Reading Scripture in Church and Other Small Things

I had the opportunity to read Scripture at church this week.  Once a month or so I get to grab a microphone, a Bible and a break between songs to read a pre-selected passage.

Our church tries to have Scripture read every week.  When possible, we even have people read in both English and Spanish (though it is funny that we read the NVI but would never read the NIV).

When I read Scripture as part of worship, here are some thoughts that go through my mind ...

"Thank you Jesus I'm not singing!"
"What does the passage say?"
"What does the passage mean?"
"Does my reading capture both?"
"Slow down and e-nun-ci-ate"
"Don't forget to say 'This is the word of the Lord'"

I can read well without any preparation, but I like to prepare:
  • I study the context of the reading to better understand the meaning.
  • I try out various rhythms and inflections to better communicate the meaning.
  • I read the passage, aloud, over and over so my delivery is smooth.
  • I try to memorize (even though I'll be reading).
  • I pray that people would be - not just hearers of the word - but doers also.

It's easy to take small responsibilities like this lightly, to wing it.  But there is a certain joy to being faithful in small things.  That attention to detail, that extra 5 minutes ... that may mean nothing in a 3 hour-long seminar.  But it could mean a lot in a 1 minute-long Scripture reading.

Where is God giving you opportunities to be faithful in small things?

For God's Sake Take Notes in Church

Today, millions of people will sit, listen to preaching and forget everything that is said.

Every week, I spend 38 minutes listening to my pastor preach.  Over the course of a year, this adds up to over 32 hours ... listening.  I want to remember what I've heard.

This desire to remember is bigger than a miserly desire to maximize my time.  Most preaching is worth remembering.  Someone has looked at Scripture, thought about how to communicate, and has delivered a sermon.  Out of respect, I should do my best to remember their ideas (even their bad ideas!).

But that's not all.

God speaks to us through his word, molding and shaping us, commissioning us and equipping us for his mission in the world.  And for his sake, I can't let sermons bounce in one ear and out the other.

That's why I take notes in church. 

I want to remember what I hear.

What do you do to help yourself remember what you hear?

5 Ways to Overcome Creative Blocks

Work creatively for long enough and you'll get creative blocks.

When this happens, pressure builds.  You need a sermon illustration, but have no ideas.  You need an essay topic, but nothing comes to mind.  You need a recipe, but nothing's appealing.

Committed creatives push through these blocks (or try to!).

Here are 5 ideas that can help you overcome creative blocks ...

1) Change your environment

This is my go-to move when I'm writing.  I turn the TV off (or on).  I turn the music on (or off).  I sit on the floor or stand at the table.  Sometimes I change venue (from office to living room or coffee shop).  Sometimes I change clothes.

Our environment has a big impact on our creative capacity.  Distractions and multi-tasking temptations drain energy needed to break through mental blocks.  Small changes in environment can quickly and easily have a big impact.

2) Hunt for the source of the block in the bigger picture ... and remove it!

From the ground level of environment to the 10,000 feet.  Big picture, is there anything keeping you from creating?  Are you hungry, angry, lonely or tired?  Are you pressed for time?  Are you afraid?

Often, our creativity blocks have nothing to do with our particular creative task. 

This summer, I was creating a sermon while also carrying on a very emotional e-mail exchange with a relative.  I kept getting frustrated with my writing ... "Why isn't this coming together?  Why am I blocked?"  The answer was simple.  The emotional energy I would normally use to create the sermon was being poured into the e-mail exchange.  Once the source of the block was located, it could be easily removed (ie. compartmentalized).

3) Drop optional side projects (temporarily)

You may notice that my writing here on the blog sometimes slows mysteriously.  I'll have weeks where I only post once or twice.  I know that this is a little weird for those of you who get this in your inbox.  Days with nothing, then weeks with long posts.

When my creativity gets blocked in my work, I'll pause the blog to allow me to focus all of my energy on the project at hand.  Last week, I was preparing for a big evangelistic outreach on campus.  Next week, I'll be writing material for the LaFe Florida Conference.  So, I expect to write here a little less.

You only have so much creative energy.  Sometimes blocks appear when we're working at the edges of our energy.  We can get more energy (see above and below) or work with what we have.  I try to do both at the same time.

