Leadership, Philanthropy

Relationships or Projects?

I’ve always liked being the new guy. It allows me to ask questions and make observations that may be missed by those who have been involved longer. Of course, that also makes me vulnerable to wildly inaccurate suppositions based on ignorance rather than insight. The world of charitable foundations and grant-making is a new one for me; you can decide for yourself if I’m ignorant or insightful. One person who I know is insightful is Mark Petersen from the Bridgeway Foundation. His blog “Open Hands” (link here) gives me a lot to think about. His most recent post is based on a recent New York Times article that explores the established tendency for foundations to gear their grants almost exclusively to short term, clearly defined, and measurable projects; rather than longer term investment in core funding. Innovative directors are realising that this contributes to an unintended and potentially unhealthy necessity for charities to play the “market” of funding and neglect their own long term vision and development. To my uninitiated eyes this sounds a lot like a transition that Christians are making in our understanding of evangelism. A generation ago, under the influence of organisations like Campus Crusade for Christ and Evangelism Explosion, evangelism became focussed on simply trainable techniques and immediate responses. A large number of people were influenced to pray the “sinner’s prayer”, and there was much to celebrate in the Kingdom of God. Over time it became apparent that this contributed to a consumer mentality in the church and resulted in sometimes shallow conversions and a lack of deeper discipleship. Recently thoughtful spiritual leaders are exploring evangelism with a more relational approach that is less efficient and involves a rediscovery of the importance of community. Some believers easily embrace this “postmodern” approach and have treated the “old way” with scorn. Others are skeptical of the soft nature of it and are concerned about “watering down” the Gospel. Of course, this whole discussion is largely restricted to the Western world. Really we need both for evangelism and philanthropy. We need those who will be more aggressive and push for measurable commitments and results. We also need those who are prepared to dig deeper into relationships and stick around for the outcomes that take longer to emerge. Speaking for myself, I prefer the long term approach. I love the process of seeing people develop and discover their identities and interests as God shapes them. It requires more patience and means fewer partnerships and relationships can be cultivated. It’s kinda fuzzy on the results and sometimes it seems like a pretty poor investment; but for me it draws me closer to the heart of God and calls me to a faith that challenges the biasses and assumptions of our culture.