Why do you raise support?

The question that forms the title of this post, or permutations of it, has been asked to me in a variety of ways and in a variety of contexts over the six years I have served with InterVarsity. Sometimes it has an accusatory flavor (either against me or InterVarsity for making me do it). Sometimes there’s an undercurrent of pity (poor fool, out begging for your dinner). At other times it’s asked in bewilderment (are you crazy?) or in awe (you must be very holy indeed).

[Note: for those of you not familiar with InterVarsity, you can read a little about us here. Like many evangelical mission agencies our staff raise financial support to the cost of providing ministry to the campuses we serve].

It’s a fair question when asked honestly. And I want to answer it personally (why I raise support). Here ten reasons I raise financial support:

  • Raising support has deep roots in Scripture. Philippians is a prayer letter, let’s be honest. Paul partnered with congregations he had started or ones he had served, to provide the financial resources to send him to new parts of the Empire.
  • Raising support has deep roots in the evangelical movement. The first foreign missions societies raised support to send men like William Carey and Hudson Taylor to parts of the world where the Gospel had not yet been preached.
  • Raising support reminds me that I am missionary. The emerging generations of college and graduate students are largely post-Christian, even in the Southern United States. This is missionary work.
  • Raising support creates a community of Christians who are invested (both in terms of financial investment but also in other ways) in the ministry God has entrusted to Anna and I. I need others to help me, guide me, and hold me accountable to do good work that is faithful to the Gospel. Donors are one way that I am able to remain rooted and centered. They help remind me that I am not the center of what God is doing on campus.
  • Raising support enables me to be free and faithful in expressing the ministry God has entrusted to me. I work on a university, but I don’t work for the university. This is critical. While I love and care deeply for the Wake Forest, I am not an employee of Wake Forest University. My ends (purposes) and the university’s ends are not the same. To be sure, there are many points of overlap and where these exist I am eager to help advance the university’s mission. However, at the end of the day I am about the work of building witnessing communities that will purposively influence the culture of the university.
  • Raising support enables donors to find joy in giving of the resources God has entrusted to them to advance the kingdom on campus, both at Wake Forest and across Virginia and the Carolinas. Giving to support ministries, missionaries, and churches ought to bring joy. If it doesn’t, ask why.
  • Raising support enables me to work with a mission agency that advances mere Christianity. Don’t get me wrong. I take theology quite seriously and, as a Presbyterian minister, I’m committed to the Reformed tradition as expressed in our Presbyterian confessions. However, Jesus emphasized in John 17 the unity of the Church. That unity isn’t a cheap or minimalist one. It is a unity based on the historic, Catholic creeds of the church: the essentials. Such a Christian expression can be quite compelling to people outside the faith who often see Christianity as marked by innumerable squabbles.
  • Raising support means that I get paid to do the work that God has called me to. Scripture says that the worker is “worthy of his hire.” Anna and I have been called and equipped to serve graduate students and faculty. We’ve followed God’s summons by getting a graduate theological education and entering service with InterVarsity. I have been ordained as a minister in the Presbyterian Church. I could work in a church if God so called me. As yet, he hasn’t. And since we need food to eat, clothes to wear, a house to live in, and to finish paying for my portion of those two graduate theological degrees, I don’t feel bad about the modest salaries we’re making.
  • Raising support is soul-altering work. There are a number of experiences that God often uses to make us more like Jesus (to sanctify us). Being a husband for seven years has been one of those experiences as has being a father. Raising support as a missionary can be a profoundly sanctifying task. It can be. It can also ruin your life if you lack the pastoral support or wander far from God’s gracious care. It will expose your deepest insecurities and force you to your knees in prayer. It is a severe mercy in many ways.
  • Raising support brings great joy to me.

So. There it is. What are your thoughts about missionary support-raising? I’d love your feedback.

 

Reflections on Dorothy Day

Comforting those under oppression

“Comfort those who sit in darkness / bowed beneath oppression’s load…”

Setting of Isaiah 40:1-8, Presbyterian Hymnal

 

I have been re-reading Dorothy Day’s autobiography, The Long Loneliness(1952). I had a hard time finding a photo of the cover of the edition I’m reading so I included a shot of me holding it (yes, I’m wearing fingerless gloves and a scarf. It’s cold today and my attic office doesn’t get much heat).

Apparently the current edition features a photo of a considerably younger Dorothy Day. This makes sense since ours is a culture that typically values youth over age and energy over wisdom. However, I prefer the older Dorothy Day. After all, before the age of Obama the memoir or autobiography was typically something undertaken later in life, conceivably owing to the fact that wisdom and youth seldom co-exist. I have been (and perhaps am) evidence of that fact.

One of the things that is most striking in Day’s writing is her sense, sometimes distant and other times extraordinarily proximate, that rather than standing at odds the Christian Gospel and a deep concern for those in need are profoundly married. [inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”” suffix=””]In fact, to Day’s thinking any appropriate concern for the poor needs to be rooted both in a sense of who the Christian God is and what difference this reality makes to our sense of self. [/inlinetweet]I think it’s fair to say that evangelical Christians are only now discovering this in large numbers. There has long been a strand of evangelicalism that has valued concern for those at the margins of society, but until fairly recently it has been a silent (or, at least, seldom heard or heeded) minority. Granted, it has been a minority represented by some really very significant thinkers, practitioners, and movements.

