2. Vision > relationships > money

In this Sermon from Samoa I share another principle that we have been applying to the SWAP Foundation‘s work. Coming from a Christian perspective, I challenge the Western mindset that giving primarily entails giving money and that more money means more success. God is all about relationships and faith – not programs and success.

Palagi Diners at SwashbucklersI wrote a comment on a fellow Kiwi’s blog post recently where he was supporting the development of a new business called Moolala so that in his words they will be able to “give away huge amounts to mission”. It’s being put together by a team of very talented people and I genuinely wish them well. Moolala is basically a cross between Groupon and Multilevel marketing – sharing profits on the growing Social Media driven “deal-a-day” concept websites. I talked about it previously.

[Pic: Palagi diners at Swashbuckler’s restaurant behind the Yacht club. This is open air-dining on the waterfront in Apia – a nice cool breeze coming through most evenings and a delightful place when visitors come to Samoa. To the typical Samoan these people represent only one thing: cash. And it’s true that in the pockets of people like these are thousands and thousands of dollars in potential investments into Samoa. Many Palagi return time after time and love the place and would love to help, but it’s not about their money first – nor even what good their money can do – it’s about them, people and building relationships with them.]

The human mind naturally views income and financial resourcing as a pre-requisite (and the lack of it sometimes as a roadblock) for “success”. I have found that the Lord has been teaching me something different and with the Bible-predicted end-times persecution of Christians and their closing out from the world financial scene I reiterate the point that we MUST move our focus off money and fundraising.

Now first off, I’m not saying that money is evil (it’s not – it is morally neutral), nor that we do not need it nor that we shouldn’t be wise with it nor that we shouldn’t touch nor think about it (I love Phil Vischer‘s one liner: Financial resources are like teeth–ignore them and they’ll go away.) – certainly not just for the moment anyway.

What I am saying however is that fundraising and financial giving does not NECESSARILY bring about good things per se, and that the logical, Hedonistic, Western, capitalistic mindset that money makes the world go round is contrary to biblical teaching. The more I see the way the Lord works and the way humans are designed and built, the more I see that it is relationships that matter most. It is a relationship based on faith (hearing and obedience) that God seeks from us FIRST, and success is measured from the quality and depth and intimacy found in that relationship.

You can see it in an evangelistic sense that when a street preacher shouts at us to “Repent for the world is nigh!” we want to run a mile, but when we come into the presence of a kind, loving, caring old man who may be on his deathbed but is clearly at peace and is close to God, and who speaks gently to our heart about a kind, loving caring God that loves us too, that the message melts our heart as well and a miracle of conversion can occur often even in a stubborn man’s heart, despite perhaps decades of pride and independence and rebellion.

Wrestling with and applying this principle (that it is relationships not money nor the programs that money funds that generate “success” for the Lord) is deeply personally challenging because it hits to the core motives behind our every daily activity.

I will move on to the practical outworking of the principle shortly, but speaking now to Christians who are seeking funding for various missions and projects, I would challenge you to answer these questions about your work, attitude and understanding of money:

  1. What relative focus did Christ put on fundraising compared to building relationships?
  2. Did Jesus more share a vision or ask for financial support?
  3. What was the end result for the only disciple focussed on funding programs?
  4. To what extent did the most “successful” of Christ’s disciples seek funding for their programs and activities?
  5. How and from where did Jesus draw His resources from?
  6. To what extent does the issue of funding, money and financial matters affect you and your current view of life, and how things “tick”?
  7. How will you handle the probable situation that very shortly, you as a Christian (and particularly Christian “organisations”), will not have money, nor access to money and are actively persecuted because of your/their faith? Have you even thought about this and how PRACTICALLY you will survive? Hint: “Oh I will just trust God” is not a practical answer.

How about you flick through the questions again before reading on to my answers?

My own (personal) answers to these questions are:

