Economic participation is usually considered a selfish transaction. As the economy moves up, or as we’ve experienced lately, steeply down, these selfish actions leave many victims behind. It does not matter whether the economic behavior of people, businesses or governments are motivated by fear or greed, they lead each one to seize or hoard, build or destroy, grasp or deny.
By contrast, the Christian worldview compels a believer to participate in the economy as a means to:
- receive with gratitude,
- create in order that others might benefit,
- and share in God’s name that others might gratefully receive.
A recent interview with me in OUTCOMES Online can be found here. Because of limited space for the magazine version of the interview, a significant amount of content needed to be trimmed. The unedited version of the interview follows below:
1. What is the best framework for deciding when to outsource certain ministry operations?
I’m delighted you used the word “framework” in your question, because the framework we tend to use is inappropriate for the outsourcing conversation, and that assumes we are actually conscious of it. A framework always exists, but if it is ignored decision makers cannot explain why they did what they did, and why it connects to the mission of the organization. And if the framework is consciously present but is inappropriate, then resulting decisions do not build the long-term effectiveness of the organization.
One inappropriate framework is too often that of “outsourcing is for when you cannot afford a staff position and need to spend less money.” This framework is inappropriate because it believes that reducing expense outranks ministry effectiveness and long-term ministry growth.
A better framework begins with an organizational metric. This can be found by answering the following questions:
- What is the size of our organizational economy? Also, how much of this economy is in annual income we use for operations?
- What is the healthy distribution percentage of operations money for staff, for program and facilities? This needs to add up to less than 100% because the difference is the carryover to keep building up cash reserves.
- In accomplishing and expanding our mission objectives, what staff tasks must be performed? Of these tasks, which must be carried by employees that embody the mission and values of the organization, and which ones are best carried by vendors who share a passion for our mission and values? The key in such a decision is the regularity of the task, interaction with the constituency (employees), versus irregularity of the task, expertise, continuous learning, and efficiency (vendors)
- How will we distribute our staff budget in such a way that accomplishes and expands our mission objectives, while retaining flexibility to respond to needs when they arise? This points to some money remaining unspent, or spent for only part of a year in order to take advantage of a vendor’s expertise or to cover the costs of a special project.
One obstacle that prevents organizations and leaders from moving to this better framework is that they are already spending everything and more that they have available for staffing. Thus, outsourcing requires extra money or is put in place to cover the tasks after having cut a staff position. This creates problems for the vendors because they are resented as job stealers, or because the expectation is to preserve an organization by cutting expenses rather than through mission fulfillment. By working ahead and working from a larger economic point of view, vendors become part of the organizational growth strategy rather than a last ditch choice.
2. What are benefits to using vendors and consultants versus in-house staff? What are some drawbacks to this method?
Let’s assume it is a problem to use vendors and consultants too much and it is a problem to not use them at all. A total staff approach is rigid and bound to the confines of the budget. An organization has to postpone addressing specific needs if it has no money to hire the needed staff. Further, for large organizations, staff can lodge their loyalty with their division or department instead of the overall organizational mission. Conversely, a total vendor approach makes it difficult to build an organizational culture and loyalty to the organization’s mission is always suspect. Where staff might be perceived as entrenched, vendors and consultants might be perceived as mercenary. Employees cost less per day, but cost more to train, hire and replace. Consultants and vendors cost more per day, but most work for specific projects in a time-limited basis, usually cost less per year than an employee does, and can be more easily replaced.
An intentional mix of the two works best, especially with thoughtful responses to the above questions giving strategic guidance. Staff can then provide overarching perspective and continuity while vendors and/or consultants bring fresh perspective and targeted expertise.
The drawback of staff resentment for vendors has already been mentioned. Other drawbacks to avoid are hiring vendors or consultants who cannot detail their own sense of mission and values, consultants and vendors who use their platform to seek a job rather than practice a vocation, or consultants and vendors who structure their services in an attempt to keep their contract with the organization until the end of time. The best ones in the business detail the objectives they will help you reach and the time-frame in which they will do it with you. When it is done, they are done.
3. How can a ministry be designed to allow for both outsourcing and traditional staffing?
An organizational metric is key. If an organization does not make its staff budget flexible enough to build the mix of employees and vendors, it simply will not work over the long haul.
Depending on how an organization sets up its chart of accounts, certain facility costs can be outsourced too. Outsourced custodial services are one many organizations use. The core of this discussion, however, seems to be outsourced administrative and staff tasks that carry out the program in which the ministry organization invests. Depending on the organization’s size and resident expertise among the employees, items such as executive search, training, facilitating complex decisions or organizational development, capital fundraising counsel, payroll, event planning and others might be better served by a vendor. Many ask why so, and the answer is because trying to do these things in addition to the normal full-time tasks may make employees inattentive to the work they need to be doing. Many tasks best served by a vendor are time-bound and intensive. It becomes an inefficient use of donor dollars to delay or reduce a ministry program run by staff in order to engage other important, but nonrecurring tasks.
One co-worker I experienced many years ago was emblematic of the problem. She did not want to be shut out of anything, and she was on record that she would rather leave a task undone than entrust it to someone else outside the system. This stands in contrast, of course, to the many consultants I have known who think they can do anything better than anyone else and keep bullying their clients to let them do more.
4. How can a ministry effectively make a smooth transition as tasks move from in-house to being outsourced? How can a leader effectively communicate these changes to the current in-house staff?
A smooth transition means working ahead, and I would again point to working through the metric establishing questions detailed at the beginning of this interview. Thoughtful answers to these questions help leaders build and then follow a trajectory rather than doing something abruptly. Working toward a trajectory brings in-house staff into the conversation and implementation of vendor roles. They become part of making it happen rather than it happening to them.
As to communication; this will sound simplistic, but I’ve found this following formula incredibly helpful in building toward significant change within an organization: Talk about the fact you are going to talk about it, then talk about it, then talk about the fact you talked about it. Even after this, leaders should expect that some are still not going to track with it until changes actually begin. In some cases, a person might be criticized for not paying attention, but in many cases such a person is a tactile learner and needs to see the change happening before they can fully grasp it. Patient and persistent communication is more likely to be effective communication than outstanding PowerPoint slides or corporate-wide e-mail announcements released during the weekend.
5. Do you anticipate increased outsourcing in ministries of the future?
I believe we can expect that outsourcing will and should grow some, but I don’t think it will be like a rocket. Even as organizations begin to try outsourcing as a more efficient and quality way to accomplish organizational mission, too many consultants and vendors are entering the system. The recent recession put a lot of other persons in the mood to try their hand at being a vendor. As a result pricing, quality and definitions of vendor and consultative services are all over the place. This threatens the ability for good vendors and clients to find each other. It seems for every positive step forward, vendors and clients pull stunts that set the growth back for everyone.
Clients seeking vendor services are well-advised to check references, expect a contract that details the scope and chronology of work, along with an out if they are not satisfied, and to make sure they are not paying too much of the money up front. Consultants that want their work to be an honorable vocation do well to coach their clients to expect these things.
Mark L. Vincent, is the CEO of Design Group International, an organizational development firm that helps organizations and their leaders discover clarity and implement solutions.
Shall we declare the death of denominations?
Shall we send out a message that a memorial service will be held and where memorial gifts might be sent?
- Denominations can no longer justify their existence based on connection to European Protestant expressions and specific ethnicity.
- Church members and congregations no longer contribute to denominations at a level that keeps them solvent, relevant and growth oriented.
- The ability of denominational leaders to inspire and rally the faithful is severely diminished.
- Denominations no longer provide an efficient means to develop resources for congregational leaders, to strengthen ministry skill or to carry out mission.
- Denominations no longer provide the best avenues for connecting and networking, especially for newer and younger leaders.
- Moral authority and ability to arbitrate a confessional identity is deeply compromised.
- Denominations hold little sway over their related institutions.
- Denominations can no longer maintain that they occupy the space of “helping us do better together than what we could do alone.”
There once was a family–a Mommy, a Daddy, and 1.3 children. They and their pets lived in a suburban home with a deck, an entertainment room and a high-powered lawn mower.
Unfortunately, the economy tanked and the Daddy lost his job.
Fortunately, health insurance was provided through Mommy’s work.
Unfortunately, the benefit package changed and all employees at Mommy’s work must now pay 50% of the premium, with a much higher deductible.
Fortunately, nobody in the family is sick at the moment.
Unfortunately, Mommy is seven months pregnant.
Fortunately, the family wants this new child and Daddy is now available to be a stay at home parent.
Unfortunately, the family can no longer afford payments for the mini-van to haul everyone around.
Fortunately, the SUV is already paid for, and they can sell it to make up the difference.
