A Letter to a Friend in Ministry on Development

I recently received a letter from a friend with a request on thoughts about development. I sought to answer his questions and, in the process, think about our students and what they will face in expectations for stewardship in ministry.

I share this with others and pray it may be of some help or at least stir further thinking about a Biblical model of encouraging support for Gospel ministry.

My Dear Brother in Christ:

It is great to hear from you. I’ve always admired the way you have been able to formulate just the right questions that would lead you to a precise and productive solution. I see that again in this letter to me. These questions are great. Let me get some thoughts before I go into each of the issues that you raised:

1. On the Mantle of Development ResponsibilityI believe that every ministry leader— whether the pastor of the small church or a mega church or a Para-church-ministry leader or a college president — must own the stewardship responsibility of that ministry above all other people. I believe this is modeled by the apostle Paul himself. I believe its model by Jesus who talked so much about money and stewardship and investing in eternity. The whole book of Philippians is really a “thank you” development letter to the generous church that supported other churches in Paul’s wider ministry. So I believe there’s great precedent for ministry leaders to be the most concerned and most active about support for ministry. Development is not an ancillary work of the ministry servant-leader, but a primary and fully integrated part of the whole. We cannot speak of doing “part time” development and part-time ministry. For he one who bears the burden of the ministry, the ministry leader, development is simply part of the all in all of his charge. Now that word, “development,” leads me to a second point:

2. On the Matter of Vision—I believe that God’s people and God‘s resources will follow God’s vision. Therefore, I believe that what we are doing is not exactly fund-raising as much as it is the development of disciples in their generous giving[1] to the call of Christ. You’re not raising money for yourself. You are developing committed disciples of the Lord to support the work of the Gospel of Jesus Christ through the ministry you have been called to by God. I do not go to ask people for money. I seek to present a faithful ministry and its relationship in the Body of Christ to the Great Commission and God’s redemptive work in the world. I want to show them that this is one way, not the only way, but one way build up their treasury in heaven and to encourage the work of Christ today. I make the presentation of the ministry and trust and believe that God will take care of the rest. I do not specifically ask. I never have.

When I was church planting in Overland Park I was involved in development. When I was church planting in Savannah I was involved in development. When I was a senior pastor of a historic downtown church — First Presbyterian Church of Chattanooga – I was involved with development (the encouragement of generous giving that would support our missionaries as well as the work of the gospel right there in Chattanooga).  The founder of Reformed Theological Seminary was an evangelist by the name of Sam Patterson. Rev. Patterson used to have a saying, “present to every man; ask of no man.” That is still an RTS way of doing development. We do not promote the seminary through “hard asks” of donors or prospective donors or congregations. We do, forthrightly, and without apology, seek to present the cause of the kingdom of God, advance and present the ministry of Jesus Christ through this movement called RTS. We’ll then trust the Holy Spirit to take care of the rest.

There’s another thought that I would present about the work of development and it is this:

3. On the Necessity of Planning—There must be intentionality in development. I do believe that we must be, as Paul was (for instance, in his Epistle to the Romans), quite deliberate in the way we do development. In Paul’s letter to the Romans, for instance, Paul, at once, deals with the deep theological division that is clear in the church at Rome and then effortlessly moves into his hope of support from Rome (for his ministry in the west, in Spain).[2] It seems to me that he understood as we understand that a healthy church can’t support missions. It’s focused on itself. The healthy Church, however, can look out and be involved with the support of Christ kingdom. Paul carefully ministered to the church at Rome and would expect that they would offer some support and help. The healthy church will give healthy missionary support. In other words I believe that we should be upfront and integrate development into the work of the ministry. Development is not a separate department. The casting of vision for the support of ministry is a part everything we do.

