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The Importance of Vision

October 7, 2021Inline Text Rod Irvine
preachingIn my book Giving Generously I recommend holding a Commitment Day when the minister asks for pledges to fund the work of church ministry for the following year. The Commitment Day is not a standalone event but the culmination of a four to six week time when the vision and ministry of the church are highlighted to the congregation. A number of activities are held in this period but the most important is the preaching series which accompanies it. It is important to note that raising resources is only a secondary purpose of the series. The primary purpose of such a commitment series is to build up the spiritual lives of the congregation and engage them in the work and vision of the church. It is for this reason it is important to hold an annual Commitment Day even if there is no pressing financial need.

Yes, generally there was a message about money, or giving or generosity within the series. However, there was generally only one, possibly two at a stretch. I certainly do not advocate preaching multiple sermons on money unless the series is about ‘The Bible and Money Management’. That is a worthy subject but not one I would use in a Commitment series.

When I started to understand this process while I was the Senior Minister of Figtree Anglican Church, I wondered how it was possible to preach a new series every year. Wouldn’t I run out of things to say and just end up repeating myself? Initially I looked to famous ministers around the world to see how they approached such an exercise. After a while I got a feel for how to create my own series. And there was good news, very good news. Such series were everywhere in the bible, because the temptations of wealth or the encouragement to give, are themes in many of the books of both Old and New Testament.

I am now retired but in my general bible reading I keep finding groups of passages and verses that would make marvellous Commitment series. Consider the series of instructions found in Hebrews 13. They may be part of broader series on the whole book of Hebrews during the year. Some messages could be.
1. Loving our fellow Believers v 1
2. Practice Hospitality v 2
3. Support those persecuted for Christ v 4
4. Marriage in an age of Easy Virtue v 4
5. Trusting God with your Money v5
6. Honour your leaders v 7&8, 17
7. Offer a Sacrifice of Praise v9-16

This series with seven messages is a little longer than normal but the text naturally breaks into these parts. It also has the advantage of allowing a focus on areas of the Christian life such as hospitality that may get passed over. Further the series has a blend of themes to be explored and passages to be expanded. The message on money embedded in the series, can be particularly helpful as the text picks up the theological emphasis of our need to totally rely on God. Taken together they cover a range of basic issues that cannot help to build up the faith of even the most mature believer. Within the commitment period there could be a range of supplementary events based on the themes of the series. These could include marriage seminars, money seminars, hospitality events or a feature on the persecuted church or prison ministry.

I do not pretend that the titles I have given are the best or most desirable. I am sure they can be improved but are just proffered to give some sort of idea about how such series could be attempted. And if this series does not appeal, keep looking at the scriptures. They contain countless others. Buy the Book

The Importance of Vision

September 16, 2021Inline Text Rod Irvine
441797199.0.mThe Grace of Giving If you were asked who were the top three Christian leaders of the 20th century, who would you say? Of course the list is subjective and influenced by personal appeal and one’s own theological tradition. When I ponder that question the following names jump out to me.

First, Billy Graham the evangelist, who must surely go down as one of the giants of the faith in any age. Second, Martyn Lloyd Jones, the peerless preacher and the man who reintroduced the puritans to the evangelical world. Third there is John Stott, for the immense clarity of his biblical exposition and writing that made complex issues transparent. Jim Packer, for his profound scholarly insights, comes in a very close fourth for me.

When I was researching my book Giving Generously, I came across a small booklet called The Grace of Giving by John Stott. Even though it is a very slim volume, originally given as an exposition of 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 in San Diego in 1998, I have found that anything that Stott has written on almost any subject is stimulating and informative. Thus I sat up and took notice. Stott enunciated ten principles of Christian giving. Here they are, all from 2 Corinthians.

1. Christian giving is an expression of the grace of God. (2 Corinthians 8:1-6)
2. Christian giving can be a charisma, that is a gift of the spirit. (8:7)
3. Christian giving is inspired by the cross of Christ (8:8&9)
4. Christian giving is proportionate giving. (8:10-12)
5. Christian giving contributes to equality. (8:13-15)
6. Christian giving must be carefully supervised. (8:16-24)
7. Christian giving can be stimulated by a little friendly competition. (9:1-5)
8. Christian giving resembles a harvest. (9:6-11a)
9. Christian giving has theological significance. (9:13)
10. Christian giving promotes thanksgiving to God. (9:11b-15)

I commend this booklet to you. It is easily available online. One point I might add that is not evident from this summary. It would be incredibly valuable to prepare a bible study for home groups based on this material. This will be very helpful but if you are a pastor looking to raise resources to fund gospel ministry, there is one more step to do. In 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 Paul does not shrink from actually asking people to contribute. This study would give people the knowledge and foundations of Christian giving. However Paul still actively asked for support and I suggest you must too. For more on how to ask, see Giving Generously.