Unfortunately, gasoline now tops $4 a gallon and nobody wants to buy a used SUV.
Fortunately, the family has been living in their suburban home with a deck, and entertainment room and a high-powered lawn mower for some time, so they can borrow against the equity in their home to refinance the mini van.
Unfortunately, house values dropped drastically and all the equity in their home disappeared.
Fortunately, they are willing to sell their home and move closer to Mommy’s work. By living in a smaller home and driving less, they can make ends meet.
Unfortunately, nobody wants a suburban home with a deck, an entertainment room or a high powered lawn mower because they are all doing the same thing.
Fortunately, the family kept setting aside money for a rainy day. They took the advice of their financial planner, not to make frequent trades or worry about short-term ups and downs in the market. They took the long view.
Unfortunately, when they looked at their portfolios, many of their investments had names like Enron, WaMu and British Airways.
Fortunately, they were young enough to file bankruptcy and start over.
Unfortunately, bankruptcy proceedings have been made more restrictive and the numbers of bankruptcies are clogging the courts. Everything is still tied up.
Fortunately, the Daddy’s parents lived nearby and everyone moved in together just in time for Grandpa’s stroke and loss of his pension.
Fortunately, they still have each other.
-mark l vincent
Reflections from 1 Corinthians 15:1,2
An often told fable within Islam is when the cat said “I am going to take a hajj.” The hajj is the pilgrimage to Mecca that good Muslims desire to complete as one of the pillars of Islam. Upon the cat’s return from his hajj, the mice wondered whether the cat really had transformed from his former sinful ways. The king of mice decided he should pay his respects, but the other mice remained suspicious and did not go. The mouse king found the cat in prayer, but upon seeing the mouse the cat pounced. The king barely escaped.
When the mouse king returned, the mice asked him if the cat had changed his ways. The king said, “The cat prays like a hajji, but he pounces like a cat.”
This fable reminds us how hard it is for true transformation to take place. Each of us is born a pagan, and the pagan remains close by, even as we grow in faith and practice.
The word pagan can mean a person without religion, and that is the sense in which I use it here. Even though I am a Christian, there are moments I think and act as if I have no faith in the saving power of Jesus Christ. I act as if no transformation is present in my life. In truth, all too often, I pray like a Christian, but then pounce like a pagan.
This uncompleted transformation is the Apostle Paul’s concern for the Corinthian church as he writes the letter we call 1 Corinthians, and especially the passage we mark as 15:1-2.
Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. (NASU)
I’ve already mentioned that pagan can mean holding to no religion. The word also refers to belief in many gods and practicing this belief in ways that monotheistic religions consider unholy—such as child sacrifice or ritualized sex. Both definitions of pagan surrounded the Christians in Corinth. Outside the church walls were many temples to many gods, and many prostitutes who served those gods. Inside the church walls were people who distorted the gospel in many ways—from forcing competition among church leaders that led to church division (ch. 3), to celebrating their tolerance of an incestuous relationship (ch. 5), to suing each other and thus ruining their testimony to pagans (ch.6), to not understanding the place of marriage within the Christian community (ch.7), to disputing whether food offered to idols made one more or less of a Christian (ch. 8), to a myriad of issues about the reason for, the order or and the appropriate conduct of worship services (ch.11 ff). Like me and like you, there were many ways for the Corinthian Christians to pray like Christians, but to live as if they did not believe in the God who makes salvation possible in Jesus Christ.
Several times in this letter, Paul points to our Christian faith as an integrating and transforming principle for all of life, each time appealing to the pervasive power of the gospel message. One of the best known is found in 10:31 at the conclusion of his discussion about food offered to idols:
So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. (NIV)
And here, as Paul opens his great discourse on the resurrection of Jesus in 1 Corinthians 15, he reminds this church he loves so much that the gospel is the center of whatever they do.
- He preached this gospel to them. That is why they even exist as a church.
- They received this gospel. That is why they formed a church.
- They took their stand on this gospel. That is why their church was different than the many pagan temples around them.
- They were being saved because of this gospel. Paul deliberately uses a form of the verb “saved” to demonstrate that their salvation in the gospel was an ongoing process. They were saved and they were being saved. Their church fellowship and unity needed to be strong in order to keep a proper focus on the gospel. Paul states they must hold firmly to it.
If these Christians lost sight of the gospel, the work of preaching it, and the results of belief in it would be in vain.
Paul repeats the gospel message frequently in his writings, and he does so here in 1 Corinthians 15:3ff so that there is no mistaking what he means before he launches more fully into his discourse on the resurrection of Jesus. Paul serves as an example for all leaders of why frequent repetition of a mission statement is so critical to getting that sense of mission into the fabric of an organization. The gospel is the mission, and living it out is the core of all mission-related activity for the Christian. By taking our stand on it, repeatedly; by calling it to mind repeatedly; by reminding each other of what it is and what it means, repeatedly, we are more likely to stop pouncing like pagans, and to keep praying and serving like Christians.
For now, let’s note that the gospel is a little different between how Jesus preached it and how the apostles preached it.
- Jesus and John the Baptist: “The time has come . . .The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15 NIV).
- Peter at Pentecost: “ God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of this fact. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. . . .Therefore, let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ. . . .Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 2:32-39 NIV).
- Paul at Athens: “. . .now [God] calls all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17: 30,31 NIV).
When John the Baptist and Jesus, preached the gospel, they looked forward to the act of salvation God was bringing. When the apostles and early Christians preached the gospel, however, they looked back to the events of the crucifixion that brought salvation, the resurrection that showed God’s power over death, and the ascension that exalts Jesus as part of the Triune God, who intercedes for us, pours out his Spirit upon us, and is preparing a place for us. Thus, once the act of bringing salvation was complete, the content of the gospel expanded naturally and accordingly.
In essence, Jesus says, “Here I am!” For the apostles and we who represent this third generation of Christianity[i] the message is “the resurrection happened!” This is especially important to the Apostle Paul and for his conversation here as he sets down the resurrection as the reason the gospel is reliable. For Paul, if there is no resurrection there is no gospel. If the Corinthians stopped believing in the gospel, then, they might slip all the way back into paganism.
Further discussion on this subject can dip deep into theology and quickly lose those of us who don’t make a habit of reading 2,000 page books in a 10 point font. Here is a diagram I developed to try to convey it in a simpler fashion:
Each of us has a region of what we care about. For the non-religious person (pagan) or the person whose religious impulse is to try to stay out of a god’s notice, the region is care of self. While this sentiment exists in all places, times and cultures, never has it been so refined a notion as the philosophical work of Fredrick Nietzsche in the 19th century, and the economic theory offered by Milton Friedman and the Chicago school alongside Ayn Rand’s utopian writings such as Atlas Shrugged in the 20th. The influence of the individual self as over and above all else held great sway in both U.S. and global economic policy since the Reagan years. It serves as at least one significant contributing factor to the economic turmoil we have faced recently—especially the emphasis on short-term results at the expense of long-term relationships with customers, workers and vendors.
The pagan cares about their welfare and will sacrifice yours without thought in order to feel more secure and to get what they want.
A higher level of care is when one cares about their progeny. This might be direct, biological descendants, or people with whom you have significant relationship because you hired them or taught them. In this sense, progeny might also be a thing—such as a business you built or a book you wrote. This is the approach taken by the Sadducees in Jesus’ day. It is also the impulse behind loyalty to the clan or tribe or ethnic group we see continuing to operate in much of the Middle East, the Balkan region and throughout Africa. And for those of you, who like me, share Scotch-Irish ancestry, let’s not forget that the Hatfields and McCoy’s continued their clannish feud here in the U.S. until at least the 1890’s.
The Sadducee doesn’t believe in the resurrection, or at least it doesn’t matter to her or his values. The closest thing to eternal life they can see is the importance of continuing their family—passing along the values taught by their ancestors. Thus, the Sadducee is deeply concerned that enemies are sidelined or even vanquished so that the people they are part of are not threatened and their way of life continues.
In contrast to the pagan and the Sadducee is the Christian whose region of care rises higher still, to that of one’s neighbor, and we know from the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10) that our neighbor can be the very person who threatens our self-preservation, or the enemy who threatens the well-being of our people group. According to Jesus, his followers love their neighbors as themselves (Luke 10:27). According to the apostles, those who received the gospel feed their enemy and slake his or her thirst, overcoming evil with good (Romans 12:20,21). And according to what Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15, the fuel underneath it all—that which makes it all real and worthwhile—is the evidence of Jesus’ resurrection. Because it is real, and because we immerse ourselves in it, we keep preaching and living the gospel as servants of the world, not just ourselves or our families. It is because of this resurrection that the entire universe gathers around the throne of God and sings this song of praise to the Resurrected One:
“You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals,
Because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God
From every tribe and language and people and nation.
