Tuesday, March 19, 2013

How NOT to Raise money for New Churches

I have been a member of the Sydney Synod now for ten years. One of the things I appreciate most about the Synod is that it is generally committed to following the Bible as God’s Word and to considering our theological commitments before making decisions. Which is why I am disappointed with the decision made by the Synod last year to impose a levy on every parish to raise funds to buy land for new churches in ‘greenfields’ areas.
A levy is a tax for a specific purpose. This levy has been charged at 2.24% of each parish’s Gross Operating Receipts meaning that it will raise $2 million in 2013. It is taken in 10 monthly installments (commencing in March) along with Parish Cost Recovery charges and is allocated to the Mission Property Committee. While the initial approval is only for one year it is intended to make this an ongoing charge.
I want to make clear that I am NOT disappointed because we are committed as a Diocese to planting churches in new growth areas. Nor am I disappointed that the Synod decided this project should have priority over many other worthwhile projects. What IS disappointing is that we chose to raise the funds by imposing a levy on the parishes.

Biblical Teaching about Fundraising:
My first concern is that the framers of this levy and the Synod did not give adequate thought to the Biblical teaching on fundraising.
One of the very few NT passages that addresses giving is 2 Corinthians 8-9. Paul is encouraging the Corinthians to give generously to the special appeal he intends to take back to the church in Jerusalem. He uses the Macedonians as an example of a group that gave 'as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability' (8:3), he speaks of urging Titus 'to bring also to completion this act of grace on your part' (8:6) and then urges the Corinthians directly to 'also excel in this grace of giving' (8:7). Paul tells the Corinthians that he is 'not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love' (8:8) and reminds them of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ (8:9). Nonetheless, he seeks to clarify (in 8:13), that 'our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality'. After urging the Corinthians to 'sow generously' (9:6) he says 'Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver'. (9:7). The emphasis throughout is on generous and voluntary giving that mirrors the grace of God toward us in Christ. The idea of 'compulsion' in giving is the very opposite of what Paul is saying here.
A levy is a compulsory payment for a specific purpose. The fact that it is a good mission purpose does not negate the Biblical principle and make the levy right. For this reason alone we ought to drop the idea of imposing levies on the parishes. On the other hand the passage models the appropriate method to raise such funds - by encouraging and urging the people to give generously (without compulsion) in response to God's grace.
Implications from the Doctrine of Church.
My second concern is about the doctrine of the church implied by the Synod imposing such a levy on the parishes.
During the debate in Synod there were a number of comments suggesting that we (the Synod) are the representatives of the church or even that 'we are the church' and therefore that the Synod has the authority to impose such a levy. I am not questioning the legal authority of Synod to impose the levy, but I do suggest that this approach misunderstands the nature of the church and especially the appropriate relationship between the churches and the denomination.
The Biblical understanding of 'The Church' is of one heavenly and eschatological gathering of God's people around the throne of God. (1) The other usage of 'church' in the New Testament is of the local church as a visible and genuine expression of the heavenly reality. In our foundational Articles we read: 'The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men [people], in which the pure Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments be duly administered' (Article 19).
Speaking of a Christian family, Archbishop Peter Jensen says 'It is not part of the body of Christ; it is the body of Christ. It is, like our Sunday meeting, a genuine manifestation of the one true church to which we all belong'. (2)
The denomination, however, is not normally 'church' by the Biblical definition. Former Principal of Moore College Broughton Knox says that 'the denomination is not a church, inasmuch as the denomination never gathers', and '(t)he denomination is an organizational structure to facilitate the fellowship of the church with Christians in other churches'. (3) He goes on to say 'The denomination and its officers have a ministry which is common to all Christians, that is to help, advise, encourage and exhort the congregation and its members. It should not apply sanctions to the congregation or to any of its members, beyond the sanction of severing its links of fellowship with that congregation. Coercion destroys fellowship, . . .' (4)
On this understanding the Synod of the Diocese is a gathering of representatives of the churches with responsibility to ensure the efficient administration of the diocesan bodies and to make decisions on the expenditure of common funds (ie. from the Diocesan Endowment). The Synod (with the Archbishop) will also have oversight of various organisations established by the diocese for special purposes, such as theological education, supporting evangelism, the operation of schools, retirement villages, social services and the like. It is also quite reasonable for the Diocesan administration to recover costs or charge the churches for items such as insurance, superannuation, legal services etc. which it provides or manages as a service to and on behalf of the churches (ie. Parish Cost Recoveries).
The Synod or the Archbishop (or both together) may also, by various means, seek to advise, encourage, or exhort the churches and individual Christians to act in certain ways or to support certain causes. However they have no right to insist on particular kinds of support or to impose a levy to fund particular ministries or mission activities. 
The Right Way to Do Fundraising.
The appropriate way to raise support for any ministry or mission activity - whether existing ministries such as evangelism or theological training, or proposed ministries such as the purchase of land, the building of church buildings or supporting new ministries - would be for the Archbishop or the Synod (or both together) to support an appeal to the churches and to individual Christians. This would seem to be more in line with Biblical models (such as 2 Corinthians 8-9) and with the 'Vision for Growth' model developed under Archbishop Robinson in the 1980’s.
I do not suggest that as a Diocese we should stop raising funds to buy land for new and existing churches. But I believe we ought to do so in a way that is in accordance with the scriptures and our theological understanding of the relationship of our Diocese with the churches. I do not think that any project that is funded in a way that contradicts God’s word should expect God’s blessing.

