By Richard Clark, Vice President for Advancement
My life and ministry were completely changed when I came to understand grace as expressed in the first eight chapters of Romans. It was such a relief to know that my relationship to God was not based on my past or future ability to measure up. And my approach to people was not filled with guilt-inducing pressure but with mercy and love (at least more than it was before).
That paradigm shift shed light on Paul’s words at the beginning of Romans (1:16), “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…”
I have been reflecting upon that in the context of my current role. Generally, a person does not make such a bold declaration unless they once were ashamed or someone attempted to make them feel shame. My bet is Paul was feeling the latter.
Johnson University’s mission is based on the Great Commission. In other words, it is gospel-centered and gospel-permeated. We are not ashamed of that gospel or our effort to educate students to extend it among all nations.
What about the role we in the Advancement Department play in helping to fulfill that mission? We are “fundraisers.” Henri Nouwen wrote that he once understood fundraising the way many do, “as a necessary but unpleasant activity to support spiritual things.” Truthfully, some have an even more negative view. They think it is begging, or worse, it is attempting to talk people into doing something with their money they do not want to do.
Since fundraising is a socially stigmatized vocation, fundraisers are often reluctant to openly disclose what they do. In our office, it is quite different. We understand fundraising from a spiritual and theological perspective. In his book A Spirituality of Fundraising, Nouwen stated, “Fundraising is proclaiming what we believe in such a way that we offer other people an opportunity to participate with us in our vision and mission.” If we are not ashamed of the gospel or of our part in proclaiming it, we should not be ashamed to ask people to partner with us in our efforts.
We do not presume every Christian is going to find Johnson a perfect fit for their passions and interests. There are a lot of God-honoring, kingdom-building organizations that deserve the involvement and investment of God’s people. When we become aware that someone is more inclined toward a different ministry effort, we serve the kingdom better by helping that person find a better fit, rather than attempting to force a fit at Johnson. That explains the vision statement by which we operate: We seek to help people experience the joy and fulfillment of generously investing their lives and resources in extending the kingdom of God.
It is our firm belief that growing in Christian generosity is a transformative experience. People who are becoming more generous because of their relationship with Christ are becoming more like him. That transformation into his image is the point. The gifts received by any ministry are not the primary issue. This is why Paul would say to the Philippians that he does not simply seek the gift but “the fruit that increases to your credit” (4:17).
One of my favorite stories of generosity and life change comes from my long-time friends Greg and Shiela. Greg is a business owner. Greg has several ministries he gives to on a regular basis. He has given VERY generously to several. Johnson is one of those. He says that every time he gives more than he thinks he can, business takes off, sometimes more than he can manage. In other words, he says he cannot out-give God. But that is not the main point. Greg’s generosity in giving funds has led him to go to the mission field and has softened his heart. It has grown him into a more Christlike man at home. He has developed giving programs for his employees, as well, to encourage them to become generous.
Obviously, the money Johnson receives and stewards is of great importance in order to achieve the mission and vision of the school. However, when thinking of each individual gift, we keep in mind that the person is more important than the gift. The work God is doing IN us as we give is at least as important as the work he does THROUGH us in extending the kingdom. So we certainly are not ashamed of the gospel and neither are we ashamed to ask for partners to share in the wonderful work of educating students to extend the kingdom of God.