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
And they will reign on the earth.”
(Revelation 5:9,10) NIV
In v. 2, Paul states his concern that to lose this perspective is to lose the power of the gospel. Postmodern thinking and culture is also moving into a post Christian way of thinking and living. Moving beyond the gospel, we regress to thinking at best about our progeny, and at worst, just about ourselves. Paul contends it is much easier to move forward and up than it is backwards and up. Remaining resident with our Christian calling, then, requires a persistent articulation of and reflection upon the gospel. It is difficult to claim it again if we once chose to abandon it.
The understanding we should hold after considering all this, is that the resurrection is proof of God at work in redeeming the world, and that it gives us a reason to keep articulating and reflecting upon the gospel. The power within the gospel saves me personally, satisfying my pagan interest. It brings hope for my family and peoplehood, satisfying the love held by the Sadducee impulse. And, it places me in a position to see as God sees and act as God acts.
Friends, I want to remind you of the gospel. It has been preached to you. You received it. You chose to make a stand on it. This gospel brings you salvation and keeps you oriented in the place you truly belong. Hold firmly to it. Don’t let go of it, or all this effort is in vain.
[i] The first generation is those who witnessed Jesus on earth. The second generation is those Christians reached by those who were witness to Jesus. We in the third generation are those who did not witness the life and ministry of Jesus, and did not learn about the gospel from those who did.
Keep moving or die as a slogan for work and life never felt more apropos than now.
- Each advance we make in business procedure or consultative technique is quickly matched by competitors who are just as eager to live to see another day.
- Each dollar we squeeze demands to be squeezed even more.
- Technology just keeps making quantum leaps forward. For instance, I’m writing this in an internet-based word processing program we are testing with the hope to increase our company’s computing mobility.
- Few if any economic certainties allow us to rest on past patterns of procuring and retaining clients.
So we keep pushing on. But it isn’t because we must. It is because I’m privileged to work with a group of people committed to keep moving. We enjoy it. We relish the challenge to design betters way of operating organizationally. We believe it is the grist from which we can guide other organizations down the same path of a thriving survival.
You might be interested to know that these are matters that concerned Theodore Roosevelt, the 26 th President of the United States. His concern did not flow just from the politician or warrior that he was, but also connected to his deep interest and exploits in natural science. Speaking at the Académie de Sciences Morales et Politiques in France, following his presidency and a lengthy hunting safari in Africa to collect museum pieces, he said:
“It Is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”
-mark l vincent
Lorie and I began pastoral ministry in an urban setting–First Mennonite Church of Fort Wayne, Indiana, the congregation where the Ft. Wayne Rescue Mission began. Our congregation was populated in the 1950s and 1960s by young adults coming from Iowa, Illinois and Ohio farms to work in Alternate Service in Fort Wayne. A good number found their spouses and chose to remain in the city rather than return to the farm. In the 1970′s the congregation added to its population by assisting refugees coming from Laos and Chile. By the time I became the pastor in the 1980′s all that was over. No-one was having babies anymore and no-one was moving to the city from the farms. If our church was going to stay the same size or grow it needed to engage in outreach with the people in the church neighborhood.
So this is what we did . . .and with some success. We reached a number of people with no church connection at all, or just a marginal one they had abandoned after childhood. A good number of these folks had significant life agenda to address in order to follow Jesus with all their heart, soul, mind and strength. Many had been divorced multiple times, usually siring/birthing children each time. There was a good deal of former addiction. One particularly tough scenario was an unemployed couple who came to us pregnant with their second child, but the woman was not yet divorced from her previous husband.
This made my time with other Mennonite pastors quite interesting. Their churches were debating whether the rare divorced person that came their way could become a member of their congregations. Many of our newly baptized were divorced. usually more than once. They wondered whether a couple who had once lived together could be married in the church–even if they repented from it. I was a pastor for seven years before I had a wedding where the couple had not lived together.
In short, the people our sister congregations would not embrace as members were the ones we were reaching and preparing for leadership. Instead of trying to debate who was right, we decided the best thing was to return to scripture as the point for our orientation. We tried to study it without bias so we could learn what was appropriate to do in identifying and preparing new church leaders.
I’ve led some significant study in recent months where we did something similar. We returned to the early chapters of Matthew to reacquaint ourselves with Jesus because so many have differing perspectives on who he is and what he taught. In this study we learned Jesus was a person who did not care where the cross was hung on the church wall, who did not cut off relationships with others based on whether the church had an organ or not, and who sets the example of leadership development with people like Judas, Peter and Matthew by his side – all men who would be disqualified in many churches. The manner and method of Jesus give us good insight into what is appropriate and what is not when identifying, calling and preparing leaders. The scene of the early church in Acts 6 as it appoints its first Deacons gives us even more insight. Yes, Acts 6 yields many insights on many subjects, but none more than identifying church leaders.
A brief summary of the passage is that the Greek speaking widows were not receiving material support as were the Hebrew speaking widows. The Greek speaking widows shared the same ethnic heritage–all of them were Jewish– but their culture was substantially different from Hebrew speakers.The Hebrew widows were supplied better because they had natural connections and networks as long-time residents of Jerusalem. The complaints of the Greek speaking widows reached the apostles who met to deal with the situation. They determined that service (the Greek word is diakonia, where we get the word Deacon) is deeply important, important enough to appoint other godly leaders to oversee a more just collection and distribution of material support for the Greek speaking widows. They asked the Jerusalem congregation to identify such leaders and they did. The diaconate was born.
I believe there are at least five significant observations to make as we watch the apostles identify, call and bless new leaders to lead. I offer these observations with the suggestion that the method of leadership selection modeled by the early church is exemplary for us today. We do not need to make the task more difficult than it already is, and we gain no benefit by adding complexity to the simplicity of their method.
1. Ministry is emphasized and expanded, not diluted. The apostles make a distinction between their work of prayer/ministry of the word from “service.” They did not rank them as if one was more important than the other. Instead, they preserved both by expanding roles and identifying new leaders. Had they tried to include the work of service into what the apostles were already doing, ministry effectiveness would become diluted and dissatisfaction would have increased.
2. The expectations of leadership characteristics are high, not low. My daughter attends a church that takes this sort of high expectation seriously. Much like many other leading congregations have discovered, they expect significant training before people are recognized in service ministries of various sorts. My daughter is considering whether she wants to join her congregation’s Stephen ministry program. Her church will expect her to voluntarily participate in a year’s worth of preparation before she can represent the congregation in this ministry.
Similarly, the new leaders in Acts 6 were to be filled with the Spirit and connected to wisdom. The spiritual community surrounding them needed to recognize these gifts and call them out. Warm body slot-filling was of no use and would violate the process.
3. These high expectations were used to identify leaders, not to prevent them or remove them from leadership. Some people try to use these standards of Acts 6 (or also Titus 1 or 1 Timothy 3) to disrespect or remove current leaders. They tell fellow church members, ”I know what our pastor did when they were ten years old. So I can’t respect them as a leader.” Or, “I overheard an argument they were having. This means their marriage is troubled and they have no right to be a leader.” If these were the real standards and this was the way they should be applied, then no one could serve!
Others are sorely tempted to discard these standards because they feel they are so high that no-one will agree to serve. So they fill leadership spots with people who don’t know how to say no, or as a means to try to keep someone involved they are afraid might bail. Sometimes they even guilt a person into the role. “It’s your turn. The rest of us are tired,” they say.
Whether it is disrespect or discarding the standards, such actions set up new leaders for failure—a completely different experience from Acts 6 where deacons were called to the role because of their godliness.
4. The kingdom of God is grown, not reigned in or controlled at the apostolic level. This is the underlying mission and foundational impulse of apostolic choices throughout the book of Acts. Perhaps the most critical part of the decision to expand leadership to these new deacons was the apostles’ conviction that they must stay focused on the mission and let the mission guide the decision.
5. Money serves the kingdom, not the other way around. And how often have we seen it the other way around —-kingdom work set aside and “pay the bills” language inserted when we discuss money? When we make the kingdom serve money we delay important, life-giving and faithful action. Sometimes we even reduce the capacity for God’s people to be generous because we substitute fundraising speech for the more appealing invitation to expand ministry.
This text points at us and says “Follow our example!”
If we do follow their example we grow the kingdom instead of preserve a heritage. We identify and train leaders — taking the risk of their failure over the risk of their never having led. And, we keep the church a living extension of the ministry of Jesus Christ, rather than something we feel belongs to us alone.
