Reframing Our Ministry Practices in Light of God’s Story of Change
Adapted from A Field Guide to Becoming Whole.
Resuming our journey through the Ministry Design Principles, we turn our attention to replacing destructive formative practices in our fundraising, in our relationships with stakeholders, and in our marketing strategies. A ministry working to walk in the path of God’s story of change pursues practices that treat all stakeholders as a community of broken yet restored priest-rulers, people who are relying on the power of Christ’s death and resurrection to jointly steward their wide range of gifts.
As we look at these principles, consider the practices you’ve put in place at your own ministries and how your beliefs inspire your actions and, conversely, how your actions inform your beliefs.
Ministry Design Principle 6: Use funding sources that permit God’s story of change to be integrated into technical training.
We need to be extremely careful that our funding sources do not undermine our ability to live according to a biblical story of change, in which the goal and means of achieving the goal are centered on Jesus Christ and His reconciling work in all aspects of life. Many sources of funds, including some government funds, make this extremely difficult—and in some cases impossible. For example, most government-issued funds cannot be used to create or disseminate religious material and so couldn’t go toward any of the curricula described in Ministry Design Principle 5 (“Integrate God’s story of change into technical training”).
Many private donors also unintentionally require a sort of “baptized American Dream” in the design of the ministry: the donor’s funds can be used to run the technical features of the program, but any religious teachings need to be separated by time and location from those technical features. This causes many leaders to assume they can only use a donor’s funds to pay for “secular” training on microfinance, financial education, jobs preparedness, and so forth. After designating those funds, a ministry might then include separate Bible lessons or elements of spiritual engagement. Ultimately, this practice diminishes the lordship of Christ and deforms each person involved in the ministry.
Restoration to wholeness is from God, through God, and for God (Romans 11:36), so removing Him from the center of the ministry cannot ultimately lead to flourishing.
Ministry Design Principle 7: All the stakeholders should treat each other as members of a community that is jointly stewarding the King’s gifts to advance His kingdom.
Every poverty alleviation ministry has three primary groups of stakeholders: (1) the donors, whom we more appropriately refer to as “ministry partners” or “generosity partners,” (2) the ministry employees/volunteers, and (3) the ministry participants—that is, those people experiencing material poverty whom the ministry is trying to serve. These stakeholders typically have very different educational, professional, socioeconomic, and cultural backgrounds that can make it difficult for them to even understand each other, much less collaborate. To make matters worse, these stakeholders have often unconsciously internalized very different stories of change that they have not articulated to themselves or to others. Satan loves to exploit these differences, sowing seeds of distrust within the household of faith and undermining the advancement of Christ’s kingdom.
We need to keep God’s story of change at the center: the triune God and His people are dwelling in community with one another. All people in this community are called and empowered to use their gifts, not to seek their own interests, and to advance Christ’s kingdom together. In contrast to business models, those experiencing material poverty are not “customers” or program “beneficiaries.” Rather, they are co-producers in God’s kingdom, restored priest-rulers using their gifts to extend the reign and worship of God. Likewise, financial supporters are not “investors” expecting a return on their capital but co-laborers in the work of transformation who are themselves transformed by the Holy Spirit in the process.
Ministry Design Principle 8: The ministry’s marketing and communications should use images and messages that communicate God’s story of change.
We often see and hear advertising that minimizes and trivializes development. For example, an ad that claims, “For only $25, you can buy X (some material item), and X will save a person from poverty,” presents a false story of change. Overcoming false gods and erroneous stories of change, demonic forces, destructive formative practices, and brokenness is far more complex. Marketing strategies that reduce development to a dollar amount are demeaning, reductive, and misleading. We need messages that tell the truth about the complexity of poverty and what it really takes to address it.
Furthermore, we need photos that illustrate God’s story of change. At the Chalmers Center, we strive to adhere to three general principles when choosing appropriate imagery:
- In general, we avoid images of children unless the image portrays them with their parents or families, or if the image shows them directly participating in our work (for example, children participating in a youth savings group).
- We avoid images that reduce those experiencing material poverty to objects of pity or to caricatures of desperation. We seek to use images that affirm their innate God-given dignity and assets.
- We avoid images that imply that middle- to upper-class individuals can fix or rescue those experiencing poverty. In particular, we are sensitive to racial dynamics in images.
These guiding principles equip us to properly encapture our ministry’s vision and mission, as well as restore dignity to all partners and stakeholders. After all, we are marketing God’s story of change to those He has called to participate in it, not simply trying to convince skeptical consumers that our methods are the best bang for their buck!
Putting Principles to Practice
“Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” (Phillipians 4:9, NIV)
Belief shapes our actions, but our actions also shape our beliefs—it’s not a one-way street. That’s why we must watch our life and our beliefs, not choosing between them (1 Timothy 4:16). Actions that live out God’s story of change are formative practices: they change who we are deep inside and lead to wholeness. This integration is crucial not only in our personal lives but also in our ministries, churches, and larger communities. We’ll continue exploring ways this works out in our ministries over the next few posts.
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How does a local church engage with Chalmers Center to obtain guidance?
Hi Linda. We’d love to learn more about how we can help. You can reach out to work with a Chalmers Ambassador here: https://chalmers.org/work-with-chalmers/.