Monthly Archives: January 2014

Stirring the Pot: “Risking” Intellectual Exposure

“When Elisha returned to Gilgal, there was a famine in the land. As the sons of the prophets were sitting before him, he said to his servant, ‘Put on the large pot and boil stew for the sons of the prophets.’  Then one went out into the field to gather herbs, and found a wild vine and gathered from it his lap full of wild gourds, and came and sliced them into the pot of stew, for they did not know what they were.  So they poured it out for the men to eat. And it came about as they were eating of the stew, that they cried out and said, ‘O man of God, there is death (poison, NLT) in the pot.’ And they were unable to eat. But he said, ‘Now bring meal.’ And he threw it into the pot, and he said, ‘Pour it out for the people that they may eat.’ Then there was no harm in the pot.’” – 2 Kings 4:38-41

“and if they drink any deadly poison, it shall not hurt them” – from Mark 16:18.

While my ponderings here are not direct exegesis of the passages above, I want to incorporate two themes from them in a broader discussion. I recently attended a Christian conference where I presented a paper. I sat in on the four plenary sessions and attended other sessions during the conference to hear what others had to say on a myriad of topics. Some of the sessions addressed key hot topics in current Church discourse including interfaith dialog, sexual orientation, environmentalism, evolution, and so on. Some of what was shared was, to put it mildly, pushing the envelope of orthodoxy. As I listened, I also prayed that God would give me ears to hear and eyes to see what He was up to in this conference and within me in particular in being present to hear and see the goings on. In the end, I had to walk away clinging to the unity of the Spirit present within each who claim Christ as Lord and Savior no matter where we might disagree on doctrine or praxis. That is a very tall order.

I came away with the impression that God’s intention in my learning by being there was twofold, both requiring self-reflection and Bible reflection.

First, as seems always to be the case, the conference presented an opportunity to rely on God for discernment, that is, for discerning the spirit of the things being shared (1 Corinthians 12:10). That is most often accomplished by “rightly dividing the Word of Truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). This latter is a reliance on the voice of the Holy Spirit, especially as it unfolds the Bible’s meanings for us.

Hebrews 5:14 says “solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.” Two questions arose. 1) Am I “mature” in Christ, able to discern good and evil? And, 2) what was I discerning? Mostly, I discerned truth in love, I believe. The heart of compassion of most of the presenters seemed apparent. Their intentions seemed good no matter what I might think of their general approach or methodologies. On the other hand, some presentations left me a bit uneasy. But discernment only works if I can also rightly divide between that which disturbs my flesh (ego) – “I don’t really want to think ‘X’ is acceptable, because I want to cling to what I ‘know’” – or my spirit – “This is something I need to be open to to grow in Christ because, in this, I am falling short.” As should be obvious, any disturbance in one has a corresponding disturbance in the other.

Second, I need to be exposed to ideas that make me uncomfortable, to force me into deeper prayer and study and to allow the Holy Spirit to convict me where my own views are less than holy and to strengthen me where I may have already arrived at Truth. Let us consider the two passages above in this approach.

The stew was made with the fruit of wild plants. Everything from God is good but not everything in creation is now good given the introduction of sin into the world at Adam’s fall. The Bible consistently encourages us that creation reveals the glory of God. We do not know what that fruit (the gourds thrown into the pot in the passage above) was, just that it obviously was not good. But Elisha added meal, some form of ground flour or corn, to the pot, and the stew was made good. He did not eliminate that which we might have equated to sin (death) in the pot . . . he redeemed it, making it good, by the simple addition of one more ingredient, what we call grace, which “removed” (or at least, neutralized) the poisoning effect of the bad fruit.

Consider that in light of my exposure to new ideas or ways of thinking theologically or interpreting biblically. Both knowing God (theology) or the Bible thoroughly are beyond the comprehension of any single mind or lifetime. We all “see as through a glass darkly” (1 Corinthians 13:12). This is simply a function of our finitude in the face of an infinite God. So, I should always be aware of my limitations and understand that in those quarters where I fall short of God’s holiness (many of which I am blind to), exposure to new ideas will disturb the status quo. But in those areas, the introduction of that one new ingredient may well be God’s redemptive stroke to transform me incrementally from glory to glory into the image of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18), moving me along the path of growing intimacy with God.

On the other hand, what if that one new idea is a deception, either as a come-on by the enemy or a worldly temptation to satisfy my own flesh (ego)? Should I cloister myself behind the walls of a fortress to guard myself from such possibilities? I think not, as the Psalmist wrote: God goes before us (into spiritual battle) and is also our rear guard (139:5). Hence, I can be assured that what may be poisonous (Mark 16:18 above) will not harm me. I believe and can trust in this only insomuch as I believe God is greater than any threat that other influences may represent. Again, as the Psalmist says, “Even though I walk through the valley of shadow of death, I will fear no evil” (23:4). Why? Because perfect love casts out fear, even of judgment if I should stumble (1 John 4:18) and because God is (perfect) love (1 John 4:8). Who (or what) can stand against me? (Romans 8:31). Whom shall I fear? (Psalm 27:1).

But why would we willingly enter into discussion with those we may even think are advancing the enemy’s agenda unawares? For one, we cannot witness to those with whom we have no contact. We cannot find a child lost in the woods if we stay on the safe, beaten path and avoid the risks of entering the treacherous terrain of the wilderness. But we can enter any place with confidence before the roaring lion seeking our destruction (1 Peter 5:8) because we are assured that the gates of Hades will not prevail against God’s Church (Matthew 16:18). That is, the Church, by taking the battle to the enemy and attacking those gates, will triumph over death itself just as Christ has already done. And, entering that battle, we “do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul” (Matthew 10:28a).

God is on the offensive in the spiritual battle for the redemption of all creation. The Incarnation was God walking right into the enemy’s camp, “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31). In those environs we do not have to be offensive and combative . . . we need only be holy and present according to the pattern of Jesus coming to the world in the flesh. Holy presence changes things but only as love / holiness is willing to self-sacrifice. Jesus said “Love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:27, 35). Demonstrate the living presence of God in your life in sacrificial ways. Embrace them and support them where you can. Show them you mean them no harm. Even allowing their ideas and words to be stirred into your pot, remember all the while that where the stew may be made poisonous, a little meal of the Bread of Life, can make it sweet and nourishing. Only by our own sacrifice, leaving our safe houses and running the risk of being rejected, even killed, may redemption come! Living for God in the face of death (separation from God) in the world is our calling to follow Jesus.

