Some New Thoughts on Fundraising

One of the questions I get asked most often these days, usually right after “aren’t you glad you moved and miss than winter in Boston,” is something to the effect of: “how does it feel to not have to fundraise anymore?”

Actually it isn’t as much of a question as an indirect way of saying: “You’re life must be so much better now that you don’t have to fundraise.”

I really dislike this comment.

To begin with, I actually liked fundraising. It kept me in touch with a lot of people who I otherwise might not have stayed in contact with. It forced me to ask for help, which is not something I enjoy doing naturally. We experienced grace and generosity in ways we would never have otherwise. Fundraising created a community with friends near and far, a sustaining community, a community that also helped us find our new role.

Furthermore, just because I am not fundraising doesn’t mean we are free of financial risk. That’s the subtext for a lot of people: fundraising is crazy and risky, working at a church is safe and secure (and in many people’s minds lucrative).

I object to this line of thinking greatly. Yes, the realities of fundraising are quite different from the realities of a salary. But, a church salary, especially at an urban, inner city church, is no sure thing. This community took a risk in hiring me, and any small church pastor will tell you about weekly anxiety and uncertainty.

This is not to say that I don’t have critiques of fundraising or that there aren’t aspects of the process that I am glad to be free of. It’s just not quite what most people might expect.

A couple of critiques:

1) First, fundraising is exhausting. It is a never-ending process. But, while it is a grind, that’s not actually what I am referring to.

I had a supporter who is a professor at Fuller Seminary in the psychology department, and she’s been working on a big project on Young Life, looking into the effects of camp ministry on discipleship. In the process she met and talked at a lot of Young Life staff, hearing their stories and getting to know what their life is like.

She drew a conclusion: Young Life staff are stressed out and working well beyond their capacity.

You might assume this is because they work too many hours, play too many silly games, and spend several weeks of the year at camp. But, that’s not actually what is wearing them out.

According to the research my friend was doing, the stress came through the balancing of too many communities. A Young Life staff has the community of student’s they are investing in (usually at a school). Then they have their co-workers and other area staff. They are building relationships with the school administrators. They have their church circles and their neighbors. They have other friends. If they are married, they are also balancing those “worlds.”

And then they have this group of people called “supporters,” 100-300 people they are regularly in contact with about prayer requests and financial support.

Now, as I mentioned earlier this is a beautiful thing, to have so many people supporting you. But, it is exhausting too.

In Boston we had our Sojourn team, our campus groups, our church groups, our friends in Boston, Amy’s work, our neighbors, our extended family around the country, other friends around the country, and then our support team. Some of those overlapped, but many did not. It’s no wonder we struggled with getting to know our neighbors.

One thing we already appreciate about this new chapter is that there are fewer circles to manage and we are freer to interact in each circle. We are more present than we ever were in Boston.

2) Second, I struggle with the unfortunate reality that fundraising is far too often used as THE vetting tool for mission work. In other words, if you can fundraise, you can do the work.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of great missionaries, campus ministers, young life leaders, etc, who never get to do what they were clearly created to do because they don’t have the network for fundraising.

Now, for some people this is a real obedience issue: there are some folks who are lazy, undisciplined, afraid or unwilling to ask, or  who lack the training to hit their fundraising goals. These folks squander the opportunity and gift in front of them.

But, for every one of those folks, there are two great missionaries who walk away because, for whatever reason, they can’t fundraise enough money. I think in particular of the college graduate who has to pay off student loans, or the first-generation immigrant student who simply doesn’t have the resources in their networks, or the new Christian who doesn’t have the church experience/community.

We make it very difficult for these people to participate if fundraising is the vetting issue.

Furthermore, there are some people who are great at fundraising who have no business being campus ministers or missionaries because of character issues or gifting.

3) My final thought is that fundraising can make the relationship between the organization and its employees difficult at times. If funds are not properly accounted for and kept track of fastidiously, it can breed resentment. Especially if some people are essentially forced into carrying the load for a time (or indefinitely).

I won’t go into details, but when I started fundraising I kept very detailed records of what I brought in and took out (no one else was doing this for me when I started and I am grateful we brought someone in to do this for us about two years into my time with the organization).

That decision turned out to be prescient, because there came a day when a significant chunk of money of that money disappeared. If not for my records I’m not sure what we would have done. For the record, this story is less about losing money and more of an example of one way that fundraising can lead to resentment and frustration.

This is an interesting phenomenon because one of the benefits of fundraising is the regular experience of grace and miraculous provision. It is amazing how quickly that turns when there is “miraculous” disappearing of funds. It tested my understanding of grace to be sure.

Having said all that I did enjoy fundraising. I got choked up writing my final thank you notes and I miss the connection and bonding that fundraising brings.

But I also feel free in a lot ways that seem healthy.

To my friends that continue to fundraise: keep on it faithful friends!

To the organizations that require fundraising: may you be full of integrity and serve the best interests of your employees.

To the rest of us: may we be generous to those who ask for our partnership.