Now that I’ve rambled, probably too much, let me give some specific answers to your questions:

On the matter of giving and locality:

Yes, I do believe that people naturally want to give to those ministries that are close to them. There is a relationship between proximity and the heart. That is because generous giving is all about relationship. People give to those who have demonstrated to them that they can be trusted with the vision of Jesus Christ. Most often, because of their immediacy, because they can see Gospel ministry with her own eyes, and because they desire to “seek the welfare of the city” where they live,[3] that means they provide for those churches and ministries, which are on the “home front.” For instance, we recognize that we need a development officer at each one of our campuses. Therefore there development officers and unique development approaches at RTS Jackson, RTS Orlando, RTS Atlanta, RTS Charlotte, RTS Houston, RTS Washington DC, RTS virtual, and so forth. So the real reason the God’s people tend to give locally is that, I believe, God has put that into each of our hearts. It is the spiritually natural thing to do for a believer. That means they can see the person leading the ministry, casting vision, and implementing the vision. They can see the results, the students, the converts, the disciples, and others who are benefiting from their support of that given ministry. So, I do believe that God’s people give locally. But they give, first, through relationships. Because of that, if I have a relationship with someone from California, that is, that believer has known me, perhaps has sat under my ministry before, that person is a very likely candidate to give to the ministry. Locality, in this case, can mean, not “Jerusalem,” but “Judea and Samaria.” He or she knows of my passion and my commitment and has a face in my face, so to speak. Out of that relationship and their love of, in this case, the Gospel to go forth in America, they give to a national ministry like RTS. So locality is relative but locality is an undeniable reality with the giving of God’s people. Again, this is altogether time joined to relationships and trust — a donor’s trust that you are committed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to their home.

On the matter of software and other tools for identifying likely donors:

We do not use specific software for the cultivation of donors. We do believe that a likely supporter will show at least two features: affinity and ability. For most Americans — I mean most American Christians — there is some degree of ability. Most believers are going to be able to give some offering to some Gospel ministries above and beyond their tithes (I leave the matter of tithes and offerings and the teaching on what is the Storehouse to your own conscience; I have written about this in Giving as an Act of Worship).[4] In other words, they do have ability. Not all have affinity. This affinity, this appreciation of your ministry and prayerful desire to give to your ministry, is born out of understanding of the ministry’s faithfulness to the Great Commission in some way. The affinity is, usually, also there because they have been blessed in their own lives by the ministry. Sometimes it is because their lives have been touched by you, as a pastor or another believer who has been important at some stage of their lives. For others, they have studied the “impact” of your ministry and believe that to give to it is to truly invest in heaven’s glorious goals. People who have ability but no affinity are not going to support your ministry. If they come in contact with your ministry, some sort of affinity could develop by the work of the Lord on their hearts. The brothers and sisters in Christ, whom we know, are somewhere on the affinity spectrum. They are some place between “somewhat interested” all the way to “totally committed and giving.” So we do analyze affinity and ability, but that is done on a case-by-case basis. There simply is no replacement for one-on-one talking to someone about the ministry. I would say, at this point, that if we truly desire to model our ministries like Jesus, then we focus on both groups and on people, and then trust that the seeds will grow to be a great trees in God’s good time. There is an incubation period for those who will give. That incubation is a necessary phase for the sinews to join ability to affinity as muscle is joined to bone. The nutrients of God’s Word and Christ’s love expressed through our lives as well as a growing understanding of your heart and their own passion and vision for Christ’s ministry are what feeds the progression and helps a new donor to stand up and give with joy to a ministry.

And that leads me to another question that you had.

On the matter of talking person-to-person or to groups:

