…Then There are Days I am Glad I Don’t Know How to Raise Support (Part 2)

So why are there days I am glad that I don’t know how to raise support?

Number 1. This is the main reason. I learned that God is faithful. Sure, that sounds like a saccharine-like aphorism. I can hardly say that God promises to have money fall from heaven to fund people who are too stubborn or lazy to build partnerships with supporters. I can, however, say that we were able live on less, and have less regular support than I thought.

Image result for bucket full of holes money

I just can’t think that people who practice high-pressure sales tactics truly see their God as one who supplies their needs. I teach missions, and I find still find it humorous that running around to churches, family, friends, and “deep pockets” is labeled “Faith Missions” because its participants are allegedly “living by faith.” It is certainly not wrong, it may even be good… but there is nothing about faith in it.

I am not here preaching a Corrie Ten Boom dogma against support-raising. One year she felt that God was telling her not to actively raise support. That is fine. But then she started going around and moralizing and absolutizing that decision— that no Christian minister should do support-raising. I don’t see that. If I truly feel that God called me to close my business on Sunday, that hardly means that God has told all Christian businessmen to close theirs on Sunday as well. There simply should be no connection.

Number 2. It helps our relationships. It is hard to have healthy relationships with potential partners when it is known that every meeting is a request for money. I have dealt with people who were professionally needy. They had mastered the ability to appear pitiable. I don’t see that as a godly strategy, and we often felt the need to “duck” these individuals when possible.

Early on, I recall visiting a church we had left back in the US. The senior pastor (who had some problems) was gone and the associate pastor (one we had greater respect for) was now leading a church recovering from crippling financial problems and community shame. The pastor was very much on edge during our visit, but tried to be friendly. It became clear to me (and I still think I got this pretty much correct) that he was waiting uncomfortably for us to go into our support spiel. I knew the church had no money and that there were political issues why we could not be financially supported as well. Looking back I wish I had said something to the effect:

“We are not here to raise money. But your church had an important role in our spiritual and ministerial development. So we justed wanted to come by and talk with you for awhile. Would that be okay?”

I think that would have removed some of the edge.

That being said, I have been known to go too far. I have had people ask how they can help us financially, and I would say, “It’s okay… we are doing fine.” A friend of mine, overhearing me on one occasion spoke to me later and said, “If God lays on someone’s heart the desire to help you… don’t tell them you don’t need or welcome their help.” Guilty as charged. There is a balance. Still… when money is not the “elephant in the room that everyone is pretending not to see,” other forms of partnership and encouragement can be explored more positively in many cases.

Number Three. It helps creativity. The classic uninspired solution to a problem is “Throw money at it.” But when one’s money is dear, and yet one’s calling is still broad, one must find more creative ways to solve things. We have a counseling center in the Philippines. That center takes up about 40 square meters of office space. We don’t have to pay any rental. This was worked out by the generosity of another organization… one that does not support us with money, but with free use of resources. We also help them through a formal partnership.

That being said, free stuff is not always valued. We do charge for some trainings so that people will value the trainings. It also allows some of our volunteers to get tangible help with their generosity of skill and time. But our volunteers commonly want to help the people who need help the most. Most of our primary target cannot pay for services, so offering them for free, funded by trainings that are paid for by people who can pay.

Creativity takes time. From my engineering days, we were told in the triad of QUICK, CHEAP, and GOOD, we could design for any two. In Christian ministry… good is a must. So then one can choose for it to be quick… but that costs more money. Or it can be cheap… but it takes time. If one is spending less time on funding, one has more time to be creative. The alternative is a bit of a spiral.

I need money, so I spend time to raise money

I now have money, but I don’t have time

Because I don’t have time, I have to compensate by spending more money.

Because I have to spend more money, I need to use more time to raise money.

I hope you can see the pattern.

Number Four. It supports mutuality. I still say that mutuality is one of the clearest Christian virtues that Christians commonly ignore. The Bible is rather ambivalent on unilateral relationships, but quite strongly supports mutual relationships, especially in the church. Avoiding the patron-benefactor (or master-slave) relationship allows us to often have a more mutual relationship where we help another when the other needs help, and the other helps us when we need help.

