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Early on in the life of The Gathering I had a conversation with Anne. We had never met but she wanted to know more about the mission of The Gathering. When I told her we were hoping to be a “bridge” between donors and what they needed to make good decisions she smiled and said, “Well, aren’t you the good little social worker? You really need to be needed, don’t you?” She then drew a graphic I will never forget. Two lines down the middle of the page represented a river. On one side was The Gathering and on the other side she drew a blank circle with a question mark. “Instead of building a bridge you should build something on the other side of the river that will be so compelling, interesting and useful that people will figure out a way to get there without the ease of a bridge. They will tunnel under, dam up the river and walk across, use a helicopter, throw a cable or swim. They will get across because they are determined to get to what they want and value. Otherwise, you will be focused on your own need to be a “bridge” and that is not only unhealthy for you but you will attract people who need bridges.”
I realized then the wealthy and donors are surrounded by people wanting to build bridges for them and to solve problems. They want to serve them by relieving them of the stress of doing it themselves. It is everything from shaping the values of their children to doing the due diligence for their giving. There are organizations and services clamoring to be a bridge to make it easy to get to the “other side”. I knew The Gathering was not going to be that. We could not be just another organization or ministry meeting a need and making things easier. We were going to build something that would be of such value that people would find a way to get there to be with others who had done the same. It would not be for everyone.
I’ve never forgotten her challenge and now when I meet with people wanting to be a bridge for donors I ask them the same. “Do you want them to become dependent on you and your need to be needed or do you want to see them figure out a way to get there themselves – at the risk of not needing you?”
It’s a good question for us a donors as well. Are we creating a whole network of bridge builders in our lives to make things easier or are we learning how to get across the river and grow?Comments
I enlisted in the Navy in 1968 at the height of the Vietnam war. I discovered six months after enlisting that my draft number was #1 so I saved myself some time as it turned out. As well, by enlisting I was promised the opportunity to travel. That’s one promise they kept! While I was not by any stretch a fit for the structure of the military there were benefits.
In July, 1969 I was stationed in Sicily and working as a clerk in the base legal office. We heard a rumor that the Secretary of the Navy, John Chaffee, was going to visit Sicily. After a quick visit to the base he and his entourage were scheduled to spend a day in Taormina, a spectacular Greek city and tourist resort on the north end of the island. I volunteered to be his driver because I lived off the base and had been to Taormina several times and knew the roads pretty well. It was, frankly, a surprise when I got the assignment.
There was a caravan of cars and vans packed with admirals, ranking officers, journalists and aides. Some of them had a mild interest in the history and sites of Taormina but, sadly, most of them were more interested in the clubs and night life. By the time we had found everyone something to do that night there were very few of us left in the group. Secretary Chaffee invited all of us up to his suite at the hotel overlooking the cliffs down to the sea. It was a perfect night with the moon out. Secretary Chaffee had a large monitor installed in his quarters and there was some buzz going around about a moon landing. I stood in the back and waited to see what they were talking about.
The monitor came to life and there was the lunar module but with one difference. This was not a commercial feed. It was a military feed and we were getting the direct reports from the astronauts themselves. Seconds after Neil Armstrong stepped on the surface, Secretary Chaffee made a call to him and congratulated him on behalf of the Navy and the whole country. I’ll admit I did not fully grasp what was happening but I knew it was important. I knew I had a brush with history from the back of the room.
So, when people say “where were you when we landed on the moon?”, I have a good memory.Comments
I had a chance to listen to a ministry founder this morning talk about his struggle with turning loose of the ministry. It’s glib and not really helpful to say, “Let go and let God.” All entrepreneurs are high control. It’s their/our nature. In our desire to make it right we sometimes smother the baby and shut down the people around us.
In the earliest years of The Gathering a Board member saw this in me and told me I needed to let go…but I did not know how. So, that week-end I went to the story of Moses and his mother and found some help. Maybe it will help you.
A few things happen in this story that helped me work through it. First, had the mother kept Moses he would have eventually been found and killed. Her natural desire to hold him close and protect him would have been the cause of his death. As well, had he died he would never have accomplished what God intended. Not that God could not have used someone else but He wanted to use Moses and his mother’s love for him, ironically, was an obstacle to that.
Second, in letting him go she turned him into the hands of a natural enemy who was the only one who could guarantee his survival. Founders feel that way about governance, boards and accountability sometimes. “They” are trying to control the vision. “They” don’t understand the threats to this ministry. “They” want to take it away from me. How will it survive without me?