I have touched on this but let me be most unambiguous now. I don’t believe that it is a choice of one of the other. I believe that development involves both. I have heard that public speaking to a group is public relations and one on one is development. I understand the rationale for such an analysis, and respect those who see it that way, but I cannot join them; and this is why. When we preach, we bring the Word of God that unlocks the heart of our listeners. In a real way, then, without any sense of manipulation, which would be the most ungodly use of the Word, we do believe that Scripture cultivates and prepares the believer’s mind and heart to respond to God’s work. Indeed, the Word of God is like a plow that tills up the “soil” of the soul. Then, holy seeds are able to be deposited which can grow up to some good fruit. Some of that fruit is going to be the fruit of holiness in living. Some of that is going to be faithfulness in family life. Some of that is going to be the holiness and wisdom in good decision-making. Some fruit will be a commitment to follow Christ in full-time vocation. For many, though, the fruit will be the harvest of generous giving. So I do believe that speaking to groups is important as you cast vision within the context of the Word. This is necessary in a Biblical understanding of development: connecting your ministry to the mandate of the Great Commission. Now, having said that, I need to say, again, that nothing is more spiritually effective in Biblical development than moving from the preached Word publicly to the spoken Word privately. I do believe that our time spent with people after we have preached to be a necessary part of the development couplet in fostering relationships. It is out of the Christ-centered bond, then, that people give to the work of Christ. As I write these words, it occurs to me, that nothing could be more logical. Yet I must stress, again, developing a relationship with a person who would support Christ’s work is not a work of man (thought it can be, and you would become a peddler and not a minister) but is most definitely a ministry of the Holy Spirit grounded in the Spirit-breathed Word and lifting up the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ. Any reason apart from that highest aspiration is Finney-esque[5] manipulation on our part, and any response from the supporter apart from that is works righteousness. But we are not “hirelings”[6] and those who give must not be Ananias and Sapphira![7]  I know one notable leader in another ministry who will not let his development officers to ask for any support of an individual until they have given away a minimum of four valued “touches” to that believer. I think he is on to something. When we speak about “touches,” we are speaking about person-to-person contact in which we bring something of spiritual significance—not trinkets, mind you— to that individual and his family. Therefore, the sharing of a good and godly book that encourages his family life is something of value. “A ministry of presence”[8] expressed in prayerful sincerity—like a visit to a child’s graduation, or a visit to the person as she is in the hospital—would be examples of such a ministry of presence. I would say that there should be no expectation about support of one’s ministry until there has been a foundation of prayer formed for that person, as well as the foundation of prayer laid about the need of Christ’s ministry under your stewardship. Your prayers are not intended to loosen his icy grip on his own money, of course, but to open his hands in worship and praise and, thus, “giving as an act of worship”[9] unto Jesus Christ. The selfish grip is released when the selfless life in Christ is realized. The result of that prayer may be that he releases what God has given him to another ministry that God is put on his heart. This may not be that ministry of Christ where you have been assigned. Christ may use you to help a person to learn the joy of investing in heavenly gain and cause him to support another ministry. In the world, this would be losing your client to a competitor, but in the Kingdom of God this is building up other members and ministries in the Body of Christ. However, you have done your part. The difference may even be that the ministry you are charged with leading falters so that another flourishes. In the world’s estimation, this is foolishness, but in spiritual reality, you have served tour Master well. The Lord will take care of his seed in the ministry you steward, according to His own purposes, but he may use you to build up his kingdom in other places. All of this, it seems to me, is a part of a biblical vision for development which glorifies Christ, advances His kingdom, and guards our hearts—so wantonly prone to be seduced by “filthy lucre”[10]—and safeguards the Church and her members from soul-killing worldliness.

So to end on this point, I would say it is not public speaking versus private conversation that is the question, as much as it is a Word-centered, pastoral approach to the development of generous giving in the Church generally and people particularly.

On the matter of finding prospective supporters:

I would have to say that there are many ways out there for you to find supporters. There are consulting companies specializing in this. You can buy addresses and names and groups of people by affinity groups according to their purchasing habits or giving patterns, etc. Yet such an approach would be in the realm of fund-raising. I go back to the greatest source of giving would be God’s people responding to God’s vision from God’s Word, prompted by God’s Spirit.

