is that it was written in the spare moments of Farrar’s extraordinarily busy life when he was a very hands-on headmaster at Marlborough School in England

Yet this was not his only labour. He wrote many other volumes. Eric, or, Little by Little was the second most popular book about life at school in Victorian England. Its popularity was immense, exceeded only by the classic Tom Brown’s School Days which I hope everyone will read and not rely on the emasculated television productions that excise all the Christian content for which Thomas Hughes originally wrote the book. Farrar also wrote a companion volume The Life and Work of St Paul which I understand was rated even more highly than Life of Christ. I have it to read on my kindle.

Farrar left Marlborough to become Dean of St Margaret’s, Westminster, later Archdeacon of Westminster and then Dean of Canterbury. He was regarded as one the most outstanding Anglican churchmen of the Victorian age, but was passed over for a bishopric a number of times despite being a preacher who commanded huge congregations. The reason is that he published a series of sermons that were unorthodox in doctrine and challenged classic Christian ideas. Those were the days when being perceived to be at the heretical end of the theological spectrum precluded preferment in the Church of England! Those times seem long gone. Farrar’s unorthodoxy still has its adherents today and at least one of my very good friends is among that number.

My point here is not to defend Farrar on that issue. I don’t, but wish to point out that as the leader of a church congregation he encountered the same financial frustrations as modern ministers. At both Westminster and Canterbury he became the leader of a church with significant issues pertaining to the decay of the fabric of the building. It has been said by a distinguished Sydney Anglican clergyman that the Church of England could be renamed the Society for the Preservation of Old Buildings. Whatever the truth of this comment today, it seems there could be quite a resonance with Farrar’s problems. The issue was particularly pressing at Canterbury Cathedral, which is, of course, one of the most significant sites in England.

This is a problem not unknown by many modern clergy who accept the charge of a local church with an historic building. There is a great frustration that time and effort, energy and finances need to be expended on a structure that is crumbling away but engenders great affection in the congregation and even in the local community. It is difficult not to address the issue. Thirty five years ago I was offered the charge of the congregation of one such wonderful, old, but expensive building. It was one of the factors that made me refuse the offer.

In Farrar’s time Canterbury Cathedral had been running down for centuries and he felt, as he had at Westminster, that he must do something about it. A sum of £20,000, an enormous amount, was needed. Furthermore, much of that sum would need to be expended on behind the scenes, structural items that people wouldn’t see, let alone have an obvious kingdom application.

In the midst of a particularly energetic, parish ministry Farrar raised the money. Probably the most important thing that he did was to throw himself into the task. In my book Giving Generously, I urge that the senior minister is the chief resource raiser. Farrar did not shirk this responsibility. He wrote thousands of letters to prospective donors on both sides of the Atlantic, urging them to give to this cause and not ceasing till the goal was achieved. Farrar was enormously well known in his day because of his fame as a preacher, his notoriety because of his doctrinal controversy and his renown as an author. He was able to use that fame to bring the cause into the public eye. He also instituted a special, annual, thanksgiving service to which benefactors were invited to give thanks to God.

He used the significance of the project to further the cause of raising the money. One of the key issues in raising resources in any but a start-up church, is honouring and celebrating the past. With Canterbury, its historic associations in one form or another go back to St Augustine who came to England in the C 6th AD and the premier churchman in England is still the Archbishop of Canterbury. That is serious history and it is easy to see how restoring the fabric of Canterbury Cathedral might strike a chord with many English hearts.

I have a certain dissonance in writing about Farrar. I am enjoying the Life of Christ immensely yet I suspect if I had met him he might have been too churchy and too theologically adventurous for my tastes. But if you are in a church groaning under the weight of decaying fabric and congregational affection for an ancient building with serious history, Farrar’s story might give some light at the end of your tunnel. Farrar died in 1903 and he is mostly long forgotten. Far more people will be familiar with the name of his celebrated grandson. When she was sixteen, Farrar’s daughter Maud, married Farrar’s thirty two year old curate, Henry, who later became the evangelical Bishop of Tasmania. Together they had at least seven children, the most famous of whom was Field Marshall, Sir Bernard Montgomery, (Monty), the hero of El Alamein. To read more on Farrar, see The Life of Frederic William Farrar by his son Reginald Farrar. For more on Monty, see the superb three volume biography by Nigel Hamilton. Even better, for more of raising resources, see my book, Giving Generously. Buy the BookFrederic-William-Farrar-1880

