Another approach to financial support for urban mission

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Continuing my thoughts on financial support for Gospel ministry, I agree with those who feel that the current system is skewed towards unhealthy patronage and further that it means that finances don’t reach the places where they are most needed.

There have been some conversations about the possibility of doing more to get funding redistributed towards working class, estate and inner city church plants.  However, I think such approaches remain to conservative.

I’ve been involved in two pretty unsuccessful attempts to get funds for an urban church plant.  One involved writing an application to the grant making committee from a church network.  The other involved presenting at an event where potential donors were gathered for pastries and coffee. I’m convinced that these are utterly unhelpful ways of making decisions and are likely to discriminate against those from working class contexts.

The first problem is that these processes rely on you observing and conforming to particular social norms. If it were as simple as the allegation that there are lies and untruths about what is happenng as I mentioned in my last post that would be bad enough. But you also have to learn to conform to a way of talking, a kind of humble brag. You can’t go in and say “To  be honest, I don’t know if this venture will succeed or not.  We may end up having to pack it in three years hence with no converts and no church.”  That won’t offer “investors” the return they expect. On the other hand, if you walk into a room and say “We’ve seen attendance double in five years, we’ve multiplied small groups and we’ve started 3 new congregations.”  Then there are three problems with that

  1. It is seen as too boastful.  You are meant to shrug a bit and say “ah there have been ups and downs but …” 
  2. Because people assume that there should be a connection between growth in numbers and growth in finances they wonder at that point why you might need outside support.
  3. Bluntly, they don’t believe you. If you are not already a recognised name, known and endorsed in the right circles .

Then there is the time involved in writing applications, preparing presentations and attending.  Furthermore, even at the end of such presentations, you are unlikely to get someone turn around and say “okay here is a cheque.” You see, again the way these things work is that it is about gradually getting your face known. So the presentation to donors will lead to them going away and thinking about it and maybe coming back later.

Such processes are geared up to benefit people from middle class cultures and churches or organisations that already have enough resources and people to give time and attention to the process.

These concerns feed in to a scepticism I have about the benefit and effectiveness of systems that rely on finances being passed through a centralised conduit.  The other problem is the patronage one.  These types of process lead to some people being recipients and others givers.  It places some as rescuers and others as those who need rescuing. 

So, is there a solution?  I think there is. In Romans 1:11-12, Paul says:

 11 For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— 12 that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.

There’s the solution. Partnership. Paul is coming to Rome and he could pull rank and claim seniority. Alternatively, the church there, noting that  he has a request, a need, could be tempted to use money as a means of power and control. Instead, Paul’s desire is for mutual blessing and benefit. He will be a help to the church and they to him.  This theme comes up again in some of his other letters.

We should not assume that the traffic is all one way.  Our first congregation plant benefited from support in the form of mission teams from OM. They benefited greatly from the personnel and gifts. At the same time, those people who came benefited too. They learnt, they experienced, they were challenged and encouraged. They went back to their sending churches different, for the benefit of those churches. The blessing was mutual.

So, I’d like to focus on partnerships between two or three churches where each church is recognised as having gifts to offer and needs to be met. There are lots of ways in which smaller, newer, poorer churches can mutually bless, encourage and support larger, older, richer churches. 

Such partnerships are also likely to be sustainable over the long term. The churches recognise a shared mission that they plan to patiently and faithfully pursue together. The financial support when it comes is based on the regular giving of church members  who recognise a need. That’s different from big grants that tend to be from one off bequests and legacies.

I’d like to encourage networks, mission organisations and planting catalysts to play their part in facilitating such partnerships.

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