Expect The Unexpected

Yesterday I wrote about how you know when it’s time to move on to the next thing. Today I want to share some thoughts on what happens once you make the decision and start the process. Here we go:

1. Expect the Unexpected.

When this all started, when God started stirring our hearts towards California, we thought about Santa Cruz. Then we thought about San Francisco, and San Jose, and Fullerton, and downtown Los Angeles. So of course we ended up in Oakland.

Partnerships I thought we had in the bag dissolved, but others emerged along the way. People offered me jobs that I thought I would never be qualified to do.

We zigged and zagged, rode the emotional roller coaster up and down, and in the end are exactly where we need to be. I’d love to say I was able to anticipate all of this, but that would be a lie. I saw none of this coming. And I love that, especially in retrospect. It wasn’t easy, but it’s turned out to be beautiful.

2. Prepare to be Disappointed.

This is very connected to point number one, because if you have specific expectations heading into a transition you will be disappointed by the unexpected twists and turns.

Transitions are hard and they do weird things to people (especially yourself).
Some of those weird things can be really disappointing and hurtful.

This doesn’t mean you stop being friends with people, and this doesn’t give you an excuse to throw a grenade at the bridge once you get to the other side, but you must ready yourself for the reality that some people are going to let you down.

They are not perfect and neither are you, so grace is needed for them and for yourself.

Disappointment is not necessarily bad.
Sometimes it’s just a way of making a correction.
Sometimes it means mourning the loss of a dream or a change in your expectations.
But, you can’t avoid it. So let it be a way to grow in grace.

3. Prepare to be Amazed.

When you head into a time of transition you head into the unknown, and it is in the unknown that God tends to reveal to us all sorts of new and incredible truths.

And if experiencing the grace and generosity and provision and peace of God in new ways is not amazing then you need to reevaluate some things about your life.

Stepping into the unknown is the essence of faith and if we don’t practice that regularly we will lose the awe and wonder we should have about this incredible God.

And, you don’t have to move across the country to do that.

Where are you transitioning? Where do you need to adjust your expectations? How will you pay attention to the God who promises to show us something new and amazing when we lean into these transitional moments?

Summer Reading: Tattoos on the Heart

Tattoos on the Heart  is now my favorite book of all time. It’s not the best book I’ve read, it’s not the best written book I’ve read.

But, it is my favorite.

I dare you to read this book and not be moved: you will laugh, cry, and be disturbed in all the right ways.

Greg Boyle has been working with gang members for over 20 years in east Los Angeles. It is gnarly work. His stories are incredible because he’s been working in incredible conditions. I find, though, that there is a lot of crossover between his work and my work: broken families, father wounds, dependence issues, the search for community and hope.

There are also some critical differences. My students don’t have “F#@! the world” tattooed on their foreheads. They probably aren’t going to be shot by a rival any time soon. Everything they are engaged in is focused on their future, the polar opposite of the gang member.

I’ve been reading some of these stories to our staff and it raised the question: what is harder, ministering to people who are desperate and broken or ministering to people who are privileged and broken?

I’m not going to answer that question here, but I do want to leave you with some of Greg’s words:

“[We are] inching our way closer to creating a community of kinship such that God might recognize it. Soon we imagine, with God, this circle of compassion. Then we imagine no one standing outside of that circle, moving ourselves closer to the margins so that the margins themselves will be erased. We stand there with those who dignity has been denied. We locate ourselves with the poor and the powerless and the voiceless. At the edges, we join the easily despised and the readily left out. We stand with the demonized so that the demonizing will stop. We situate ourselves right next to the disposable so that the day will come when stop throwing people away. The prophet Habakkuk writes, ‘The vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment and it will not disappoint…and if it delays, wait for it.’ Kinship is what God presses us on to, always hopeful that its time has come.”

On Being a Pro and Writing Stuff Down

A good friend who used to be on staff with us, recently transitioned into the “workforce.” He shaved, got some nice, professional clothes, and went to work at a job where if he screws up it will cost his company money and clients and (God forbid) worse.

I love my job, and I love being able to wear flip-flops and shorts to work, but if there is one thing that bothers me about ministry it is that a lot of people don’t treat it like “regular work”, for lack of a better term.

I saw this tweeted the other day:

“Be professional. Arrive on time. Actually be early. And be organized.

I offer up a wholehearted AMEN to that tweet. (Turns out the source is one of Brad’s articles, which you can read here, and it is very good).

I don’t know a lot of people who treat ministry with the professional mindset. In fact, there is almost an anti-professionalism that permeates a lot of Christian leadership. There are some good reasons for this. No one wants to be cold, distant, or a dictator.

What’s interesting to me is that many other non-traditional professions seem to revel in professionalism. I see this a lot in the writing/blogging world. You can read any number of posts and articles on the beauty of discipline, structure, and professionalism.

Why haven’t more ministry leaders adopted this mindset?

