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!

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.


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!

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

Redeemer comes to Sydney

Not THE redeemer – Redeemer Presbyterian Church!
Many will know the significant contribution Tim Keller and Redeemer have made in New York.
Now Redeemer is coming to Sydney.
This is advance notice that a conference will be held at St Philip’s York St on Nov 16-17.
The conference will provide an insight into the DNA of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, and facilitate discussion of how to contextualise that for Sydney.
This promises to be a seriously significant conference. Numbers are limited.
Details coming out soon.

When money is tight, there are only 2 options – cut back expenditure, or find additional sources of income.

For the Sydney Diocese, money has never been tighter. The losses incurred in the GFC continue to rumble down the pipe-line. Until now, the response has been to cut back. And that’s been exactly the right thing to do – central activities can be important, but they are not the front line.

The current proposal is to stop cutting back, and to find more income, and there is only one place that can come from – taxing the parishes.

It’s included in a document you can read here, for the pre-Synod briefings this week (the particular report starts on p. 83).

It looks harmless enough – a suggestion for a set of new principles for the Diocesan budget. What stands out is the fact that 2 groups of costs are to be shifted away from being covered by central income, and onto the parishes.

One calculation suggests this could amount to $2-2.5M!

The reasoning for this shift is unconvincing.

Although it’s not argued for in any detail, there are a couple of hints that the basis of shifting these costs to the parishes is the fact that they are necessary for us as a Diocese. But that’s not a reason, it’s a logical leap, a fallacy – the fact that they are necessary simply means they should be the first expenditures we make (from funds available to the Synod  from the Diocesan endowment), not that the parishes should pay.

If we had no central funds available at all, then it would make sense that the parishes should bear the cost. But we still do have central funds – not as much as previously – but still nearly $5M in 2012 for the Synod, and more from the Endowment of the See (the Fund that currently pays for the bishops).

The only legitimate argument that the parishes should pay is that the particular item of central expenditure is more important than front line parish ministry.

So here’s the thing – our conviction (up til now) has been that the parishes are the centre of the Diocese. It’s front line ministry that matters most. We don’t hold the view of other Dioceses, who see great significance in the office of bishop, a central bureaucracy etc. Our commitment is to evangelism, preaching, prayer, pastoring, the local church in missional mode.

If this proposal is adopted, what we’ll be saying is that to the tune of around $2M, front line ministry is less important than centralised programs.

Surely we can’t say that?

Thanks for this conversation, absolutely fascinating – especially Dani for the quotes.

Two thoughts.

First, it is in part a pastoral concern that motivates the question I asked. For introverts of tender conscience and intense nature, who frequently look inwards and don’t like what they see, equating faith with an affection can become crushing. The key pastoral move here is to get them to look outward to Christ, hence faith as a vector. Only there will they find a way out of their doubts.

Second, and even crazier than the initial question. It is common to suggest that regeneration precedes faith, and that seems to make sense. However, my understanding is that this is not how Calvin put it. For him, faith preceded both justification and sanctification, and in sanctification he included regeneration! See McGrath’s book Iustituia Dei for a really brilliant analysis of this.

One of my critiques of NT Wright has always been precisely this – in other words, he never quite threw off the hyper-reformed framework of his earliest days (when he co-authored – while a uni student! – The Grace of God in the Gospel). By the way, this is why he doesn’t see justification as the moment of ‘transfer’ – the real transfer occurs with regeneration. My point – the irony that Piper and Wright share exactly this same theological deep structure.

And even more ironic – as I understand it, it is also the Roman Catholic ‘Ordo salutis’. I have always wondered how the hyper-reformed scheme came full circle like this.

For Calvin, as I said, faith precedes both justification and regeneration, because faith is what unites us to Christ, and it is only in union with Christ that we have either righteousness or life (justification or regeneration), not prior to union with Christ by faith. Logically, what that must mean – if faith is to be preserved as a gift – is that God does a non-regenerative work in us as he gives the gift of faith, which then unites us to Christ and all his benefits.