Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Power of the Gospel in Child Sponsorship Recruitment

As you may know, I am very close to publishing a book. It is called "Go Into All The World" and it focuses on the work of Compassion International and my travels to visit 31 of my sponsored kids in 12 countries.

Normally when an author writes a book, to help promote it they might go on a speaking tour, do press conferences, TV and radio interviews or something similar. My situation is a little bit awkward, since I'm currently in the Philippines working in an orphanage, so none of that "publicity trail" stuff is really possible, at least immediately.

What I'm hoping to do is return to Australia at the end of March 2015, do some teaching and hopefully speak in a few churches, since Compassion's "target audience" is churches and Christians. Hint: If you think your church or Pastor might be interested, please tell them about me. I am from Victoria but it doesn't matter what state you're in. I'm completely relying on God to give me those opportunities and I look forward to what He has planned.

When I'm in 'fantasy land' I think about, if I was given the opportunity to speak in a church, what I would talk about. I have so many stories from my Compassion adventures and they range from ridiculously amazing to incredibly powerful, to mind-blowingly heartbreaking. What stories could I tell to motivate people to join me and many others in becoming child sponsors with Compassion?

Then in May this year I read a blog that completely changed my attitude and perspective. It is called "
The Power of the Gospel in Orphan Care Recruitment" by a guy named Jason Johnson. Jason is a man I admire greatly. He's a champion and advocate of orphan care, through fostering and adoption, and writes some extremely challenging stuff. Best of all he lives what he writes about.

So he wrote this blog, and as I was reading it I immediately thought "This applies to child sponsorship as well." So what I've done is adapt that particular blog, and replaced all references to 'orphan care' with 'child sponsorship.'

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I often ask questions like these:
What is the best way to motivate people to get involved in Compassion sponsorship?
How do we recruit more sponsors?
Are there things we can do to get our church more on board?

All good questions that are hard to answer - or maybe not.

At the risk of sounding overly simplistic or theologically unrealistic, I can't help but believe the answer to these questions, and the many others like them, is not necessarily what we often assume it to be.

Counterintuitive Efforts

When we hear "recruiting efforts" we often think of strategic, coordinated programs to raise awareness and garner more involvement in our cause. When we think of mobilizing a church to get more on board we often assume a committee meeting is in order to plan a big event that will "hook" our people and redirect their interest and energy towards our particular mission. Generally speaking, our recruitment strategies and motivational efforts involve taking a concept which is external and foreign to someone (like Compassion sponsorship) and spending great amounts of time and energy to familiarize them with it in hopes that they internalize it as their own. 


Perhaps, though, our efforts are a bit counterintuitive. Maybe our inability to recruit and motivate enough people [and the ensuing frustration that forms as a result] is evidence that our tactics are fundamentally flawed. I believe that while good intentioned and rightly motivated, by and large our recruitment efforts could be done differently. Let me explain...

The Gospel From The Inside Out
Rather than beginning with something that is external and foreign, the Church has the incredible opportunity to lean into that which is already internal and familiar - namely, the Gospel. By and large the call of the Christian life is to externalize in real, vivid and tangible ways that which is already true and real and alive internally through Jesus. It's to ultimately bring to bear in the world around us that which Jesus has already accomplished in us.

The concepts of celebrating Christ internally and demonstrating Him externally are not mutually exclusive in Scripture. As a matter of fact, they seem to be one in the same. You could argue that any true celebration of the Gospel always manifests into a demonstration of it into the world around us, and likewise, our effective demonstration of the Gospel into the lives of others is but a signpost pointing to our authentic celebration of it in our own lives. The bottom line is this - you simply cannot celebrate the Gospel in you without demonstrating the Gospel through you, and vice versa

Reversing Our Recruitment
This is where our child sponsorship recruitments begin - not with the need "out there" but with the Gospel in us.
It rests upon the foundation of the work of Jesus on our behalf to rescue, redeem, restore, adopt and eternally care for us.
We were once isolated and orphaned from God - but Jesus.
We were once lonely and without hope - but Jesus.
We were once vulnerable and insecure - but Jesus.
We were once defined by brokenness and pain - but Jesus.
We were once without belonging - but Jesus.
His story of redemption in our lives was never meant to terminate on us, but rather spill over into an isolated, hopeless, vulnerable, broken and wandering world that desperately needs to hear and know as their own; the very story He has allowed to become ours.


In the efforts we put forth in recruiting, inspiring and mobilizing the Church to sponsor children we cannot abandon what is true for all of the Christian life - our work externally in this world is fueled by His work internally in us - child sponsorship not withstanding.  


Reframing The Questions We Ask
The questions we ask move from things like
Why aren't people getting more involved? and
What do we need to do to fix that?

to
What is it about the Gospel our people are not grasping? and
What do we need to do to ensure they are understanding it more deeply?
 


These are two entirely different questions because they begin from two entirely different points of origin - the first from why people aren't doing more, the second from why people aren't celebrating more. Again, at the risk of sounding overly simplistic or theologically unrealistic, I'm convinced the second question is the better question, and that when we answer it well we will have inevitably begun to answer the first one along with it.

Kindling For A Gospel Fire
I'm all for sharing the compelling stories of sponsored children or the experiences of young adults who have graduated and are now working. It is absolutely and unquestionably powerful to see pictures of children waiting to be sponsored. It is vitally important to hear the personal testimonies of people who have very real, deep and moving experiences of sponsoring and visiting their children. As well, it is essential to be educated on the statistics and figures of children worldwide, and the needs that exist. This information helps establish a clearer understanding of what the needs of children currently look like both locally and globally as well as provides people very specific opportunities to respond and get involved. This type of awareness is crucial.

However, I believe these types of motivational efforts and recruitment appeals are secondary to the primary and more profoundly motivating power of the Gospel. They are but kindling to what must first be a deep seeded burning Gospel passion in the hearts of our people. 

A More Compelling Vision 
I am convinced, if we want to see a movement thrive and sustain long term, that child sponsorship recruitment must begin with a deep celebration of the Gospel in us that then works its way out through us into the lives of the marginalized, neglected, abused and orphaned around us. We must be willing to do the hard, slow and sometimes tedious work of getting the Gospel deeply into the hearts of people and help them see in very vivid, tangible ways that our sponsorship of children is rooted in God’s care of us through Jesus – it begins not with the child “out there” who needs a sponsor but with the child in us that has been given one in Jesus.

Motivating stories are essential, but only the Gospel can bring people to the point of full surrender, celebration and demonstration. And yes, there are "millions of needy children out there and we should do something about it", but not because the need is so overwhelming but because the Gospel is so compelling. At the end of the day, God's rescue of us in Jesus acts as the greater and more compelling vision as to why we, the Church, should care for children through child sponsorship. The stories are beautiful reminders of that. The pictures and numbers are a constant accountability to that.

In our efforts to cast a compelling vision for why the Church should get involved in child sponsorship, let us continue to be strategic and innovative in how we raise awareness and educate on things that are by and large external and foreign - but never in the absence of or to the neglect of the more compelling power of the Gospel which is deeply internal and personally familiar already. The sponsorship of children begins there, with the work of Jesus on our behalf, then beautifully extends itself out into our work on their behalf.

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So there you go. I hope you enjoyed that and found it challenging. I know as a sponsor and advocate with Compassion I am constantly frustrated by the "Why aren't people/the church doing more?" question. Maybe the trick is, when I get the opportunities to speak, to remind people that we have the Gospel - The GOOD NEWS of Jesus, and allow God to work in their hearts toward responding with positive action.

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