  1. What relative focus did Christ put on fundraising compared to building relationships?
    Jesus said “Follow me!” to twelve individual people who actually GAVE UP their entire income streams and committed their entire lives to just being with and learning from a man who simply shared a vision and taught.
  2. Did Jesus more share a vision or ask for financial support?
    Jesus DID NOT fundraise for a ministry. Yes, He and His disciples used money and paid taxes but this was secondary to building relationships, mentoring, teaching and doing what He was called to do.
  3. What was the end result for the only disciple focussed on funding programs?
    I don’t see Judas as evil to start with. He was actually very well-meaning and I believe that in a strange sort of way he loved the Lord. The Lord of course knew the direction that he was going in and what the natural end result would be but He did bring Judas and call him as one of the twelve. It is disingenuous to say that Jesus called him BECAUSE he was evil or to show us what an evil man can do. What Judas did that was out of kilter with the heart of God was simply to focus on the money and the things that the money could do, and achieve. He dropped the ball because, like his peers, he thought differently to God’s ways. Judas was simply thinking “normally” for his generation.
  4. To what extent did the most “successful” of Christ’s disciples seek funding for their programs and activities?
    “Silver and gold have I none, BUT in the name of the Lord . . . ” are some of the most powerful words in scripture! They GAVE!
  5. How and from where did Jesus draw His resources from?
    Jesus was resourced primarily through Heavenly-inspired relationships – first with His father and secondly with those around Him. I can only recall once when He is recorded to have sought funding (because His disciples had asked Him for it) and this was probably an engineered event to show the power of God – I mean a FISH providing CASH? That’s not your regular church fundraising activity is it? At other times Jesus taught His people to GO and build relationships and have faith. Money was NEVER a pre-requisite for a program nor did it determine “success”.
  6. To what extent does the issue of funding, money and financial matters affect you and your current view of life, and how things “tick”?
    The rent? The mortgage? Food? Tithes? Alms, giving, children’s needs, insurance, savings and more. Of course I do not have specific answers for the entire world’s specific situations but I will show how the PRINCIPLE has applied to our situation in Samoa shortly.
  7. How will you handle the probable situation that very shortly, you as a Christian (and particularly Christian “organisations”), will not have money, nor access to money and are actively persecuted because of your/their faith? Have you even thought about this and how PRACTICALLY you will survive?
    I predict a major shakeup in Christian ministry circles – a major shakeup, possibly ten or twenty times worse than the pressures experienced as a result of recent economic down-turn – as all truly Christ centered, God-ordained ministries current and traditional funding streams (and communications channels such as the Internet and email) are removed permanently and possibly over a very short timeframe. Simultaneously I predict the rise of very well funded church and parachurch businesses (yes that reads correctly, businesses) that appear to be doing God’s work successfully and that these will be very popular. But I also believe that there will be many, many people forced totally under the radar, with nothing, no resources, little recognition but doing untold miracles with their seemingly “nothing”. It is called end-times. I believe that most genuine Christians will be so shocked at seeing everything they worked for gone, and the world including partners, colleagues and previously friends literally “out to get them” that they will be in real survival mode and be in desperate need of crisis management counselling.

Our world view has a critical role in determining our actions, particularly as it relates to building relationships. These principles and the above values are the core understandings that I bring to the SWAP Foundation’s work in Samoa.

But just the same as you do not have to be a Christian or a believer to live by and value the Ten Commandments, most of the people we deal with are not Christians, nor do we need them to be. It doesn’t matter, but I am, and while the vision we are putting together has a faith component to it, it has a very practical, physical outworking regardless of my faith.

Turning now practically to our situation, spearheading things in new and challenging areas, if last year I was offered a choice between $100,000.00 or one aging social outcast who I knew nothing about but who had just knocked me up in the street, then a couple of years ago I would have taken the money. But this last year I would have missed the added advantage of a divine introduction and the added blessings that this entails.

I too have been guilty of wanting funding to buy or lease some land, maybe 10 acres – I dreamed REALLY big and asked the PM here for 50 acres of government leased land. I now thank the Lord for bringing this guy to us because he’s just in the process of giving us the ‘keys’ to 400 acres of land that includes an amazing volcano and has opened up a world of opportunity and blessing for me and my family and Samoa and in fact probably many from around the world. Tau, is well respected and is totally passionate about sharing what he considers to be a gift from God to him and his family with the world. The energy that he has to love the nature, trees and flowers will likely reverberate throughout the world as people come to build and stay in their eco-units on his land.

I now know that the Lord can do a hundred times more with who and what he has given me, than if I took the money and bought the time of six top staff with the money. I have a man who is likely to become a brother and others who will join the team and who share the vision too will give of themselves with what they have as I mentioned in the first post on the principle of sharing.

Now the issue that concerns me is NOT actually about money. It is about the default thinking (a strongly American, and Western-world mindset) that money and fundraising and giving to a good or godly cause is required to do His work and have measurable “success”. Vision setting and building a team does not start with resourcing. It starts with developing and/or receiving a vision, then sharing that vision; then building a team who will then help make the vision happen. Resourcing will come when the time is right and when everyone works together and does their part.

It’s not about money. It’s about people; sharing a vision and building relationships …

I was speaking to the GM of a newly formed New Zealand ISP a few years back. They had the same idea as my Kiwi blogger ‘mate’ – who by the way I really respect – which is that they would make a really successful business and give to “missions”. Something inside me twitched and I got that little bit of a concern that comes when something seems right but actually isn’t.

