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 anyone else ..
If the last post was about the PAST, this one is about the PRESENT.
We’ve launched an appeal to raise €1million. This would have the wonderful result of dealing with current loans and future costs that total up to near €4 million at a 75% ‘discount’. Being debt free will be strategically crucial for ongoing ministry and for future development in years to come.
So far there has been a very encouraging response. We are already at over 20% and there are a couple of good potential developments that could make a significant difference as investors and Trusts consider possibilities.
As this process unfolds, here are three issues and questions swirling around in my mind. I have thoughts on them but it would be good (I think!) to have other’s opinions. And I guess these sorts of questions apply to all sorts of different ministry contexts, especially in the West:
An ethical question
IBI is not the only Christian organisation facing the fall out of the economic ‘great reversal’. Many individuals are struggling to keep their heads above water with unemployment, negative equity, rising taxes and costs, falling giving. Local churches are struggling. A primary calling, it seems to me, of the church, is to help the poor and keep focus on the bigger picture of ‘the mission of God’.
Is it right of IBI to launch a fundraising campaign for €1 million in such a context? Is it asking too much of already hard-pressed supporters? Is it putting too much pressure on finite resources? Or another way of putting this – what are some criteria that need to be fulfilled before going asking for a lot of money from other people?
Related to this is how to ask for money in a fundraising campaign. Where is the balance between a ‘positive message’ that communicates a vision and compelling reasons for an appeal, and when such positivity becomes ‘spin’? For example we’ve emphasised the appeal as one-off unique opportunity [which it is]. But is also an unplanned response to events out of our control that need a fairly urgent solution.
A strategic question
A wider question that this sort of appeal raises is has the funding of an institution and a building become too expensive? Are there different, less expensive, models of delivering good quality theological education in Ireland? Is a change of model desirable and possible? How can IBI remain ‘light on its feet’ in future? These are big questions facing many theological colleges and the answers are complex.
This of course is one of the big criticisms of missional church thinking regarding established, inflexible Christendom church structures that focused on real estate and a ‘come to us’ approach to mission. Just look at shrinking denominations lumbered with expensive, old and empty church buildings. But it can go for more modern churches too. One mega-church pastor remarked recently that it took a $1 million to run his local church each week. When does such vast expense become unconscionable or is it all relative to size?
A responsibility question
As Jesus repeatedly says, money and what we do with it is an integral part of life within the kingdom of God. It is a profoundly spiritual matter. Lots tends to get written about the need to give generously as a sign of God’s grace working in a Christian’s life (Zaccheus for example). But less is said I think about those receiving the money. There is a huge issue of trust here and I’ve felt this more than ever before in the last few weeks.
It has been deeply humbling to receive gifts, large and small, from all sorts of quarters. Receiving such gifts brings a responsibility not only to be accountable, but to ask and keep asking hard questions about how best a finite resource can be used within the kingdom of God. To not fall into a trap of appealing for money just to keep the status quo going. The act of asking for money has to go with a transparent willingness to be cross-examined and questioned by those who may well see more clearly than those in the organisation doing the asking who could be suffering from ‘institutional myopia’