Independence is not really a Christian virtue, and neither is Dependence. More Christian is Interdependence. We rely on each other as all of us rely on God.

Number Five. It allows me not to focus on my cynicism. Most of the best fund-raisers are not the best missionaries. This truth could make me bitter and cynical. I can be cynical of people in ministry who seem to have mixed motivations in ministry. I can also be cyncial of supporters or supporting churches who often have no greater discernment or strategy in their support than falling victim to the tricks of good salesmanship.

The above paragraph may sound cynical… and I suppose I am. But it does not dominate my thinking. That is because we are not competing with each other. I am not trying to get what they are going after. The main challenge I have is to discern which people will partner with us mutually, and which one’s seek to join more parasitically.

And yes, even THAT previous paragraph still sounds a bit cynical. I apologize. I understand that cyncism is not really a Christian virtue… but neither is gullibility. Grace is given but Trust is earned. I am happy to have met many fine people in ministry in whom it is an honor to work with. I hope you have found the same. I have found others that I have concerns about… but I generally have found that I don’t need to stress about them. I simply need to maintain healthy boundaries.

I had a great aunt who was beseiged with letters from political and religious groups seeking her money. She did not have much money. She was a widow and going senile. She was on many political and religious “sucker lists.” After she died, my dad and I spent a long afternoon shoveling (yes, shoveling) hills of letters in her back room from various organizations. It really helped me develop cynicism for many religious groups, and pretty much ALL political groups. <For those of you who think that it is the OTHER political party that does bad things, all I can say is WAKE UP!!! Whatever differences there may be in political platform do not lead to corresponding differences in character or ethical behavior.>

We don’t have much money now… so we help a bit when we can… and when we can’t we don’t. But often, when we can’t, we actually can— perhaps with time, or resources, that don’t include money. Our limited resources tends to keep away the more mercenary fund-raisers. That also helps me limit my proclivity for overt cynicism.

I think that sums up everything. At times I wish that I was better at fund-raising. But overall, God has been good, and I am glad to not be particularly skilled in this area.

If you are in ministry, I pray that you won’t become TOO good in this area either.

…Then There are Days I am Glad I Don’t Know How to Raise Support (Part 1)

My wife and I have been involved in missions for over 14 years. In the early years we did not know much of anyting about raising support. We never went out on deputation. Our home church provided over 80% of our support. We did okay. I taught missions and sometimes spoke of raising support. I liked to note that in raising support it is not that important to focus on need… because everyone has needs. I made the argument that the three most important things are demonstrating:

  • TrustworthinessImage result for philippine money
  • Competence
  • Vision

Then close to four years ago we were notified that we were about to have our support from our home church cut off. Most all of the church leadership thought we knew what was going on in the church… but of the two people whose primary job was to keep us updated, one had left the church, and the other was in the process of being overwhelmed by personal problems and so had stopped updating us or answering our questions.

At this time I began to understand the problem we had. We were rapidly transitioning from 100% support to less than 20%. I did not really know how to raise support— and even less doing so from a distance. At that same time tax law changed in the US (or at least how existing tax law was being interpreted) so it was even harder to get support as an independent missionary. We did not have the resources to estabish a 501c3 organization in the country. (Americans tend to think that tax-deductibility of religious giving is a God-given right— no idea where they got that thought.)

I looked into other options, including going back to the US to teach or pastor— meager options indeed. Strangely, we discovered that we could continue. Another church began to support us, as well as a few others on a regular or occasional basis. We found that we were able to get by. Our cost of living was higher than our support, and our residual funds began to decline, but much more slowly than we expected. In the end, we think that we are able to persevere.

But this chapter had gotten me thinking more about support raising. I paid more attention to those who succeed in this aspect of ministry and those who don’t. I got some information from a person we know who was (he has stepped out of professional ministry) part of a Christian organization that took support-raising of its membership very seriously.  This organization had its members raise support in the same place where they are doing ministry (there are conveniences to this, I can see).

