Who cares?

One of the things I have appreciated about my job of late is the opportunity to work with Mission Increase Foundation and evaluate patterns and practices in how Christian organizations think about fundraising, and what assumptions undergird what we do. I have so appreciated their consistent emphasis on helping individuals grow and deepen in their commitment to a cause (not an organization) as opposed to simply looking at people in terms of the size and frequency of their checks.

I have been giving a lot of thought to how Servant Partners can help mobilize people in their engagement with the realities of urban poverty in our world, and help facilitate a Christian response to the fact that one out of every six people in the world today lives in an urban slum, with very few churches among them. And particularly, how to do this without resorting to gimmicks or manipulation.

Which made reading this feel a bit discouraging. I came to Jordon’s post via a comment on Julie Clawson’s post discussing the pleasure-driven realities of $1,800 dinner tabs, and I realized that as much as I feel surrounded by people committed to various justice initiatives, it can seem like at the end of the day, people’s own personal preferences and comforts win and there is little likelihood that will change anytime soon. Jordon writes:

Growing up in the church, the only time I have ever been asked to sacrifice is when the church wanted something – a new building, more staff, or was in trouble financially.  We can blog about “costly grace” but for most of it, it has been pretty cheap.  I have quoted Ron Sider here a lot before but when the church is totally self interested, at least we blend in well.

If we are going to make a difference, it is going to cost us in real terms.  Maybe giving up upgrading our MacBooks, passing on a smart phone and other gadgets, taking in less conferences, or maybe downscaling some other things in life to invest in something that resembles more Kingdom values.   I guess the question is, are we willing to sacrifice for anyone else in this life other than for ourselves?

Now he is writing to church leaders in particular, but I know when I read this my own reaction was: “Ouch.”

I appreciated what Eugene Cho shared about how Quest was approaching “life together” in the midst of the unfolding financial crisis, and I think it is important to share our stories of how we personally, and how our communities are choosing to respond:

Anyway, our church elders/pastors met for our regular Elder Board meeting last night and agreed to devote the entirety of our “Giving Sunday” special offerings on November 9 and 16 to the Community Benevolence Fund:  50% to local food bank organizations in Seattle and 50% to support the church community at Quest that are in need.  We hope to raise at least $50,000.

We know that the current economic crisis is affecting many people at Quest and we need to prepare ourselves to not just talk about “caring for one another” but doing it.  In addition to funds, we know we need to be creative:  How do we encourage people to open up their homes if necessary?  How do we allow our church basement to be used for people for temporary housing?  How do we connect people to one another for job openings and leads?

One thing I appreciated about both Jordon and Eugene’s reflections was the emphasis put on what a group of people can accomplish when there is a will to act, and belief that what scripture says about how we are supposed to live and what we are called to value is actually true. Jordan’s example of churches banding together to charter cruise ships to save Armenian refugees, and Eugene’s understanding of every church member’s home and assets as “the church’s” shared resource for ministry point in the right direction of people sharing (not staffing) the burden of responsibility and action.

So much of “Christian” fundraising seeks to exploit a momentary emotional connection to a need or problem that can then result in a financial gift to an organization that promises to do something about it. What does it look like to help mobilize people instead to themselves engage and problem-solve and participate in a more long-term and life-changing way?

One way of doing this can co-exit pretty comfortably with the $1,800 dinner and the fancy laptops. The other invites a very different sort of “caring” that may not raise as much money but comes at a much higher cost.

3 thoughts on “Who cares?”

  1. I am encouraged greatly by Eugene as much as I was disheartened to read what Jordon was writing. I’m glad to see that there are some that are trying to deal with this problem in America.

  2. Great post and supremely important questions here. The American church has a great opportunity here to be relevant and prophetic– people are worried and they are asking questions– so I applaud your efforts to continue the dialogue.

    P.S. Thanks for the MIF pub. A colleague in Colorado sent this to me. No idea how she found it.

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