The Future of IBI: reflecting on the present

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’

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4 thoughts on “The Future of IBI: reflecting on the present

  1. Thank you Patrick for the reflection and for putting into paper what many people might be thinking!
    In my little experience, I am talking here about Third Space and our adventure, I have learned that Banks and other financial institutions are, what Marva Dawn would say the “powers and principalities” and they shape our lives,the things we do and how we choose to live. We, as Christians are not except, so a lot of businesses, churches are shaped by what the financial world dictates. We tend to think as “evil”, things like alcohol, drug abuse, prostitution, families falling apart. They are “evil”, there is no doubt about it, but they are the obvious evil. The “disguise” evil is the one that makes us bow down to it and we don’t even notice it or we think that we have no power against it. That is not what Paul is telling me in Colossians, this gospel has power according to him, and Jesus is above everything else, visible and invisible. I think it is important to reflect on a regular basis, and ask oneself? who is shaping me today?

  2. thanks Ana. And I think Marva would say the best way to disempower the force of mammon is to give it away – not necessarily to IBI 😉 but to those who need it more and where it can do the most good …

  3. Patrick thanks for some good questions and for being willing to ask them. For me there remain two more questions that arise from what you have said in this blog and the last one.

    First, to what extent has IBI’s thinking and action been shaped by the “spirit of the age” – be it the spirit of boom or the spirit of recession. In the boom the IBI became a property owner, a landlord, and, to some extent a speculator on property prices. (And that’s no criticism – I was one of the board who voted for the deal on the current property. Like many others at the time, we took a chance on the good times continuing.) Now in the bust IBI has become a pleader for mercy – mercy from the financial institutions and mercy from supporters who can help it out.

    Here’s the second question – What if the “wonderful opportunity” is the opposite of what we imagine it to be? What if the current situation presents IBI with an opportunity to escape the role of landowner and landlord and to somehow move away from the spirit of fear and anxiety that shapes our current climate. If IBI’s role as an institution is to train leaders for the Irish church then might it not be appropriate for an institution shaped by theological thinking to offer an alternative way of thinking in the area of how business is done. To put it another way, is theology only for the classroom or is it for the boardroom too? And if so what does gospel offer as an alternative way of living in this climate of fear and scarcity?.

    You could say I’m being unrealistically idealistic about all of this. You could be right. I know we all live in a world profoundly shaped by economic forces. Our children need feeding and clothing and so do we. Bankruptcy is not something any of us aspire to. But the same economic forces that have us where we are could yet turn today’s potential bargain into a reckless gamble.

    None of these questions should be read as a lack of support for IBI’s fundraising strategy but more a reminder of the importance of significant theological reflection in times like these. So thank you again for getting the ball rolling on this one.

  4. HI Sean. Fair questions thanks.

    On the ‘spirit of the age’ – I don’t know if it’s possible to answer definitively even with hindsight. We weren’t (and aren’t) property owners. There was no motive or expectation of profit by us or by the businessmen who took out the loan. The whole proposal was designed to enable and resource Christian ministry to develop (and it has made a huge and positive difference).

    If there was ‘spirit of the age’ it was I think entering into an agreement in which there was an element of risk even if carefully considered (being landlords with commerical tenants) and there was the liability of entering into an agreement to buy out the building in 2019 (even if it seemed low risk at the time).

    On the second question – I think all of life is theology 😉 You have several things wrapped up in there? You are dead right to raise the question but I really don’t think the current opportunity is potentially a trap or a gamble. You talk of escape to be free to focus on our calling? I actually think that is a good way to describe what is being proposed. It is an amazing way forward that seems to be materialising that would sort out a lot of complexity for good and leave IBI free of debt and any future liabilities.

    For it to work of course we need to see an incredibly generous response from supporters and funders. The response so far is humbling and encouraging.

    Everyone is agreed that, however the details work out, IBI’s focus will be training Christians in ministry NOT the distraction of managing property (I’m fresh from a Board meeting for most of today!).

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