James Howell at Call & Response provides a perfect postscript to our recently completed series on coaching your champions corporately. His topic is clergy gatherings rather than donor/volunteer events, but the principle is the same: gather your constituents together to genuinely discuss and debate issues of real substance, not merely to affirm, encourage, or relax the attendees.
Recently our church hosted a big conference for clergy, with great speakers, lots of enthusiastic buzz, warm feelings, and expressions of gratitude once it was over. But what is the purpose of such functions? Do they really help? Or just bolster our feelings and sense of vocation a bit?
I was left wondering this because I left the event to fly to Germany to represent the Methodists in a conversation with Catholics, Lutherans, and Reformed on the Doctrine of Justification. When I tell people (clergy or laity) of my destination and work, they gaze a bit vaguely past me in puzzlement. We don’t care much about doctrine. We care very much about technique: at our clergy event, if we’d offered some handy tips on how to increase giving, attenders would have been even more giddy. But if the event had been about the doctrine of Justification, nobody much would have come.
The cognitive dissonance on this was underlined for me in that one of our event speakers, Philip Jenkins, has a new book entitled “Jesus Wars” — so I downloaded it into my Kindle to read on the plane. In the 5th century, Jenkins reminds us, people travelled to big clergy events, not to be “inspired” or to bask in much-needed fellowship. They came to do what I went to Wittenberg to do: argue doctrine. They even hired armed thugs, riots broke out, politicians got involved, and regular shopkeepers and laborers all over the world were abuzz over the debates.
What topic of substance could you convene your donors–and public officials and even leaders of other nonprofits that work in the same cause you do–to discuss and debate?
Delete your next charity auction or golf scramble–the world is already groaning under the weight of a few million too many of those. Instead, convene a summit around a topic of genuine value and controversy related to your cause.
If armed thugs show up and a riot breaks out, rejoice: you’re in the company of no less than the early church fathers themselves.