Third, we don’t learn the name of Moses’ mother and father until several chapters into the story. They are anonymous. Moreover, Jochebed (his mother) is willing to become the nursemaid to her own child instead of what every fiber of her body must have wanted to scream out, “This is my child. I am the mother. He is not yours.” A founder, to truly let go, must make that sacrifice and accept their role as the nursemaid and not the mother. To be anonymous is hard enough but to be content to play such a role is the litmus test.
So, my young friend is off to struggle with those three things and I am looking forward to hearing from him sooner or later.Comments
We spent two weeks on the Danube river recently and part of the tour was a variety of churches, chapels and sanctuaries. One of our guides, a nonreligious person, was also one of the most knowledgeable about Gothic and Baroque architecture. In the course of looking at a number (a large number!) of cathedrals she talked about the theology and world view each represented. I had never thought about it but it got my mind going about other things.
Briefly, Gothic architecture was built around the transcendence, awe and majesty of God. Everything pointed vertically and the effect was to draw the congregation’s attention to heaven and the life hereafter. The theologians and clergy of that period of history were caught up in the splendor of heaven – partly because of the squalid and miserable conditions below. Life was difficult and the prospect of a better life was compelling. The church represented a “universe in miniature” that was designed to convey the distant and awesome glory of God. “The logical and ordered nature of the structure reflected the clarity and rationality of God’s universe.”
On the other hand, the Baroque period was something of a reaction to the Gothic and, as always, the conditions of the world had changed. People had lived through extensive wars, plagues, economic downturns and there was something of a general desire to focus on making this life better instead of thinking only of the hereafter. So, the emphasis was not spires “reaching toward heaven” and the “ordered nature of structure” but light, color, texture and art intended to draw people in – a kind of celebration of creation and the here and now.
I think evangelical philanthropy is in something of a similar transition from a primary focus on the hereafter towards both the celebration of creation, the arts, and the role of the church in the here and now. Of course, we have such a short history but there is clearly a shift from the generation that was motivated so strongly by “finishing the task”to a generation that sees the role of philanthropy as broader. Who is right? I don’t think that is the issue. I loved both Gothic and Baroque. There is room for each.Comments
A young friend (let’s call him Cole from Chattanooga, Tennessee) and I are having a back and forth conversation about the intrinsic value of donors becoming more competent and skilled. While we are in agreement on the value of competence, we are probably on different pages (for now) on how to define that.
The exchange started with our both seeing the difficulty of donors first encountering complexity. They believe (and sometimes ministries encourage this) that a gift to a particular cause will make everything in life better for a child. If we can improve their access to water or health care or education or Bibles then their whole life will improve. Whatever the cause, it tends to claim the key role. After a few years of experience we all know that is not true but how do we explain complexity without discouraging well-intentioned donors? They thought supporting this one organization was going to fix things. I wrote:
“Yes, explaining complexity to funders takes some of the air out of the balloon, doesn’t it? That’s a large part of the appeal of online funding, contests, feed a child for $1/year, drill a well, get a shot, etc. It’s part of what we have tried to explain in a number of sessions at The Gathering. We don’t want funders to “blame” ministries for the complexity of the issues and not delivering neat solutions. Sometimes donors ask for simplicity that just doesn’t exist.”
Cole wrote back: “I agree with you…and I am passionate about helping equip people with “actionable intelligence” and to walk alongside them on the journey. I feel like we are called to excellence and don’t you think the collective bar could be raised by more well-informed, globally aware, and culturally sensitive givers? Professionals (foundation staff) should be able to help principals up their game.”
I wrote back: “Yes, but most people improve their game by playing with their peers who are a few strokes better. We put on Pro-Am events with foundation staff showing the donors how staff play the game. While it’s fun to play with them, it doesn't necessarily raise the level of play.”
We probably agree but I’m not sure how many principals learn from the professionals or how much more the principals want to learn. I think it may be like the relationship between a week-end golfer and a golf coach. The golfer wants to know enough to play with his peers but not go on tour. The coach needs to be clear about how much time and energy the player is willing to commit.
Cole and I will keep this going because his desire to see principals benefit from the knowledge and perspective of professionals is pure and my bias toward peers educating peers is well-ingrained! Still, I heard a phrase today that applies to both of our points of view.
“The gap between knowledge and wisdom is your ability to teach someone else.”
Whether it be the professional or the peer, the ultimate test is our ability to teach someone else. The world of giving needs not just more knowledge or competence. We need wisdom that is capable of teaching someone else.Comments