One of the most influential writings in history, The Art of War by Sun Tzu, mandatory reading for any candidate for military leadership, offers sage advice for Christians. Sun Tzu admonishes would-be warriors to “know thy enemy.” He also advises to “know thyself.” This is exactly why sports coaches constantly watch film of their upcoming opponents. Everyone has weakness(es). By close observation, those weaknesses can be perceived in the opponent and in ourselves, the former to serve as the target of our attack, the latter the place of our own shoring up. Even when we fail, the redemptive stroke is in our reflection to understand where our breakdown came.

Judo is another good example where the kinetic energy of the attacker is turned against the attacker. What the attacker perceives as strength – their speed and agility – becomes their downfall. David slew Goliath because Goliath’s ego had convinced the giant that he was so powerful as to be beyond any measure of attack from the puny Israelites. His pride, the ego behind the forehead penetrated by David’s stone, was his downfall.

Two more Bible stories show us that when we enter into the camps of the enemy, God goes before us. When Gideon’s 300 broke their clay pots, confusion reigned in the enemy’s camp and the Midianites were turned against each other, slaying their own comrades and ending in the utter destruction of that army (Judges 6-7). We find also that Jonathan and his armor bearer were able to overcome the Philistines by first putting themselves at risk then, by the boldness of their action, all of Israel, even those cowering in fear in the hills, was rallied to triumph and set the people free (1 Samuel 14:1-23).

In the end, just as Daniel was encouraged and strengthened by God (Daniel 10:19), we need not fear coming under the oppressive power of any enemy. Victory in Christ is already ours. We can eat of whatever is set before us without fear of our own corruption (Acts 10) but by so doing, we may gain access for witness to the unholy, like the smallest lamp dispelling the deep darkness of a place previously without light. Stir the pot of your own thinking. Expose yourself to the ideas that may now offend and the people expressing tem. Let God add the meal, to be the wheat of your consumption, to sweeten the pot and bring whatever seems poisonous to redemption.

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Church Outside the Walls: The Global Growth and Meaning of Marketplace Ministries

(This paper was read at the Re-Imagining Faith: For America & the World conference on Thursday, January 9, 2014 at Georgetown College, Georgetown, Kentucky).

Last April, 535 delegates gathered in Chiang Mai, Thailand for the Global Business-as-Mission Congress, many delegates were from countries closed to Christian evangelism. The global, virtual think tank that preceded that convention has produced thirty issue papers. Topics range from the biblical and theological foundations of the marketplace to business as mission models that combat sex trafficking to mobilizing marketplace Christians in the developed world.

One block from the convention site sits the Zion Café. This small restaurant shares a common wall with a brothel where young women on bar stools line the curb each evening as living advertisements. The Zion Café serves as a place of respite from the streets and a launch point of daily outreach ministry to the hundreds of young prostitutes working in the surrounding neighborhoods.

In October, the Christian Community Development Association held its annual national convention in New Orleans. Among more than one hundred workshops on every aspect of community development, eight of those workshops focused on small business development, social entrepreneurship, and job creation as tools for fighting urban poverty.

In recent years, more than three dozen books have been written on the integration of business and mission, especially as an effective means of holistic witness. Business as mission, or BAM, witnesses to the glory of God by taking an axe to the roots of poverty as it is coupled with preaching the Gospel. Most BAM initiatives to date involve micro-lending and developing microenterprises in developing economies.[i]

I share these things to illustrate some of the variety and the proliferation of market-based ministries springing up around the world.

Henry Blackaby summed up Jesus’ earthly ministry as a call to every Christian to be evangelistic witnesses to the glory of God. He wrote: “Watch to see where God is at work and join Him”(69).[ii]  The growth in number and variety of marketplace ministries around the world the last two decades looks something like the beginnings of an exponential curve. Ken Eldred titled his own book, God is at Work (2005), and many missiologists justifiably argue that it is time for us to join Him.

But what can or should we do? Without theological clarity in answering the call to marketplace ministry, we risk religious disasters that could leave those ministered to worse off than in their beginning, now poor AND disillusioned.

I took part in the Global Business-as-Mission Think Tank and was a contributor to the issue paper on the biblical foundations of business as mission. This came about a year and a half after the publication of my book on marketplace theology, Eden’s Bridge: The Marketplace in Creation and Mission.

As a serial entrepreneur called to seminary to study the integration of Christian faith and economics, my biblical journey began with Deuteronomy 8:18. It reads, in part, “Remember the LORD your God, for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth, that He may confirm His covenant which He swore to your fathers.” This passages presents a couple of questions: how does God give us the ability to create wealth and how does it confirm His covenant with Israel?

Somewhere along my way, I became convinced the marketplace is a creation of God but could not point to particular Scriptures to validate my thesis. However,t if business is part of God’s created order, it is not unreasonable to expect to find biblical support.

I began to re-read Genesis 1 and 2 through economic lenses. There are three components necessary to facilitate most production – energy, raw materials, and labor. God created a life-supporting, self-sustaining ecosystem, full of energy and raw materials. He then created Adam to work within and manage its further development. In economic perspective, the earth-sun ecosystem is the primary means of production and source of all the amenities of modern life.

Adam’s roles, as laborer and caretaker, are clear in Genesis 2:15. To date, most market related studies have focused on theologies of work and stewardship. But simply combining labor and management, that is, work and stewardship, does not a market make. There is still a missing ingredient: someone with whom to trade goods and services.

“God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.’” But, why is it not good for Adam to be alone?

The Garden was designed to flourish, to increase in abundance to serve humankind’s physical needs. In part, it was not good for Adam to be alone because humankind was also intended to flourish as a critical component of the created order. There are three distinct ways that Adam’s isolation was a hindrance to his prosperity.