Richard Blight,  March 2013.

(1)  See Peter T. O'Brien, 'The Church as a Heavenly and Eschatological Entity' in D.A. Carson (ed.) The Church in the Bible and the World  (Exeter: Paternoster, 1987), p. 88-119, 307-311. 
(2) Peter F. Jensen, At the Heart of the Universe: What Christians Believe. (Homebush West: Lancer, 1991), p. 138.
(3)  Knox, 'Church, Churches and Denominations' in Kirsten Birkett (ed.) D. Broughton Knox, Selected Works, Volume II: Church and Ministry (Kingsford: Matthias Media, 2003) p. 96. Knox calls the denomination a 'parachurch organisation' that exists 'alongside the churches to facilitate fellowship within and between churches, each of which is a full and true visible expression of the one holy catholic heavenly church, the fellowship round Christ of all his saints (Heb 12:22-24)'. p. 95.
(4) Knox, p. 98.

Related Posts:


  1. Over on Facebook, James Flavin said:

    Hi Richard, thank you for putting this together. It probably won't come as a surprise that I disagree with virtually everything in your blogpost. On the biblical position I think your are extrapolating passages applied to individuals to full congregations. On the history, I don't think 'Vision for Growth' is a model we really want to repeat. And if we accept your logic, then it is wrong to have a minimum stipend for ministers, because that cost has been imposed on the congregation. Richard, my only problem with the levy is it isn't big enough. Cheers, James.

  2. To which I replied:
    Hi James, thanks for your comments. I agree that the levy won't raise as much as we should raise . . . but I see that as an argument for scrapping it! I would like to hear more on what was wrong with 'vision for growth'. I also think I disagree about the congregation vs individual application of 2 Cor 9:7, but will reflect further on the point. Do you mind if I put your comment above on the blog? (or you could do it)?

  3. David O'Mara commented:
    Richard it was not a tax but a decision by synod members to give generously to the work of the gospel we must be wary of the culture which pushes us to individualism at the expense of the common good.

    1. My reply (on FB):
      Thanks David. Call it what you will, I don't believe the Synod had a right to ignore the Biblical teaching on giving. And besides, the Synod decided to give Other People's money! (Synod does have its own money from the DE).