4) Repair your rails

The concept of "rails" is a concept I've learned from Todd Henry over at The Accidental Creative. [If you're unfamiliar with Todd's work, check out his podcast (available on iTunes)]

Rails are rhythms, habits and practices that free up creative energy for creating. 

By deciding "I'm going to try to write every day in 2010," I took away the need to make a decision every day on the "Am I going to write question?"  Your rails might be an editorial calendar, a writing ritual, a specific way you organize your equipment.

Creative blocks can emerge when our rails break down.  You find yourself spending all of your creative energy away from your creative arena. 

5) Re-examine your purpose for creating

Why are you doing this hard work?  Forget that and, eventually, you'll have a hard time creating. 

Everyone who works creatively needs to keep returning to the "Why" question.  The answer doesn't have to be profound.  It's okay to answer "For money" or "For fun."  But answer the question.

Clarity on the "Why" frees you to do your thing.  If you're doing this project for fun, have fun with it.  If you're doing it for money, adjust your expectations and focus on specifications and do sufficient work. 

We freeze up when we start treating paycheck work like it HAS to be fun or play work like it HAS to be perfect.  Knowing why you're doing it frees you up to actually do it (whatever "it" is).

What do you do when you hit a creative block?

On Incarnation and Inspiration

How did we get the Bible?

This question kept coming up during our outreach this week.  It's complicated.  Confusing.  Important.

Evangelical conversations around the origins of the Bible tend to focus on it's perfection and defensability.  God inspired human authors to produce the Scriptures.  Revelation.  "The Bible," Evangelicals say, "is inerrant and infallible." And I'm all for that.

But when I think about the Bible - and more specifically the doctrine of inspiration - inerrancy and infallibility aren't the first things that come to mind.

Attempting to run the right way around the circle, I start with Jesus.

We know God most clearly through Jesus.  Paul the Apostle and poet called Jesus "the image of the invisible God."  In Jesus we see God's character and priorities clearly displayed.  He reveals God perfectly to us.

But we tend to ignore this idea when it comes to talking about the Bible, inerrancy, and inspiration.  We tend to start in the wrong place, with a God who is abstract.  If God had revealed himself primarily as omniscient and omnipresent and omnipotent, we would expect the Bible to be primarily precise and thorough and beyond argument.

But what if God's revelation through Jesus sets a pattern for his revelation through Scripture?

God's revelation through Jesus wasn't precise.  It was full of horrible inefficiency.  Decades, dusty roads, death.  And people were so confused.  "What did he mean?  Why did he do that?  Who is he again?"  These questions swirl around Jesus, filling the air around him.

God's revelation through Jesus wasn't thorough either.  He forgot to talk about homosexuality, abortion, waiver wire pick-ups ... all of the important things.  Jesus focused on what he considered important, in both his action and teaching.  But his priorities weren't ours.

And, let's face it, God's revelation through Jesus wasn't beyond argument.  He had doubters and haters from the very beginning (think Herod), throughout his ministry (think Pharisees), at his death (think Romans), and to this very day (who do you think of?).  He left room for doubt.

But if precision, thoroughness, and ... well ... being beyond argument aren't the priorities that illuminate God's revelation, what does?

I don't know that I know, not exactly.  But I know it's messy and relational and enough.

What about you?  What do you think God's incarnation tells us about God's inspiration?

Show Respect in Evangelism

In InterVarsity, we work hard to show respect to the people we engage.

And this proves remarkably difficult when talking about the deep matters of our faith.

Perhaps you've experienced this.  A conversation about faith.  Some significant disagreement.  Your words can't convince.  It isn't as clear to them as it is to you.  You feel your face begin to flush.  Beat beatbeat beat. Your heart pumps a little faster.  And you start to say things.  Sarcastic things.  Snide things.  Arrogant things.


When the flames of disrespect flicker behind my eyes, I'm a terrible evangelist.

Even if I'm talking about love and salvation and Jesus, that disrespect overwhelmes my words.  All my hearers hear is: "Breaking News - This guy thinks you're stupid, immoral, weak and ... mostly ... less than him."  And that sounds like bad news.

Showing respect is costly.

You don't get to say everything you want to say.
You don't get to show your depth of insight.
You don't get to share the full story.
You don't get to win.

But you might get heard. 

What do you think is the hardest part of showing respect in evangelism?