First, Adam could not prosper materially. His productive output was limited by his own capacity. The first mention of Eve is as a helpmate, a co-worker. The marketplace needs energy, materials, and labor, but it is ultimately founded upon the division of labor and consumption. Specialization and exchanges between workers increase efficiency and create new wealth. Eve’s role as helpmate was for Adam’s immediate prosperity by improving productivity.  Her role as wife is a projection of future proliferation.

Second, Adam could not prosper intellectually. God could have given Adam unlimited knowledge and wisdom and perhaps Adam could have produced miraculous output. But God, for whatever reason, did not. Together, Adam and Eve could collaborate. Eve’s presence offered an alternative intellectual perspective. And today we can easily identify an abundance of business and leadership literature on the value of collaboration.

Finally, being alone, Adam could not prosper spiritually. I like to say that holiness occupies empty space. Practices of holiness and evil occur only within relationships. Adam could relate to God but God had no need of Adam. Holiness, as opposed to egocentrism, only exists where deference, respect, cooperation, and collaboration take the welfare of others into account. The Trinity perfectly demonstrates mutuality. Adam was created as an individual but an incomplete reflection of the image and likeness of God without Eve. Adam was created a communal being. We are holy only in relationship to peers so even our spiritual needs are best met in community.

These three – material, intellectual, and spiritual prosperity – answer the shortcomings of Adam’s isolation. Exchanges of goods and services between Adam and Eve, and amongst human actors ever since, summarily labeled “the marketplace” or “business,” serve several related functions in creation and God’s redemptive mission in the world.[iii]

Three functions of business emerge from the preceding discussion. First, the marketplace allows us to flourish economically. The marketplace meets (and often exceeds) our temporal needs. By economic participation, whole nations flourish.

Second, the marketplace requires intellectual development in vocational disciplines. Specialization provides opportunity to pursue specific interests, tailored to personalities, gifts, talents, education, experience, and opportunity all toward fulfilling vocational lives and accelerating economic growth.

And third, every exchange is an opportunity to practice holiness. Exchanges can serve as places of spiritual formation and discipline as they reveal and shape both our character and attitudes. Sadly, we have largely subsumed our economic holiness to the self-indulgence of materialism and consumerism. We have taken God’s blessed abundance, the outcomes of organizing complex economies, and enslaved it for our own desires and pleasures. We have lost sight of the transience of holiness, that the blessings we receive must pass through us to be truly effective. It is within the process of giving away that we are most acutely spiritually formed and transformed into the image of Christ (2 Cor 3:18).

There are two more functions of business in God’s created order. The first is apparent throughout Scripture as it reminds us that creation reveals the glory of God. If we accept business as a vital component in the created order, then its practice should reveal the nature, character, and will of God.[iv] According to James 1:17, any good that business does comes from God.

The last function is closely connected to both revelatory grace and to spiritual formation. Good will come of the righteousness of intentional Christian practitioners. In this way, the final function carries over from God’s self-revelatory intent to become our witness in the redemptive mission of God. Our wealth developing works serve as witness to the Gospel and are inherent to it, especially as good news to the poor.

To illuminate the holistic nature of integrated vocation and faith, let’s revisit Genesis 2:15: “Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.” God did not command Adam to work.[v] To cultivate and keep the Garden are inherent

to defining what it means to be image-bearing humanity. God does command work elsewhere in the Bible but only to correct sinful flesh which prefers sloth to escape the tedium and struggles of work in a fallen creation.

Cultivate in this verse, or otherwise translated as till or work, is from the Hebrew term `abad. This is the same term used when the Levitical priests are appointed to serve, to `abad, in the Temple. It is also used in Exodus 7:16 where Moses entreats Pharaoh to allow the Israelites to worship, to `abad God in the desert.

`Abad is also translated as the imposition of hard labor by the Egyptians in Exodus 1:14, and even as bondage in Exodus 6:5. The intentionality and intensity of `abad come with great expectation, even demand, by authority over workers. And, it is consistent with the use of the term bondslave to characterize our relationship to Christ in the New Testament. To `abad for God is to work, to serve, and to worship simultaneously.

So how does biblical economics work out in Christian life? John Wesley was concerned that Christian transformation, through the abandonment of vice and the adoption of frugality, would lead to increased wealth and the temptations of self-indulgence.

By response, in Sermon 50: The Use of Money, Wesley reduced economic obedience to God to three simple steps. The first was that Christians should earn all they can, so long as the means and the product were righteous. That is, neither is to pose physical, mental, or spiritual harm to the worker or the surrounding culture. Wesley found offense in the production of hard liquor for its direct harm to the drinker, their family, and their community, and for the over use of grains leading to shortages of bread.

Second, Wesley believed Christians should save all they can. Saving was not about storing up treasures on earth but a call to simple living and frugal spending. Wesley taught that once basic needs are met,[vi] greater satisfaction comes in doing good rather than in the accumulation of money or things. By discipline, considerable resources can be put to charitable investment.

Finally, Wesley believed that Christians, compelled by love and obedience to God, should give all they can. Wesley’s fears were confirmed as he noted self-indulgence victimizing charity. And the same holds true today, especially in developed economies. Church parking lots in affluent American suburbs are populated by an abundance of late model, luxury automobiles. Many Christians live in spacious homes filled with expensive gadgetry and fittings. Many of us could be much less selfish and help meet the needs of the indigent and unemployed across town and around the world.

Electronic communication has removed excuse for ignoring the needs of the local and global poor. But even charity has failed by practicing enduring, dependency-creating relief rather than promoting local business development to alleviate global poverty. Between 1990 and 2010, half of the world’s poorest (some 700 million) moved above the United Nation’s measuring line of abject poverty.[vii] This was far more due to business creating new wealth and spreading it across the world than it was due to charity. And most new jobs have been created by small businesses as capital has flowed into developing economies.[viii]

More than ever, the poor can wade into the streams of global wealth. And that process can be accelerated intentionally by investing in small businesses at the lowest economic tiers.