I have now lived through my own growing up and the growing up of my children. In both these generations I witnessed many persons being called to and nurtured into leadership, including myself, my wife, my children and a good number of our friends. The bright and wondrous moments during all these years came in taking the risks to grow the kingdom. The dark and unhappy moments were when leaders and parishioners, both, gave in to concerns over getting what they want or preserving the kingdom they had built. In such dark moments the living body of Christ was turned into a tomb of memories.
So . . . let us count ourselves a living body, not an empty building, especially as we call out new leaders, prepare them for ministry, and let them lead.
-mark l vincent
The following sermon has a diagram in it that sparked a conversation among many families who call Prairieview Mennonite Church their church home-even though the diagram did not project very well on the large screen. It is produced here so that everyone has access to it, but also because this sermon sets the stage for a period of significant discernment the congregation now enters. Its presence here gives us a point of reference we can keep referring to along the way.
Grace that is Grrrrreat!: A sermon from Acts 4:32-37
It only takes a minute to lose sight of Who I belong to and the values I hold. Without regular time in worship, bible study and prayer; without consistent time in Christian sisters and brothers where we encourage one another toward faithfulness, then where I do spend time will influence my responses.
Here is a recent incident from my life . . . .
Lorie and I were at the movie theatre in the middle of the afternoon. It was a good-sized theatre and maybe six people were seated when we entered. We chose a seat in the front row of the upper section and behind the rail. We kept two seats between us and the far wall.
Just after we entered, two women entered and it did not take long to establish that one of these two friends was obsessive-compulsive. She wanted the seat next to the wall in our specific row–the two seats between me and the wall. This was difficult to do without Lorie and I abandoning our seats so they could clamber over us, and socially awkward to do since almost all the other seats were open. This woman’s friend felt the awkwardness and suggested they simply move up a row, still against the wall but in the top row of the lower section. So they moved along.
In less than a minute the obsessive-compulsive friend made it clear she was not comfortable and would not sit there a moment longer. Her accommodating friend offered to move to the middle of the same row. They began to move in that direction, but without even sitting down, the first woman turned and marched back to the seats she wanted in the first place, pinched between me and the wall.
Lorie and I stood up and moved to the side so they could climb around the rail and claim their desired seats. The accommodating friend climbed up last, apologizing for our inconvenience and accidentally spilling a good deal of her popcorn on me in the process. She was embarrassed but her friend cared not. Instead, she began a nonstop narrative of mundane matters that threatened to continue long after the movie started.
My story does not stop there. We still had a few minutes before the movie began. Lorie remembered she had not yet turned off her cell phone and reached down to turn it off just as it began to ring. It was our daughter who had been traveling and we were delighted to know she arrived safely. Lorie decided to leave the theatre momentarily, take the call and turn off her phone before returning. I placed the little satchel we were carrying on her seat to mark it as occupied, but it did not stop the advance of two couples who wanted the seats on the aisle side of where we were sitting. Apparently they believed these were the best seats in the house. The woman at the front of their little column marched right up and claimed Lorie’s seat, actually beginning to hand me our satchel so she could sit in Lorie’s seat. I tried to politely indicate that my wife had been sitting there and would return momentarily. The woman would have nothing of the sort, glaring at me then turning toward her now seated husband as if he was supposed to do something about this obstinate man who would not let her sit down. He looked at the couple beside him to see if they could scoot down a seat, but they were unwilling to move to the empty seats beside them. Feeling the pressure, he offered his wife his seat and said he would look elsewhere for a place to sit. At that point I intervened, glad for an excuse to claim empty seats elsewhere from the many remaining open. I offered ours up, told everyone I was more than fine with moving so they could have their precious seats, and went to claim new ones for Lorie and myself.
While I might sound like I handled the situation with grace, and as much as I want you to think I did, internally I was seething. Whatever was in my grace account that afternoon was now fully dispensed. Had anyone else crowded in on me, spilled something on me or crossed me in some way, I fear I would have been unkind. Worse, I was vulnerable enough to have taken it out on Lorie had we disagreed about something later that afternoon.
This is why I say it only takes a moment for me to forget what my values are and the Christ to whom I am committed. This is why I say it is important for me to embed myself in a Christian community, bible study, worship and prayer so I do not forget who I am pledged to be in moments like these.
Many relationships work like those playing out in that movie theatre. Even a novice observer of human relationships can see it at work if they take time to look. Someone issues commands over their environment. Their companion accommodates. Someone believes they personally bear responsibility for what takes place in their environment and initiates action. Another believes others hold the responsibility and waits to respond to what someone else initiates.
Here is a diagram that illustrates how these dynamics intersect with each other:
Across the top runs a continuum of control. The further left, the more adaptive and accommodating a person tends to be in that particular relationship. The more to the right, the more a person attempts to command and control. The left side shows another continuum, this one showing the center of responsibility. The more a person takes personal responsibility, the higher up they move on the continuum. The more they look to others for responsibility and initiative, the lower they move on the continuum. The intersection, then, where these dynamics meet, maps out the gifts and differences people bring to their relationships and communities. I attached silly names to each quadrant as reminders of what happens when people begin to grate on each other and forcefulness of their style comes into play. The names turtle and skunk are attached to the top continuum indicating how a person views control. Turtles pull their heads in and sulk. Skunks spray their environment.
I developed this diagram from several sources, chief among them are lectures from Willis Breckbill, one of my mentors, now retired after serving as the conference minister for Indiana Michigan Mennonite Conference. He pointed out that turtles might marry one another, and a skunk might marry a turtle, but if two skunks marry, one of them must act as a turtle in order for the marriage to work. I would add that regardless of whether this is workplace team, family, marriage, service organization or church, you cannot escape these relationship dynamics. If you are going to see any of them last in a long-term and covenantal fashion, you must work to soften the rough edges of yourself, even as others do the same– so that the benefits brought by each style can be had by all. The fuel for this, of course, is grace.
In my marriage Lorie tends to be more direct and I tend to be more accommodating. This does not mean I don’t have desires or that Lorie is inflexible. I am simply describing how we function in our relationship. When we are out of touch with grace she can get a little skunky and I can sulk like a turtle with his head encased in his shell. Yet, when we soften ourselves and show grace to one another, Lorie benefits from my instincts to be flexible and I benefit from her instincts to hold out for one’s expectations. When we call on grace we both benefit and we become a formidable and closely-knit team.
This plays out in a congregation as well. Those who desire control over their circumstances want to debate issues and move on. They are pretty confident they will win the debate anyway so they relish and dive into good arguments. “Put the issues on the table!” they say. “Let’s have it out and be done with it.” They figure they can work out relationships after the dust settles. If losers do not want to live in peace afterwards then that is their problem. And, if they happen to lose the debate, then all those wrong-headed people at their (former) church can have their stupid old church. They will find another one that agrees with them. Or, perhaps they will start their own church.
Those who tilt toward accommodation tend to be quiet when others call for open debate. They are the first to defer to the stronger opinions of others. They try to make peace or try not to get in the way–to the point they lose touch with their own opinions and/or feelings until after everyone else has moved on without them. Then, when they finally figure out their preferences it sounds as if they hold everyone else back. “You had a chance to say what you were thinking. Why didn’t you weigh in then?” they are told. But the truth is they were either too busy trying to help others get along, or they were too afraid of being trampled under the forceful opinions of others to be a full participant in the conversation. We must also note that many accommodating people disappear altogether in these moments–waiting to see how it all turns out. If they see a peaceful community continuing into the future they will re-engage, but they will not be part of bringing it into being.
Can you see how each style grates on the others if not for grace providing lubrication for those relationships, fueling the needed appreciation for the benefits each style brings to the community? Where would we be if it were not for the strengths that others bring that compensate for our weaknesses? To be Christian, in part, is to keep returning to the Source of all grace, and to be the people who make families, workplaces and congregations work in spite of where we find ourselves and others as skunks or turtles. We are the ones called to show what grace can do.
This is an important discussion for a congregation seeking its next pastor, trying to discern how it will reach out to its community, and considering if it needs to adapt its structure in some way. These need to be careful, guided and deeply spiritual discussions where all our gifts provide benefit, where we are patient with one another, where we encourage and trust our leaders, and where leader exemplify the grace and peace needed to lead well. In short, we need to draw on the grace of God.
It is good, then, to consider scripture texts where God’s people work together or need to make a decision, and to try to learn from their examples. Central to all these texts–the beginning place for our instruction–is Acts 4:32-37. And central within the text is the phrase great grace was upon them all.
“Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.”
This early account, summarizing wonderful ministry experiences of the first ever congregation, has been used to justify almost anything a congregation wishes to do. It has been used to justify both capitalism and Marxism. Church leaders who want to establish their apostolic authority appeal to this text, as do those who want church life to be communal. This text is also used to browbeat fellow Christians into being more evangelistic, more generous or more gracious to one another.