Photo courtesy of and Clarita

Anticipatory Fear

We're doing a big evangelistic outreach on campus tomorrow. 

We're hoping to help students take steps closer to Jesus, to generate conversations, to push people to rethink what they believe and why they believe it.

And I am afraid.

This fear has become familiar over the last several years.  I feel it almost every week.  It never goes away.  I feel it in my bones, aches of anticipation.

It doesn't take much to kick off this fear: evangelism, fundraising, preaching, new student outreach.  I'm so easily made afraid ... at least, in advance.

When I'm talking to potential donors or sharing the gospel or standing in front of a group of people and talking about Jesus, that fear mostly fades away.  For me, the hardest part is the anticipation.

My anticipatory fear causes me to flip through the worst possible outcomes, to expect resistance and persecution, to prepare myself for failure, for rejection.  Layer by layer, fear builds.

But in the face of anticipatory fear, I hear Jesus say:
Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
And here's why this is so important ...
  • Anticipatory fear weakens us to face the trials of today
  • Anticipatory fear forces us to face trials that never come
  • Anticipatory fear distracts us from what God is doing today
So, how do we combat anticipatory fear?

Photo courtesy of and monosodium

Saved to ... ?

But what happens after Jesus saves us?

Jesus saves us from sin. But what does he save us to?

Over the last few weeks, I've given this some thought and have three ideas. And for my baptist friends, they all start with the same letter (you're welcome).

Saved to sit

Our salvation is not conditional.  Jesus doesn't rescue us because we serve some greater purpose in his grander scheme.  The love God gives us is a gift, lavishly given.

Disciples of Jesus are invited to sit at his feet.  To worship.  To learn.

But too often followers of Jesus just sit.

And perhaps this wouldn't be a problem if our God was a stationary God.  But the God of the Bible is a mobile God, a God who wasn't carved by human hands or chained to an altar in a temple.  Even the grave could not contain him!

Saved to shelter

A decade or so ago, Larry Crabb cast a vision of the Christian community and titled it "The Safest Place on Earth." And there's something in this that rings true.  The church shouldn't just be a place to sit, but also a place to extend safety.  A shelter.

This idea informed the Celtic monastic communities.  Not shelters from the world.  Shelters for the world, placed strategically in the world, inviting the world to vibrant life in Christ.

This idea of shelter reminds us that there are other people who are also united to Christ.  This pushes against self-centeredness and against a temptation to make God in our image.

But we are saved for more than shelter.

Saved to serve

Our salvation comes through our union to Christ.  And he suffered and died, abandoned safety and security and shelter for the sake of the kingdom of God ... not to be served, but to serve ... and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Often, our theology of substitutionary atonement deceives us into believing that Jesus took all the pain onto himself, leaving us with a life of ease and comfort.  Calls to serve clang uncomfortably in our ears.

But serving opens up a fresh vein of intimacy with God.  If we don't serve the church in some way, we miss out.  We can connect with God when we sit and when we provide shelter.  But God is a servant.  And if we want to be with him, we must go and do likewise.

What else are we saved to? (bonus points if it starts with an "s")

Photo courtesy of

25 Great Ideas to Kickstart Crossing Cultures

  1. Read a book that had to be translated into your native language
  2. Cook a meal that’s a standard dish from another culture
  3. Watch movies and TV shows from a different cultural community
  4. Visit a culturally focused group on campus
  5. Jump on the computer and do some research
  6. Listen to diverse music
  7. Travel as a learner, not a tourist
  8. Make a friend from another cultural community
  9. Invite international students over for a meal
  10. Read a book about another culture
  11. Take a mission trip to another country
  12. Take a mission trip in your own city
  13. Set yourself up for a cross cultural church experience
  14. Pray for people in another cultural group
  15. Ask God to give you opportunities (and the courage to make the most of them)
  16. Learn some words and phrases in another language
  17. Look for opportunities to speak to someone in their native language
  18. Visit a restaurant that serves food from a cultural group that’s not your own
  19. Get to know your own culture a little better 
  20. Put yourself in a situation where you’re outnumbered
  21. Take a class that you think will open your eyes
  22. Learn some worship music from around the world
  23. Go to Urbana
  24. Study the theology of the Incarnation
  25. Read A Beginners Guide to Crossing Cultures
Got any other ideas?

4 Practices to Help You Cross Cultures

Short and sweet ... but useful ...