To conclude: Business is a gift of God,[ix] an integral social component of the created order, given to bless humankind and reveal the glory of God, that shalom may prevail among and for all. The marketplace is land ready to be reclaimed for the Kingdom of God. May we, as the Church, move outside our sanctuary walls and get our economics right. Then we will be a powerful witness to God’s glory as a wise and understanding people, living by just statutes, and surely with God in our midst.[x]

Thank you.


The notes that follow are largely attributable to comments from and conversations with a dear friend and colleague, Rod St. Hill, Dean of the School of Business, Christian Heritage College (Brisbane area, Australia), lead author of “Your Kingdom Come, Your Will Be Done…In Business: Biblical Foundations for Business as Mission,” Business as Mission Think Tank (2013).

[i] “The World Development Report 2013 was titled ‘Jobs’. In his foreword to the report the President of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, ‘The development payoffs from jobs include acquiring skills, empowering women, and stabilizing post-conflict societies. Jobs that contribute to these broader goals are valuable not only for those who hold them but for society as a whole: they are good jobs for development… The private sector is the key engine of job creation, accounting for over 90 percent of all jobs in the developing world’.” – R. St. Hill, private correspondence.

[ii] “Blackaby suggested that we identify ‘spiritual markers’ in our lives to help figure out exactly where we are positioned.” – R. St. Hill, private correspondence.

[iii] “The name of Israel’s promised land, Canaan, means ‘trade, pedlar, traffic’. Could it be that God’s creation of business was the creation of a ‘power’ that would deliver material, intellectual and spiritual blessing to His people. [Author’s note: Abraham Kuyper offers such a description for science as a ‘power’ included in the design of creation that could almost as easily be a description of the marketplace – “[S]cience arises from the fruit of the thinking, imagining, and reflecting of successive generations in the course of centuries, and by means of the cooperation of everyone. – Wisdom & Wonder: Common Grace in Science and Art (2011, 43).]” – R. St. Hill, private correspondence.

[iv] “This is consistent with the Westminster Confession – the purpose of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” – R. St. Hill, private correspondence.

[v] “[W]ork is important if we are to be ‘fully fulfilled’ as human beings. [W]ork [is] as the intentional application of our ‘imageness’ in God to produce goods and services that will bless others. Some is in the formal marketplace where wages are paid, some is in the home, some is in the voluntary sector. Our ‘imageness’ in God, or imago Dei consists of our creative, relational, purposeful and moral capacities.” – R. St. Hill, private correspondence.

[vi] “In this section of his sermon he also made it clear that we were to be generous to our households – wives, children and servants.” – R. St. Hill, private correspondence.

[viii] “The World Bank provides a good chart (at that documents poverty reduction through private business job growth in several countries.” – R. St. Hill, private correspondence.

[ix] “Think along the lines that business is ordained by God (Gen 1:28, Ps 8:6, Gen 2:15, Deut 28:8-12), inspired by God (Is 28:23-29), witnesses to our love for God (Mt 5:16), witnesses to our love for our neighbor (Eph 4:8).” – R.  St. Hill, private correspondence.

[x] Deuteronomy 4:6-8.

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Reflections on the Re-Imagining Faith Conference

Georgetown College, Georgetown, Kentucky, January 9-10, 2014

I recently had the privilege of attending and presenting a paper, “Church Outside the Walls: The Global Growth and Meaning of Markeplace Ministries,” at the Re-Imagining Faith: For America and the World conference at Georgetown College (January 9-10, 2014). It was a bit (but only a bit) outside the vein of my normal climes but a welcome opportunity.

The tenor of the conference, at least to many of my contacts and acquaintances in the Church, would have sounded decidedly “liberal,” with content some might consider all but blasphemous and dangerous to Christian faith. But it was largely a healthy conversation open to embracing, or at least intellectually considering, alternatives to how we are currently practicing our Christian faith . . . in ways that are too often failing to transform the world or even provide sound witness to the glory of God. There was significant discussion of “hot topics,” including environmentalism, sexual orientation, “re-branding” Christianity, faith in vocation and the marketplace, evolution, inter-faith dialog, and otherwise openly challenging what many of my friends would consider orthodox positions of the Christian faith. There were even invocations of Buddhism in general and Ghandi specifically, frankly, a welcome breath of fresh air for many who seek the wisdom that God has granted to those outside the Church who are (like us Christians!) created in the image of God.

I think what I appreciated most was that this was an environment where one could safely introduce such topics without fear of being shouted down or labeled as a blasphemer or heretic. It was like attending the opening brainstorming session of an organization bent on redefining itself for adaptation to a changing environment and perfectly apropos. I appreciate fully that the idea behind the conference appeared to be considering re-interpretations of the Gospel for ministering in the 21st century to a globalized, diverse, multi-faith and multicutural world.

I came away from the conference with a plethora of notes. I often capture big picture ideas in pithy statements, almost in article or book title form. Hopefully, in the coming days and weeks, I will be able to re-visit many of these to reflect and offer my own thoughts. But I think the over arching themes in my immediate response to the conference were along the lines of replicating the experience in other places:

  • How do we create such a thinking environments in our local contexts?
  • How do we create a safe place for such volatile conversations to advance Kingdom relevance and impact in our communities without creating greater alienation?
  • How do we overcome the political and ideological divides within the Church itself, especially where we have largely disconnected from any dissenting voices, shunned the questioners, and locked ourselves into narrowly-focused homogenous groups?

I hope, now, given what I have left to say, that no one will think I thought the conference in any way a failure. I do, however, think there is considerable opportunity for expansion and impact.

What I did not see at the conference was diversity. The representation among attendees that I could casually identify was predominantly Protestant (Methodist / Wesleyan, Baptist, Presbyterian, and Episcopal, in particular). I specifically did not see representation of the Roman Catholic or Orthodox traditions, though they may have been present. Even so, if they were in attendance, they must surely have been in such distinct minority to elude the casual eye. Given the title of the conference was “Re-Imagining Faith: For America & the World,” and the theme of inclusivity was very strong throughout, invited speakers could have intentionally included Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, or adherents of other faith traditions to enhance the interfaith theme.