The Importance of Vision

August 14, 2021Inline Text Rod Irvine
MoneyWhere should I give? Several years ago the sad case of a 92 year old UK woman made the news. She had come onto the radar of a range of charitable organisations, who would ring and mail requests for donations to potential donors. I am not suggesting that there is necessarily anything wrong with this, but in the case of this lady, she was receiving so many calls and requests for money from so many different organizations that she felt completely overwhelmed. The tragic consequence was that due to these and other pressures, the poor lady took her own life.

On the other hand, there was an influential layman at the church I pastored in Wollongong who in his youth, just after World War 2 in England, had courted and married one of the maids at an aristocratic household. He told me that they even had to get her lady’s permission to walk out together. The mistress of the house, another elderly lady, was very generous, but in a discerning way. She had certain charities that she supported and would steadfastly say ‘no’ to any other supplicants.

So where should you be generous, and how should a minister address a congregation on this subject? There are so many causes and so many are worthy causes: Life line, World Wildlife Fund, Lifesavers, Hospital and University support. My daughter-in-law used to work for the McGrath foundation. As a cricket lover, I felt that saw that as an excellent cause: cricket sponsoring breast cancer nurses!

For followers of Jesus, the bible gives excellent general pointers about where to give.
    1. Christian ministry: There were women in the New Testament that gave their money to support the ministry of Jesus. (Luke 8:1-3)
    2. Gospel Projects: King David raised resources for the temple to the glory of God. (1Chronicles 29)
    3. Alleviation of poverty: Paul raised money so the Christians in Jerusalem would not starve. 2 Corinthians (8 and 9) The collection forms a thread that runs through other epistles and Acts.
    4. Mission projects help ensure people in other places may come under the transforming word of Jesus.

As the senior minister of Figtree Anglican church, I knew that I could not dictate where people should give. That would not only be wrong, but certainly counterproductive. Australians don’t like being dictated to, especially with regards to money. So my approach was to give a lead. People looked to me to give guidance from the scriptures on a wide range of topics and money was no exception. My wife Helen and I always made sure we were on the same page with our giving and the general handling of money. Thus after speaking about general biblical principles when preaching I would say something like this.
First, we give to the local church. That is number one on our agenda. The local church gets a very bad press today. That is mainly because the media highlights the relatively few rotten apples and remains totally silent on all the love and care and fellowship and support that you find in the local church. It is the engine room of the Christian faith. I am asking you to give to support the ministry here. But at the same time I am doing all I can to make this ministry one you will be very happy to support.
Second, we give to other causes that proclaim the name of Jesus and are motivated by his love. These will include para-church ministry, missions and mercy ministry that aids the poor and underprivileged, and Christian projects over and above our local church support. Evangelistic work and church planting have a special urgency today.
Third, we give to secular projects as they touch our heart. This is third on our list because we believe our major support should go to Christian ministry, because if Christians don’t support the church and Christian ministry and missions no one else will. Yet there are some very worthy community projects and it is good to consider them. I hope you will find these points helpful as you consider your own giving or the way you might lead others. For more on giving and generosity see my book Giving Generously.

The Importance of Vision

July 15, 2021Inline Text Rod Irvine

Almost everything you want to know about tithing

On Boxing Day 1891 The Age newspaper of Melbourne contained a report entitled A Ride to Little Tibet, about the exotic travels of Henry Lansdell D.D. In the story he was just leaving Kashgar, an ancient town on the old Silk Road, in the very west of China, to roam further on his journey. So who was Henry Lansdell and why would he feature in a massage on a generosity website?

Landsell was born in Kent in 1841, son of a school master. He was a student at the London College of Divinity and was ordained priest in the Church of England in 1868. A teetotaller, he gained a reputation as a dynamic preacher, which he combined with a passion for missions. Obviously he was bitten with the travel bug, and not having been tied down by the incumbency of a parish, began a roving existence visiting many countries and distributing bibles and Christian literature as he did so. Initially he visited France, Germany and other western European countries but soon embarked on multiple journeys. These included Northern and Eastern Europe, and through Asia to Japan and across the Pacific to San Francisco.