The Importance of Vision

August 11, 2020Inline Text Rod Irvine
Many writers and speakers point out how vital it is for a church or indeed any organization to have a clear vision of where it should be going under God in the future. The vision brings clarity and coherence. In a former life I used to study physics. You might not be a big physics fan but please bear with me as I always remember a physics explanation that gives a good idea.
Metals conduct electric current which is a flow of electrons along a wire. This is because in metals the outer electrons are loosely bound to their atoms. So when a force is applied, those electrons can move along the wire, jostling around like a crowd moving along a tunnel at a railway station. Because the crowd is jostling it doesn’t move as efficiently as it could. Now there is another phenomenon called superconductivity, where, when you cool the metal down to nearly absolute zero all the resistance decreases dramatically and the electrons flow much more freely and you get more current for the same force. What is happening is that instead of jostling around, the electrons effectively link their arms and march steadfastly down the wire in lock step. It would be the same in a railway tunnel if everybody stopped bustling around, joined arms and moved freely.

This is what vision does for your church. Instead of spinning wheels or squabbling with each other it as if the church or most of the church links arms and works towards a common kingdom goal. A vision is very powerful. However often ministers search around for a scripture to support this concept. And the one that is often used is Prov. 29:18a which in the King James Version reads:
Where there is no vision, the people perish…

This sounds great but my friend and former colleague Bruce Clarke pointed out to me that this verse could not really bear the weight that people were placing on it. There are a number of issues to be considered here. First, the verse is sometimes quoted only in part. It continues

but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.

This makes it seem less likely that the verse really can be directly justifying the importance of an organizational vision. This concern is only magnified when the verse is considered in more modern translations.

Where there is no revelation, people cast off restraint; but blessed is the one who heeds wisdom’s instruction.(NIV)
or
Without revelation people run wild, but one who listens to instruction will be happy. (Holman Christian Standard Bible)

Now the verse was originally written in Hebrew .Thus to get a clearer idea of the meaning I consulted the classic nineteenth century commentary on the Hebrew text by Keil and Delitzsch. Their translation is:
Without a revelation a people become ungovernable; But he that keepeth the law, happy is he.

But just as interesting is Keil and Delitzsch’s comments on the meaning of the verse. They write:

‘While on the one hand, a people is in a dissolute condition when the voice of the preacher, speaking from divine revelation, and enlightening their actions and suffering by God’s word, is silent amongst them; on the other hand that same people are to be praised as happy when they show due reverence and fidelity to the word of God, both as written and as preached. ‘

In other words, this text doesn’t really bear the weight placed on it by ministers trying to run vision meetings. It is far more that when any people don’t listen to the word of God they become a rabble.
So it is appropriate to use this verse to justify a vison process? Yes. However the way to do it is not to point to this scripture to justify vision per se, but to use it to ensure that the vision for your church and your life is in accord with Holy Scripture. That gives a far more powerful and more accurate application. For more physics there are lots of great videos on line!!! For more on Vison in the parish life see my book: Giving Generously. : photo-1571069057711-7f3b008cc2c4

The Importance of Vision

May 15, 2020Inline Text Rod Irvine
Masked man (2)I was speaking to an Anglican minister recently and he was telling me about the changes that had been taking place in ministry with the advent of Covid-19. It seemed like a whole new world. In the course of the discussion, he mentioned that to his surprise, the giving had recently been very good. It is not the first time I had heard this type of statement. Thus I wondered why.  It might be thought natural that with the congregation staying home and consequently not being in contact with their pastor, giving might evaporate. And , of course, in some places it has. Putting on my thinking hat, I have come up with three reasons why an upturn in giving might take place in the current Covid environment.
  1. People may be switching to electronic giving and consequently to more regular giving. It is true that there has been a major shift to giving on-line over the last decade or so. However, many have not opted in. These include people with theological objections who simply want to place their money in a physical plate. It can also include older members who are cautious about technology, regularly attend services and see no need to change. With services cancelled and no definite idea of when meeting physically can resume, some of these groups may have decided that on-line giving via technology isn’t so bad after all.
  2. Ministers are being very creative in thinking about the on-line Sunday services, and making them crisper and emphasizing relevance. Sermons are getting shorter! There is no longer, the same old same old, but a brand new day. A friend even told me he now wears theatrical make-up on his face for his on-camera appearances. This may seem a small point but it shows how this new Covid world has forced us out of old, perhaps staid patterns into fresh ways of communicating. There is a key statement about raising resources. It is that ‘money follows vision’. In the emergency of this Covid era, churches are being forced to reassess exactly what they are on about and sharpen and clarify their reason for being.
  3. People may be feeling more connected. That seems quite counter intuitive. Let me explain. Some years ago when the church at Figtree was attempting to raise significant resources for a new building, we organized a visitation to every member of the parish. The visitors carried a pack explaining the project and an audio message (it was some years ago) from me with a greeting and a further explanation of the project. There was opportunity to share prayer points and give feedback. Almost every attender was involved in some way and it certainly embedded the project in the consciousness of the church community. The whole operation was so well received that we repeated it the next year purely for pastoral purposes.