I also did not see appropriate representation outside middle class whites. As far as I could tell, there was only one African-American (an immigrant from Cameroon, I believe) attendee. There may have been others but their attendance was by no means apparent in simply scanning the crowd during the plenary sessions. The only strong connection to the indigenous black Church in the U.S. was the choir from the First African Baptist Church of Lexington which performed beautifully before and after Walter Brueggemann’s keynote address on Thursday evening. The Asian-American and Hispanic representation at the event was also of such distinct minority as to be, for the most part, lost in the sea of white faces. Leaders of predominantly minority churches must be given their voice at every opportunity, especially considering that, collectively, minorities are now in the majority but are still underrepresented in the halls of the “ruling powers and principalities” (governance, finance, academia, etc.) both domestically and internationally.

As is likely the case still in many academic and ecclesial settings, the male / female divide of the presenters was decidedly male with female presenters being a little more than one third of the total. The plenary presentations were evenly divided (with exceptional speakers, I might add – Drs. Walter Breuggemann, Molly T. Marshall, Stephanie Paulsell, and Miroslov Volf). The crowd appeared to be roughly a 60-40 male-female split, which could have been a balancing of the male domination of the academic and ecclesial disciplines by a strong representation of women in the field of social service agencies, though many female attendees were members of the clergy and academia.

Finally, as mentioned, the progressive leaning of the attendees and many of the presenters in general seemed weighted, even if not intentionally. Granted, one might expect that progressives are typically more open to new ways of thinking and doing Church. However, though I do not recall exactly how I first became aware of the conference, one must wonder how and where the conference was advertised. While it may not have been by any intentional measure, as said, toward progressive inclusion in this conference, advertising may be planned that would be more inviting to the conservative and ethnic strains of the Church to help with healing and collaboration across racial, doctrinal, and ideological divides, and toward Kingdom advancement in general, within the whole Church in the future.

However, again, I would have no one think I am denouncing or was disappointed in the conference given the critique that I offer. I walked away with a dozen pages of notes for further reflection and writing, which I hope to publish in the coming weeks ( Overall, I thought the conference was a great success and worth the time and money to attend and I would do it again if possible.

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Re-Think Fundraising: Business for Mission (BFM)

In the opening Summary of Research Findings of “Charitable Giving Report: How Nonprofit Fundraising Performed in 2012,”[i] the author(s) state: “Overall giving is not likely to increase significantly until there is sustained growth in new donors, non-profits rebuild their multi-year donor base, and overall donor retention improves.”  While overall giving increased that year, the trending is not generally favorable to a quick fix. Most of this is due to a myriad of surrounding circumstances. Blackbaud researchers also state that there is an overall decline in the number of donors, donors are aging, government support of non-profits is declining, donors and watchdogs are demanding greater accountability, service demands are rising, revenues have barely recovered to pre-recession levels, expenses are up, and the number of non-profits continues to increase.[ii]

Let’s recap some critical data points:

  • Decline in number of donors
  • Decline in government support
  • Service demands rising
  • Expenses rising
  • Number of nonprofits rising

Any reasonable assessment of these points casts something of a pall over fundraising prospects looking forward.

Mitigating Factors

There are two additional considerations that create a rather staggering big picture.

Employment Issues

Add to all these a disturbing fact: the number of jobs for development directors at non-profit organizations far outstrips supply. In part this is due to the demands of the employer looking for experience with securing “large donations” or multi-year experience in successful grant writing. There are only X number of people with that experience already and, given the increasing size of the demand market (number of charitable organizations) and the traditional low wages afforded to nonprofit employees, it seems unlikely the demand will be met any time soon. Retention rates for key development staff is also a bit scary in that the average length of service is only 16 months[iii] and general staff turnover rates are somewhere between 20-25% annually (including part time staffers).[iv] The most-cited reason for leaving is for higher wages.[v] Give your employee the experience they need to move on then give their replacement goals that were even greater than last years’! Recruitment, selection, training, and human resource administrative costs associated with new hire acquisition and orientation are staggering.

Overhead Costs

The giving well is by no means running dry.  BUT: The National Center for Charitable Statistics reports that there are 1.4 million nonprofit entities in the United States. Collectively they receive about $1.6 trillion annually, of which 72% is from service fees (tuition, is a great example), 22% from contributions, gifts, and government grants, and 6% from “other income” (like rents).[vi] That means, $352 billion of revenues requires some form of donor solicitation or grant proposal. The generally accepted industry standard on fundraising costs is roughly 20%, putting the cost to raise funds somewhere in the neighborhood of $70 billion. On the upside, nonprofits supply 10% of all jobs and 9% of all wages.[vii]

Both of these – employment issues and overhead costs – add to the inefficiency of a “non-productive” industry (one that does not offer products or services at a profit, or even a financial breakeven). One has to wonder if there is not a better way.

A Modest Proposal

No, I am not going to suggest that we eat the children. But I am going to propose we look at modifying a model that already exists, just that we do it in a more direct and intentional way. Nonprofit universities have monies held in endowment funds. These funds are created to pay for specific functions of the university, such as departmental funding, specific professorships, or scholarship programs. Typically, money is donated and then invested in the stock market. A portion of the residual income from the stock portfolio (typically up to a 5% return) is allocated to pay for those functions. To endow a doctoral program at one institution requires a endowment gift of $10,000,000 which can predictably return $400,000 annually to fund two “chairs” (professorships), student scholarships, and program overhead costs. The remaining portion of residual income from endowed funds is rolled over to continue growing the fund. Of course, fund managers, usually an outside brokerage house for smaller institutions or whole internal departments in larger institutions (like Harvard or Notre Dame), are amply compensated from the residual income as well.