1) Be humble enough to hold your assumptions loosely
2) Be observant enough to allow your assumptions to be corrected
3) Be compassionate enough to sacrifice your comfort
4) Be on the lookout for opportunities to connect

3 Thoughts on Culture

Culture is everywhere. Culture is deep. Culture matters to God.

These three thoughts formed the theoretical framework for one of the seminars at Sonburst last weekend. Wes Foster and I had a great time leading A Beginners Guide to Crossing Cultures.  And I thought I'd pass these thoughts along to you ...

1) Culture is everywhere

If we're going to cross cultures, we need to know that the world is full of culture.  You can't escape culture.  There's no such thing as an acultural space.

Some cultures are distinctly marked by "cultural blindness."  Deeply in the majority, folks from these cultures often feel that they don't have a culture at all. [For more on this, check out J. Alex Kirk's excellent blog post Why McDonald's is Ethnic Food]

But we know, from our experience in missions and in student ministry, that everyone who engages in cross-cultural ministry starts somewhere ... starts in their own culture.

Seeing that culture is everywhere makes it possible to ...
  • Understand why crossing cultures is necessary
  • Figure out how to get started crossing cultures
2) Culture is deep

If our only principle around culture was "culture is everywhere," we might expect that crossing cultures is easy, comes naturally and happens all the time.  But that's not our experience, is it?

While some cultural artifacts float on the surface (music, food, fashion), there are powerful and almost immutable cultural forces residing in the depths of our souls (hierarchy, time-sense, communality, perception of determinism).

The deeply entrenched culture we carry with us into cross-cultural interactions could serve as an anchor, holding us back, or as a foundation, allowing us to build.

3) Culture matters to God

From Genesis to Revelation, culture matters to God.  God creates culture, shapes culture, enters culture, redeems culture.  And God sends his people to the ends of the earth, crossing cultures along the way.

So often, when we talk about crossing-cultures and diversity in the university, we ignore God's deep passion for cross-cultural relationship.  We forget that God can help us cross cultures.  We forget that all of this matters to him.

But the God who sent Jesus to redeem us sends us across cultures to tell the story of his love.  And if God could take on flesh, crossing from heaven to earth, ultimate culture crossing ... he can help us.

What other principles would help us cross cultures?

Anyone interested in culture would do well to read Andy Crouch's Culture Making

Photo courtesy of and grietgriet

The Beloved Community

What is the most distinct thing about the Christian community?

Two missteps ...

To think that we are more moral than other people

This holier-than-thou attitude drives people outside the Christian community crazy.  It makes them feel uncomfortable and self-conscious.  And on top of that, it's not true!

The Christian community, if you scratch the surface, ain't perfect.  We lie and cheat and hurt each other.  We get arrested and have skeletons in the closet.

To think that we are more useful than other people

Many of us inside of the Christian community act like God recruited us for our jump shooting ability.  He saw us playing before the foundation of the earth and knows that, with the Holy Spirit and a regimen of planking and squat-thrusts, we will change the world.

But God doesn't talk about our potential hardly at all.  Instead, he talks about his choice, his initiative, his love.

And this love is what makes us distinct.

The most distinct thing about the Christian community ... we're loved by Jesus

In Ephesians 5, the Apostle Paul sets to work to rework the household codes of ancient Rome, demonstrating the impact of the gospel on the closest inter-personal relationships ... but he gets distracted.

When talking about the love and respect that should characterize marriage, Paul wanders off and starts talking about the relationship between Christ and the Christian community.

And it's marked by love.

Love of mysterious origin
Love characterized by sacrifice
Love that brightens, cleans, presses and purifies
Nourishing love
Uniting love
Mysterious love

Is this what comes to mind when you think about Christ and the church?

Photo courtesy Morgue File and earl53

7 Exhibitors Who Helped Make Sonburst Great

This year, we made a more intentional effort to invite exhibitors to Sonburst.  We wanted to share access to our students, hoping that these exhibitors would help students lean into God's calling for them to enter into mission with all of their lives.  Here's who we managed to recruit to connect with our students ...
Asbury Theological Seminary
Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary
Mission Year
Reformed Theological Seminary
The Underground Network
Veritas Study Abroad
Wycliffe Bible Translators

Who should we make sure to invite next year?

