Monday, July 14, 2008

Element's "Bold As Love" Initiative

Element is about to do something radical. Something virtually unheard of. As we have reflected on and prayed over what it means to be a countercultural community of Jesus-followers, we have decided that you can’t just preach revolution without acting revolutionary.

We have heard Jesus commanding us to love our neighbors as ourselves and we don’t want to assume this is either a suggestion or a sentiment.

Several months ago I heard the story of the further missional directive of Cornerstone Community Church in Simi Valley, California. They were set to spend $20 million on a new facility when teaching pastor Francis Chan said, “Nope.” He said he couldn’t in good conscience be the pastor of a church that spent $20 million on itself. He suggested instead that they build a much, much cheaper outdoor amphitheater and community park. And the multi-millions left over? He said they should give it away.

His board agreed. Several hundred reportedly left the church, so unnerved and inconvenienced were they by this decision. But Chan and his fellow ministers committed to giving away millions and millions of dollars. They said that one great message the outdoor space would send is that whenever it was too hot/cold/rainy/windy, it would remind those gathered that there were many people around the world who never have a roof over their head.
Furthermore, Cornerstone Church amended their budget to now give 50% to missions. Half of everything they receive goes right back out the door to the hurting, poor, starving, and dying.

When I heard this story (for the second time, honestly) it grabbed my heart and wouldn’t let go. I couldn’t stop thinking about it and dreaming it. I was thinking about the ministry buzzword du jour “missional,” and I began to think that, while Element has already been operating and teaching as such that “missional” is not just empty sloganeering for us, it could and should mean more.

The idea wouldn’t let go of me. I didn’t tell anyone. I just let it gnaw on me and mess with me and make me pray and think and rethink and rethink some more. I am, to put it bluntly, a financial moron. Numbers are not my strength and I am very thankful for an administrative director and a few others on our team who not only manage around my weakness in this area, but are basically geniuses in this area.
But to my great shame, I was afraid to share my idea with them. I was afraid someone would laugh at me. Or that they’d nod politely and think to themselves, “There’s Jared being super-spiritual again, and so naïve.”
Again, I was afraid of this to my shame. When I finally got around to mentioning the idea I’d even been withholding from my wife and my fear of sharing it with the board, she wisely said, “You’re not giving them enough credit.”

I still didn’t say anything. Then one day I had lunch with my new friend and mentor Ray Ortlund. It is no exaggeration to say that I was thinking about this idea as I pulled into the parking lot to meet him. I was thinking about it while I was walking up to the restaurant. I had never said anything to Ray about it and I hadn’t planned to. Then during our conversation, as we talked about other aspects of ministry, he said this: “I sometimes wonder if God ever looks down on us and says, ‘Whoa. That was bold.’”

Not that we can ever really impress God. But Ray meant that the church doesn’t really take faith-driven risks any more. We play like we do. But we don’t. God is not “struck” by our boldness.
That word shot right into my heart like a lightning bolt from God saying, “Go for it.”

That day I e-mailed Element’s board of directors, and Becky was right: I hadn’t given them enough credit.

This is what I proposed:
Element should give away at least 50% of its income. 50% minimum. Every dollar that comes in, 50 cents of it should go right back out to mission causes.

The first to weigh in was our administrative director, David, who handles our budget and our finances. He was in. Unequivocally. (David would like to give away 80% of our budget, so now I get to play the “he’s so naïve and super-spiritual” card.)
One by one, the remaining board members weighed in, and it’s now unanimous. Element’s “Bold As Love” Initiative is underway.

We still have to actually convene to hash out the details and vote, but every board member is behind our plan to put our money where our missional mouth is. (Our tech director, John, wanted to call it, with a nod to Elvis, “A Little Less Conversation, A Lot More Action,” but that’s a little wordy, don’t you think?) Here’s the plan as it is now presented and as now all members are set to vote yes on:

Element will designate minimum 50% of its budget to missions, and 10% to church planting or to other gospel-driven ministries. This means that for every dollar we receive, 60 cents will go back out the door. Our operating budget will be 40% of our offerings.

Just to give you some perspective, in the studies I’ve done, the average budget percentage churches designate to missions ranges from 5% to 15%. So the in the “best light” study I could find, the average church gives 15% of its income to missions. Recently musician, blogger, and Compassion International evangelist Shaun Groves mentioned that in all his church travels around the nation, he had never heard of a church giving more than 30% of its budget to missions.

I don’t say any of that to brag on us. The truth is we can do this because we can do this. Designating 60% of our budget to missions at this point in our ministry will not require us cutting staff (because we don’t pay anybody anything yet) or programs (because we run a “simple church” structure consisting of exactly 3 regular programs that are inexpensive). Someone might ask, why not spend some money getting bigger and better (for instance, we have not done any advertising of any kind in over a year, and are only about to do some next month) and then you’d have more to give away? The answer is that once you get “bigger and better” it becomes harder to sacrifice. We are committing to sacrifice now so that we set the standard for whatever level of growth God is willing to grant us.

But the truth is we are sacrificing some things. By operating on 40% of our budget we are delaying the time we can hire staff or buy more equipment or do more advertising, etc. And we hope to feel the sacrifice; otherwise, it’s not a sacrifice.
And again, the temptation to be prideful will be ever-present in this, but I do want our community to have a holy sense of “boasting” in the goodness of the gospel. I do want them to be proud that their community financially loves their neighbor as themselves.