But the point is, these nonprofits own stock in for-profit businesses. And so can most, even if their total “endowment” is a bit smaller than Harvard’s $30 billion.[viii] While state laws differ (and I am not qualified to give legal advice in any locality), most states have a way to incorporate for-profit businesses as a subsidiary of a nonprofit or private individuals can incorporate then donate the new business’ stock.[ix]

Overcoming the “Mixed Model” Objection

When conversing with non-profit leaders, I often hear the comment, “I don’t know anything about running a business.” Nonsense. Other comments tend to be along the lines of unuttered disdain about mixing business and charity. If we understand the etymology of the word charity (fundamentally meaning kindness), there is nothing more charitable than meeting the pecuniary needs of individuals and communities – exactly what business does as it pays for everything . . . EVERYTHING . . . whether the foods we buy and the rents we pay, or tuition for our children’s education, or the gifts we give to support our local churches and food banks, and even the taxes we pay to provide public schools and roads and police protection. There is nothing more charitable than giving someone a job.

What these non-profit leaders tend to ignore is they are already operating on the same exchange-based model as for-profit business owners. They are simply operating under different terminology. Both for-profit and non-profit corporations have revenue (whether from sales, grants, or gifts). They both have expenses. They both pay salaries. They both have some objective bottom line(s), whether in dollars or other goals accomplished. They conduct marketing or outreach via advertising or awareness campaigns and appeals to generate their revenue and to offer their goods and services to targeted customer demographics or “clients.” They both deliver goods or services to their communities. The “business” models look very much the same when you break down their tax returns and reporting to the IRS, whether an 1120S or a 990. The operating principles involved are universal. Even households operate fiscally on this same model: income, expenditures, objectives.

To move away from the idea that non-profits should not “become businesses” or be in business, I prefer to introduce the idea that all institutions – whether for-profit, non-profit, religious orders, families, hospitals, universities, you-name-it – operate on the same exchange model. That is, every institution serves defined purpose(s) and tends to serve it / them in ways that are more similar than dissimilar.

Advantages of Non-Profit Ownership of Businesses

When Wal-Mart comes to a small town, everyone is excited that they will gain access to a broad range of products at low prices. They buy into a value perception that, in the long run, does not hold up.[x] Small businesses, owned by local non-profits, offer several advantages to the non-profit and its immediate community.

Local Impact

The three greatest impacts of local business ownership by a non-profit are local control as to how the business profits are spent, local job creation (especially living wage jobs in management and production roles), and capital retention (money staying in the community longer to fund more local charitable work or to fund greater local economic development). A small business owned by a local non-profit benefits from the vested interest of the community (as well as the highly interested non-profit board and staff) in seeing the business succeed as it provides jobs, tax revenues, goods and services, and charitable funding simultaneously.

Wal-Mart – Item 1: A new Wal-Mart in a small town tends to replace dozens of the living wage jobs of local business proprietors with just two, the Wal-Mart store general manager and the pharmacist. Non-profits owning small local businesses can help stabilize local living wage job markets.

Financial Impact

As noted above, the average cost-of-fundraising nationally is 20% of revenues. That means that one of every five dollars that comes in the door is spent to go find the next five dollars. With the revenue stream of a business flowing in the door, the non-profit can eliminate this expense. Business profits can be paid in monthly dividends directly to the charitable organization, tax free and with no labor overhead or office expense attached. In effect, the fundraising staffers are middle men reducing the efficiency of resource utilization of the non-profit.

The other middle man who can be eliminated is the broker managing the stock holdings, the endowed funds typically invested in a stock portfolio and spread across diverse companies, of the non-profit. A sub-committee of the non-profit board can be established, especially utilizing those members from the business community, to coach, generally monitor, and inform strategic decision making. It is best if this group is heavily weighted toward those who have started or own small businesses. Corporate types can advise larger businesses on the specifics of their specialization but tend to not fully understand the multifaceted role of the entrepreneur / small business operator.

Wal-Mart – Item 2: The capital grown from business profits, previously spread over many small local businesses and spent or re-invested in the local community, becomes a capital drain as the profits of the Wal-Mart are siphoned off to Bentonville, Arkansas where corporate executives make big salaries and the charitable choices of giving back are made at long distances from where the money was actually earned.

Market Fluctuations

When the market collapsed the first time in the early 2000’s, I was working for an academic institution. Almost overnight, the value of their endowment, held in a traditional portfolio and managed by an outside firm, dropped by something on the magnitude of $40 million dollars, a full third of the portfolio value.

Local non-profits, buying existing or creating new small businesses, can pick and choose businesses that tend to be recession proof, or at least recession resistant. Stock portfolios tend to follow the overall market but some businesses are relatively immune. Thrift and resale stores (and discount retailers like dollar stores) serve a charitable function as a viable alternative for those in lower income classes. During economic downturns, thrift stores tend to thrive as a broader range of higher income clientele resort to higher value / discount purchasing.

There are several other categories that would be among the best choices to protect cash flow / non-profit revenues against market fluctuations. People always have to eat. Grocery and cooking-related businesses tend to hold their own. Food is always in demand but as people spend less to eat out they will look for specialty foods and even cooking utensils and classes to fuel their new found draw to cooking at home. Healthcare, including long term care for the elderly, is a stable model. And there are many other products and services – gasoline, auto parts and repair, used cars, accounting services (including tax preparation, bookkeeping, and payroll services), childcare, computer repair, funeral services – that do not suffer the demand losses of other products – fine dining, luxury items, real estate, etc. – during economic downturns. Surprisingly there are some businesses that weather recession better than you might expect that may not come instantly to mind – donut shops, discount movie theaters, laundromats, and waste collection services.

With local charities invested in local businesses, appeals to the community can even be made to support these businesses during economic downturns and “donors” turn into customers who get tangible value in return for doing business to support the charity.


Any fundraiser can tell you that fundraising is getting more and more difficult every year. The limited pools of funds and donors available for appeal are faced with the ever increasing awareness of far greater needs than can ever be met and more hands out standing at the door. Many major donors, whether individuals or foundations, have already targeted where their giving is going to go. They too suffer portfolio depletion during downturns and giving drops substantially.

The best hedge against the shrinking pools and increasing demands is to create new wealth, generate new capital, and add to local job pools. Non-profit operators, especially churches, have yet to actualize and empower the multitude of gifts, talents, and resources sitting every week in the wings waiting for the opportunity to be more than just a checkbook to fund charitable activities. Business people want to be involved, have much to give in time and talent, and could possibly be the best long term solution to the crushing charitable needs of a broken world.

