The future of Irish Bible Institute: reflecting on the past
The Future of IBI and the ‘Great (economic) Reversal’
As a Bible Institute we ask and encourage students to do a lot of critical self-reflection – within a mentoring programme and within many assignments. ‘What have I learnt through this experience?’ ‘Why did I think, act and feel that way before?’ ‘What influences have shaped my theology and how has it changed and developed in light of what I have been studying?’ ‘How will I seek to act differently in the future and why?’
So it’s only right that I do a bit of critical self-reflection from an IBI perspective about where we are. And let me say that what is said on this blog represents my personal views and are not representative of IBI or MCC or anyone else ..
First, let’s remember that there is no sacred / secular divide: this post may be ‘business focused’ but it is still about ‘spiritual’ things. All of life before God is ‘spiritual’.
I think that there are two areas for questions at least – the PAST and the PRESENT, and it’s the PAST in focus in this post.
- THE PAST: Were we wrong in discerning God’s will? Did we act unwisely? Were we sucked up into the myth of the Celtic Tiger like everyone else and are wrestling with the consequences now? And if we weren’t wrong, what is there to be learnt as Christians from this experience?
The details of the deal are all public (see this previous post) so there is no problem talking about it. Nor am I transgressing into confidential Board business.
General reasons to press ahead with the 2005 deal:
IMPACT FOR THE GOSPEL: It represented a new and creative way forward if IBI was to grow and make a bigger impact across Ireland. And the shift from borrowing offices, and packing up the library to a purpose designed facility did make a huge difference. Not only physically, but in terms of credibility, quality of student experience, university validation, student numbers, reputation and so on.
MOTIVE: The whole deal was non-commercial. It was an act of faith and grace by the business partners. It would enable us to move into new premises without a huge fundraising campaign and would eventually ‘pay for itself’. Sure motives are always mixed and the human heart deceitful – but there was no personal gain for anyone. I really don’t think it was an issue of ‘consumerist greed’ for bigger and better.
RELATIONSHIP: relationships are, in my humble opinion, the most important factor in any working together – especially in Christian ministry but also outside it. This deal emerged out of a relationship of trust and goodwill.
DILIGENCE: it was complicated. A lot of time and effort was spent by people with outstanding expertise in the right areas; legal, financial, evaluation of risk etc. The risk factor was not being able to find commercial tenants or losing tenants for a long period. In 2005 this risk was judged to be acceptable. Of course, this was the issue that came back to bite us when tenants left in June 2011 and no new ones were around in the crash.
PRAYER: much prayer went on around this whole issue – for wisdom, guidance and discernment. Everyone together agreed to press ahead.
‘PUT AND CALL’: this was a ‘put and call’ agreement whereby IBI entered into a legal agreement to buy back the building for €3.5 million at the end of a 14 year period. This is a huge amount of money, but the asset was the building. (It had doubled in value to c. €7 million even by 2007). It was estimated it would be at least worth double the €3.5 million in 2019. So, if all went according to plan, the whole idea would be ‘debt free’.
REGRETS? Would we do the same thing again? Did we ‘mis-hear’ God?
I think we would (nearly) do the same thing again but not the ‘put and call’. Experience would make me more cautious, especially around a future debt of €3.5 million, even if (apparently) comfortably secured on a building. Being in debt gives control away to others (like a bank) and can tie a millstone around an individual’s or an institution’s neck; it removes flexibility and limits options.
But there is another reason I’d be more cautious. The crash has exposed the hubris, self-deception and out of control greed of a largely unregulated capitalist system. Let loose, it ran itself into the ground and much of the global economy with it – and I think there is much worse to come – Spain anyone? Being in debt to such a system, emeshes you in its grip. The crash should, I think, make Christians especially, cautious of being under the power of a system that ultimately cares only for capital.
I’m no economist or banker, help me out here, but it seems to me that Christian organisations should be very wary of taking on long term obligations of debt around buildings and should aim to grow and develop debt free as much as possible.
HUMILITY: There are a lot of humbled tycoons and property developers and ordinary investors around Ireland today. [And plenty who should be humbled and contrite but aren’t – but I’d better stay on point!]
And it’s obvious too, that for IBI, things did not go according to plan. Despite all the planning and experts and advice, the truth is we all have very little idea what the future holds. That truth should make us humble. Jesus’ hard words about the ‘rich fool’ focused on his arrogance and self-sufficiency apart from faith and trust in God. While we did take a lot of time to seek God and the decision itself was soaked in prayer, the need to raise €1 million was not part of the original plan. It has thrown us back on the sufficiency of God alone for it is ‘beyond us’.
GUIDANCE: Without getting too lost in Calvinist, Arminian or Open Theist debates, let me ask you a question: if things don’t work out the way you expected or hoped, does that mean you ‘missed’ or ‘went against’ God’s will?
Of course there are many things we do that are against God’s will – the Bible has a wee word for it called ‘sin’.
But if we make decisions in good faith, seeking wisdom, taking counsel, through prayer – how are we to interpret subsequent events that seem to question the rightness of the original decision?
I was talking with friends recently who, with hindsight, would make very different choices. And I guess you can think of plenty of things you’d do differently too (I know I can!). How are we to think theologically about past decisions that we wish we’d not made?
Sometimes living with the consequences of those decisions can be very very tough, without much discernible redemptive bigger purpose, where there is not a nice happy ending.
And sometimes things DO in the end work out in an amazing way. [And coming back to IBI, the current opportunity is an amazing one for lots of reasons]. Does that ‘confirm’ our decision was all part of God’s bigger plan?
I have some thoughts on these questions, but this a blog for conversation. so comments, as ever, welcome