This organization would give its ministers a list of contacts. The contacts were not the only ones they were supposed to contact, but were certainly supposed to start there. They were given support goals, both overall support and weekly goals, of both monthly support and one-time gifts. Each minister was supposed to list everyone he (or she) contacted by email or phone, list which ones he was able to establish face-to-face appointments with, list the ones he was able to personally challenge to support, and what type and amount of financial support he received. Every week this report had to be turned in by each minister, the spreadsheets updated and new sheets with updated goals and contacts given out. Curiously, this particular group received considerable out-of-area support that went to the organization to support the individual ministers. Perhaps the support-raising process was to train members how to do that part of the work. Still the sheer number of hours needed weekly to do this, when it seemed as if it wasn’t all that necessary, makes me wonder whether the support-raising may have had a deleterious effect on their primary ministry work.

I have noted a number of independent missionaries who were especially dedicated to support-raising. On a positive side, they tended to have MASSIVE networking skills. I am still amazed at how some people we work with from very different denominations and ministry types were well familiar with certain missionaries and even were supporting them, or encouraged to do so. Negatively, often these same missionaries did less organizing of missions  than linking themselves to the mission work that others were doing. This is quite understandable. The hours needed for networking and support-raising can certainly conflict with the time needed in the visioning, planning, implementating, and evaluating of primary mission tasks. While it may be true that in a team success is shared, but in support-raising it is quite tempting to take a small role and give the impression of being indispensible.

I have also seen missionary websites that appear to be little more than an electronic  commercial for supporting their ministry. They seem to have taken their website design from some of the more notorious Christian TV personalities. I am thinking of one site in particular of a missionary over here whose website is especially intense in this. I only slightly know the person, so I can’t judge. I am concerned that some people I respect have especially deep concerns regarding their actions, as well as their lack of actions. Frankly, I have no clue whether these issues have merit. But one does have to wonder when money shifts from being a necessary part of mission ministry, and when it becomes an obsession.

I will continue this thought in part 2 and get to the reasons I am glad that I am not good at support-raising.

If you wish, you may continue onto PART TWO.

 

 

“Sexy” Missions and Marketing, Part 3

<Continuation of thoughts on what makes some missions more “sexy” than others… not a recommendation to do things this way. Just noting this reality. Machiavelli, in The Prince, gave concepts of the way politics IS, but NOT necessarily the way it SHOULD BE. I will give some conclusions as to what I think Missions should be in the final part of this series.>

Henry Morton Stanley meets David Livingstone i...
Henry Morton Stanley meets David Livingstone in Ujiji, 1871. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

5.  Sympathetic. Groups that seek to protect endangered species know this. They need a sympathetic species. Giant Pandas or Manatees work well. They have a “cuteness” about them, even if not actual beauty. They are docile and are endangered due to the inconsiderate behavior of humans. California condors are majestic but they are unpleasant to look at close up. They also eat carrion (necessary but unpleasant role). Black-footed ferrets may be cute but they eat prairie dogs who are even higher up on the “cuteness’ factor. In missions, AIDS babies are more sympathetic than adult AIDS victims. Those exploited are more sympathetic than those who “do it to themselves.”

People who move to other countries (not our own) without proper papers (“economic refugees” or “poltical refugees”) are more sympathetic than similar people entering our own country (“illegal aliens”). I have even seen comments from others that appear to suggest that the very idea of ministering to illegal aliens is flawed because you are helping people breaking the law. Those who are victims of human trafficking are more sympathetic if they were abducted against their will or completely fooled. They are less sympathetic if there was SOME level of consent (whether more or less informed in that consent). Disasters that appear to be purely natural (such as earthquake or tsunami) provide more sympathetic victims than those who (ignorantly) do it to themselves (like victims of landslides due to illegal or uncontrolled logging).

