R. Scott Rodin, PhD, Managing Principal, OneAccord, Not-for-Profit Practice, Colbert, WA
Summary: We learn that our work in raising funds for God’s kingdom is not the work of the reaper, but the sower. Our challenge is to put away our harvester mentality, pick up our seed bags, and sow generously into the lives of our partners in ministry.
I want to share a confession. After fifteen years working in fundraising for Christian organizations, I came to the startling realization that I had been doing my job from a deeply flawed perspective. Everything I had been taught about fund raising had equipped me to be a reaper, a harvester. Using this agricultural metaphor, I was taught to find out where the grain was the most plentiful, and then to apply my skills to harvest as much of it for my organization as possible. I learned the techniques, the ‘tricks of the trade’ that made this harvesting successful. And by sprinkling in some Scripture verses and using some Christian language, I was convinced I was being faithful in my work.
I was wrong. Through the study of scripture and some distinct Christian voices I have come to learn that our work in raising funds for God’s kingdom is not the work of the reaper, but the sower. Paul used this agricultural metaphor to exhort the church in Corinth to unity.
Since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere men? What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor.
God gives the increase
Paul clarifies and defines his vocation in relationship to God’s work. He diverts all praise and glory away from himself and Apollos, and solely to God for the ministry that has taken place in Corinth. He will not allow himself, Apollos, or those that follow them to steal glory from God. They each have a role to play, but compared to God’s work of ‘making things grow,’ Paul and Apollos’ work of planting and watering amount to very little. This is not meant to demean our work, but to place it in its proper relationship to the work that we trust God to do in and through (and sometimes in spite of) us.
So Paul plants. This is a noble and holy vocation, and it is essential for crops to grow. God does not rain down heavenly seed. Crops need a sower. In spiritual terms, people need leaders to instruct, admonish, and exhort them. All of God’s people are in a process of growing in discipleship and service. Sowers plant seeds to enable that growth.
There is an interesting aspect to sowing seed. For all of its importance to the possibilities for growth, it has a distinct limit and requires a deep faith. The limit is simply that once the seed is in the ground, the sower has no more control over what happens. Good seed on good ground should produce a good crop. But the sower relinquishes all control once the seed is in the ground. All that sowers can do is sow faithfully, and then they have to sit and wait and hope and believe. Sowers cannot play God and cause the seeds to grow. They must be content to sow faithfully and regularly, and trust God for the increase.
The harvester or the faithful sower?
Here are three questions that will help you discern whether your work in fund raising is the work of the harvester or the faithful sower.
1. Who do you believe is ultimately responsible for raising the money for your organization?
Harvesters will place that responsibility on themselves, believing that, in the end, it is up to them if the money is to be raised. While this may sound sensible, it is a trap that will throw us back upon ourselves to use whatever practices are necessary to get a gift. Left to ourselves we will constantly need to discover new tactics to ensure that our donors will be motivated to give. It may be guilt, obligation, the promise of eternal rewards, tax incentives or some other reason that we can use to produce larger and more consistent giving. Sowers, on the other hand, understand that while they have a critical role to play in the process of raising money, in the end the true fundraiser is God and God alone. Sowers focus on presenting a credible case for support to people who genuinely care about their work, and asking them to take the need to God in prayer. Sowers then trust that God’s people will listen to God’s voice and respond obediently as God directs.
2. Do you see your fund raising work as a means to fund ministry, or as ministry itself?
Harvesters seldom see their work directly as ministry. Too often we divide out the fund raising department from the ‘real ministry’ of our organization. Fundraisers are seen as means to an end. They raise the money so the rest of the organization can ‘do’ the ministry. This opens up the temptation to use whatever means are necessary, since the only valued outcome is the amount of money actually raised. Harvesters don’t worry about being spiritually prepared for their work, and they do not view as a priority the spiritual growth of their donors. Sowers, on the other hand, believe that they are called to raise up stewards to be rich toward God. Motivated by that singular vocational challenge, sowers seek to minister to their supporters. By sowing good seeds of godly stewardship into the lives of God’s people, sowers engage daily in vital ministry. Their work is an end in itself, while also making possible the work of the organizations they serve.
3. Who gets the glory?
Harvesters tend to steal the glory when the money is raised. After all, if they are solely responsible for the outcome, and if their work is measured only in financial terms, then why shouldn’t they get the credit when goals are met? Once the first two questions are answered as a harvester, this third outcome is inevitable. So, too, for the sower. If God is the true fundraiser, and if our work is ministry and is therefore measured at least in part in spiritual terms, then all glory can only go to God. Sowers sow faithfully, and trust God for the rest. And when he blesses, it is truly his victory, his work, his ministry.
Our challenge is to put away our harvester mentality, pick up our seed bags, and sow generously into the lives of our partners in ministry. As we are faithful in our sowing, we can trust God to be faithful in ‘bringing the increase.’ To God be the glory!