There’s another couple of aspects to the idea of resourcing, fundraising and taking money from one hand and giving it to another. Generally speaking (except for emergency work) I’ve found it more solid a business practice that resourcing comes from those who get the benefit. A hand up not a hand-out thinking. Taking from the rich and giving it to the poor is Robin Hood behaviour. It’s also the mark of a con-man – give me your money and I’ll [insert whatever con it is in here] in return for [the bait]. We also treasure our own money and our own returns a lot more than other peoples’ donations!

The other thing that comes from focussing on money secondarily to the vision is that we can limit our activities and achievements. This ties in with the subject of goal setting, but when I was first thinking, praying and planning work in Samoa I tried not to limit myself to what I could see around me. Basically I had to because there wasn’t anything much, except devastation and loss of hope. So if I envisioned one new eco resort with say fifty beds in the village that I was in, then I missed the opportunity to help and encourage the neighbouring village. If I just worked with ONE family in the village, then what about the other families and the rivalries that would occur as a result?

My tension then was to balance the impossible (doing something for everyone) with the doable (my current resources). I chose to share the dream and go for the impossible. A year later the impossible is starting to happen. We have seven Village Stays ready to rumble, Prime Ministerial support and now, hopefully a base ready to get under way on real land as an example and showhome/prototype for the rest of the country to clone.

I originally started to think of a $100,000.00 project with maybe 3-4 acres. I thought maybe a 3 or four room hexagonal building in maybe ten villages. When I spoke to the PM I took a massive gamble and asked for 50 acres of government land thinking really big and maybe a crazy, scary, insane $4m budget over three years. We are now looking at a 400 acre property, just as a start, and the PM who has a stated goal to go green, and to develop the lands inside the country. If we do things right, resourcing will be the least of our worries as people both within and outside of Samoa get on the bandwagon and join the vision. I am starting to see the makings of something far far bigger than my biggest dreams, all because I am thinking in the future, understanding biblical principles and applying them in faith to real life situations. Real scary stuff!

So now to quantifying how much to give, or in the case of a project leader, how much to ask for. . .

I am constantly bombarded with Christian ministries and projects and others asking for resources – always cash. Post Tsunami appeals asked for CASH. But if we understand the biblical principle that money comes secondary to relationships and if we asked people to come and connect and just help a little as they are able, we would not need ANY cash again. Why? Because when you have connection, relationship and godliness (in the trade we call it voluntourism and other fancy names) then people have their own ways to resource and their own contacts to lean on and involve to give what is needed.

So let’s take an example. I’m thinking of a specific person here, not just a theoretical idea. If we asked a photographer who visited Samoa last year and loves the place for a donation, she may be generous to give us $100.00 or maybe $200.00. But I know that she wants to return and give more meaningfully. If she was given an opportunity to spend a month or two of her time to help the cause – doing what she loved doing (mixing with people and photographing them) – then she would generate thousands of dollars in exposure, goodwill and commercial value for us, as well as having deep meaning and purpose (making a real difference in the world) on top of having the time of her life in Paradise! On top of that she will introduce her friends and contacts (actually she already has) that have their own skills and interests and ways to contribute. And they already are doing exactly that!

Thinking about money and resourcing in the traditional manner without understanding that it is really through people and relationships that great things are done, just limits us to the lowest common denominator – spare cash. Offering an opportunity to engage however is more work, slower in the short term but the stronger, more godly approach to dealing with money.

It’s not about money. It’s about people; sharing a vision and building relationships (in a Christian context in faith). Money should come secondary to this.

Our principles thus far: 
  1. Barter – exchange – collaborative commerce – whatever you want to call it, the principle we are working with is that of exchanging and sharing the assets of two parties, for the benefit of both.
  2. It’s not about money. It’s about people; sharing a vision and building relationships
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  1. […] Their story is similar to any one of the smaller operators – they have no marketing or business experience. They built their business as best they could over a six year period with offshore family help. When they thought they were ready they went to the Samoa Tourism Authority and asked for help. According to them, the STA finally sent some girls around who told them what was wrong with their resort, and then did nothing more. They were advised to apply for funding through the PSSF. They did this and their funding assistance for marketing was denied. They had reached a dead end before contacting us. As with many things here, it is not money that people need it is simply time and TLC. Beaurocrats by their very nature can never and will never be able to do that. Nobody trusts them – especially in Samoa! While SWAP brings expertise and can help with business strategy and online marketing, it is actually hope, meaning and purpose that people need most of all in this emerging third world country rather than money. […]

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