As always, we are helped by asking why Luke provides us with this summary. We readily discover that Luke shows us that what Jesus promised in Acts1:8 is coming true, and in wondrous ways. Luke provides evidence that Jesus was who he said he was, that Jesus was establishing his the church through his disciples, and that the Spirit that rested on him as he began this movement now rested on them as they continued it. It was this gift of the Holy Spirit, as much as anything else, that constituted the great grace that was upon them.
If we look more closely we can learn a little more about this congregation and the great grace that was upon them.
1. The disciples continued the rhythm of Jesus’ ministry. When we study the ministry of Jesus we find he followed a consistent rhythm of ministry: solitude and prayer followed by time in community, and then engaging in public ministry. This kept Jesus operational, in shape to continue ministering rather than collapsing in exhaustion, or becoming addicted to the adrenaline of performing for others in order to receive their praise. It appears from these early chapters in Acts that the disciples were doing the same; extensive time together in fellowship and prayer, followed by works of ministry, then returning to the cloister of a prayerful community once more. Grace flows from this rhythm because it keeps us in touch with the grace we received, preparing us to display this grace to others.
2. The disciples continued the rhythm of generosity they had always practiced. Deep within the DNA of an observant Jew was the calendar of Sabbaths, feasts, and the generosity they made possible. By not working one out of seven days, and by observing all the feasts, and by rotating land into and out of crop production so it too could rest TIME was freed up to rest and be available In service to others. By using this time to gather for worship where faith commitments would be recited and expounded upon, they developed an INCLINATION to be generous and merciful, turning themselves into ministry-oriented people. And by living in the rhythm of not taking all they could take because they religiously chose not to work all the time, not gleaning to the corners of their fields so that landless people might also have a food source, and then bringing the first and best of what they did take to God’s house as an act of worship, they developed RESOURCE for ministry. This means observant Jews regularly supplied TIME, INCLINATION and RESOURCE to form a ministering community. These early church members were observant Jews. They simply continued with what they had always practiced. The Law no longer compelled them, grace did. They chose to continue because God’s Spirit and its resulting great grace rested upon them.
Luke does us the favor of reporting how it worked, and providing a model for our own affairs.
Do you want to see your congregation get through a season of important decisions? Do you want to do it in a way that shows you are in touch with God’s great grace? Do you want to do it in such a way that the written records of it describe a time of holy activity and manifestations of God’s Spirit among you? Then you must commit yourselves to the Jesus rhythm of ministry and this ongoing rhythm of generosity. In this way you keep adding to the grace account. Grace will provide the needed oil to lubricate the rough edges of your personalities. Without it, we will grate upon each other. Without it, instead of reports of your proceedings telling of wonder and awe, they will tell of how wonderfully awful it all became.
May God’s grace be renewed in your hearts and in all your affairs. Today and always. A-men.
-mark l vincent
Storms cancelled church services this past Sunday. Here is the un-preached sermon.
What is God doing and how can I be part of it?
a sermon from Luke 1:67-80
Long-time church members have a pretty good idea of what an endearing and long-tenured pastor of a congregation does. Their mental pictures of what such a pastor looks like might be different. They might have a different gender in mind, but what they think that pastor does is pretty consistent.
Church members want their pastor to be present with them in their community–a fixture so to speak. They want their pastor to preach effectively, intelligent but not overly intellectual, studious but mostly practical in their preaching, friendly to everyone, able to help the congregation focus on outreach and growth without making anyone feel guilty about their fears or lack of involvement. They want someone who develops other leaders, and who is authentic more than anything.
The priest Zechariah seemed to be such a religious leader. And interestingly, it seems that God also looks for and honors leaders like him. You can read about Zechariah in the first chapter of Luke’s gospel. Together, with his wife Elizabeth, they endeared themselves to the people they served in the hill country of Judea.
Background to the text
To understand a bit more about Zechariah and Elizabeth, we do well to start with the book of Malachi, the book that closes the period of the old covenant, what we refer to as the Old Testament.
The prophet Malachi delivers an indictment against a corrupt priesthood. He uses the image of God as a Father who is being dishonored by his son. The rest of the letter tells us how the priests and ultimately the people of God, were dishonoring God, their father.
These priests brought meaningless and worthless offerings to worship — their last and worst instead of their first and best (ch.1). Malachi viewed this terrible example of religious leadership as inappropriate and incomplete instruction, instruction that caused God’s people to stumble. The priests of Malachi’s day were teaching God’s people that inappropriate honoring of God is acceptable (ch.2). Malachi also viewed this as acting treacherously toward God—as if a son acted treacherously toward his father.
Malachi believed that the priests of his day continued this treacherous behavior by treating marriage casually (ch.2), that is, treating the marriage relationship just as casually as they treated their relationship with God. The Hebrew Scriptures are full of comparisons of the husband-wife relationship to that of God and God’s people. These were to be covenants of life-long faithfulness, and once again the priesthood was corrupting the message by casually dismissing their spouses when they tired of them. The priests were doing evil and calling it good.
Malachi concludes this indictment against the priesthood by returning to the theme of giving. In addition to treating worship and marriage casually, the priests were not returning the firstfruits to God. A key if not THE key evidence of a heart relationship with God is participation in the tithe. Jesus affirms this principle in his teaching–not as a matter of legalism, but again, as a sign of living in relationship with God that funds actions of justice and mercy (Matthew 23:23). We see the early church continuing this practice immediately in the opening chapters of Acts as they brought proceeds from their economic activity to fund the work of the church, especially showing mercy to those in extreme need (Acts 4-6).
Malachi ends with a prophecy:
“Behold, I am going to send you Elijah, the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord. And he will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the land with a curse.” (4:5,6 NASB)
Malachi is not just referring to fathers/sons in getting their hearts reunited, but God and God’s people. Both are intended. And here is the connection to Zechariah: the angel Gabriel uses these same words (luke 1:16,17) when making the announcement that Zechariah and Elizabeth will have a son after years of infertility and in spite of their advanced age.
* * * * *
In the years after Israel was scattered from its homeland and the original temple was destroyed, the Jews set up communities and places to gather for worship. We call them synagogues to this day, and they are the model on which Christian congregations (the ekklesia) were built. The Jewish priesthood scattered to the villages and nations where the people lived and brought leadership to these synagogues. This is what Zechariah was doing in Judah.
When the second temple was built in the years prior to the birth of Jesus, temple service began again, with priests taking turns coming to Jerusalem to serve for a time at the temple. Zechariah was carrying out just such a special duty when he was visited by Gabriel and told he and Elizabeth would have a son. This son would be the means for Malachi’s prophesy to be fulfilled. Luke 1:6 tells us that Zechariah and Elizabeth stood in contrast to the corrupt priests in Malachi. They were righteous before God and walked blamelessly. They were the type of religious leaders God honored.
* * * * *
By Zechariah’s day, there was significant tension within Judaism. A Greek translation of what we call the Old Testament, The Septuagint (LXX), was developed for Jews who had not lived in the homeland and who had not learned Hebrew or Aramaic. This felt like cultural accommodation to some, and more traditional Jews looked down their noses at the ones influenced by Greek (Hellenic) culture. We see this same tension in the early church when the Greek speaking widows were not being cared for in the same way that long-time Jerusalem residents were when they become widows (Acts 6). This intercultural and perhaps inter-generational tension was tearing at the fabric of the religion. Yet, here came the promise that God was sending someone who would turn the hearts of sons and fathers back to each other–a renewal most profoundly experienced at the Jordan River when crowds of people came to hear John and then Jesus preach that the kingdom of heaven was at hand.
So, it is in this setting that the angel comes, surprises Zechariah with this news, and then makes him unable to speak until his son is named because Zechariah did not immediately believe the news.
The scene of Zechariah’s first words after being struck mute is at the naming of his son John. Everyone in the village gathers’ round. Perhaps Mary was there also, still visiting her cousin Elizabeth as her own pregnancy developed. The phrase in Luke 1:57 that the neighbors and relatives were “rejoicing with her” paints the scene that this was a beloved couple who had operated faithfully as they served God in this village.
Zechariah surprises everyone by not naming his son after himself, and when asked to confirm that this was indeed the name, Zechariah finds his tongue loosed and he begins to sing. Once again, just like Hannah and Mary, at a moment of high joy, a person who loves God and has aligned their life to participate in what God is doing breaks into song.
