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The Importance of Vision

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

The Importance of Vision

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Importance of Vision

May 19, 2017Inline Text Rod Irvine

It takes courage to raise money.

One of the major reasons that ministers don’t attempt to raise money for kingdom ministry is, to be frank, we are afraid to do it. Let me explain.

A couple of years ago while on holiday in the UK, I paid an unexpected visit to Carlyle Cathedral, unexpected because my wife and I had to detour through Carlyle to find an urgently needed dentist. In the crypt was an impressive display detailing the history of the Christian faith in the region over a period of around 1500 years.

I read there the story of a World War 1 Anglican chaplain, the Rev Theodore Bayley Hardy who amazingly won the Distinguished Service Order, the Military Cross, and the Victoria Cross for extreme gallantry on numerous different occasions, caring for and rescuing men under heavy fire. He was finally in action yet again and wounded and later died less than a month before the armistice in 1918. I was incredibly moved by his raw courage and emerged from the exhibit and said to my wife, ‘Now that’s my sort of Anglican clergyman’.

Reverend Theodore Hardy portrait

Rev Theodore Hardy DSO, MC, VC

I am just so used to seeing television Anglican vicars, the sort invariably caricatured on Midsomer Murders, as weak and emasculated, unbelieving or fanatical, puritanical or lecherous. I just wished someone, somewhere would create a vicar who has some vague resemblance to Theodore Hardy. Maybe Mel Gibson could give it a go.

I stand in awe of people like Hardy. I think I would go to jelly in the type of situation in which he regularly found himself. Yet there is another sort of courage. In his book Path to Leadership Field Marshall Montgomery spoke of both physical and moral courage.

‘It is not given to everyone to have great physical courage … but we can all have moral courage, which to me means standing firm to what you believe to be right and giving a firm lead to others in that direction.’ p114.

There are some Christian leaders and believers who do need to show physical courage as they live out their faith in perilous places or under intimidating persecution. Average parish ministers are more likely to be called to exhibit moral courage in their preaching, leading or pastoral duties. One such area is the issue of raising money for ministry.

This is challenging because there is the risk of alienating people, losing friendships and looking like the worst kind of television preacher. There is the fear of people saying you are only ever asking for money. There is the possibility of looking totally uncomfortable and thus ineffective. There is the worry of being accused of feathering your own nest.

When I was first called to speak on giving. I was very apprehensive as I didn’t really know what to do and I was very uncertain on what to say or how the congregation would react. Sadly I believe that some clergy put it in the too hard basket.

The reason I wrote the book Giving Generously was to give pastors practical steps to raise money. But even when you know the practical steps it still takes moral courage to stand up in front of a congregation and ask clearly and graciously. I understand because I can certainly remember the knotted feeling that comes in the stomach. And yet after raising resources in a local church context for many years I can honestly say that if you ask graciously and with integrity, the outcome will not be congregational wrath but real joy that lives are being blessed as kingdom ministry is being funded.

So whenever I felt like wimping out I used to think, ‘Rod you are not being asked to be crucified like our Lord or whipped, shipwrecked, stoned or executed like St Paul or to go over the top at the Battle of the Somme. You are simply being asked to stand before God’s people and ask them to give to the greatest cause in the world. You can do this!’

And so can you.

The Importance of Vision

April 28, 2017Inline Text Rod Irvine

In my book ‘Giving Generously’ I discuss the role of vision and use the quote ‘Money Follows Vision’. This is not the only factor in raising resources but it is a vital one. I believe the vision must be inspirational. It must engage the hearts and minds of the congregation. This encourages them to sign up for ministry and give to support the vision.
church vision

I am not a detail person so I have never believed the vision needs to be overly detailed. I remember being at a meeting once where the minister shared his plans for the church over the next five years. It involved a large spreadsheet that included detailed numbers of how many people would be in each ministry. While that sort of detail may be helpful to some, I have always been inspired by vision painted on a large canvas with broad brush strokes.

 At Figtree Anglican Church (FAC) we had a visionary slogan that appeared on our documents:

 ‘Impacting the region, modelling to the nation and sending to the world.’

We then explained to the congregation that in ‘Impacting the Region’, we wanted FAC to be known positively all over the Wollongong Region, which is largely a self-contained geographic space. It also meant that we wanted to be a blessing not only to our own church members but to the wider community.

‘Modelling to the Nation’ may sound a little pretentious, but what it meant and what we explained was that we wanted to be an adventurous church trying out new ministries and sharing  new ideas with others. For many years the Figtree elders set aside money for ministry staff, including me, to visit other dynamic churches interstate and overseas. We then tried to take the inspiration we had gained, Australianise it, and put it into practice. From time to time other churches would ring up and ask for assistance and we were glad to help them. The material on raising resources found its genesis on my first study tour to the US in 1995.

‘Sending to the World’ was a way of expressing the idea that FAC had a mission and evangelistic heart. For many many years there has been an annual mission trip conducted by Figtree members trained in Evangelism Explosion. That was only one expression of missionary activity and we wanted to say to our congregation, ‘this is who we are’. It also meant that while our local ministry might have suffered a setback if a talented person left to do mission elsewhere or go into theological college, we would actively rejoice in their calling, as sending people out to God’s work elsewhere was a core value for us.

Of course creating and casting an inspiring vision is far more than repeating a slogan. The slogan needs to be fleshed out, given legs, and celebrated. However what it did do was to declare loudly and clearly that outreach, innovation, taking prayerful risks, learning and sharing was the sort of church FAC was proud to be.