Seeing and Supporting

People who know InterVarsity tend to love InterVarsity.

But how do you get to know InterVarsity?

What if you weren't involved when you were in college?
What if there wasn't a group where you went to college?
What if you didn't go to college?

This year at Sonburst, we tried something different.  We invited the Staff team to think about people who we really wanted to give a chance to see InterVarsity.  And we created a program for these folks.

Some of them will help us connect with incoming students.
Others will pray for us.
Still others will advocate for us in local churches.
Wouldn't it be great if they supported the work financially?

We wanted to create space at Sonburst for people to see what God is doing so that they can understand why we ask them to support this work, to pray and serve and give.

Why would they support something they haven't seen?

Photo courtesy of stock.xchng and johnjazz

John Stott quote from Sonburst

I don't normally post quotes on this blog, but Femi Adeleye shared this reflection from John Stott on Matthew 25 during his talk on Friday night at Sonburst and I was curious enough to look it up ...

I was hungry,
   and you formed a humanities group to discuss my hunger.
I was imprisoned,
   and you crept off quietly to your chapel and prayed for my release.
I was naked,
   and in your mind you debated the morality of my appearance.
I was sick,
   and you knelt and thanked God for your health.
I was homeless,
   and you preached to me the spiritual love of God.
I was lonely,
   and you left me alone to pray for me.
You seem so holy, so close to God
   but I am still very hungry – and lonely – and cold.

John Stott, Issues facing Christians today

Love God by Loving Your Neighbor

Femi Adeleye talked about the Parable of the Good Samaritan on the first night at Sonburst, challenging students to think about loving their neighbor.

One challenge we face, when talking about loving our neighbors, is to see how loving your neighbor is connected to loving God.

We often pit these two against each other.  The spiritual versus the physical.  Faith versus works.  The Social Gospel versus ... well ... can there be an Anti-Social Gospel?

And, in the story of the Good Samaritan, this tension appears.

The priest passes by the man on the side of the road and so does the Levite.  We don't know why they passed him by, but their spiritual vocations seem to indicate they had some religious purpose.  Perhaps they had just come from the Temple and didn't want to risk rendering themselves unclean by touching a dead body.  Perhaps they hurried off to prayer.  Maybe we're reading too much into the text.

Either way, the Good Samaritan, by helping the man on the side of the road, fulfilled the "Love your neighbor as yourself" part of the "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" answer.  But what about the "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind" part of the answer?

In Matthew 25, Jesus says that whatever we do for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of his, we have done for him.

So, loving your neighbor ... in some mysterious way ... is loving God.

How should this truth influence our conversations about loving God and neighbor?

Who is the church?

In our Jaded by the Church seminar, Danny wrapped things up with a talk about Jesus and the church ... out of Matthew 8-10.

A leper - rejected by the church - touched by Jesus.
A centurion - hated by the church - helped by Jesus.
A woman - ignored by the church - healed by Jesus.
A possessed man - feared by the church - set free by Jesus.
A paralyzed man - boxed out by the church - forgiven by Jesus.
A tax collector - shunned by the church - called by Jesus.
A dead girl and a sick woman
Blind Mute Lost Harassed Helpless

Jesus includes all of these in his ministry.

And in Matthew 10, he sends his disciples to go and do likewise ...
... to build the church with these people (and people like them).

As we follow Jesus, we become the church, extending Jesus' love to a jaded world.

What sort of church will we be?

Jaded by the church ... forgive

The conversation about forgiveness felt vital.

Forgiveness doesn't imply forgetfulness.
Forgiveness doesn't imply friendship.
Forgiveness doesn't imply innocence.

We helped students see why churches caused pain and hurt ... so they could forgive.

We helped students see their own contribution to pain and hurt caused by the church ... so they could forgive.

But forgiveness sometimes takes time to settle in. So we wonder what God will do after the conference.

What would help you forgive the church?

Jaded by the church ... approach

Teenagers, college students and 20somethings are leaving the church in droves.  A quick glance around the evangelical scene reveals gaps and fractures around our age group.

This is one of the reasons we're doing the "Jaded by the church" seminar.

But I'm worried about pushback (I'm almost always worried about this).

I don't want our conversation to devolve into "Bride Bashing."

God loves the church.  Mysteriously.  Wonderfully.  Graciously.

We should go and do likewise. 