Let me put it like this: when I am reading I generally seek to give particular care to the footnotes. Like most writers, I dislike end notes and prefer footnotes. I want them there to underscore or to circle with my pen. Like most writers I deal with those who are like most publishers and place these citations as end notes! Well, I digress. If one follows the “footnote trail”—reading not only the main text, but also the author’s references—one will always be led to discover a new “reading room” of knowledge. This new “reading room” will then escort you to another room—a larger room—and so forth. Reading is the beginning of an ever-expanding adventure through a house of ideas, if one follows the footnote trail. In a similar way, if we preach the Word, minister the Word, bring help to God’s people, we will invariably find other people, whom God may use in His cause. Thus, through truly ministering to one human being with the prayer that they will be strengthened in their stewardship and that Christ’s ministry will be sustained through this godly method, those dear saints will desire to share the ministry with others. Since we are all connected through Christ, the Lord will lead you to “new rooms” of development for Christ’s glory.

I aim to preach Christ to as many people as I can in the most ways that I can so that there will be a multitude of souls safe in the arms of Jesus when He comes again, for they are “our glory and our joy and our crown of boasting” (1 Thessalonians 2:19-20). Therefore, to borrow the profane descriptive phrase, “donor name acquisition,” and to seek those who would support our ministries, we must follow the “footnote trail” of “living letters of love”[11] so that Christ’s eternal redemptive goals are realized and souls are saved.

On the question of what should be included in a development presentation I would say the following: first is faithfully preaching the Word followed by a relationship-building time that seeks to invest God’s Word in the person. Within that development contact, as I’ve said, a faithful steward of a ministry should be providing spiritual value to the person’s life and walk with the Lord. The Holy Spirit inside of that person will respond to the Holy Spirit message and the Holy Spirit fruit that is being born in a given ministry. It is in this way that a biblical development, generous giving response happens. Many of the philanthropic-focused “professionals” remind us that telling stories about ministry successes is the key to effective presentations.[12] I am not sure that I would completely agree with that. Story is powerful. Story is also Biblical.[13] Yet as one writer on marketing put it, “Don’t just tell me the facts, tell me a story instead. Be remarkable! Be consistent! Be authentic! …Marketing is powerful. Use it wisely. Live the lie.”[14] While that may be an extreme example, the point should be taken. Story has to thus be tied to non-manipulative, Biblically faithful contexts, which celebrate the beauty of the Body of Christ, not motivate the senses to support success. I believe that this is an entirely spiritual matter and therefore must be approached with prayer. I believe every vision must express God’s burden, God’s values, His vision — and by that I mean the beauty of the Body of Christ when there is a redemptive lifting of the burden — a mission, philosophy of ministry, and clarity about the biblical strategies (strategies that are dependent upon the Lord) one has put forth to reach forward to the mission and realize the vision. It is true, then, that testimonies of Christ at work in a ministry are very powerful because they are incarnational, like Jesus. Yet unless those testimonies, those stories, if you will, are tethered to an urgency, a passion, burden, values, and vision, and mission, then the stories are merely, well, stories. Such an approach would produce some human responses—based on the use of pathos, ethos, and logos, thinking of Aristotelian rhetoric,[15] is a results-proven strategy— yet we would be little more than peddlers[16] of ministry needs, rather than Spirit led ministers who are developing generous givers toward a biblical vision. I’ve always said the church planter can be described as this: one man on fire, burning with the saving work of Jesus Christ in his own life, and other people coming to watch them burn. The closer they get to this burning man, they too catch fire, and the holy conflagration grows. Out of that dynamic, a golden lampstand is established. That is the way churches are planted. I believe that is also the way, Christ ministries are supported.

In terms of books I might recommend, after a personal study of, say, Philemon, I might suggest the biography of George Mueller,[17] and the biography of Sam Patterson.[18]

God bless you in this work as you seek Christ in prayer to support His ministry.

Commending you now to Christ and to the Word of His grace, I am

Your old friend,

Mike

References

Aristotle, and G.A. Kennedy. On Rhetoric: A Theory of Civic Discourse: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Blomberg, Craig. Preaching the Parables : From Responsible Interpretation to Powerful Proclamation. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2004.

Godin, Seth. All Marketers Are Liars: The Power of Telling Authentic Stories in a Low–Trust World. New York, New York: Portfolio, Penguin Group, 2009.