Further travel followed. He reported on the conditions in Russian prisons, visited Mt Ararat in Turkey, the traditional resting place of Noah’s Ark, and attempted, with the blessing of the Archbishop of Canterbury, to meet the Dalai Lama. It was this latter trip that drew the attention of The Age newspaper.  Lansdell saw sights and places that were completely off the beaten track to westerners of his time. He blended in with the locals and photographs show him in highly unusual local costumes, hardly the image of a prim Anglican clergyman that gets aired on historical television shows. His energetic labours were recognised as he was elected a fellow of the Royal Geographic Society, a life member of the British Association for the Advancement of Science and was member of the Royal Asiatic Society. Lansdell died in London in 1921, survived by his wife Mary.

During his journeys he made an exhaustive study of the practice of tithing throughout the regions he travelled, delving  into local practices and history. His findings are recorded in his book The Sacred Tenth or Studies in Tithe Giving, Ancient and Modern. It is a monumental work with detailed discussion of tithing in the Old Testament, Apocrypha, New Testament, Jewish Rabbinical practice, Early Church Fathers, and subsequent church history. Equally interesting is his survey of the subject in non-Christian nations from the Middle East to China.

I will give two examples among so many that attracted my attention. First, I was surprised at how wide spread the practice of tithing was in the ancient world with almost every society paying tithes in some shape of form.  I had always been somewhat puzzled that some of the early biblical references,-Abraham paying a tithe to Melchizedek (Gen 14:18-20),-Jacob vowing to tithe (Gen 28:20-22) or the command in Leviticus 27:30-33- are discussed  out of the blue as it were, without any introduction. This becomes understandable when you consider that the scripture is probably referencing a practice that was widespread common knowledge.

Second, I had not realized that when Henry  8th dissolved the monasteries,  around 1540 in England and parcelled out their lands to his aristocratic supporters, in many cases he also parcelled out the tithes to the new secular masters. I rather shared Lansdell’s indignation when I found that even at the end of the 19th century, 350 years later, around one third of those tithes were still flowing into secular aristocratic pockets for their own personal use and not assisting Christian ministry.

Lansdell was a supporter of the practice of tithing. I recognize this is controversial but whether you believe that the tithe should be preached today or not, your knowledge and viewpoint will be greatly enhanced by reading this book which is still available online or in paperback. If you want to read more about raising money for ministry read my book Giving Generously: resourcing local church ministry. https://givinggenerously.com/

 

The Sacred Tenthjpg

The Importance of Vision

April 4, 2021Inline Text Rod Irvine
Easter CrossThe Easter season is with us again. When I was a boy I was excited by the prospect of extra holidays and chocolate eggs and other goodies. I was not raised in a church going home so was only vaguely aware of any deep spiritual significance of Good Friday or Easter Sunday. Nor did I think I should change my life in any way except to monitor my chocolate intake to avoid getting gorged. When I became a Christian the profound significance of Christ’s death for sins became much clearer to me and as a result I needed to change my life from serving myself to following Jesus.
Certainly there are many many applications of the death of Jesus in practical terms in the everyday life of believers especially in the way we love each other. Yet I found that one of the most surprizing applications was the exhortation to be generous, to give money to gospel causes and the poor. I simply wouldn’t have thought of it. Yet it is clearly spelt out by the apostle Paul.

He wrote to believers in ancient Corinth in Greece, encouraging them not to forget to contribute to the relief offering that was being collected for the church in Jerusalem. He held up before them the example of the generosity of the poverty stricken church in neighbouring Macedonia. Despite their extreme lack of money the Macedonians had pleaded for the opportunity to give and had given a breathtaking amount.

Yet St Paul has an even greater example. It is the Lord Jesus himself. In a scripture of astonishing richness the apostle shows how Jesus descended from the most lofty riches to the most degrading poverty as an act of grace; His supreme self-giving on behalf of humanity. This verse in a matter of a few words holds up Jesus’ incarnation, His birth as a human, with His atonement, His dying on the cross. And He did it for us.
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.’2 Cor 8:9
My friend and fellow Anglican minister, Ray Galea commented in one of his sermons: ‘There is no one richer than the owner of the universe. There is no one poorer than a man stripped naked upon a cross.”

I have often marveled at how such profound theology could be encapsulated in so few words for such a practical purpose. This scripture is a compact spiritual masterpiece. God’s people should give because the life and death of Jesus are a model of grace and generosity. So this Easter by all means eat some chocolate and hot cross buns, but also find a godly cause and be generous. For more on generous living see my book Giving Generously.

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