This is why the confessional approach is so useful.  It acknowledges that the church is broken, that the church hurts people, that the church makes mistakes ... but it also personalizes.

It's one thing to wag your finger and say "You should forgive".
It's another thing to say "I apologize. Please forgive me ... and people like me."

Have you ever apologized for something someone else did?

Jaded by the church ... apology

Over the years, I've learned a lot about the Christian art of apologetics ...
  • classical apologetics (Father Gonzalez introduced us to Aquinas)
  • presuppositional apologetics (Pastor Vance shared Bahnsen)
  • conversational apologetics (Nikki Chao taped Ramsden)
  • humble apologetics (IVP published Sire)

And there's an apologetic opportunity at Sonburst (InterVarsity's Florida Divisional Fall Conference).  On Saturday afternoon, we'll have 70-100 of the conference's 500 students in a room to hear about "Jaded by the church."

It will be a daunting moment ... starting that seminar.

Students will be coming from all different places experientially and emotionally.

Some will love their churches.
Some will hate all churches.
Some will be hurt.
Some will be confused.

All of them will have stories.
All of them will have questions.

And it all connects with God and the gospel.

It's an apologetic moment ... not because it's a moment for argument ... but because it's a moment to defend the faith by apologizing.

Someday, I'll write my book on Confessional Apologetics.  Until then, I need to prepare a meaningful apology, to prepare to talk about my own sin in a way that helps students to see God's mercy, to extend Christ's forgiveness and to feel hope for the church.

Have you ever seen someone put the "apology" into "apologetics"?

3 Reasons We Hate Saying "No"

I had to say "No" three times today.  And I hate saying "No," especially when someone asks me for financial help.  I've been reflecting on why we hate saying "No" and here are some reasons why ...

1) "No" sounds like "I don't care"

This is especially true where money is concerned.  When someone comes to us with a problem and just needs a little money to solve it, to say "No" sounds a lot like "I don't care about your problem."  It can sound invalidating.  It can sound rude.

How do you say "No" and "I still care"?

2) "No" means "I don't have enough"

We tend to ignore our limits ... or at least keep them to ourselves.  When we're put in a place where we have to say "No," we have to reveal our limits: skill limits, time limits, energy limits, talent limits, financial limits.

Why are we hesitant to reveal our limits?

3) "No" risks "I'll find someone more helpful"

There's a flattering attention that comes with requests.  And it's painful to see that attention turned elsewhere, to feel that someone better has arrived, that you've been sidelined because you didn't have enough. [Think of Cee Lo Green's song "Forget You"]

What do you do with this risk?

Marketing and Theology

This post is the last post in a nine part Series: On Marketing and Ministry. For more posts in this series, check out the series frontpage.
Did you hear about the Rob Bell thing a few months ago? A burst of marketing kicked off some fierce theological mudslinging and name-calling throughout the evangelical world.  This happens every few months. 

Theology matters. We need to get our theology out there. And this requires marketing. 

But marketing can trend toward shallow theology.
And marketing can force theology to ignore complexity.
And marketing can float bad theology to the surface.

So, what do we do with marketing?

Focus on fidelity over marketability

Good theology stays centered on Jesus and God's revelation of him in Scripture.  It runs around the circle of analogy, builds and builds and builds and digs into the beautiful and mysterious depths of God.  But what's the market for good theology?

Walk into a Christian bookstore and you could have a hard time finding books. And if you do, the chances of them focusing on theology are slim.  Self-help is in.  How-to's are in.  Controversial issues are in.  Centrist, evangelical theology ... not in.  It's hard to sell.

But the church needs more than just shallow theology.  And we need to find a way to market it.

Think about the appropriate format

When Rob Bell's "Love Wins" marketing video came out a few months ago, a friend remarked that, though the conversation was thought-provoking, it may have needed a broader treatment than a short book and a short video.  And I think he had a point.

Some formats force you to be reductionistic.  And while there's some truth to the adage "if you can't explain something simply, you haven't understood it" ... the reverse is not true.  Simple explanations are not necessarily truest.

Learning and communicating theology is hard work.  Our God is a mysterious God, sovereign over a complex world in which we live distracted and, at times, sinful lives.  We need time to learn theology, and need to learn in stages.