I suspect something similar to the above reasons, is happening in many good churches at the moment. Pastors understand the danger of disconnection and so have made extraordinary efforts to have pastoral teams ring around the church contact list on a regular basis. People who have never gotten a call for years are now receiving contact and offers of care, all the time. I can’t remember a time when I have felt so loved. As an introvert I almost feel over-loved!!! (I am not really complaining.) There are phone calls, texts, suggested prayer points, zoom prayer meetings, home groups and evangelism on zoom and I am sure much more. As a result I suspect many people are feeling more connected than ever. When you feel connected, giving increases.

There may be many other reasons for an upswing in giving. I would be happy to hear them. However, if you are a minister in a church where the giving is going the wrong way, it could be of course that your congregation is suffering from unemployment or cash flow crises and in need of more pastoral support. But if that is not the case and the giving is flagging, maybe paying more attention to some of the points above,  may get the curve going the right way again. For more information on raising resources in a church setting, see my Book Giving Generously. Buy the Book

 

The Importance of Vision

May 15, 2020Inline Text Rod Irvine
whitefieldMy mother, who rarely went to church herself, sent me to a local Methodist church where I spent my formative years. One of my ministers there was a Mr Brown (not real name) who I quite liked. My enthusiasm was dimmed somewhat when Mr Brown preached a stewardship message. It was quite extraordinary and remains fixed in my memory despite the passage of fifty years.

Mr Brown simply read the church roll. That’s it! There was no more. That was the message in its entirety: all one hundred and thirty names. What is more it was not rushed in delivery but a slow, steady movement through the list. Further the names were read in full: John Malcolm Hughes, Benjamin Robert Ingram and so on. I can remember being astonished beyond all measure and sharing my bewilderment with some other young adults after the service who evinced similar sentiments.

As I reflect on this strange episode there are a couple of issues that stand out. First, at least Mr Brown addressed the topic. Some might feel that the way he chose to do so could have been counterproductive but at least he had a go. Many ministers shy away from any mention of money issues for fear of offending the congregation. So I give Mr Brown good marks for courage.

Secondly, I can excuse his effort somewhat because ministers are generally not taught how to preach on money, then or now. Thus they embark on ministry where finances will be a concern week in and week out, with almost no teaching on how to raise resources or to preach on a topic that is admittedly sensitive. I was certainly in that category despite having attended a first rate theological college for whose training I am constantly grateful.

So here are a few pointers about  how you might attempt to preach on raising resources:

  1. Acknowledge that it is a sensitive subject, but speak confidently into it. Ministers get into trouble when they dither around or get angry and defensive. I preached my last money message about six weeks before I left my parish of Figtree. I commenced with a big smile saying something like, ‘this will be the very last time you will hear me preach on money so I have determined to it my very best shot. So buckle up and here goes!’
  2. Remind people of the goodness, grace, glory, and generosity of God. God is our Maker, our owner and everything we have is due his extraordinary blessing.

I love the way King David puts it as he celebrates the money raised for the temple.

Wealth and honour come from you; you are the ruler of all things.
In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all.
 Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name.
1Chron 29:12-13

  1. Remind people that the most extraordinary instance of God’s grace is in the giving of his Son, the Lord Jesus. God is a Giver. He gave his only son.
  2. Remind people that even though they might work hard, ultimately their wealth all comes from God. King David continued,

Lord our God, all this abundance that we have provided for building you a temple for your Holy Name comes from your hand and all of it belongs to you. 1Chron 29:16

  1. Remind people that giving is an opportunity for immense spiritual growth because ‘where your treasure is there will your hearts be also’. (Matt 6:21)
  2. Connect your request to the ministry future of the church, not the debts or financial shortfall. Remember that ‘Money follows Vision’.
  3. Don’t beat about the bush. Make a clear request for financial commitment. Moses did (Exodus 35). David did (1Chronicles 29). The apostle Paul did (2 Corinthians 8 & 9). Why shouldn’t you?

I wish I could have discussed these points with Mr Brown but I think we were both clueless.

For more on this topic see my book, Giving Generously Buy the Book

Related Articles

 Preaching a Generosity Message

 Constructing a Commitment Preaching Series

 

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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

photo-1544400716-1ec92d437c0c 

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.

REASONS TO COME TO

 CHURCH ON SUNDAY

 

1-JESUS IS AWESOME

2 -WE HAVE TOILET PAPER

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

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.

Buy the Book

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

October 2, 2019Inline Text Rod Irvine

flowers

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

Buy the Book

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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