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Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Spam for the Clergy

Ooh look, a free e-book!

I generally ignore spam in my inbox, but this is graphically well-packaged spam disguised as free Christian reading sent to a guy who takes his best shot at posting five times a week, so why not? It’s entitled Toxic Leadership: 5 People Churches Should Never Hire, and it purports to offer evangelical clergymen their chance to avoid one or more of those “fatal church hiring mistakes”.

Who could pass that up?

Also, I love the word “toxic” ...

PayPal for Millennial Tithers

Being skeptical by nature, moderately experienced in life and somewhat schooled in marketing, I am probably not their target demographic. I’m also not about to hire anyone; in fact, if the company trying to get my attention here had just abbreviated the title of their pamphlet to Churches Should Never Hire, they’d be a whole lot more likely to get my attention.

And make no mistake, this is a 20-page ad I’m reading. The very first piece of text in the email pitch is the echurch logo, followed by the tagline “Powered by Pushpay”. Everything else is secondary. Then, when you open the book, you cannot help but notice the presence of a discreet Pushpay logo at the bottom left corner of every page and occupying the entire back cover. Even the “About this ebook” blurb on page 3 is almost half about echurch and what it does.

So that’s the real reason for the free book: to soft-sell a Christianized version of PayPal for millennial tithers.

Well-Documented Declines

Too bad there don’t appear to be many of those:
“Pushpay and echurch were created in response to well-documented declines in both tithing and church attendance. [Our own recent discussion on that subject may be found here, Ed.] By simply making giving available on your congregation’s smartphones (connected in real time to a church’s website and database), we help pastors address the disconnect between the church and younger, tech-savvy generations.

Engagement is the key to community. In our fast-paced culture, mobile technology is essential to staying connected with people in your church. When you are accessible from their pocket, you open up communication with your members and allow them to give you a gift or connect with you anytime. Mobile adoption is the secret to engagement, and we have the tools to ensure your success.

If you’re interested in learning more about how you can keep your church engaged and giving, visit echurchgiving.com.”
In this context, “engagement” and “staying connected” appear to be euphemisms for “equipped to receive your money easily and conveniently”.

Convenience and Reality

Okay, that’s a bit sarcastic.

To be fair, convenience is not a bad thing … in itself. I will confess that giving to missions via parachurch facilitators has gotten much easier in recent years, and I cannot claim to be unaffected or unimpressed by that. When it was a matter of writing a cheque, I tended to drag my feet. Stamps, envelopes, finding the chequebook, walking to the mailbox … you know the drill. On the other hand, when it’s a matter of a simple push-three-buttons-and-enter-your-password transfer through PayPal or Visa, I’m on it ten minutes after our payroll administrator dumps the proceeds of my last two weeks of labor into my bank account. I also like the fact that the funds (at least in the case of the organization I use) get directly to the missionaries I’m concerned about, and they get there quickly and efficiently.

All of that is good people making good use of technology.

Left Hand Right Hand

It’s also very much a part of the permanent record. One of the New Testament principles of giving is that we Christians are to do it discreetly. “Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing” is how the Lord Jesus put it. Every benefit we receive for giving in this life is a loss in the next. So as far as possible, I try to put that principle into practice.

But sometimes you really can’t. Sure, you can palm a fifty into an offering plate without being ostentatious, or you can slide an envelope into somebody’s coat pocket between services. Apart from fingerprinting you, nobody’s ever going to know who gave what. These sorts of giving techniques were practiced by certain groups of Christians for years. The “fellowship handshake” with visiting preachers was a regular Sunday custom.

Doesn’t work for everything though, does it?

A Trail of Digital Breadcrumbs

It’s pretty hard to transfer money to individuals or organizations serving the Lord on other continents without an electronic trail, and before that there was a paper trail. And when you can get a tax refund for charitable donations you had no choice but to put through the system anyway, so much the better, right? It’s good stewardship. Or at least that seems to be the reasoning.

It boils the words of the Lord in Matthew down to “Don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing unless you have no other option.” And I can live with that, I guess.

But for regular giving at your local church? Electronic transfers are certainly efficient and convenient, but are they really the most biblical way to give?

A Fine Line

Further, as an elder or church leader, it’s one thing to encourage your congregation to give because it’s taught in scripture and it’s good for the soul. One can do that without unduly influencing the individual believer’s choice-making or being self-serving. Yes, we should all be giving regularly, proportionately, freely and joyfully — not to mention prudently. But I’m not going to tell you who you should be giving to.

Still less am I about to make the strong suggestion you give to me personally or to MY church, MY overhead and MY mortgage (unless of course I am merely reminding you of a commitment you have already made voluntarily and haven’t quite delivered on).

All to say, the Pushpay ‘push’ seems as cynical as most secular marketing exercises. As to whether the product is as secure as PayPal or a bank e-transfer, who knows? With so many existing ways to move money around electronically, organizations that pitch similar transfer systems to Christians might be better off to concentrate on showing us the features of their product that make it safer and more discreet than the competition, rather than trying to pass it off as a free e-book full of sound advice for Christian leaders.

Kinda leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Oops, Forgot the Book

In Tobin Perry, Pushpay has managed to enlist a relatively known quantity to churn out the 20 pages of boilerplate evangelical fluff in which they’ve wrapped their commercial. Perry contributed to The Jesus Bible and has written for Christianity Today, among others.

The actual material is more about the NBA and being a “team player” than about anything scriptural, but Tobin has done a passable job of sketching out realistic personality drawbacks and pointing out that sometimes even the best Christian servants don’t work well as a team.

Or you could just get the same lesson from Acts 15.

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