Good marketing practice helps with this.  Marketing can help us ...
  • create systems that develop people's theology,
  • contextualize to what's appropriate for where people are,
  • communicate complexity with clarity
God, not marketing, guides the church toward its theology

After writing thousands of words about marketing and ministry, I know it's odd to end this series with thoughts about the limits and temptations of marketing.

But it's tempting to think that the most strongly promoted ideas rise to the top.

Throughout academia, you hear this idea promoted: "The proto-orthodox sect forced their theology onto the early Christian movement." Athanasius and Augustine and Paul are seen as the strongest of the strong.  "Theology," they say, "gets written by the winners."

But if God cares what we think of him, he'll also have a hand in things.  What is our power compared to his?  If God exists, does anyone think that Paul or Augustine or Athanasius could out-muscle him in the marketing department?

As we do theology and market it, we need to remember that we aren't alone in this endeavour.  God is also actively involved in getting the word out about himself.

Let us do so wisely.

Photo courtesy of Salvatore Vuono and

Marketing and Fundraising

This post is the eigth post in a nine part Series: On Marketing and Ministry. For more posts in this series, check out the series frontpage.
Every ministry at some point faces the challenge of raising funds.

Some ministries pass a plate, collecting an offering every week.
Some ministries operate on a missionary model, gathering a support team.

Marketing helps us make the most of both of these models.

The Offering Model


The first thing to think about in the offering model is your messaging.  What message are you sending when you pass the plate?

We've all seen manipulation and begging, have all felt seen ministries treat an offering / tithe as a payment and obligation, collected without accountability from everybody for no particular reason.  So many people view Christian ministries as money-grubbing, as money-obsessesed, as sleazy.  And if we're not careful, this is what people hear when we collect the offering.

Good marketing, however, thinks through the messaging around the offering:
  • Why you're asking (advance the mission)
  • Who you're asking (members, not visitors)
  • What you're asking (a cheerfully given gift)
  • That you're asking (salvation does not hinge on this)

This is a missed opportunity in the offering model.  We easily toss five bucks in the offering plate and watch it pass by ... and then keep the rest of our time and money to ourselves.

[Side note: this is one great reason to be in a small ministry / ministry-plant at some point in your life ... it opens your eyes to real needs for money and volunteers]

There's a pressure that comes with the offering.  You feel like you have to put something in.  But giving in response to pressure is a poor substitute for giving that happens in response to involvement.

Evangelicals struggle to tithe, in part, because we're not involved enough in what our churches and ministries are doing. [I've written on this in more depth in my post on Giving and the Heart

When people give, they want to be involved. Hearts follow money. Do we have space for involvement at a level that echoes large gifts?  Good marketing designs systems that allow for deepening involvement.

The Missionary Model

As someone involved in parachurch campus ministry, I've been raising funds for the past 8 years.  This is ... oddly ... the hardest part of my job and the biggest limiting factor on our ministry.  But I've learned a lot over the years ...

Support the ministry, not just the missionary

When I started raising funds, I asked people to help support me so I could do ministry.  And people who knew and loved me gave generously.  But as the ministry grew, this wasn't enough to fund the ministry and things began to get awkward.

When your ministry budget is $35,000 ... no problem.
When your ministry budget is $80,000 ... awkward.

The missionary stays the same, but budgets increase as responsibility increases.  If people see themselves as supporting the ministry, not just the missionary, they'll understand those increases.  Additionally, people who don't really know the missionary can still give to the missionary.

We need to take care, then, to market the ministry, not just the missionary.

Invite people to move from Donor to Partner

What do you do with someone who gives to your ministry?  Say thanks.  Share news.  Ask for more money next year.  Maybe, if you're really organized, you share prayer requests.  But what else?

A lot of us have bought into the myth that our donors don't want to be involved in our ministry.  "They're giving the money so that we can do ministry" we tell ourselves.  And maybe this is true for some donors ... but not for most of them.

My biggest donors, the ones who have given the most for the longest, want to be most involved.  Don't be surprised if you see the same trend ... if you make space for it to happen.

This is the heart of great marketing ... inviting people to deeper levels of engagement.  To learn how to do this, check out Permission Marketing by Seth Godin.

What sort of marketing around fundraising does your ministry use?

The last post in this series will be on Marketing and Theology.  How do the two intersect, and should they?  A link will be published here as soon as the post is published.

Photo courtesy of anankkml and