6.  Quantifiable. Yes, numbers are not sexy (I spent many years as a mechanical design engineer… trust me, numbers are not sexy). But donors still like to bet on a winner. It is easy (and lazy) to determine the winners by numbers. I was involved in medical missions for several years. It was pretty easy to explain it. In 5 years, we treated 30,000 patients, led over 10,000 in the prayer to receive Christ. Easy to explain. Now we have a pastoral care center. I can list how many were trained. However, can’t really give numbers on those helped by pastoral care, stress defusing, and spiritual counseling. Additionally, much of the success stories are confidential.

An evangelist can list how many people they preached to, and how many “walked the aisle.” Disciplers are often far more effective… but they are hard to quantify. Big churches sound impressive (members, attendance, offering, square meters, etc.) but it is hard to say whether it has more or less impact than a smaller body of committed believers.

Numbers can be useful, and a good metric can aid in issues of accountability. However, it is risky when numbers become a lure… bait. Numbers can be wonderfully informative, but also wonderfully manipulative.

7.  Faddish.  In the late 1800s, the lectures and writings of David Livingstone, and the articles of Henry Stanley, made mission work in “The Dark Continent” an exciting venture. Wouldn’t it be exciting to travel into the jungle, find a little village, stand under a large tree and preach to the locals. There was little interest in places like South or Central America at that time. In more recent times, other things have caught on. Right now, human trafficking is a big deal. Church planting movements have their unique appeal. Living in the Philippines, I can tell you that SOME disasters become faddish. It seems to have to hit a critical mass of images, coverages, and support by media celebrities.

8.  Viral. Being viral includes many of the above factors, but it is still worth a separate status. That is because viral is where advertisement  ultimately gets carried out by the viewers. Humor often helps to make multimedia viral. However, in missions, shock or exaggeration is often utilized. So it helps to show people more desperate, living conditions more deplorable, and damage the most extensive. Most of mission life, just as in real life, is not viral. The abnormal is viral, so one must show abnormal aspects of missions to be viral.

Concluding Thoughts

I don’t like missions and fund-raising for missions that utilizes tactics that false advertise or use techniques that abuse and trick the potential supporters. I wish there was greater discernment in both missions and missions support.

On the other hand, what I have described above… this is reality. One can have an opinion about it… but it may not change anything. As I noted before, Nicoli Machiavelli wrote about how politics works… that is the reality… not necessarily how things should work.

As a friend of mine wrote recently,

The current trend within western missions, is marketing strategy. Each year mission agencies spent thousands of $ … just on promotional materials, presentation materials, DVD’s etc… to try to attract potential supporters and retain existing ones. Today’s missionary has also succumbed to such stategies as well to seek supporters for their mission work. In a sense the church, mission agency and the missionary (not all) have adapted secular methodologies to attract partners hoping that it will result in support for the work. While some would argue that mission methods have to change and adapt to applicate ways of operating in today’s world. Ideally when a missionary is to be sent forth, they should not just be sent with the blessing and prayer of the sending church, but also should be adequately provided for in such a way that the missionary can be as best prepared for the task ahead. To place the burden and responsibility upon the missionary to raise their own support in my view something outdated and uncalled for. It often creates completion among fellow-missionaries seeking support from the same church networks, which can create tension and uneasyness. Additionally it can place the missionary in a very uncomfortable situation whereby they are not good salesman, and can become frustrated that while they have a strong call on their life, and are effective in what they are called to do, but often can’t raise the support they need because they are not good at selling themselves. Personally I don’t feel that it is a biblical practice for someone in the church to have to sell themselves and asking for people to support them, just so that they can be sent out by the church whom have encouraged them to go. Support should be a natural part of sending out a missionary and that the church should also be a part of the solution in finding and raising support for the missionary.

I think there is a lot of truth here. But marketing strategies are with us. Some do them well and some do them poorly. Not sure there is a way to tip the scales and remake the system. Perhaps the best we can do is show proper wisdom and discernment when it comes to missions. When one does use marketing… at least ensure it is honest (even if it is a bit manipulative). Who knows… maybe doing things the right way will catch on…