Welcome to The Daily Prayer Team messages, each day includes a passage of scripture, a reflection and a prayer. Sponsored by Saint John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL.
As for the rich in this world, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on uncertain riches but on God who richly furnishes us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good deeds, liberal and generous, thus laying up for themselves a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life which is life indeed. I Timothy 6: 17-19
Most of us know what the “Hail Mary” play is in football. It is a desperate attempt to heave the ball far down the field in hopes that by some “miracle” it gets caught. It is generally thrown when there is one play left in the half or in the game. And, it rarely works. If a football team threw a “Hail Mary” on every play, there is no way they would be successful. Because the “Hail Mary” is a play of desperation, and, in the rare occasion it works, it’s like a miracle. But it can’t be a staple. It can’t be counted on to actually win the game for a team.
In the Orthodox Church, our favorite play is the “fundraiser.” It’s our “Hail Mary.” When we have a need, we organize a capital campaign, or some giving gimmick. We break out a thermometer or sell advertising space. We throw a dinner dance or have a bake sale. It’s very predictable. And it rarely works well. All this fundraising perhaps raises some funds, but it creates such fatigue that the work of the church is not accomplished. Because in the process of raising funds, we start to think that the success of the church is based on how much we raise, not on how many souls we reach.
Years ago, I used this example with our parish: Let’s say that I have a mind to mow lawns for elderly parishioners who can no longer mow their own lawns. Let’s say, hypothetically, that I wanted to create a lawn mowing “ministry.” I don’t want any money—I want to volunteer to mow lawns. I would need some lawn equipment—and let’s say that would cost $1,000. So, I approach the church and talk to them about this idea I have for ministry and ask for $1,000. The parish answers “If you want to do this ministry, that’s all well and good, but go and raise your own money. So, twenty car washes later, held on 20 consecutive Saturdays where I could have been mowing lawns, I have the $1,000 needed to buy the lawn equipment. However, I’m so exhausted from car washing, and now 20 weeks have passed, that I’ve lost my energy, mowing season is over, and no lawns got mowed.
When we spend so much time and energy on fundraising, just to keep the doors open, that when it comes time to actually do the ministry, we are exhausted. In my parish, a good three months of the year is centered around carrying off our Greek Festival. That doesn’t seem right. There is nothing wrong with having a Greek Festival. But there are two things wrong about how we do the festival. First, we put in thousands of hours preparing, and we cut off other parish programming for weeks before and after the festival. Second, we rely on the festival in order to make our budget (although we are doing that less and less). We are putting the future of our parish in the hands of the weatherman and relying on people coming and buying our souvlaki and baklava so that we can continue to keep our doors open. Jesus told us to “go and make disciples”, not “go and sell food.” In the effort to sell food, we end up too tired and distracted to make disciples. And that’s not right.
A few years ago, we had a leaky roof. And someone said immediately, “I’ll organize a dinner dance,” while someone else said “Let’s have a bake sale.” Nothing sinful about these kinds of activities. But again, when people spend dozens of hours to organize a “fundraiser” that is going to bring in limited funds, we exhaust ourselves, no other ministry gets done and we don’t end up with much money anyway.
What is the solution? Generosity. When we give generously, we don’t need to rely on fundraisers. When we stop relying on fundraisers, then we don’t have to spend the time and effort to organize them. And we can spend the time in ministry, which is exactly what we are supposed to be doing. When we are generous, there is enough money to cover the annual budget, with money left over to fix roofs, give to charity, fund ministries, and even buy lawn equipment for the guy who wants to mow lawns for elderly parishioners.
Every football fan knows that a successful team has a balanced offense, as well as a high degree of unpredictability. If the offense is not balanced and is predictable, the team for sure will fail. In the parish it’s the same thing. Things are out of balance if all activity for three months (or more) centers around the Festival rather than around Christ. And we have a predictable solution for every crisis—make some food and sell it. This is one of the reasons why our “team” (our Church) is not winning (making disciples) as it should be. When people are generous, fundraisers become “fun-raisers,” and are done for joy and not for stress. And the focus can remain on Christ, and on making disciples, which is exactly where it should be.
I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will tell of all Thy wonderful deeds. I will be glad and exult in Thee, I will sing praise to Thy name, O Most High. . .The Lord sits enthroned forever, He has established His throne for judgment; and He judges the world with righteousness, He judges the peoples with equity. The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. And those who know Thy name put their trust in Thee, for Thou, O Lord, hast not forsaken those who seek Thee. Psalm 9:1-2; 7-10
The focus of giving should be instilling a culture of generosity, not a culture of fundraisers.
The Revised Standard Version of the Bible is copyrighted 1946, 1952, 1971, and 1973 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. and used by permission. From the Online Chapel of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
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