Few weeks ago or so I launched a fundraising effort to support the ministry I do. Although I have been working as a minister for years, I have never done any proper fundraising. I might have approached a pastor or two in a couple of timid and half-baked attempts, but it didn’t go anywhere.
This is kind of a baring-my-soul post, so I want to be clear. What I’m writing is not a complaint or placing blame. It is what it is — thinking out loud and being vulnerable as a minister. Now back to the topic at hand. In a sense, I realize that it is my fault. No one ever trained me how to fundraise, and I never took enough interest to learn about it in depth. Later, I had some very brief training, but even that didn’t help with my inner resistance to fundraising. In the seminary I learned a lot about the Antiochian school of theology or what “extra-Calvinisticum” means, but we had no class on raising support. We had no class to teach us how to handle ministry finances or even how to negotiate. Not only that, I always had this internal resistance towards fundraising. I had thought about it for some time in the past, and I just wanted to pour my heart out.
First, some of this resistance is perhaps cultural: growing up I had never heard of someone who did fundraising. I had been told to work hard, study hard, get into a good university (which I did), graduate, and find a job (which I did). My parents never had to search for a job. The government of the Soviet Union provided them with jobs after they graduated from university. But by the time I graduated, the Soviet Union was gone, the new nation Azerbaijan was rising, and I had to find my own job.
Second, some of the resistance I feel is perhaps psychological. I still wrestle with the image of a missionary — the beggar in my mind. When I was growing up, asking for money from others for whatever purpose was a shameful thing to do. Society and my family strongly discouraged me from losing face — it was better to work and be satisfied with what you had rather than ask for money from others. But I do understand that we ministers who do non-pastoral ministry have the right to fundraise, and the Bible gives us precedence for such an activity. But still. I feel very uncomfortable about asking for support for my ministry. Even after reading Steve Shadrach’s The God Ask, a book that spells out the biblical basis for fundraising and then provides you with the tools to do it, I’m still not fully comfortable with this concept.
Third, some of the resistance I feel perhaps comes from my experience as a minority who faces the unique challenges of the structural sin in American society. But let me first explain what “structural sin” means. The term indicates unjust societal channels, organizations, or structures that are set up to perpetuate the unacceptable status quo. Unlike an individual’s sins, structural sin is not personal and cannot be pinpointed exactly. But it is unbiblical and unethical: we see OT prophets targeting the unjust and widespread institutional practices of their society. Often societies are blind to their own structural sin because it is widespread, normalized, and institutionalized. For example, racism is a structural sin. Segregation was a structural sin. Public policies designed to pay women less in comparison to men who do the same job is a structural sin. Okay, now back to the point. As a minister coming from a minority background and working with the current scapegoats of American society (I work with refugees, especially those who come from the Islamic world), I sense that I have to work harder against people’s suspicions and prove myself more than others. Others don’t need to prove themselves. I do — I am marginalized. I myself come from a Muslim background and have moderate (or slightly left-to-center) political views. I don’t fit into the usual American mental boxes of conservative (I’m not) vs. liberal (I’m not) or country folk vs. urban elite.
Now take all that into account, and think about how easy or hard it would be these days for a person like me to go into a church (with often a conservative congregation) and ask them to support a ministry that advocates bringing in Muslim refugees and settling them here in Michigan.
You hear what I’m saying?
Perhaps some of my readers might say, why don’t you become a bi-vocational minister? Good question. Actually, I’m considering that option though it will drastically reduce my time spent doing ministry. Ministry is what I want to do. When I interpret for a refugee on a driving test, help him understand a letter from the bank, or explain the basics of American culture and I have the chance to share Christ’s work, it makes my day. I feel elevated. When I go to a church, do a presentation on the refugee situation, and win over three hearts for refugees among ten people, I come away believing that I accomplished something worthy. When I teach in churches on the nuances of Islam, making people aware of stereotypes, I know I did something valuable for the Kingdom of God and for the public good, however small that may be. I don’t want to lose that joy or decrease and muddle it with the tiredness of worldly work. But I don’t mind going bi-vocational if the fundraising does not work out.
So I’ve decided to give it a go and fundraise. I’m constantly preparing myself psychologically and emotionally for its challenges.
There is another deeper reason I want to raise support for my ministry, which stems from thinking self-critically on all my reasons and experiences about not wanting to fundraise. Maybe all I have written here is simply a way of rationalizing and justifying my fear, the fear of getting out of my comfort zone and experiencing one of the transformative periods in life that God’s prepared for me. Maybe I’m simply finding reasons to avoid this challenge. But if that is so, then by approaching fundraising as a tougher job, I’m setting myself up for failure. Obviously, I don’t want that. Otherwise, I would miss a great opportunity of meeting people, learning from them, standing up against rejection, and pressing forward like the apostle Paul did. As he says, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed.” Maybe God does want me to get out of my shell for his sake and have a very little drop of what his son went through so that I can be stronger when the Lord calls me for more difficult ministry. What if I miss that honor by spoiling this fundraising through my half-hearted attempts and my rationalization of possible failure?
I simply can’t let that happen.
That would be an existential failure for me to say the least. To not pass God’s test and sadden My Beloved because of what — my own fears? Heck, I did not come here traveling around the globe, leaving a lucrative career and a guaranteed future for that. Self-pity is not option. Period. I will take this challenge, start an all-out fundraising effort, and leave the rest in God’s hands.
If you found this post interesting, check the post links below. They may interest you too.