It is a healthy thing to see a concern for the poor become more central to the evangelical movement. Yes, there are dangers. That the mainline denominations have (arguably) lost or downplayed a sense of personal sin and conversion and, at times, committed an unhealthy mingling of theology and politics (something also committed by the religious right, I might add) in the attempt to create a utopia cannot be denied. However, that the danger of excess exists is no basis for judging a doctrine to be erroneous. Were that the case, grace would (and perhaps is) seldom heard in churches across the land.

No, a solid commitment to works of mercy is a good thing and ought to be radically rooted in the Scriptures and the history of the Church. No less than the Scots Reformed tradition mastered the use of Deacons as ministers of mercy, dividing cities for the purpose of assigning Deacons to care for the needs of the poor therein and Elders for the purpose of caring for their souls. As I recall, Thomas Chalmers (a minister and Moderator of the Free Church of Scotland) founded this scheme. You might also consult Tim Keller’s book, Ministries of Mercy.

[inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”” suffix=””]We need not become members of a Catholic Worker community or reject our commitment to classical Reformed theology and the infallible Word of God in order to care deeply for issues of mercy and justice.[/inlinetweet] In fact, those very commitments demand that we place such a concern as a primary part of our witness to the world.

Reflections on ministries of mercy

“Comfort those who sit in darkness / bowed beneath oppression’s load…”

Setting of Isaiah 40:1-8, Presbyterian Hymnal

 

I have been re-reading Dorothy Day’s autobiography, The Long Loneliness(1952). I had a hard time finding a photo of the cover of the edition I’m reading so I included a shot of me holding it (yes, I’m wearing fingerless gloves and a scarf. It’s cold today and my attic office doesn’t get much heat). Apparently the current edition features a photo of a considerably younger Dorothy Day. This makes sense since ours is a culture that typically values youth over age and energy over wisdom. However, I prefer the older Dorothy Day. After all, before the age of Obama the memoir or autobiography was typically something undertaken later in life, conceivably owing to the fact that wisdom and youth seldom co-exist. I have been (and perhaps am) evidence of that fact.

One of the things that is most striking in Day’s writing is her sense, sometimes distant and other times extraordinarily proximate, that rather than standing at odds the Christian Gospel and a deep concern for those in need are profoundly married. In fact, to Day’s thinking any appropriate concern for the poor needs to be rooted both in a sense of who the Christian God is and what difference this reality makes to our sense of self. I think it’s fair to say that evangelical Christians are only now discovering this in large numbers. There has long been a strand of evangelicalism that has valued concern for those at the margins of society, but until fairly recently it has been a silent (or, at least, seldom heard or heeded) minority. Granted, it has been a minority represented by some really very significant thinkers, practitioners, and movements.

It is a healthy thing to see a concern for the poor become more central to the evangelical movement. Yes, there are dangers. That the mainline denominations have (arguably) lost or downplayed a sense of personal sin and conversion and, at times, committed an unhealthy mingling of theology and politics (something also committed by the religious right, I might add) in the attempt to create a utopia cannot be denied. However, that the danger of excess exists is no basis for judging a doctrine to be erroneous. Were that the case, grace would (and perhaps is) seldom heard in churches across the land.

No, a solid commitment to works of mercy is a good thing and ought to be radically rooted in the Scriptures and the history of the Church. No less than the Scots Reformed tradition mastered the use of Deacons as ministers of mercy, dividing cities for the purpose of assigning Deacons to care for the needs of the poor therein and Elders for the purpose of caring for their souls. As I recall, Thomas Chalmers (a minister and Moderator of the Free Church of Scotland) founded this scheme. You might also consult Tim Keller’s book, Ministries of Mercy.

We need not become members of a Catholic Worker community or reject our commitment to classical Reformed theology and the infallible Word of God in order to care deeply for issues of mercy and justice. In fact, those very commitments demand that we place such a concern as a primary part of our witness to the world.

The price of integrity

I watched with sadness this week as a colleague in ministry in our Presbytery was forced to admit that he had plagiarized portions of his sermons over the last couple of years. I say forced since the admission came about when a church member confronted him having recognized portions of his sermons from the work of a number of well-known pastors, both in our denomination and elsewhere. It was a sad thing to behold. I’m glad to see that it looks as though this situation will end well.

It got me thinking about the price of integrity. When I was in law school my legal writing professor stressed to us the value of solid, accurate legal research in the memos and briefs that we wrote. The reason? The quality and accuracy of one’s writing and research is a huge part of our one’s reputation before the bench. One brief in which you misconstrue, misinterpret, misrepresent, or intentionally stretch the meaning of the case law for your particular matter at hand, you lose credibility. And it takes a long time to get it back.

The underlying principle is important to note: it only takes one bad decision to damage your reputation.