Fundraising as Altar Call: Reshape Your Life

Where I grew up, it was the Friday night revival preacher who challenged you to give your whole life to Jesus.

Anywhere people take the message of Jesus seriously, this challenge comes through: God’s Movement is breaking into the world. You either reshape your life or you resist it. Jesus doesn’t leave much room for middle-ground.

But I think a lot of people like me who heard the call and walked the aisle have been disappointed to find that what the church asks for when the fire and brimstone stop flowing is for us to show up on Sunday, keep up appearances, bring our tithe unto the storehouse, and be nice.

Or something like that.

I’m not saying that anyone ever put it quite that way. I’m just saying that the reality of revivalist Christianity can feel a lot less compelling than the rhetoric.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Indeed, it’s not always that way. In thousands of places and communities all around the world, people are reshaping their lives according to the Jesus Way. This is what The Everyday Awakening is all about.

January isn’t revival season. It is, instead, the month when the IRS requires nonprofit organizations to send official receipt of donations to their supporters. For the past week, I’ve been going over the lists of folks who gave to School for Conversion in 2012, noting their contributions, both monetary and in-kind. I’ve been trying to catch up with what’s going in in these folks lives–to thank them for their partnership and to let them know what’s going on with our kids here in Walltown, with our prison-based courses, with our immersion weekends and our formation programs.

I have been doing what we usually call “fundraising.” But as I do it–especially as I listen to the people who’ve given $25, $50, or $500–I realize that I’m doing what the Friday night preachers used to do.

I’m giving an altar call. I’m inviting people to reshape their lives.

A friend told me how she made a sizable contribution to another nonprofit–a group who’s work she was grateful for, but to which she didn’t feel deeply connected. She wrote a check to thank them for what they’re doing. And she heard absolutely nothing back from them.

At first, she said, she felt guilty about her frustration. Was I just giving to get credit–to make myself feel good? She kept quiet and kept listening to her spirit. Eventually, she had a realization: it wasn’t a pat on the back she wanted. It was genuine partnership in this work she believed in. She wanted to know how she was part of something that she believes God is doing in the world.

She wanted a sort of altar call.

I think my friend is right in her gut. Something in us longs to be part of what God is doing. This something gets stirred up when we see God’s Movement happening or hear a story of how it’s reshaped someone’s life. We want it to reshape our own. And part of that is deciding what we do with the money we have in our accounts–whether it’s $10 or $10,000.

Right here, in this place, God is stirring something new. Part of my vocation is to tell the story–to proclaim the good news of what we’ve heard and seen and shine a light in the darkness that can be so grim. I love this part of my job. I love to tell these stories so much that I do it for free.

But there’s more to my work–something that I’m realizing the importance of more and more. I’m also here to give an altar call–to say, Won’t you join us? Reshape you life around the Jesus Way. Partner with us in what God is doing here.

From the perspective of the programs that cost a total of $118,000 to run in 2012, this work is fundraising. But from the perspective of the hundreds of individuals who made themselves our partners last year, this is an altar call.

They’ve heard the good news that they can be part of what God is doing in this world. Indeed, they are. And I, for one, am glad to have the chance to get to tell them how.


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