    2. David's Reply:
      Richard My last comment - intense exegesis can ignore the weightier matters of love and generosity. I don't believe synod ignored Biblical teaching on giving but used their freedom to make a GOSPEL decision which is shrewd. Thankyou for your love for the Bible and the Gospel , I am more worried about churches being only concerned for their own area which is a greater contravention of biblical teaching and plays into the hands of our materialistic and greedy age of which I am part of it - a gospel priority which breaks me away from self-interest is helpful for my sinful heart sincerely David

    3. David, I think we are seeking the same ends - and you know I have been trying to encourage others to look outward, while trying to do so myself . . . at the same time it seems to me that smaller churches are often more generous! But in the end I think we ought to seek the good ends using means that accord with the Biblical teaching. To do so in other ways will, I think, only reinforce the culture of greed and self-interest, and we cannot expect God's blessing when we act in disobedience to his word

  4. Hi Richard,

    I voted against the levy, for two specific reasons -

    1. I don't think we should compel parishes to give, rather we should appeal to them to invest in church planting. If we don't raise enough money, then there is a heart problem which we address as a heart problem, not via law

    2. The levy, being flat, hurts smaller churches more than larger churches. I think this was a grave mistake

    1. Thanks Craig, those were my feelings last year - and the article above is my thinking after a bit more reflection - trying to flesh out why I think it is wrong.

  5. On FB Sandy Grant said:
    Richard, I have my hands full with other pastoral matters at present, but I repeat a couple of things I emailed you earlier...

    1. I agree that I prefer an approach that maximises voluntarism and minimises compulsion (albeit I do not think compulsion is automatically unbiblical in a denomination). (The comeback is that voluntarism no longer works in the scale we seem to need, if it ever did).

    2. I think it is hard to prove that a levy for new land is unbiblical, as I think no individual is forced to give to the church. It can be argued it is a platform cost for churches of belonging to a denomination - a this-worldly temporal structure, useful for godly purposes. I think that some other costs are also forced on us that are neither our centrally paid direct costs or legitimate indirect shared costs. Some of us would like to handle them on our own, but we are given no choice, or rather we give up our choice to independent action by belonging to a denomination, once the Synod majority has legitimately decided. E.g. Connect09 costs.

  6. Danii Willis said:
    "The comeback is that voluntarism no longer works in the scale we seem to need"

    I would think that if voluntarism is no longer sufficient, we shouldn't question voluntarism, but what we classify as a "need".

    I also wonder if voluntarism is particularly unsuccessful for churches made up primarily of audience members. I wonder if those churches where trellis-and-the-vine thinking has taken root are filled with more generous ministry supporting people?

  7. Philip Griffin said:
    HI Richard. Yes, with Sandy I think you need to draw a distinction between what individuals give and what parishes give as part of belonging to a denomination. At some point people have gathered together and become a fellowship of Christians who havedecided they wish to belong to the denomination. That means they willingly accept the costs of doing so, which includes assisting other parishes within that denomination. Further, Synod reps from the parishes decide on what those costs are; they are not simply imposed.

    I agree entirely with the doctrine of the church you outline; but I don't think that this levy compromises the integrity of the local church, for the reasons outlined above. All that said, I think we are too quick to dismiss calling for donations andto impose levies. We're also to quick to think that land is the solution to church planting; others don't give land purchases the same priority but do well in planting churches in new areas. The levy also penalises churches growing and adding staff; something we fought against 20 years ago. The theological questions here are to ask how fairly to levy parishes, if at all, and how to encourage fellowships to support one another. But I don't think one can argue that the levy is intrinsically unbiblical.

    Volunteerism is an unhelpful term, if I may say so. It's better to speak of willing giving as opposed to giving that is given under coercion. Volunteerism takes us down the path of 'giving up' what is ours; and that's antithetical to the Bible's view of what we have.

    1. Philip Griffin, I agree that there are cost associated with being part of a denomination - but I don't think compulsory giving to a mission project should be one. Let's say our Diocese decided we wanted to set up a ministry that actively campaigned for Gay marriage - and the synod decided we should all support that with a levy . . wouldn't you then argue that the diocese has no right to impose such a levy?

    2. Philip said: Richard, you raise a really good point. I can see no theological reason as to why parishes cannot agree to make decisions by Synod, including levies for the purchase of lands that remain assets for the diocese as a whole. Now to your hypothetical; if that were to take place I would urge the parish council to refuse to pay the levy for such a campaign, which any parish council is entitled to do, because there is another principle that applies in such a case; I would be endorsing explicitly false, heretical teaching and a lifestyle that is antithetical to the new life we have in Christ.