Here is what he sang:
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
For He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people,
And has raised up a horn of salvation for us
In the house of David His servant —
As He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from of old —
Salvation from our enemies,
And from the hand of all who hate us;
To show mercy toward our fathers,
And to remember His holy covenant,
The oath which He swore to Abraham our father,
To grant us that we, being rescued from the hand of our enemies,
Might serve Him without fear,
In holiness and righteousness before Him all our days.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
For you will go on before the Lord to prepare his ways;
To give to His people the knowledge of salvation
By the forgiveness of their sins,
Because of the tender mercy of our God,
With which the Sunrise from on high will visit us,
To shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death,
To guide our feet into the way of peace”
-(Luke 1:67-79 NASB)
What is God doing and how can I be part of it?
What enemies leave you in fear? Terrorists who want to destroy your culture? Disease that ravages your body? Mental illness that holds a loved one in slavery? Temptation that won’t leave you alone?
Zechariah knew what God was doing. God was bringing salvation—especially salvation from enemies like these (v.71). In Jesus, fear of your enemies no longer needs to drive you. You now can live in hope. The coming of Jesus — his death, resurrection, ascension, and promised return — ultimately removes these enemies.
Because we live in a fallen world, where the full work of redemption is more our hope than our reality, it is difficult to get our minds around this–especially when the enemy in whatever form is near at hand and seems to be succeeding. Here is how I’ve come to understand it:
- Jesus helps me in the moment of facing an enemy, if I remember to call on him as my Savior and Lord.
- Jesus has helped me in eternity, even when I don’t remember and even if my enemy wins in this life.
There is both a NOW and a NOT YET to this as there are so many things. Perhaps a phrase I use a lot would be of some use here: “I live in the now not the not yet, but the not yet is in my heart now.” I don’t know where I first learned it, but I find it helpful perspective as I participate in God’s saving work now, and while I wait for the full fruit of it to come.
Zechariah also knew that God saves us from unholiness and unrighteousness (v.75) Given Zechariah and Elizabeth’s reputation, this is a subject Zechariah would care about greatly. He knew holiness and righteousness are not determined by whether one worships at the temple or synagogue, speaks Hebrew or Greek, one’s physical location, or the generation one is from. Instead, it is the commitment to set one’s life apart to serve God. Setting apart in this way is done through renewal of one’s heart and changed behavior instead of external trappings and traditions (see Ephesians 4:17-24). Zechariah celebrates that setting oneself apart for God would be more possible than ever.
Zechariah knew that God was offering forgiveness of sin (v.77). Here, even before the gospel message is preached in the Judean countryside by his son John, we see where John might have picked up the message. Forgiveness makes the changed life possible. It is the source of renewal. Forgiveness gives us the needed experience with mercy. Armed with experience and knowledge of mercy, people can become God’s servants, extensions of God’s mercy into the lives of others.
This is what God is doing. This is how we become part of it! In your embrace of the mercy God offers you become an instrument of God’s holiness and righteousness.
* * * *
So, Once again, we see that asking “what is God doing?” is not a difficult mystery to solve. Neither is asking how we can be part of it. Zechariah, the priest who opens the New Testament along with his wife Elizabeth, provides a family portrait that contrasts with the religious community with which the Old Testament closes. Our life in giving and worship demonstrates whether we have understood the mercy we received from God. When we respond to God’s mercy through our life in giving and worship, we make it possible to provide a community that extends God’s mercy, as we meet together, as we encourage one another, as we sharpen each other, and as we make it possible to care for widows, orphans, strangers, and any other person bereft of what God offers to all of us.
If you have not yet received God’s forgiveness, open your heart and receive it. If you are disconnected from God, then begin the practices of gratitude and love for the people of God once more. And as you do, watch joy and transformation unfold all over again.
-mark l vincent
We have been assisting the Ecumenical Stewardship Center, based in Indianapolis, on a number of fronts (www.stewardshipresources.org). One of them is developing a network of capital campaign providers who connect to the Christian denominational families. We think they need to strengthen their place in the marketplace because their services are excellent and they usually provide a less expensive and supportive alternative to the selling of services and production goals of some commercial firms. Here are some frequently asked questions and answers about this new service available through the Ecumenical Stewardship Center.
Why form a network of capital campaign providers among participating denominations? Denominationally-affiliated congregations make more use of capital campaign assistance than ever before, and from an increasing variety of service providers. These providers may or may not adhere to the standards or expectations set in place by a particular denomination.
Persons and organizations within denominations that provide capital campaign services previously had little knowledge of each other. By linking them together through the Ecumenical Stewardship Center, they can assist one another, discover efficiencies, establish partnerships, improve methodology and create larger pools of consultative help for specialized situations. It also makes it possible to serve a larger market and make denominationally-connected providers more competitive with para-church and commercial providers.
When money is paid to para-church or commercial providers, that money is no longer available to recirculate within that denomination’s economy. None of that money circulates back as loans to churches, contributions to mission, support of church camps or for covering administrative costs for the denomination. When a denominational provider serves a congregation as capital campaign counsel, the fees circulate within the denominational family, coming back to serve sister congregations and organizations.
The current marketplace of capital campaign providers for congregations can be described as:
Solo operators — Solo operators usually prefer to do the fundraising portion of a campaign alone. These consultants are usually local and part-time. Their fees are usually subsidized via private income.
Loss leaders — These firms provide free or discounted capital campaign service tied to paid services such as architecture, construction or financing debt the campaign does not cover.
Denominational campaign services — They provide process centered and relational fundraising for congregations, with a deep understanding of the denomination’s culture and polity. These services have been subsidized by denominations in the past, but increasingly must earn their own way.
For-profit consulting firms — These firms, whether para-church or commercial, usually employ a sales force and professional campaign consultants. Fees for these firms are usually the highest, usually involving a proprietary method that is sold repeatedly.
Denominational campaign services must compete in this marketplace. Denominational services focus on the congregation and can build on multiple relationships that are already in place because of a common history. This gives the consultants the opportunity to be process-centered and relational, providing an important distinctive within this marketplace. A tighter coordination of denominationally based capital campaign services strengthens this option within the marketplace.
Who plays what role in this network?
- Providers maintain their service while participating in the network. Participation lets them draw on resources available from other providers, even to the point of borrowing other consultants when needed.
- Denominations that do not have their own capital campaign service can participate, recommending this service to their congregations.
- The Ecumenical Stewardship Center serves as the organizational home for this network of providers, and offers a referral service to congregations that contact the Ecumenical Stewardship Center looking for assistance.
What would show that this network is successful?
- Providers of capital campaign services with a denominational connection have a stronger and broader network of resources to call upon. This includes a deeper bench of skilled consultants.
- Those firms with denominational connections gain administrative efficiency, cost controls, similar expectations of consultant qualifications, preferred rates for constituent congregations and increasing similarity of quality and look/feel of campaigns. It also provides a stronger brand differentiation among the variety of providers that seek to sell their services.
- The campaigns serviced by this network of providers would feature the following distinctives that benefit both denominations and congregations:
Access to and involvement of the best in stewardship education providers.
Access to qualified capital campaign consultants with significant experience in fundraising.
Access to remedial resources and organizational development assistance when needed.
Ability to conduct annual campaigns and comprehensive stewardship audits.
Commitment to maintaining denominational distinction and relationships.
Where can we locate this service? The Ecumenical Stewardship Center ( www.stewardshipresources.org ), provides a referral service for participating providers. It also convenes providers annually for professional development and coordination of the service.
What is the charge for these services? The typical rate corresponds to a minimum campaign fee or .03 of the congregation’s operational budget, whichever number is greater. Campaign Readiness Assessments and development of campaign materials are additional.
-mark l vincent
On this eve of Quran burning (now apparently cancelled), worldwide riots about the possibility of Quran burning, a pastor who thinks an act of war against the country of his residence should be met with an act of sacrilege (is he the sort that would have sacrificed a pig on the altar of the Jewish temple because he felt the Jews crucified Christ?), and uncertainty how deep the rage against his actions will burn . . . .
In this time of economic turmoil where banks will only loan your own money to you, where the government counts the jobs it saved through stimulus funding as if they were all new jobs, and where homeowners can no longer borrow against their homes’ equity to start new businesses;
In this era of health care reform that needs to be reformed, political and religious speech confused with each other and widely mistaken for spirituality, reality shows that mean more than art, and widespread disregard for civility;
Let the believer be reminded that she is a person of hope.
Let the follower of Jesus recall that the yoke of Jesus is easy and the burden is light.
Let the people of God remain in touch with joy.
Let the one called Christian model the third way, the narrow road, the straight path.
Let us love God with all our hearts, souls, minds and strength——-and our neighbors as ourselves.
-mark l vincent
In this week where another nation overtook the U.S. as the number 1 energy consumer, I’ve been engaged in a conversation with Christians from many places about spiritual gluttony.