Some like to argue against my point by throwing the “in the world, not of the world” mantra back. And while I do think there are some ways in which we should think about ministry in different categories than the world (money comes immediately to mind), there are other ways (like being a pro) that should be held at an even higher standard than the regular workforce.

The other day our staff team was working on crafting content for our small groups this fall. We are going to talk about parables, and the parable of the Shrewd Manager came up in the conversation. It is a weird parable, and one that many people (myself included) struggle to understand.

In Luke 16:8 Jesus says:The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.”

I think this has direct application to ministry and work and professionalism.

We, in vocational ministry, should be just as shrewd (read: professional) in our work and craft as those who are in other vocational callings.

In addition to Brad’s list (I especially like 4, 5, 6, and 14, although I will print out the whole list and put it in my planner today), I would suggest 3 simple things to improve your professionalism:

  1. Write Stuff Down: in our technological world there are so many ways to store and keep track of things. I find that people who rely too heavily on the digital world tend to be more scatterbrained, forget more meetings, and lose things more often than those who write things down. This is not scientific data, but there’s something about putting pen to paper that, in my experience, seems to improve memory, demonstrate care, and produce results (like showing up, and showing up on time).
  2. Prepare: write stuff down before you go to a meeting, or a one on one. Prepare for those moments the way you would prepare for a talk in front of 50 people. And write stuff down afterwards so you don’t forget! (There’s a theme here).
  3. Act Like You Care: this means that sometimes you wear a shirt with a collar. Sometimes you call AND leave a voice mail (instead of texting). Sometimes you choose your words carefully (and you don’t use certain words you might use in other contexts). Sometimes you over follow-up. I could go on.

I am one of the more informal people you will ever meet, but I have found (sometimes from painful experience) that I want to err on the side of being a pro. It demonstrates care, it demonstrates a strong ethic of work, and it enhances (rather than diminishes) the legitimacy of what I do as a pastor.

Practice your craft, be a pro, and get a pen so you can write some stuff down!

Miracles

Seek and you will find.

Our world blasts ahead in search of the spectacular, and if that is what you seek, that is what you will find. There is always something bigger and better and more awesome right around the corner.

College. Graduation. The next job. The better job. The right person. The big day. The raise.

Meanwhile there are small, but incredible miracles, that happen all the time right in front of us.

In the last week: the deal on spring break tickets we found…wrestling with marina before bed…good friends and neighbors who pray for you and for the people you are fighting for…the encouraging email…the student who gets it.

May we be more and more in tune with the miracles that are right in front of us, all the time.

A Brief Thought on Longevity, Fame, and Ministry #collegiateministry

1069420_10151748274956183_2002977921_nLast weekend Sojourn gathered the Providence and Boston teams for a defacto board meeting. Most of our time was spent gleaning wisdom and inspiration from Rick Harper. If I told you all the details, I’d have to kill you. Suffice it to say: we had fun.

Rick Harper is the most unique people you will meet in campus ministry, or perhaps any kind of ministry for that matter.
He dips.
He swears.
He uses bizarre analogies.
He cries a lot.
His heart bleeds for the broken and left out, the marginalized and the hurting.
He’s been doing this for 27 years all at the same campus (Georgia Tech).
He plays up his “hickness” but the dude is brilliant.
He’s humble and arrogant at the same time. He might be the most interesting man in the world.

In the campus ministry world Rick generates strong opinions. Some don’t like him (mostly for the swearing and the dipping). Some love him. I’ll drop a couple of facts here and let you draw your own conclusions:

  1. He’s grown the ministry at Tech from 0 to where they now reach 1000 students on a weekly basis.
  2. His ministry at Tech created and launched Globalscope which is planting college ministries all over the globe.
  3. Having done this for 27 years his discipleship tree is HUGE.
  4. This is my favorite: over 200 marriages performed from kids out of the ministry, and only 3 divorces.

I’m in the camp that loves Rick Harper, primarily because he is so passionate about reaching the “notorious sinner” kids and leading them to Jesus.

But, I am growing to respect something else about Rick, something that feels so fresh and unusual in our current ministry culture.

If anyone should have book deals and speaking gigs it should be Rick.
The man churns out top-quality disciples of Jesus like few other people I’ve ever met.
Yet, he’s never written anything down, let alone written a book.
He doesn’t do traveling speaking gigs. He’s not a keynote speaker at conferences.
He doesn’t have a twitter account, let alone thousands of followers.

What I see happening, all too often, is that we replace the hard work of disciple-making with celebrity.
I’m not the first one to point this out.
And in all honesty, I get tempted by the celebrity minister machine (and here I am writing a blog about it).

But it’s way easier to spend a life tweeting, blogging, writing some books, and doing some gigs than it is to pour yourself out for college students (or anyone) year after year after year.

Do we care more about making our name great or about making disciples?

Rick will tell you all he wants is a well done from Jesus when he goes and a bunch of people to celebrate his life when he’s gone. They are going to have to rent out the Georgie Dome for Harper when his time comes.

And I find that infinitely more interesting and inspiring than 10,000 followers on twitter.