    3. I believe the costs of being part of the diocese are the sorts of things we used to pay in Parish Cost Recoveries - things like insurance, superannuation, LSL continuance, PSU, even legal support . . .

    4. Richard, thank you for raising this topic; we need to be talking about it. For my part, I think the strategy is questionable and the levy very questionable, because it is a brake on the growth of ministry at the expense of land!

    5. Thanks for your response Phil. I'm not suggesting that money being used to buy land for new churches is the same thing as a levy for a Gay mission, but that the argument for the synod having the power to impose a levy for either purpose is the same: 'We the Synod had a vote and the majority supported it'. My argument is that the Synod has no right to impose a levy for any such purpose - because it is not 'the church', but it is a para-church institution that supports the churches.

    6. Philip said: I'm not sure that that follows Richard. May the denomination, with representation from all the parishes, make determinations in the interests of gospel ministry in the diocese? I should think the answer is yes, and that gives the denomination a bigger brief than only supporting existing local churches. That may at times mean parishes will have to sacrifice money. I can see no reason why a denomination cannot impose a levy; that it's not a local church does not mean it cannot make such a decision. Now I'm against the levy; but I don't think it's illegitimate for the synod to impose such a levy.

    7. Ahhh Phil, I guess we will have to disagree about whether a synod has a right to impose anything on a local church that it is not specifically in the area of administrative support - especially in the imposition of a levy. I believe that follows from my theology (and I believe the words of DBK). But I guess I may have to argue that point a bit more . . . thanks for the feedback.

  8. David Clarke said:
    Richard, if the levy had been for something different, like UWS Chaplaincy, would you have seen it differently? Which ministries are currently paid for out of the diocesan 'pie' seems to be more historical than theological reasoning. When we want to increase the size of the 'pie' it can in some ways be arbitrary what we say it is for.

    1. Thanks for your comment David. I like to think I could be even-handed. I believe that in the past all expenditure by the Synod was from the 'diocesan pie' (ie. Diocesan Endowment). Because there has been a fall in the value of 'the pie' we now seem to think it is right to raise compulsory levies??? We have all felt the depth of the cuts we have had to make. As I suggest, I believe there is a better (and more Biblical) way - and it doesn't involve a tax on the churches.

  9. On FB Simon Flinders said:
    Hi Richard, I enjoyed reading your blog and I think it raises some great issues. In terms of the theological concerns you raise (which I think is what you're after feedback on), I think the first is complicated and the second seems clear- at least to me. (1) I agree with you that "voluntarism" is important to "fellowship"- it is a relationship freely entered, or else it loses some of its character. However, part of the question here is about at what point that freedom is exercised by the churches. Is there a sense in which the synod is an expression of fellowship freely entered by churches, who exercise their freedom by agreeing to be bound by the decisions that the synod makes? The only alternative I see is for the synod to be stripped of its authority and for the individual parishes to choose to accept or reject every "recommendation" the synod makes (as I can't see much distinction between decisions like the one taken about the levy and any other sort of decision the synod makes which has implications for the local churches). That seems impractical on a number of fronts (although it may have been workable for the decision about the levy, and the synod could have decided to operate this way on this issue). In short what I'm saying is that I appreciate the importance of the "voluntarism" you're arguing for, but I think it can be exercised earlier in the process- that is, by belonging to the Diocese, our church freely chooses to submit to the will and wisdom of the synod (even though we may not like every decision it makes). (2) On your second point I think you're spot on. The denomination is not the "church" and maintaining that distinction is very important for a whole host of reasons. I think DBK's stuff here is very helpful. As he suggests, I think the theological category for thinking about the denomination is "fellowship". So if people at synod were arguing for the levy on the basis that the synod "is" the church, then I think you're right to be concerned. However, that's not to say there may not be other legitimate grounds for arguing for the levy [see (1)]. My two cents for what it's worth.