Work and exchange (business) were designed into creation as blessings and even divinely defined characteristics of what it means to be human. The Church especially has the opportunity to witness to the world that profits are not evil but can be intended for good. Rather than funding exotic mansions, vacations, and high fashion, business profit can be redirected to serve God and humankind intentionally by creating business ownership and management under the auspices of non-profit charities. Small business investment in impoverished areas, whether domestic or global, will also prove to be the smartest “aid” in the decades to come.

[i] MacLaughlin, Steve, presenter. “Charitable Giving Report: How Nonprofit Fundraising Performed in 2012.” Charleston, SC: Blackbaud, Feb 2013.

[ii] Chardon, Marc and Hal Willams. “The Imperfect Storm.” Charleston, SC: Blackbaud, Aug 2012.


[iv] and Council on Foundations (COF), “2010 Grantmakers & Salary Benefits Report: Key Findings,”


[vii] Ibid.

[viii] “U.S. and Canadian Institutions Listed by Fiscal Year 2012 Endowment Market Value and Percentage Change in Endowment Market Value from FY 2011 to FY 2012” (PDF). National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO). January 2013. Retrieved 2014-01-04.

[ix] For example, see Tam, R. Stanley. God Owns My Business. Camp Hill, PA: WingSpread Publishers, 1969.

[x] I am not picking on Wal-Mart in particular but only use them as an example of the numerous chains, including franchise operations, that ultimately can be economically detrimental to local communities.

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The Greatest Danger of the Intellect: Disuse

The recent controversy surrounding the comments of Phil Robertson, of Duck Dynasty fame, in GQ magazine and the resulting backlash from gay advocacy groups provides a good example of the lack of intelligence too often displayed by members of the universal Christian Church. I am not speaking of Robertson being ignorant. Rather, there seems to be a lack of understanding between social and legal response on the part of these Christians as some have complained quite loudly in the media that Robertson’s right to free speech is being violated. That is wrong. Free speech protection is from government prosecution not social persecution. Robertson, I am sure, would be the last to complain about the public response. He was speaking, even if in terms some may consider crude, from honest and heartfelt closely-held religious beliefs. Sadly, however, much of the Christian response, even from well-educated and informed speakers, has been emotional rather than reasoned, adding to the ammunition of those who accuse the Church of being mostly rubes and ignoramuses.

This essay was written before the Robertson controversy arose but that sequence of events, I think, justifies the essay all the more. Christians, as becoming the sons of God, have been given access freely to the wisdom of God (James 1:5). This reason should be sufficient unto itself, but with the added incentive to grow into the humility of Christ, Christians should hesitate before speaking too quickly or bluntly in public. Christian thinkers have been among the thought leaders that created open and advanced societies, especially over the last five hundred years. Israel was expected to be a virtuous, and prosperous, example to the world that living according to God’s nature, ways, and will would entice the world to come out of itself and be drawn into the Kingdom of God (Deuteronomy 4:6-8). Today, that is the role of the Church today, to be salt and light to a world desperately seeking its own salvation and hope for a better future, a future only Christ can offer.

Upon reflection, I find this essay to be rather blunt in its assessment and I am sure there are some who will be offended. It is not that I am not interested in being more diplomatic but I do not find in myself the patience to redraft it. Perhaps I will at a later date but for now I will simply ask the reader to forgive me if it comes on too strong.

Much has been written for and against the role of intellectualism in the life of Christian believers and the Church. It would seem the conversation would grow stale and trite and be put to rest as an unproductive waste of time. But to do so is like only half-heartedly trying to revive a critically wounded patient. To stop short of making every effort, when even the least inkling of life remains, is to lose touch with the core value central to every human life: potential. So, I will here again take my turn at beating what some may presume to be a dead horse.

As a starting point, and even at the risk of being accused of prooftexting (because that seems always to be the first retort of contrarians), I will resort to Scripture: Genesis 1:26 – Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness…” Since God is Spirit (John 4:24), we can rule out physicality as the focal point of the image and likeness. That essentially leaves two realms of human existence open to the discussion: intellect and character. It is not possible to have an intellect (weak or strong) without character (virtuous or evil) and vice versa, but I digress.

God gave us a capacity for thinking that is greater than other creatures. It is facilitated by the brain as a physical organ but the mind is not the brain. The mind can be expanded with learning. It can be corrupted toward evil or heightened to virtue. We lean toward good or evil, again substantiating the argument with a Scriptural view, according to wisdom. It is almost as if we can dissect the functions within the brain between knowledge, which is simply the acquisition, use, and maintenance of information, and understanding, making sense of what knowledge means. This too can be divided into knowing what knowledge means in a practical or physical sense, which requires the discernment (or wisdom) of experience and learning and applying knowledge to solving problems, creating better things for life, etc., and knowing, or understanding,  along the lines of morality, determining between right (good) and wrong (evil), which we might also label wisdom or discernment of a spiritual nature.

Interestingly, as a side note, a great deal of the Mosaic Law and the pronouncements of the Old Testament Prophets focused on what we would first consider moral lines but have enormously practical implications: such as not oppressing the poor so they can live in the shared abundance of earthly provision, the shalom of righteous community. Of course this also involves aspects of revelation and worship when the poor witness the goodness of God in the blessings of that abundance. But, again, I digress.

But the digression serves a good point: we cannot understand the integration we see above, of divine command, social structures and justice, personal ethics, revelatory grace, and appropriate worship, without thinking on it more than just a bit. We must engage the intellectual muscle we have been given to grasp the complex integration of these concepts, which point to an ecological whole of our reality, especially in relationship to God.

Somewhere along the line I came across a little book, published in 1965 and now one presumes lost in the milieu of printed things, entitled Just Think, Mr. Berton (A Little Harder). Written by Ted Byfield, a Canadian journalist and high school teacher, the book counters accusations drawn against the Church at-large by an antagonistic popular Canadian cultural critic and Church outsider, Pierre Berton. In the opening paragraph of the book, Mr. Byfield sarcastically captures Berton’s core perception of the Church. Speaking on Berton’s qualifications to criticize the Church from without, Byfield asserts Berton must be convinced that “Going to church often obscures objectivity and clutters the mind with a lot of prejudice.”