When I first heard the reference to spiritual gluttony my mind went immediately to the overwhelming number of American kitschy religious expressions, such as tiny reproductions of Roman instruments of torture (the cross) stencilled with country colors and converted to nametags at Christian bookstores, or gaudy tattoos of one’s favorite verse in honor of the death of a loved one, expensively inked in three colors and tattooed on one’s privates when on a grief-fueled bender. But while these actions are certainly an expression of making everything into Jesus without having to have a real relationship with him, it turns out what is meant by spiritual gluttony is chasing spiritual experiences for the sake of having them. This too, is a way of worshiping something other than God–of seeking to be in control of the relationship rather than worshiping a God who does what he pleases (Psalm 115:3).
St. John of the Cross, A Spanish Carmelite friar writing to fellow monks in the 16th century said it as well as anyone:
“Such persons expend all their effort in seeking spiritual pleasure and consolation; they never tire, therefore, of reading books; and they begin, now one meditation, now another, in their pursuit of this pleasure which they desire to experience in the things of God. But God, very justly, wisely, and lovingly, denies it to them, for otherwise this spiritual gluttony and inordinate appetite would breed innumerable evils. It is therefore, very fitting that they should enter into the dark night, whereof we shall speak, that they may be purged from this childishness.”
Rick Dugan, an acquaintance of mine who pastors an international church on the island of Cyprus, writes and then asks in response:
“What is pursued in spiritual gluttony today? Book to book, church to church, conference to conference, anointing to anointing, ministry to ministry, teacher to teacher … How do we break the cycle and find our satisfaction in Christ alone? Is there a difference between seeking Christ and seeking a spiritual high?”
Rick also notes, just as the U.S. is now second chair in energy gluttony, U.S. Christians may also be less gluttonous spiritually at the moment than other global Christians, even though much prosperity teaching has its source in the U.S. church:
“I think the manifestation of it here in Cyprus is probably different than in the US. We have a lot of prosperity/prophetic influence here. . . .Lots of supernatural with little scripture/mission. This is what comes to my mind when thinking about spiritual gluttony. But it’s always easier to see it in someone else than in myself.”
Others report a similar dynamic among African and Latin American Christians.
Loving God and loving things connected to God are not the same. They are merely connected.
Loving God and loving how one feels about God are not the same. One is saving. The other is merely sensual.
Food for thought of a sort . . .but don’t eat too much of it. You and I are better to live in the rhythm of eating, sleeping, loving, playing, working and serving. Too much of any one of these things make the others disappear.
-mark l vincent
Daniel Henninger’s recent and informative editorial on the recess appointment of Dr. Donald Berwick to head the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (Wall Street Journal, 15 July 2010, p.A15), was a sobering read, especially for my family where my wife, Lorie, is just getting underway with her thirteenth round of fighting cancer.
It prompted me to write to Mr. Henninger (something I just don’t do), and to post my response in this blog.
Here are links to the text and video versions of Mr. Henninger’s original comments:
And here is the letter I wrote:
Dear Mr. Henninger-
Your column in today’s WSJ regarding Dr. Berwick prompts me to write. Thank you for bringing this matter to national attention.
My wife, Lorie, has begun treatment for her 12th re-occurrence of cancer over an 11 year period. She has among the rarest of cancers (uterine leiomyosarcoma) and is an example of being the statistical outlier in every way. She is also an example of the individualized approach to treating cancer where the medical field is now seeing the best and most hopeful advances in treatment. This flies in the face of the excerpted comments of Dr. Berwick that you provide which point to centralized standards, and centralized planning put into effect by people no longer doing research or practicing medicine.
Outliers such as my wife are needed in order to propose new research, develop new protocols and cheaper treatments—the very development of the standards which Dr. Berwick wants to put into place. The problem, though, is that when planning is centralized standards quickly become outdated, and medical justice is ultimately denied to the very people Dr. Berwick would like to help.
9 years ago, my wife was told nothing more could be done and that she should be prepared to enter hospice. Her lungs were filling with tumors after already having half of one lung removed. We moved from Indiana to Wisconsin to be nearer family and for me to raise my children as a single father.
We began working with a new oncologist upon arrival who persuaded us to try something outside normal protocols, and from which something might be learned for future patients. Lorie nearly died during treatment, and has undergone a number of procedures since, but survived to see her son married this year, as well as her daughter graduate from college.
In this newest round of cancer, she will be among the first to go through a cyberknife treatment on four separate occasions. She has lived long enough by trying non-standardized treatment under the best doctors that we are daring to utter the words “chronic condition.” And because this outlying and heroic woman has worked in partnership with her doctors, new patients with similar conditions can begin treatment far less intrusively, far less expensively and with greater hope for long life.
-mark l vincent
p.s. Lorie’s story became a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article a few years ago, when she had her 7th cancer occurrence. If interested, you can find it at: http://www.redorbit.com/news/health/373416/lorie_vincent_was_told_cancer_would_kill_her_in_months/
(This material was originally presented April 2010 at the Christian Leadership Alliance Conference in San Diego)
Your organization’s answers to five strategic questions strengthen your ability to manage from income and in real time. Managing from income and in real time stands in contrast to managing from your expenses and after you receive expense reports.
QUESTION 1: How does your organization answer the question: What is your organization’s income?
The best answer includes all income sources, not just contributions and fees that help to pay operating expenses. The answer should also include non-income contributions that reduce expense, income you do not control but can influence because of your organizational connections and affiliations, and capital you can leverage.
It might be better to change the question to what is the size of your organization’s economy? When you are aware of and track all your income sources, you discover additional possibilities in addressing the financial realities of your organization–more than you discover if you work solely from operating income and related expenses.
QUESTION 2: Do you set expenses then try to raise the income, or do you match a realistic income expectation to anticipated expenses?
This is much more than a chicken and egg question. When you begin with expense then try to get income, all fundraising activity takes on an anxious tone. Even more, the fundraising message shifts to trying to recover money you already spent, making it even harder for your organization’s development officers to raise the support you need. When you start with a realistic expectation of income, however, (we suggest averaging the last three to five years to get the most accurate estimate), and match your expenses to it, then you begin with confidence that the money will be available. Fundraising activity can then focus on what you want to do next in serving others, a much more appealing prospect for raising money.
The illustration in Figure 1 provides a visual picture of this important point. Government agencies start with an annual allotment of income and try to spend to zero. A surplus at the end of a budget raises the risk of receiving less funding in the future so government agencies are eager to spend to zero.
Many ministry organizations run in the opposite direction. They start with what they expect to spend to continue operating as before. They then try to raise the money to get back to zero, often having to cut programs and/or staff as a means to balance budgets in years where there is a shortfall.
The best method, however, is to run the organization as a continuing enterprise, expecting to spend somewhat less than safely anticipated income, carrying forward an amount greater than zero into the next fiscal year so that ministry can continue next year too. This also helps fundraising activity look forward to what will happen next in ministry rather than looking backwards to try to recover money already spent.
QUESTION 3: Have you linked spending percentages to anticipated income?
Once you have established a reasonable expectation of income, you can then look at the pools of money available for:
1. What your organization gives away in generosity to others (firstfruits),
2. What your spend on personnel, and
3. What you spend on facilities and program combined.
Two notes about this. First, many ministry organizations feel they receive firstfruits from others and that their programs are expressions of generosity. Why should they then give to others? Isn’t this an ethical problem–sharing money with others when the money was donated to their organization for their ministry?
The problem here is one of communication. Ministry organizations are in a position to know how to best carry out the mission they exist to serve–whether it is through the programs they house, or by sharing with other organizations or programs. This kind of sharing can be strategized, communicated and used in raising support–a means of giving from the first and trusting God to meet the needs of the organization.
One camp we worked with strategized their firstfruits by giving their full time staff opportunity to serve another camp for one week each year. While serving at another camp offered a continuing education opportunity for their staff, this camp targeted the busy seasons of other camps when their own camp would be slow so as to assist the ministry of others at a reduced cost for everyone involved. They then reported this intention to share the firstfruits of the organization with the donors who were supporting them. Donors rightfully saw this sharing as extension of the camp’s mission rather than a re-directing of funds.
Second, we suggest combining facilities and programs into a single percentage so that an organization does not lose sight of the fact that facilities exist to serve programs and not the other way around. Simply put, the two are functionally linked and programs need to be the driver in the relationship, not facilities.
Undergirding your spending percentages should be a cash reserve. The size of this reserve can be pegged to a percentage of income that best helps you maintain regularity of cash flow. Congregations normally do well on four to six weeks of income in reserve. Ministry organizations dependent on year end giving or major gifts may need as much as six months of income on hand. Without an adequate cash reserve your organization is forced to stop programs or to borrow from other accounts in order to cover cash shortages. With it your organization can anticipate adjustments it must make when income is tight and make those adjustments in advance rather than after money was already spent that may not be recovered. Monitoring your cash reserve as income comes in to the organization is yet another way to manage from income.
