Archive for October, 2011

Check it out – and don’t miss out on the conference!



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Once upon a time, in an Anglican Diocese far, far away (crunching literary genres horribly), the Synod of that Diocese lived its life and mission with no endowment at all – what decision making process for its budget did it employ? It meant that parishes paid for everything, starting with the costs of their own ministry, and also:
  • the essentials of being an Anglican Diocese (essential in the sense of ‘you have to do these’) – an archbishop, General Synod assessments etc
  • some highly desirable things, considered so desirable that it was worth worth adding to the financial burden on parishes to do these things, and thereby reducing their ministry – a theological college etc

However, there were also other desirable things – good ministry activities which were proposed to be funded by the parishes but undertaken centrally – but not so desirable as to further burden parishes, and so they didn’t get funded.

Notice how the thinking goes, in this sad little Diocese with no endowments but clear thinking – there are parish expenses, and in addition, necessary central expenditures, plus some other discretionary expenditure, which are screened according to criteria – namely, whether the proposed centrally funded activity was so important that it complete successfully with the alternative expenditure at the front line of the parish. And all of it is paid for by the parishes. In other words, the issue was central expenditure versus parish expenditure. That was the decision; not very sentimental, but that’s how it goes.
The result was that this poor Diocese had a very honed budget – it stopped precisely at the point where it decided that the next proposed activity proposed was not more important than front line parish work. That was the exact amount that the parishes sent into head office.
But then, a wonderful thing happened. This sad Diocese got a donor – who gave exactly the same amount as the central activities cost (about $8M) – call them Mr D and Mrs EOS Dowment.
What did it do? It did the only thing that made sense; it accepted the donation gratefully, and released the parishes from all their contribution, except for the expenditures that were incurred directly on behalf of the parishes.
Why? Because it had already decided that those were the activities that were worth diminishing parish ministry for, and no others. That’s what it already figured out. (For those who understand economic theory, it had done its marginal cost / benefit analysis).
It was a tough Synod meeting when this decision was made. Lots of people came up with new ideas, and wanted to add to the central expenditure beyond the donation. That’s great, and in order to justify it being included in the budget beyond the donation, they would have to make the same argument – that it’s worth taking those resources from the parishes. That was the core issue, that was the only issue. The issue was not how important the activity was as such; it’s how important it is as compared to parish ministry expenditure, because that’s where the money was coming from. (Again, for those who understand economic theory, this Diocese understood the opportunity cost of funding those additional central activities).
And then an even more wonderful thing happened. Those donors increased their donation – they were doing very well on the market.
What happened? Some of the previous suggestions (that had not been funded) were now able to be implemented, other ideas were suggested, and again, the same process ensued. The only issue was, is the suggestion more strategically important than parish ministry? Or perhaps with the increased donation, some money might flow directly from the center to the parishes to support new ministries. So the budget again went up, but as before, since there was a donor, parishes were only paying by way of reimbursement for those expenditures that are directly incurred on their behalf.
Then tragedy struck – a PFC, a personal financial crisis, and the donation plunges – what happened? They were a thoughtful Diocese, that didn’t get carried along with rhetoric and emotive appeals; they understood that it was pretty clear, they simply unwound the process.
The only thing that made sense to do was to keep paring down the central activities until they got to a specific point – not the point of saying that an activity was important, because they were all important!
Rather, they unwound precisely to the point that they were sufficiently important relative to front line parish ministry, that it was worth reducing the resources given to parish ministry for the sake of this central activity.
That was the only relevant discussion.
It’s the one discussion another Diocese seems unwilling to have!

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A strange thing is happening.

The debate about allocation of resources is being framed in terms of generosity – in this case, the call for the parishes to be generous to the central Diocesan ministries.

This is a mistake, for 2 reasons.

pic from flickr by Jim in Times Square

The first is that the call for generosity applies absolutely equally to both sides of the equation; it applies as much to the central organisations (‘be generous to front line parish ministry by not asking for as much for your own operations’) as it does to the parishes. In other words, these 2 calls to generosity cancel each other out as far as decision making is concerned.

Which leads to the second point, which actually is more important. The fact is that the 2 groups of ministries – parish  and central Diocesan – are not equal partners. It is our evangelical understanding of the doctrine of the church which says that the heart of the Diocese is the parishes, and the central Diocesan activity is there to support and serve the ministry of the parishes. In other words, the default is that resources belong at the front line; we only divert resources from there to do things that will enhance that front line work, and we try to keep that to a minimum.

Think about, say, World Vision, or Compassion.  The goal is to get resources to those who need it most, the under-reourced kids. But to do that, there needs to be a structure (CEO, web-designer, fundraisers, etc)  that raises the money – and that structure will chew up some of the money that is raised. It’s one of the things you take into account when you decide who to give to – how much they use for admin. My understanding is that 5-10% is about the right number.

As it turns out, we allocate about 10% to central Diocesan activities – around $8M (adding up both the Endowment of the See – the Bishops – $3M; and the Synod expenditure – $5M), and total parish offertories are around $80M. The $8M goes towards funding terrific support structures, like Moore and Youthworks Colleges, the Synod itself, the bishops team etc.

In sum, the issue is not generosity, it’s strategy. And the crucial thing about strategy is keeping the goal crystal clear. The way to win Sydney for Christ is only ever going to be through the front ministry of the parishes.


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I thought it might be helpful to have this in full, rather than a link.

Excitingly, quite a few have registered already! Don’t miss out!

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Below is the brochure for the Redeemer conference in Nov.

One interesting feature is that the booklet for the conference is essentially the unedited version of Tim Keller’s next book, called Centre Church.

So, get in quick, because numbers are limited.

Gospel in the City_Sydney

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