In my original email to the board I said I wanted to hamstring ourselves financially. I never want us to be able to say “We can’t help that missionary this month because we are buying that new software.” I want us to be able to say “We can’t buy that new software because we are supporting that missionary.”

We will give to both foreign and local missions, but more will go to local missions, because our idea is not just to write a check (or checks) and wipe our hands of it, but to be giving regularly to local mission agencies that we can actually visit, partner with, and do on-site service projects with.

Here’s what gets me: Jesus said to his followers that whatever they do to the “least of these,” they are doing to him. This means it’s not some nameless, faceless people out there who are shivering and starving and dying. It means it’s Jesus who is shivering and starving and dying. And while it shouldn’t matter if someone is nameless or faceless, while not seeing someone shouldn’t dissuade us from action, we are seeing this as a great way to bless Jesus, to worship Jesus.

The second value in Element’s Values is the supremacy of Christ. If we are going to hold Christ supreme in our lives and in the life of our community, we must commit to loving as he loved and living as he lived – sacrificially, selflessly, boldly.

Will you please pray for Element as we move toward becoming Bold As Love?


David McLemore said...

You've gone from giving me too little credit to far too much. I am hardly a financial genius. I'm glad you and my mom think i am though.

Jen said...

This is bold. But God does bold things all the time through His people. I'll be praying with you...

Michael Spencer said...

That's Jesus shaped. The real deal. Thanks for that counter-CHRISTIAN culture example. I pray your people never stop being excited about this.

Best thing I've read in many months.

Daniel said...


(And the 'Bold As Love' title is also an awesome Jimi Hendrix song). :-)

Bill said...


co_heir said...

If I lived in Nashville, I'd be at Element in a heartbeat.

Devon said...

I admire you and your board for doing this. In my experience, giving when finances are tight is hard - but also the most rewarding.

Keith Williams said...

Thanks so much for sharing about what you are doing to follow God's lead and make the hard, good choices before the cart outstrips the horse. Very challenging, and encouraging.

Anonymous said...

I still like the title "A little less conversation, a lot more action"....use the acronym "ALL CALM". (very helpful if certain parishioners/members are nervous with this idea)Good on you guys!

Alan Knox said...

Last year, our budget was similar to what you are proposing. We probably gave a little higher percentage to missions activities because we don't run any programs.

This year, the group of people who put together our budget suggested something new. They suggested that we only ask people to give exactly what we need for rent and a few other administrative costs. It comes to just under $40 per member per month. Then, we ask peole to give anything more directly to missions or to people in need, with them being responsible for determining how God wants them to give the money he has given them. If we added it all up (and we can't because we don't know the total) we would now be given much more than 50% to those in need and missions activities. (The percentage is around 75% for our family.)


Anonymous said...

"Element will designate minimum 50% of its budget to missions, and 10% to church planting or to other gospel-driven ministries. This means that for every dollar we receive, 60 cents will go back out the door. Our operating budget will be 40% of our offerings.

Oh man! Praise be to God.

Todd Spargo said...

"But the truth is we are sacrificing some things. By operating on 40% of our budget we are delaying the time we can hire staff or buy more equipment or do more advertising, etc."

This is good. I was wondering how advertising and Gospel-Driven fit together anyway.

Milly said...

Without a doubt I’m praying for Element.
Several years ago my church found itself without a minister we had several guest speakers/ministers. It was wonderful to hear from different men. We also found our church being blessed financially a decision was made to give a percentage to missions. Not just the missions that we normally support but those in need. Every Sunday one would be picked randomly, it was a cool anticipation waiting to hear who was to receive the blessing and to hear of what they were going to use the money for.

God is going to use Element in some great ways. :-}

Jared said...

Alan, that's awesome.

Todd, I don't think advertising and gospel-drivenness are mutually exclusive. Depends on what you're advertising.
Certainly we'd like more people to know we exist. :-)

Thanks, all.

Anonymous said...

If God ever leads me to Nashville for whatever reason, you can count on a new member. Whether you are still there or not, if Element still practices this, I would gladly be a part.

scott said...

Jared & board,

as a fellow brother in Christ i aplaud you. well, rather, i aplaud Christ working in and through you. what an amazing endevour! you are setting an example for others of us who lag behind. what a true way to love your neighbor as yourself when you give them as much or more than you give yourself! i look forward to hearing how this unfolds (both the triumphs and the challenges). blessings on you. may God guide you through the challenges ahead.

question: how do you plan to spend the money? how much will be for local? global?

Jared said...

Thanks so much, Scott.

The details will be worked out in future and successive board meetings. We will give slightly more to local missions than to world missions for the reasons stated in the blog.

We will choose agencies/charities based on specific and strategic criteria that will include us asking things like:

a) how hands-on can we be in doing actual service with this agency/charity?
b) what percentage of donated dollars translates to tangible benefit and how much gets eaten up in administrative overhead?
c) is this agency/charity only superficially Christian, or are they committed to full gospel transformation?

In addition, we will be deciding things like if we will give to the same places consistently every month or changing it up month to month, or something in between.

All of this stuff will be discussed, prayed about, and voted on by our board before implementation.

But we're excited b/c the general budget breakdown is agreed on. :-)

Anonymous said...

Exactly two bloggers have lead me to consider, if only briefly, if I should move to be part if what their churches are doing. Not that I'm unhappy where I am as much as what they were doing was so attractive.

Patrick Mead's talking about the Rochester CoC is one, Element is the second.