Knowing your percentages and keeping a cash reserve as the means to manage cash flow is also a help in raising funds. This is because the spending percentages can be converted to the mission priorities of the organization, that is, they can be turned into the story of what the organization intends to do with money it will raise in the next year.
Here is an example of one such story from a small hundred and fifty year old congregation in Eau Claire, Wisconsin:
The 2010 Spending Plan for First Baptist Church
Our congregation’s mission shall be the advancement of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ. We shall seek to attain this through public worship of God, the preaching of the Gospel, consistent Christian Living by our members, personal evangelism, missionary endeavor, and Christian Education.
In 2010, we week to spend $114,531 in support of this mission.
In our missionary endeavor we plan to contribute $9,950 to the American Baptist Churches of Wisconsin, Camp Tamarack, UW Eau Claire Campus Ministry, Bolton House and other ministries. This amount reflects 9% of the money we intend to spend. Our special offerings for retired ministers and missionaries, One Great Hour of Sharing, Haiti Relief and more will raise this amount substantially, taking us above 10% of all money we receive going beyond the walls of our congregation to plant churches, relieve suffering and provide education.
In our worshipping of God and preaching the gospel, we will host approximately sixty worship services, including our weekly Sunday morning services. A significant portion of our pastor’s time and maintaining our facility are dedicated to making this possible. In 2010, we will spend approximately $57,484 or 50% of the money we spend.
In our efforts to build strong Christian living through Christian education, we offer weekly Sunday School classes, a Friday morning prayer group and all church fellowship events. We also strive to make sure the sick are visited and adequate pastoral care is available when needed. During the first quarter of 2010, we increased our Sunday School offerings to include a class on Inductive Bible Study that includes our youth and other interested adults. Another anticipated event comes in May 2010, when Rev. John Sundquist of the American Baptist Church Foundation will be with us to provide a workshop on estate planning. This reflects approximately 47,097 or 41% of our spending.
QUESTION 4: Are you managing according to spending reports or according to real time income?
This question connects to Question 3. Once you establish spending percentages, you can divide each dollar accordingly. This helps you function in real time–as the money comes in–rather than waiting for month end financial reports as an indicator of how you are doing, usually not available until the next month is already more than half over.
Working behind the scenes in the spending story of the congregation illustrated above are the spending percentages that were converted to their mission priorities. The behind the scenes percentages are: 9% on firstfruits, 33% on staff and nearly 58% on facilities and programs. Every dollar that comes in can now be divided accordingly so that payroll is met and budget categories are funded. The cash reserve the congregation maintains helps to manage the ebbs and flows of monthly and annual expenses in relationship to weekly income.
These are not the healthiest of percentages for this congregation, however. Determining spending percentages helped to diagnosis the problem. Long-term, they need to strengthen what they spend on staff in proportion to what they spend on facilities and programs. Given their small size, they will have to focus on increasing income to make this adjustment. By shifting to management from income rather than expense, they are in a much better position to look ahead to what they will do next to address the issue, rather than looking backwards and wondering what else they might cut in order to balance their budget.
QUESTION 5: Are you communicating according to what you will do next, or because of the anxiety of needing income?
This article has already demonstrated the value of communicating about what comes next–especially as a means to raise support for ministry. The question now becomes whether your organization is moving in this important direction. Ask yourself what type of message characterizes your public communication with donors: that you need more money to survive, that you are prudent managers of limited funds, or that you anticipate extending or increasing the amount of ministering activity with the next money you receive? Your choice in this matter reflects whether you count the money (managing from expense) or count the ministry the money makes possible (managing from income).
Conclusion: Take some time to work through these five questions with your leadership team and your board. Most organizations will benefit by moving more fully toward managing from income. All organizations will benefit by more strongly linking how money is managed with how money is raised.
-mark l vincent
Our organizational development firm, Design Group International, lives at the intersection where businesses, non-profits and religious organizations find common ground. The beautiful thing about an intersection is one can then see what is held in common, as well as point of origin and destination–however different they may be.
One area of difference is the raising of funds.
In business it is often preferable for a financier to take a percentage of money raised, and it can feel off-putting for someone to ask for a stipend to raise money. If the financier gets a stipend, their income goes away just as soon as they succeed. If they have to earn their money, however, it is commonly believed they are much more likely to raise it.
In religious organizations, and in many non-profits, it is preferable for a person to be paid a fee to raise money, and it can feel off-putting for someone to ask for a percentage of the money raised. It is believed that if the fundraiser receives a percentage of money raised, their motive will no longer be the mission of the organization, but greed. If, however, they receive a stipend, then the expense to do so can come out of the operations of the organizations and not necessarily the pool of new money being raised.
Some non-profits go either way, theorizing that whatever works to raise money can be done–no matter how much expense goes against raising it.
Interestingly, the hope in each scenario is that those who raise funds will act ethically. Notably, one can act in unethical, greedy ways no matter how the funding scenario is constructed.
It is good to think through the philosophy of how your organizations raises funds for its purpose. But more importantly for the raising of support, it is wise to employ persons in the role whose passion is for your organization’s purpose and not just how or how much they will be paid.
-mark l vincent
Two starting points for stewardship theology seem to be in competition with one another. The first starts with the premise that God owns everything. The second begins with our response to the grace we receive from God. Both these starting points concede that the other starting point is true, but disagree on the place one best begins, and on what comes next. Attend any stewardship conference or pick up several books and you will find both offered as starting points for what the presenter or author has to say.
In putting the ownership of God first, the next statement is that we must do what God decrees. Such a theology is rooted in law, even if it also affirms that God gives us grace.
In putting our response to God’s grace first, the next statement is an invitation to give to God and to participate in the work of God. Such a theology is rooted in God’s gracious intervention even as it affirms God’s ownership, provision and care.
Put me down as one who starts with grace. It is what moves stewardship from mere obedience to an act of worship.
If you want to consider this theme more deeply, here are two sources:
1. A recently posted blog by Art Scherer after attending a church stewardship seminar:
2. One of the Design Group International™ documents I developed a few years ago: A Stewardship Manifest
-mark l vincent
Several of my friends are deeply involved in micro-financing, giving low interest loans of less than $1000 to people in terribly impoverished areas, and experiencing 95% or higher payback rates. This stands in sharp contrast to our new too big to fail economy where small businesses and startups are experiencing the most hostile financing environment of my lifetime.
What our financial institutions are forgetting is that the local, privately owned business is among the safest of risks. Shared risk is what makes franchising and licensing work. Yes, it is a risk. Greed and fear and economic stupditity are problems in privately held firms just as they are in publicly held ones. But the scale is smaller. Further:
* The business owner is risking their own capital, not just the capital of someone else.
* The business owner is personally involved in absorbing any loss, something most CEO’s of publicly held institutions are not accountable and are usually unwilling to do.
* The business owner is more likely to defer their own compensation to meet financial obligations.
* The business owner is visible and involved in the day to day operations of their business, quite often ready to do whatever it takes to keep the enterprise going.
There is no best way to lead an organization or business. Some will become large and some remain small by necessity or preference. However, the model of a leader who knows the heartbeat of their business, who takes responsibility for what doesn’t work, and who is personally involved in the risk to bring something to the marketplace needs to be appreciated more deeply by our financial insitutions.
Here is another way to say it, the leadership model to admire at the moment is the Guatemalan woman who borrows enough money to purchase a tortilla-maker so that the money she earns guarantees her children will be able to read. It is simply more heroic than CEO’s begging for government bailouts or financial institutions who accept stimulus money and then keep it in order to get their books in better balance.
-mark l vincent
Years ago in Giving, the annual magazine of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center, I teamed with my good friend Rev. Sam Brink (at that time part of the deployed stewardship staff for the American Baptist Churches) to develop the top ten reasons people do not give to an offering. We attempted it in the best David Letterman fashion.
In this era of fear that replaces the former era of greed, it seems worthwhile to bring it back to the light of day. Enjoy.
Top 10 reasons people do not give to the offering
10. “I’m a little short this week. I’ll make up for it next week.”
9. “Oh, so that is what those baskets are for!”
8. “Sorry, I don’t itemize on my taxes.”
7. “Love to give, but all I have is a twenty.”
6. “I thought YOU brought the checkbook!”
5. “But the bulletin says you got enough money last week!”
4. “Our children give during Sunday School.”
3. ”I only get paid once a month and today is not the day.”
2. “Sorry, I don’t carry cash.”
1. “I’m not sure who to make the check out to. God or Jesus.”