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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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

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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

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

May 1, 2019Inline Text Rod Irvine

George, one of my parishioners, came into my office with a solution to a problem. I think he had heard that finances were tight and that I was going to be appealing to the congregation to support the ministry of the church financially. Now George was a good man, a sincere Christian man who had for many years been regular in church and served the ministry. Yet his solution surprised me.

George’s answer was to slim down the staff numbers and get lay people to do the ministry. Since my philosophy over many years had been to advance ministry by increasing staff personnel it made me realise with a jolt how different our visions of ministry were and how different was our understanding of what staff should be doing. Now I do not deny that sometimes it is correct for staff to leave. Their gifting may not be right for the roles they are being asked to perform. They may not fit the culture or direction of the church. It can also be the case that the church can be over staffed. None of those were our problem.

The real underlying issue was, ‘what should paid ministry employees of the church be doing?’  Behind George’s question was the idea that staff members were doing the work that church members could be doing. Now if this is the case George was right and such staff members ‘should be freed up for ministry opportunities in another place’. Sadly, in too many churches this is true.
staff reading
However my reason for hiring staff members was not that they would do the basic ministry (of course they would do some) but that they would empower others, train others and support others in their work thereby growing the ministry. 

This was a vision based around Eph 4:11-12:
‘So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers to equip his people for works of service so that the body of Christ may be built up.’
Staff need to be multipliers of ministry, not adders of ministry. If you are employing someone to run small groups in a church, with say 10 small groups, you do not want someone who will start and run an extra six small groups themselves. You want someone who can set up a network of fifty small groups by enlisting training and encouraging a team of small group leaders.
I tried to get this multiplication concept across to the congregation, humorously I hope, in the following way:
In a message on ministry gifts I said on one occasion. ‘Suppose you are sick in hospital and I as senior minister come and visit you. You would be wrong to say,” great Rod, glad you came.”
No, what you should say is. ‘What are you doing here? Why haven’t you sent a member of the pastoral team to come? Get out of my room and go and do your job empowering and equipping lay ministers to do this vital work of ministry.’’’


Now I hasten to add this was delivered with a smile on my face and of course there were some times when it was appropriate for me, as the senior minister, to visit. But I hope you get the point I am trying to make. In fact some years later one lady in our church had had a very serious car accident and when she woke in hospital there was my senior associate minister, who knew her quite well, at her bedside. So well had she absorbed the principle of every member ministry that her first words were,’ Am I going to die?’ In other words, is it that serious?

So if you are trying to raise money for the ministry of the church it will often involve raising money for staff positions. But just make sure the people you hire are multipliers not adders, equippers not merely doers. For more about raising resources in the church see my book Giving Generously.
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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.

Buy-the-book

 

The Importance of Vision

December 18, 2018Inline Text Rod Irvine

Early last year a church leader named Jim purchased a copy of my book Giving Generously and soon after requested a dozen copies for the church elders. This is a good strategy apart from the obvious fact of increased book sales for me!! The reason is that the whole leadership team gets to learn about the process at the same time. They can reflect, discuss and question together. It is not just one person having a good idea and then trying to sell it to the rest of the group.

About a month later, I was invited to address Jim and his leadership team one evening. The church had a project that had been in the development stage for a year or so. It was to upgrade two halls adjacent to the church which were used for a variety of ministry purposes. It was a worthy project as the halls had been built many years before and it was obvious they needed refurbishing. The work could be done in stages, with a total cost in excess of $1,000,000.

The whole issue was complicated by the fact that the church was between senior ministers. The former leader had left the year before and while the search team were active, no new leader was on the horizon. Conducting a capital works appeal requires bold and determined leadership. However, despite being in this transition phase, the church elders were keen to proceed. They felt the project had been gestating long enough. 

I addressed the group and presented the key issues involved in conducting a capital campaign (see Chapter 14 of Giving Generously). One possible way forward was to sell some property that the church owned. I cautioned against this step, in the first instance anyway. I believe it is far better to conduct a capital campaign and only sell property as a last resort. See Beware of selling the farm .

I was impressed by the calibre of the lay leadership. Jim was a driving force and a wise consultative leader. However the other members of the team were intelligent, energetic and make-it-happen type of people who wanted to have a crack at raising the money. I went home feeling full of admiration for the group, but also with a sense of foreboding. I had conducted a number of such campaigns at Figtree Anglican and I knew the focus, effort and determination required. To attempt such a project without a full time senior minister who had earned the love and trust of the congregation, was a formidable task indeed. 

Apart from one small further interaction, I had no other input into the campaign, which Jim and the leadership team developed over the next few months. Jim kept the project on track, ensured the components were well executed, made sure it was grounded in scripture and bathed in prayer.  The others magnificently played their part, supporting the process and producing an excellent explanatory brochure. Imagine my delight when Jim contacted me about six months later with the news that the campaign had been a resounding success, raising in money and pledges a figure exceeding ten times the amount that had ever been achieved in the past. It did not cover the entire amount but certainly funds a very significant part of the project.

But here is the more amazing fact. I have mentioned the leadership of Jim. He was the locum, the interim minister and Jim was part-time and in his eighties!! This was a truly astonishing result from an outstanding leader and an outstanding leadership team. They are all giving thanks to God.

So if you and your church have a daunting project, commit your plans to the Lord and draw some inspiration from Jim and his bold band of brothers and sisters. You need great leaders…like Jim. Buy the Book