I normally dislike the word Christian being used as an adjective (i.e. Christian music, Christian lawyer, Christian books, etc.). I’m not sure that the term “Christian” was ever intended to describe activities or other nouns. My first inclination is that the term “Christian” should be used exclusively to describe someone as a follower of Christ.
It seems, however, that sometimes “Christian” might be useful as an adjective if it is used as a descriptor to express a contrasting option, such as Christian fundraising vis-à-vis fundraising conducted for non-Christian purposes or by non-Christians. Of course, this begs the question, What is the difference between “Christian” fundraising and, let’s use another word I dislike, “secular” fundraising.
First, a story, then a brief description (or theology) of Christian fundraising.
I had the privilege, years ago, to take part in a secular Planned Giving fundraising seminar. The seminar leader was a true professional and very knowledgeable in her field. Surprisingly, she used the term “stewardship” throughout the seminar, a term often used by Christian fundraisers. No one in attendance seemed fazed by her using the term. It was as though there was a unanimity of understanding of the definition of stewardship. I was perplexed, however, at how easy this term was being bantered around with no real definition being put forth.
At the end of the seminar, the leader asked for feedback. I told the group that I had really gained a lot of insight into Planned Giving, but not all of what I had learned would translate into a Christian fundraising environment. The seminar leader seemed upset at my statement, and asked, “What is the difference between Christian fundraising and what I am teaching?” So, in the great tradition of Jesus, I asked her a question: “What do you mean by the term stewardship as it was used in this seminar?” She replied that stewardship is simply the responsible use of one’s own resources.
The group seemed very pleased with her answer, and they all turned to look at me for my reply. “Maybe,” I said, “we are not that far off.” “But the definition of the term stewardship means to responsibly care for another person’s property or resources, not one’s own. A Christian theology (or program) of stewardship/fundraising always begins with the notion that we do not own any resources, but that we are merely stewards of what God has entrusted to us (Psalm 24:1). So the difference is more than semantics, but one of possession. Who’s resources are they?”
Additionally, I would like to state emphatically that it isn’t just a different attitude that makes someone a Christian fundraiser, or even a higher ethical standard. Christian fundraising is the carrying out of specific fundraising activities clearly informed and motivated by a Biblical theology of stewardship.
The first step to understanding a particularly Christian approach to fundraising is to see the overall activity primarily as a part of the discipleship process. That is, the Christian fundraiser is involved in the making of followers of Christ (disciples), and thus must understand his calling to be involved in the Christian fundraising vocation or ministry. In consideration of this premise, the following principles of discipleship are the basis for a Christian theology of fundraising:
Repentance – This is always the initial step in a discipleship process. Jesus said, “The hour has come. The kingdom of God is near you. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15). To understand that all that we have as belonging to God, we must have a change in our thinking.
First, and foremost then, we must change the way we think about Jesus: “Though we once thought of Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor. 5:16b-17).
The ultimate change is how we understand who Jesus is, and then, and only then, can we begin to change the other areas of our lives to be in accord with His Word. When we receive the Lordship of Christ in our lives, we freely submit ourselves to His benevolent authority and His ownership of our very lives and our possessions. The Christian fundraiser calls people to believe in Christ and His Good News for their lives.
Release – This next act of repentance requires us to change the way we think about our possessions. Though there are many other areas of our lives that need to come under the Lordship of Jesus, we focus here on what may be the most critical.
Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19). When Jesus announced His discipleship ministry to the world, He proclaimed release for the oppressed and freedom for the imprisoned. I want to state that Jesus is here talking about everyone in the world. We are all oppressed and imprisoned by materialism and we all need to be released from its possession of our souls.
“No one can serve two masters,” Jesus said. “Either he will hate the one and love the other …. you cannot be submissive to both God and Mammon [materialism]” (Matthew 6:24). As a Christian fundraiser, you are not asking people for money for your good cause; you are releasing people from their possession to the pagan god call Mammon. The Christian fundraiser releases people from their bondage and possession to materialism.
Investment – In the Western world we often think of investment as a means to a return (ROI). Some Christians actually believe that to be responsible stewards they should be shrewd investors of God’s resources in ministries that can clearly show a better return of their investment than another. Unfortunately, that is a limited view of what Jesus has in mind when He tells us to invest in the Kingdom:
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt 6:19-21).
What we have in mind as we disciple stewards is how a person spends the resources God has given to them. Certainly, it is important to discern which ministry to invest resources, but most people must first begin to change the priorities of how they spend their God-given resources. How does the person spend their money for living expenses, entertainment, transportation, etc; what is their motivation and criteria for savings; and, what are their giving patterns? These are the important questions for a Christian fundraiser who sees their ministry as one of discipleship. The Christian fundraiser is ever putting the Kingdom Treasure Principle in front of those he or she is discipling.
Eternal Perspective – The treasure principle leads us next to the concepts of trust and eternity. In the Parable of the Talents (Matt 25:1; 14-30), God gives three different stewards (disciples) a chance to show forth their trustworthiness to enter into His eternal Kingdom. “At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like …” (Matt 25:1). Disciples are known by their fruit (Matt 7:20), Jesus said—how they use the gifts (whether spiritual or material) that God has given to them.
The Parable of the Talents easily translates to our day. A bank does not give loans out to people without a credit history. The military does not give security clearances to people who have defaulted on their debts. Why, because those people have shown proven themselves responsible when it comes their finances, and, thus, may not be responsible in other areas of their lives. The eternal Kingdom of God is reserved for those who are trustworthy–those who have exercised faith in the God they profess by using the gifts entrusted to them wisely. They have used their resources with an eternal perspective. The Christian fundraiser helps donors to have an eternal perspective on their giving, not just a temporal one.
Joy of Giving — Finally, in the great tradition of the Westminster Catechism: a disciple is one whose chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. When a disciple is mature and not under the possession of the pagan god of materialism, he will take pleasure in the process of stewardship. He will enjoy the giving of resources so that the Kingdom might be expanded: “So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7).
Jesus said that is more blessed to give than receive (Acts 20:35). A disciple will never know that estate of blessedness until they fully embrace the principle of the joy of giving. Christian fundraisers help donors realize the joy that comes from releasing resources into Christ’s Kingdom.
© Paul M. Dordal, 2009