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The Importance of Vision

January 28, 2021Inline Text Rod Irvine

In my book Giving Generously, I have laid out what I believe is a clear, biblical, inspirational and ethical way to raise resources in a local church. This involves transparent communication of biblical principles, a compelling kingdom vison and a gracious direct request for support. In my former congregation I had many generous women who actively supported the ministry financially. So I read with some interest an article from the McKinsey Company written by four women and entitled: ‘Women as the new wave of wealth in US wealth management’. https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/financial-services/our-insights/women-as-the-next-wave-of-growth-in-us-wealth-management. In it they commented that up to very recently, most financial advisors were men and the industry operated under the assumption that men were the primary decision makers with the family finances. This, of course, is changing with women increasingly occupying prominent, well paid positions in the work force. Divorce is also a factor, generally making both parties poorer, but again meaning financial decision making is in the woman’s hands.

The particular issue addressed in the article is the massive transfer of wealth that is occurring within the baby boomer generation. Men are generally older than their wives by about four years and women outlive men by a further seven or so years. This means many women will have around a decade of widowhood where they will control the couple’s share of their often considerable baby boomer assets. This figure is in the realm of trillions of dollars over the next decade. The McKinsey article is written in the context of professional wealth management. It is advocating a client centred approach that not merely takes this shift into account, but is sensitive to the requirements and outlook of elderly female clients who may never have shown much interest in finances before.

In terms of giving, the professional literature also confirms that women differ from men in their motivations for giving. They score higher in measures of empathy, altruism, religious commitment and their self-perceived identity as kind, giving and caring.  The take away from this is that women have increasing control over considerable assets, and seem to respond differently to requests for financial support.

None of this should be interpreted as advocating a minister should target women in some exploitative, manipulative way. However, it is not inappropriate to consider women’s special perspectives when it comes to requesting support for kingdom work. Women have been supporting Christian ministry since before the term ‘Christian’ was in use. The gospel writer Luke, who seems to have a particular interest in the place of women, is the evangelist who tells us of the women who supported Jesus in his ministry. He writes:

the twelve were with him and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out: Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household: Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means’. Luke 8: 1c-3

Naturally it would be wonderful to know more than this. How did these women come to give this support? Were they asked directly or did they volunteer? Were men also generous financial supporters? It is not difficult to imagine that they found the person and message of Jesus compelling and personally transforming, and were moved to assist the Master and his disciples. In other words, they saw a kingdom cause embodied in one who was eminently worth supporting.

So how might today’s preachers incorporate an appeal that includes women? Here are some strategies to consider.

  1. Rejoice in and affirm women’s long history of gospel generosity.
  2. Acknowledge that women are increasingly in control of their own financial destiny.
  3. Recognize that there is a growing cohort of women in the senior age groups who have financial control for the first time in their lives. Many will give generously from accumulated assets to a large exciting gospel project.
  4. Consult a group of generous female supporters about what would be an appropriate way to ask for financial support from the women in your congregation.
  5. In sermons on money and generosity, address specifically the women in the congregation who can be moved by altruistic and compassionate goals more than men.
  6. Interview women in the service or during a sermon on the particular issues that concern them when giving.
  7. Remember that while confidence in the benefit of the project and the authenticity of the leader is important to both sexes, it is especially important to women who particularly value personal connection.

Finally and above all, never resort to manipulation or anything remotely dubious, but present a clear vision of how this request will glorify God and advance Christ’s kingdom.

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The Importance of Vision

November 20, 2020Inline Text Rod Irvine

KnightThe apostle Paul on one occasion urged his hearers to be generous, to share, and to remember those less fortunate. He quoted some famous words of Jesus:

In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ Acts 20:35

‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’ is a very famous saying. You will notice why Paul uses it: so you can bless others.

If you consult the serious bible scholars, they will tell you that what Jesus is saying is that ‘it is better to give than to amass’. It is better to give out than to store up for yourself. It is better to have a giving attitude than a getting attitude. It is better to have a gracious heart than a greedy heart. It is better to be generous than grasping.

This emphasis comes from the word itself. Consider the classic version of the bible, the King James Version, which was translated in 1611, over for hundred years ago and was the standard version in English for three hundred and fifty years. If you do a word search, you won’t find the word ‘generous’ in it. The concept is there but the term they used was ‘liberal’.

A famous generosity verse, Proverbs 11:25, is thus translated: ‘the liberal soul shall be made fat, and he that watereth shall be watered also himself.’

‘Liberal’ in this context doesn’t mean the name of a political party or a progressive movement. The meaning is the same as when we say, ‘he put a liberal amount of tomato sauce on his scrambled eggs’. I do that and my wife Helen hates it. She says,’ you shouldn’t drown the eggs in sauce. It is just not right’.

