Wednesday, February 15, 2023

What Can the 'Burned Out' Learn from the 'Burned Over'? Money Matters


The series continues.... post #3. As I get older, I don't know if I am more realistic or more pessimistic. Life and time can erode youthful idealism and we all fight becoming jaded. But it could also be I am wise enough to realize that if you want to follow patterns and movements, you need to start with the money trail.

And in the early 19th century, Yankee money was finally flowing west and supporting missionaries, ministers, and movements. Kenneth Scott Latourette's famous "History of Christianity" notes that early frontier preachers worked in the fields 6 days a week and took up preaching on Sundays.

But between 1801 and 1830, there was enough New England capital to fund important organizations dedicated to achieving grand goals. The Plan of Union formed in 1801 was an early harbinger to these movements but sadly ended up in a schism between the "Old School' and "New School" Presbyterians.

In 1816, the American Bible Society formed to put a Bible in every house in both the cities and the frontier. In 1825, the American tract Society desired to place religious literature in 'every destitute family in the nation'. The American Sunday School Union wanted their 'programmes in every community west of the Alleghenies' and in 1826 the American Home Missionary Society (AHMS) was zealously pushing for evangelism to sweep the new regions.

It takes money and resources to support these initiatives and "Yankee Benevolence" was surging!

There were some unexpected obstacles. A lot of monetary support was coming from the educated or so called 'elites' and often the common frontiersman did not register with the language or theological heavy messaging of the highly educated ministers.

If a preacher seemed more common, they seemed to reach the more common.

The best funded new churches tended to consist of a better educated congregation, but the numbers were limited and continued to place them in the minority.

I also mentioned in my last post that the benefactors often received news of their investment with reports designed to keep the support going. These reports were often publicized and contained criticisms of the lifestyles of the targeted mission fields and rival sects competing for the same 'sheep'.

These pitfalls remain today for even sincere people called to full time ministry.

Have you ever tried fundraising for Christian causes? 


And I have never been great at it. I was shielded from this for a long time, but early in my role as a fund raiser (both football coach and AD) I just did not seem to  have the right skill set to make some high level donors feel compelled to give or valued.

It is hard asking for support, and early on, I was often been turned off by the expectations, boasting, or sometimes bullying of the donor class. It is hard to receive gifts without an exchange of expectations.  Also, I come from a blue collar background and I often didn't mix well with the upper crust. A lot of successful fundraisers mix well with that clientele. What is the old saying?... it takes money to make money.

I grew more accustomed to the routine over time and I got better. Primarily I had to work on MY attitude and shortcomings.

I had to come to grips with the fact that I believed in my cause and I was willing to tell the story and let the chips fall where they may. I began to trust God more as the caretaker and stopped judging others. I had to learn to accept the natural hindrances and the reality of human nature. I had to learn to love people regardless of their actions or decisions.

For example, in athletics, donations are often parents giving for their  own children and it puts a squeeze on the time table of big projects. 

Every now and then, I would find a generous donor who TRULY wants to stay in the shadows... but it was rare.

In the early 1980's, charitable giving began to change significantly in the rise of organizations like NCF (National Christian Foundation) where donors could give large sums of money to the organization and have it spread out over a multitude of 501c3s.

Fundraising became even harder at that point because the counsel was to never give anyone a large amount of money. An unintended result of this trend was to create 'charity competition' among a lot of worthy causes.

As large donors look at many options on lists to give, certain charities look better or maybe 'feel better' and some worthwhile endeavors get left out.

Some successful charities actually spend money to get more money, but it can create a starvation cycle where a rise in donations may net out productivity losses.

The Burned over District in the 19th century suffered from the same  dynamics. Christian educational institutions found that they could soften some dogmatic views and donations would grow. Money can sometimes mean mission drift. 

I found it quite interesting that in the long run, what caused Harvard and Yale to turn so quickly was more about money than mission. And even Princeton began to suffer as they saw capital flowing in the wrong direction.

The lesson to learn? Money matters. It is imperative to fuel the mission but in the end, can't drive it.

We need to guard against benefactor burn out.

IF God is in it... He will fund it. But His help is rarely early though never late.

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