Actually, Mr. Berton may have done the Church a great service in offering an assessment from the outside, even if his vision was contorted by peering inwardly through stained glass windows. At the very least, I think, we can assume he was being honest in how he saw things. But the painful truth is, the perception too often rings true . . . even after passing through the doors and looking about with an unimpeded view once inside.

There is to be no doubt there is often an overt anti-intellectual attitude circulating within the Church. Sadly, however, there is also a covert, perhaps completely unrealized, anti-intellectualism that circulates as well. Two comments make my point. I take theology seriously so I write with intention to make my point as clearly as I can. That is not to say it will be presented in mono-syllabic words nor necessarily in short sentences. One comment came from a friend who read my book. He said, “I thought I would just sit down and breeze through it but there was no way.” That pleases me on two counts. One, he found it challenging (one hopes on the conceptual level and not just the structural). Two, he worked through it despite the challenges.

The other comment came after a fellow church member attempted to read one of my essays. He rejected the thesis out of hand. No, I should say, he refused to consider the thesis deeply because he claimed that he could not understand the essay. This is a man who is the head of an international trade association. His unwillingness to slow his mind enough to consider what the text was saying simply cut him off from gleaning anything from the essay. My undergraduate degree is in English literature. If you think what I write is challenging, try reading and comprehending Alexander Pope’s “Essay on Criticism” (

I say all that to come to a discussion on the lack of critical thinking in the Church. We have given ourselves over to the deception that the Gospel is simple. We sum up our Christian faith in pithy statements and there is a place for those but they should not be the end all of our theological or biblical reflections. Consider: “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.”   As a simple celebratory statement, this is absolutely loaded with assumptions, not the least of which require understanding “what is ‘a Christ’?” and “who is this Christ?” and why should his dying, revival, and return matter to me?

Take John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” This is the “slogan,” if you will, of the Christian marketing schema but, again, it is loaded with assumptions. What God? What does begotten mean? How does it differ from me siring my own children? Why does God love the world? How do we know? Why is his Son a gift unlike any other? What does it mean to believe in him? Believe what about him? And, frankly, the questions, considering we are speaking of an infinite God, are infinite in both number and depth.

When we stop short, assuming we know as much as we can (or need or want to) about God, our pursuit of holiness stops just as short. Without engaging God intellectually, our understanding will not grow and our character development in Christ will come up short as well. That is not to say we are less cherished by God. That is not to say everyone has the same capacity to “love God with their mind.” But it is to challenge us to know him as deeply and intimately as we can. Luke 12:48b: And from everyone who has been given much shall much be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.” I am quite sure this appertains to mental acuity as much as physical possessions or the reach of an individual’s influence. Granted, there are some of limited mental ability who, by grace, receive the love and salvation of God just as they are. But those of us who have been given more capacity should exercise it!

When we reject the pursuit of God intellectually, through ever deepening biblical and theological studies, we are, in effect, telling him that we know quite enough and do not care to know any more. We may not need to know any more but that is an approach I might take to a relationship with a car salesman or store clerk in passing but certainly not with my wife or a dear friend. How much more so is it important to know God, to discern his voice, to understand his ways such that we might emulate Christ’s ministry to the Church and the world?

I think two Proverbs are poignant given our cultural repugnance toward learning:

Proverbs 6:10-11: “‘A little sleep, a little slumber, A little folding of the hands to rest’–  And your poverty will come in like a vagabond, And your need like an armed man.”

Proverbs 26:16: The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes Than seven men who can give a discreet answer.”

The American people are some of the hardest working, most industrious people on earth and in history. We, along with a few other countries, have set the standard for human productivity. And we assail the lazy ones who will not work, citing 2 Thessalonians 3:10: For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone will not work, neither let him eat.” – when exhorting others to go to work, to be productive, to make something of themselves. And all the while, we push away from the Table of God’s Plenty, intellectually satisfied with crumbs and leaving the most succulent and nourishing dishes sit untouched. We seem to abhor laziness until it reaches between our ears because disciplining the muscles is far easier than disciplining and renewing the mind. Compare

Romans 12:2: And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect,”


1 Timothy 4:7b-9: On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness;  for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. It is a trustworthy statement deserving full acceptance.” (emphasis mine).

How can our mind be renewed if the things of the enemy, the flesh, and the world are not replaced with the knowledge of God? How can we understand the value, or even the meaning, of godliness, if not by learning of God and his ways? Romans 12:2 goes so far to say that engagement of the intellect in thinking on the things of God, through a reforming exercise of the mind, is the path to discerning the very will of God.

So as not to belabor the point, if you are one leaning toward acceptance of the Christian faith walk as an easy or simple endeavor, I will end quickly. God has given us each a distinct capacity of the mind. We are to exercise it, like muscles, such that it will grow stronger in Christ, not for the sake of our “becoming smart” but for discerning how to be Christ to the world, to understand how to help, not just why, to understand complex social issues to help direct them toward reconciliation and healing that reveal God’s glory, toward his Kingdom coming on earth as it is in heaven.

The Church often wallows in its ignorance, willingly accepting far less than the gifts of the intellect renewed and empowered by the ministry of Christ on our behalf and toward a powerful witness to the world as creative thought leaders. Christians have led the march in the foundations of public education, in modern medicine, in political development, and in economic prosperity. They did so by overcoming the laziness of intellect that is natural to us all. The world often has a dim view of the Church along intellectual lines. But it is fully within our power to lead the world intellectually and to render that view untrue.

Suggested Reading

Byfield, Ted. Just Think, Mr. Berton (A Little Harder): A Reply to “The Comfortable Pew.” New York: Morehouse-Barlow Co., 1965.

Collins, Kenneth J. “Spirituality and Critical Thinking: Are They Really So Different?” (Evangelical Journal, 16(1), 1998), 30-43.

Sire, James W. Habits of the Mind: Intellectual Life as a Christian Calling. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000.

Stott, John. Your Mind Matters: The Place of the Mind in the Christian Life. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2006.





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