  10. On FB, Peter Lin said:
    Haha Richard. That's one way to get me to comment on something...calling me a scholar and theologian. I've not read all the comments so sorry if I'm repeating something someone else has said. This will be a bit random for lack of time. Excuse lack of eloquence, too. I would not say the Synod "imposed the levy". The Synod agreed to the levy. As a "family of churches" you agree to go with the family even if you might not always agree with the decisions. The "family" agreed on not just what to do with the funds but how they were procured. People voted "voluntarily". I don't think it's an issue of whether Synod had the "right" to. They agreed to do it together. Also, does the denomination just exist to help the parishes or is it also an opportunity to think as a "family" to see how we can further the work of the gospel. Might have more thoughts later but my brain hurts. God bless, brother.

    1. Hi Peter, thanks for the comment. I can see where you are coming from and I agree we (as a diocese) ought to think more like a family. But we need to be careful how we envision ourselves when we are making decisions for others. As I mention in the blog, I believe the diocese is a service organisation, not 'the church'. Yes, the majority voted for the levy - but they made it compulsory! ie. we can't opt out. Of course as a member of the 'family' I go with the majority decision about how we spend the synod's money (ie. the DE), but it is a very different thing to impose a tax on the churches.

      Do note that I concede in the article that the Synod undoubtedly has the legal right to do this, but it does not have the moral right to do so. Disregarding the Bible and applying a wrong theology of church it becomes a 'bully-boy tactic' . . .

    2. Peter said:

      Hi Richard, You said, "During the debate in Synod there were a number of comments suggesting that we (the Synod) are the representatives of the church or even that 'we are the church' and therefore that the Synod has the authority to impose such a levy." I can't for the life of me recall people going down this road. If some did, my gut feel is that most people at Synod do not think we are "the Church". I'm on the Strategy Committee and Standing Committee and I've not heard anyone argue the levy from a position that we are the Church and can therefore bully others into paying it. If some do, they would be a tiny minority I think. I think your premise here is flawed which deflates your theological argument (though not in and of itself, just misapplied). My view on this is that, yes, we do have a responsibility to our parish, but as a family of churches we have a responsibility to the whole city/Diocese. This was a family decision. Not dissimilar to when we make family decisions in our house about where to eat, for example. When it's not unanimous, we vote. Those who voted against the majority still come and eat with us because we are a family, even though the restaurant wasn't their choice. we agree to it being a family decision whatever the outcome. They are not bullied into it. I'm concerned that you felt bullied by Synod, and if there are others who felt similarly, and how that can be addressed (and repented of, if need be).

    3. Hi Peter, thanks for your comment. Others have confirmed my recollection that the comment was made - although I don't think they were intending to make a 'theological' statement. I don't feel bullied myself, but do believe the process has neglected to consider the Biblical teaching. Your example of a 'family decision' is interesting. If a family decided they wanted to celebrate a special event by having a big dinner at Tetsuyas Restaurant and some member of the family voted against that because they couldn't afford it there would be a couple of alternatives - the family could change the venue to somewhere more affordable, or they could allow the 'poorer' members to pull out and not attend, or they could offer to pay for those who couldn't afford it. Our decision in this case has been 'we are eating at Tetsuyas. You all have to come and pay your share.' I'm not saying I felt bullied, but I don't think it was a loving approach.

  11. Michael Kellahan said:

    My silence should not be construed as assent. It is too complicated for me to shoot off meaningful comment. But im not with you in thinking compulsion is unbiblical taxation. I do however think there is some pretty enormous low-hanging fruit the diocese hasn't picked - would love to see them employ a team of fund raisers & can't understand why this hasn't happened.

  12. Ted Brush said:

    No reply is not 'I agree' Richard. I suspect that there is a misunderstanding as to what synod is. Synod is the parishes by and large, and so does not impose but rather chooses what we will do collectively by the synod process. Obviously there are times when not all agree, however the parishes are a part of the decision making. Synod reps are members of synod and speak for their parish. When a parish AGM elects synod reps we elect those who will speak for the parish and a synod rep needs to be comfortable that is indeed their role.

    On the matter of fund raising I agree with Michael - I don't get why we have not done that either.