I hope you get the meaning of ‘liberal’. The reason they didn’t use ‘generous’ in the King James Version is because four to five hundred years ago ‘generous’ didn’t mean what it does today. Back then it meant ‘noble’ such as being a member of the aristocracy, having birth and breeding to the manor born. A ‘generous’ person wasn’t a peasant. So if I described you as generous I would mean you were probably a lord or a lady, and I would doff my cap or curtsey to you.

But as the centuries wore on, 1300 1400 1500 1600 etc., the meaning of ‘generous’ changed from describing your noble birth to describing your noble character. If I call you ‘generous’ today I mean that you’re open hearted, friendly giving of your time, helpful. You will be happy to give to your church and needy causes. That is a wonderful thing.

Despite having written my book Giving Generously I struggle in this area but I would love it if you said, ’Rod. He is just a generous person’. That is something I desire to be. Consider the opposite for a minute. The opposite is miser. I don’t want to be thought a miser. The miser hoards, grasps, doesn’t give, doesn’t share. Misers are not just careful with money but tight, skinflint, cheapskate. I would absolutely hate it if you thought that of me.

Further, the miser is not happy. Did you know our word ‘miserable’ and the ‘word’ miser come from the same basic root? They come from the Latin root that means ‘wretched’.

To add weight to this, social science research indicates that generous people are happier, healthier, have more friends, enjoy more benefits, are more prosperous, and thrive in life. The ungenerous miserly ones are poorer, have less purpose, live for themselves, are sicker, and lonelier.

Jesus knew what he was talking about when he said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’

So practice generosity. Your giving will be good for you. It will give you great joy. It will bless others but most importantly, it will give God glory.

 

The Importance of Vision

October 27, 2020Inline Text Rod Irvine

Cult StatusMillenials at work

I recently read a review of a book called Cult Status: how to build a business that that people adore. Its author is Tim Duggan, a journalist and co-founder of a digital company called Junkee Media.  It is about modern millennial entrepreneurs and what drives and motivates them. The point is that these types of business personalities are not simply motivated by turning a profit. They want to make a difference. Such individuals and companies did exist in the past. But now the new breed of entrepreneur ‘bakes’ these ideals into their companies from the outset rather than grafting them in afterwards. For boomer companies it may have been a nice thing to do. For these millennials making a difference becomes an imperative. Such young entrepreneurs gather around them a community of people who are similarly motivated.


Such people are passionate. They are committed to a cause and there is an energy and a youthful vitality that drives them. Another descriptor is Impact. How is what they are doing going to change the world and make it a better place? The reason for this emphasis is that the millennials have grown up in a very different world to people a generation or two generations ago. Culture has shifted, seemingly overnight. Ideas and viewpoints that were incomprehensible only five or ten years ago are not merely mainstream, but are now  reinforced , disseminated and even enforced on social media. Such values not only shape the entrepreneurs but also the generation in which they are embedded.


I believe that this emphasis has great implications not merely for youth ministry, but also for appealing to young people to be generous and building a culture of generosity in that cohort. In a church however, these ideas should play out with a distinctly Christian focus. When I was growing up in my Methodist home church over 50 years ago, I didn’t hear too much about the gospel of Jesus. The evangelistic fervour of John Wesley and George Whitfield had largely abated.  I did, however, develop a very strong impression that being a Christian involved believing in God and avoiding promiscuity and alcohol and living a moral life. There was a distinct holiness flavour about this environment for which I am very grateful as I know it stopped me progressing down stupid and sinful pathways.


But I wasn’t challenged to make an impact or to be part of a dynamic movement to change the world. And it was only later, in my early twenties that someone challenged me to follow Christ.
This book, Cult Status, says to me that if you want to speak meaningfully to millennials, give them a massive and dynamic challenge. Challenge them to give their lives totally to Christ. Challenge them to a life of holy living, a life worthy of the gospel. And challenge them with a vision to help change the world by preaching and the spreading of the gospel which transforms lives binds up the broken hearted and sets the captive free, in their own homes, in their local town and in the world beyond. Show them how the gospel of Christ crucified and raised makes an impact personally and in society.


Wonderfully, the cause of the gospel has earthly significance. People’s lives can be transformed immeasurably here and now. But the gospel also has an eternal signifance as people are looking and longing for a heavenly inheritance. A gospel cause also ensures this millennial passion gets channelled in the right direction. Some of today’s causes are noble and worthwhile but I suspect others will be shown to be shallow and misguided with the passing of time. The plumb line of the gospel will allow us to discern the gold from the dross.


Finally, as the book suggests, many young millennials are setting up businesses, to make a profit and make an impact. Ministers need to challenge such young business identities to be generous and direct at least some of their resources to a cause that is truly out of this world. And as I reflect on these words, the former Methodist in me kicks in because it all seems very similar to the  way Wesley and  Whitefield inspired people two hundred and fifty years ago.

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

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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.

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See also the article The Importance of Vision