There are a surprising number of conspicuous words that upset us or cause division, words that we worry will change the way people think of us.
I want to talk about one word in particular, one of the most taboo of all: Fundraising.
Let’s be honest about this. Whether you just raised money to go to SEEK or SLS or you’re staring into the face of a mission trip, for the overwhelming majority of people this can be a sticky, tricky, even downright awful subject.
Attitudes vary from positivity (“I am happily surprised by generosity but I kinda wish I were selling cookie dough or something with it”), to acceptance (“This is a necessary evil for churchy things”), to disdain (“I don’t want to be another guilt-trip second collection,” or “I was raised to never ask for a handout”).
All of these perspectives are understandable. All of them stem from our families, past, culture and relationships, and none of them are uncommon.
I was born into a support-raising family. My parents, young Protestant missionaries at the time, had been called to serve the college campus and have a family — which means that, for my older sister and me, everything from our diapers, food and toys to the roof above our heads was possible because of the generosity of other Christians.
After we became Catholic, we would still often be fundraising for various trips, youth events, pilgrimages, etc., nearly without batting an eye.
In short, when God called me to serve as a missionary on the college campus, I thought I had a great outlook on fundraising. I headed into my first summer training, my contact list a mile long. I acknowledged that, while I was untrained and a little nervous, I would do well. I saw the good and beautiful in this lifestyle. No problem.
About three months later, I was fully funded and totally burnt out.
I was wracked with a guilt I couldn’t explain. Sure, my support-raising had been challenging, but there had been so many joys and new relationships that grew through it. Intellectually, I knew the right answers: that I was inviting people to be a missionary with me through their resources — inviting them to share in my work, not greedily creating a piggy bank of people in lieu of a “real job.” My brain knew it was a beautiful and uniquely Biblical thing.
So why was it so much harder to talk to the people who were giving to me? Why did I have so much anxiety?
I knew it had to change for me. I desperately wanted it to. I had a sneaking suspicion God might call me to be to a ministry in some capacity for all of ever, and I didn’t know how I would handle it if fundraising would always feel this way.
So I started asking myself some hard questions — questions I didn’t necessarily want to be honest about or know how to fix:
What the heck am I even doing here? Do I really believe my calling to build up the Kingdom of God is important? Is it more important than discomfort? Is it more import than money? Who am I trying to please while I do this? Do I freely love the people who support me? How about the people who don’t? Am I using anyone? Why do I feel like it? Do I actually think people are supporting me because they want me to be supported? Am I grateful for this, amazed and honored by it? Do I really believe God’s generosity will not be outdone for them? For me? Do I honestly think I have something precious to offer, that my calling to be a missionary actually builds up the Body of Christ and doesn’t burden it?
For those of us in this culture, our worth is totally caught up in our ability to stand alone: a self-made, hardworking American, dependent on no one.
We’re raised not to talk about it, but to earn it and to earn a lot of it. It is the key to unlocking our happiness, our pleasures and pursuits, our very freedom. Money is the bedrock of our nation, the defining factor of our human success.
In Mammon we trust.
True, hardcore, saint-making Christianity calls us to be in right relationship to all things — and that includes money. It calls us to value a giver for their authentic friendship, not their money. It calls us to invite people into God’s work in the world, being deeply convicted that He first joyfully and specifically invited us into it. You crave community and belonging, and so do I — so why the heck would I want my fundraising to be anything other than a source of community and belonging?
The simple truth is that, when you fundraise, the person you are inviting will either be prompted by God to join you or they won’t. But the outcome of your asking them doesn’t matter a single iota compared to the bond of inter-human communion the Lord has designed you both to have with one another.
Rewriting this deep-seated issue within us is a process. I’m certainly still going through it, and may always be. But pretending that fundraising isn’t uncomfortable and challenging to my worldview doesn’t accomplish anything. It takes examining your conscience. It takes prayer and letting the Holy Spirit reorder our attachments, making us brave and trusting. It takes the realization that all money is God’s to be given and re-given as He sees fit, even mine — and that humanity is a family, and families pool their resources.
Settle down, Yankee. This isn’t a subtle plug for socialism or some other political agenda. When you invite people to support your vision and calling through their God-given assets, they don’t owe you anything. God hasn’t called us to guiltily pass money around in an endless cycle of obligation and shame. Love, to be real love, must be free. Generosity, to be authentic, must be free.
This is Christianity, folks. It’s never really about our small ideas. It’s always about love and freedom.
And “God’s Kingdom is the place of abundance where every generous act overflows its original bounds and becomes part of the unbounded grace of God at work in the world” (Henri Nouwen).
I want to be a part of that.
(Note: If you’ve ever had the sneaking suspicion you might also be an American who is enslaved to money, and want to have your world rocked like I have, read A Spirituality of Fundraising by Henri Nouwen. His ability to explain things has made all the convoluted thoughts I have had about this topic comprehensible. It’s brilliant and honest and meaningful. And short.)