Hobbs, R.B., and Reformed Theological Seminary. How Big Is Your God: The Spiritual Legacy of Sam Patterson, Evangelist: Reformed Theological Seminary, 2010.

Horton, Michael. “The Legacy of Charles Finney.” Modern Reformation  (2012). http://www.modernreformation.org/default.php?page=articledisplay&var1=ArtRead&var2=625&var3=main.

Miller, Basil. George Muller, the Man of Faith : A Biography of One of the Greatest Prayer-Warriors of the Past Century. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1941.

Milton, Michael A. Giving as an Act of Worship. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2006.

“Philanthropy Discussion Series.” Stanford Graduate School of Business: Center for Social Innovation © 2009 Stanford Graduate School of Business (2009). http://csi.gsb.stanford.edu/series/search/Philanthropy Discussion Series [accessed March 27, 2012].

Pratt, Richard L. He Gave Us Stories : The Bible Student’s Guide to Interpreting Old Testament Narratives. Phillipsburg, N.J.: P. & R. Pub., 1993.

Notes

[1] I appreciate this term, “Generous Giving,” that is used and taught so well by The Maclellan Foundation’s stewardship department of the same name. See http://www.generousgiving.org/.

[2] “I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain, and to be helped on my journey there by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a while” (Romans 15:24 English Standard Version of the Holy Bible).

[3] “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29:4-7 ESV).

[4] Michael A. Milton, Giving as an Act of Worship (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2006).

[5] Speaking of Charles Finney See Michael Horton, “The Legacy of Charles Finney,” Modern Reformation (2012). http://www.modernreformation.org/default.php?page=articledisplay&var1=ArtRead&var2=625&var3=main.

[8] The phrase is a routine description of chaplain ministry in the United States Armed Forces. As a chaplain, I know that I “earn’ the right to be the pastor to my troops by first just “being there”—at the motor pool, or

[9] Milton.

[10] “Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous” (1 Timothy 3:3 AV).

[11] “Clearly, you are a letter from Christ showing the result of our ministry among you. This “letter” is written not with pen and ink, but with the Spirit of the living God. It is carved not on tablets of stone, but on human hearts” (2 Corinthians 3:3 New Living Translation [©2007]).

[12] “Story” is obviously important. It gives flesh to concepts. I do not mean to suggest that there are not “common grace” approaches that are being used well by those who may or may not have a Christian orientation. For instance, see the excellent article from the Stanford Graduate School of Business’ excellent resources on philanthropic discussion: “Philanthropy Discussion Series,” Stanford Graduate School of Business: Center for Social Innovation © 2009 Stanford Graduate School of Business(2009). http://csi.gsb.stanford.edu/series/search/Philanthropy%20Discussion%20Series (accessed March 27, 2012).

[13] To think about the Bible and the concept of “story” and its impact on how the Holy Spirit works to bring truth to our lives, I immediately think of Richard L. Pratt, He Gave Us Stories : The Bible Student’s Guide to Interpreting Old Testament Narratives (Phillipsburg, N.J.: P. & R. Pub., 1993). I also think of the very wise reflection and teaching on Jesus’ stories and how we use them in Craig Blomberg, Preaching the Parables : From Responsible Interpretation to Powerful Proclamation (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2004).

[14] Seth Godin, All Marketers Are Liars: The Power of Telling Authentic Stories in a Low–Trust World (New York, New York: Portfolio, Penguin Group, 2009).

[15] See Aristotle and G.A. Kennedy, On Rhetoric: A Theory of Civic Discourse (Oxford University Press, 2007).

[16] “For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ” (2 Corinthians 2:17).

[17] Basil Miller, George Muller, the Man of Faith : A Biography of One of the Greatest Prayer-Warriors of the Past Century (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1941).

[18] R.B. Hobbs and Reformed Theological Seminary, How Big Is Your God: The Spiritual Legacy of Sam Patterson, Evangelist (Reformed Theological Seminary, 2010).