Great email from a workshop participant yesterday. The writer oversees a ministry to incarcerated youth. Question was: in TG, are we really, for example, calling all people to do face-to-face ministry with prisoners? What about those who truly feel no calling in that area and who exhibit no gifting for it? My reply follows:
You have masterfully put your finger right on the key question that Christians must answer today—and one of the key distinctions between Transformational Giving and traditional fundraising.
About eighty years ago, missions intensified their fundraising efforts by advising donors and potential donors that they could ‘give or go’. That is, you could share the Gospel in Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth. Or if that wasn’t practicable for you, you could give so that others could go and do that in your place.
Loren Cunningham from YWAM was one of the first mission figures who noted that missions agencies were extending an offer that neither Jesus nor the scriptures in general were making. As Cunningham noted, Christians are called to give and go. Not all Christians will go to the ends of the earth, but all Christians are called to go somewhere, even if that’s the end of the block.
Since then, missiologists have noted that the extrabiblical disjunction that missions agencies offered (to give or go) has been responsible for a number of missions ailments, e.g., anemic missionaries, shortages of career missionaries, churches who don’t ‘feel called’ to missions, and declining donor support for missionaries to the point where the Christian Leadership Alliance noted at the end of last year that the current model for missions funding will become extinct by the end of this generation, should Jesus tarry.
One thing that no one disputes is that for a time, giving Christians the choice between doing and giving resulted in plentiful funding for organizations that volunteered to professionalize the doing!
So, for example, Christians who were uncomfortable sharing their faith were told that they could fulfill the scripture’s call to share their faith by giving money to a professional evangelist instead.
Christians who were nervous around homeless people were told that they could fulfill the scripture’s call to care for the poor by giving money to professional homeless service providers.
And, yes, Christians who did not want to visit those in prison were—and are—told that if they are uncomfortable visiting prisoners, they can instead fulfill the Savior’s call to visit those in prison by giving money to professional prison ministries.
As time has passed, that has created a staggering number of nonprofit ministry professionals to whom the church has largely delegated scripture’s calls for direct action.
The result? Spiritual anemia afflicts the church. Christians buy into a professionalized model of ministry where those who ‘have a gift for that sort of thing’ carry out what scripture actually calls all Christians to be involved in.
Christians becoming consumers, in other words, as professionalized providers of ministry assure them that they are doing the right thing by ‘leaving the driving to us’.
Today, the professionalized providers of service are becoming more and more dismayed, because Christians are not holding up their end of the bargain. They’re simply not giving near as much as they should, according to churches and nonprofits. And indeed, the percentage of income given by the average Christian has remained unchanged for the last fifty years.
But there’s an interesting trend that’s beginning to arise. Driven (sadly, often by secular trends, rather than a return to scripture that always called for this in the first place) Christians are ‘grabbing the wheel’ for themselves. Instead of sponsoring missionaries, they’re going on mission trips themselves. And they’re raising their own money to do it! They’re giving and going, in other words, while the church and nonprofit ministries watch with a mix of concern and intrigue.
Transformational Giving is an effort to return the relationship between Christians and nonprofit ministries to a scriptural foundation—one in which Christians are equipped to directly impact the causes to which Christ calls them.
In TG, the ‘give or go’ disjunction is acknowledged as patently unscriptural, and the idea of basic Christian responsibilities being delegated to paid professionals is repudiated. The priesthood of all believers is affirmed, where, as in Ephesians 4:11-13, the role of ministry leaders is recognized as preparing all God’s people for works of service and bringing them to full maturity in the cause of Christ–not doing the works of service for them and relegating them to the role of supporters.
It’s going to take all of us some time, should Jesus tarry, for Christian leaders to help Christians reclaim the works of mercy commended to all Christians. That’s what TG is all about: coaching nonprofits to evolve from professionalized service providers financed by supporters to coaches of champions, equipping Christians to walk in the works of service God has prepared for them.
In the case of your ministry, you’re in a key spot. You’re absolutely right: most Christians are completely freaked out about the idea of visiting those in prison. And that’s where the P-E-O (participation-engagement-ownership) process comes in. It’s how we prepare God’s people for works of service. We ‘head them off at the pass’ when they tell us that they are going to give money to us so that we can do the ministry for them. We know that God calls them to give and to visit prisoners—and we know that visiting prisoners will change them in a way that donating to a prison ministry alone never can.
But this requires that we coach them. Many (most, perhaps) will need to begin with steps that precede actually doing a visit. Those steps might involve lunch with you and them and a former prisoner. One ministry we work with begins the discipleship process by inviting champions to send Christmas cards. Next step? Have them receive the replies and begin to correspond. Perhaps a fictional or autobiographical book will help prepare the champion. In any case, what all these steps have in common is that they are preparing the champion for works of service, not serving as a substitute for the same.
It would be unreasonable to expect that every champion would go on to be a full-time worker with incarcerated youth (or whatever one’s particular cause is), or that everyone would be able to handle the hardest cases. But that’s not what Jesus calls for. His call is simply that we visit those in prison. Responding to that call need not (and typically will not) be a full-time vocation for most of us. But it does appear that the Savior had in mind that neither would it be absent for our lifestyle, either.
God came to us directly in the form of Jesus—and He calls all of His people to go directly to the world in need, not through professional intermediaries. Nonprofits can and should join churches in equipping them to give and go. Because there’s something about doing both of those things at a progressively deeper level that grows us in His image in a way that doing one or the other simply can’t accomplish alone.