Sustaining life or buying into consumerism – this it is the question that I am grappling with at the moment and I would appreciate your help in setting boundaries.
As I am sure all of you are aware this is the season when all not for profits like Mustard Seed Associates are asking for funds to help support our ministry into the coming year. The coming year will be a monumental one for us as we relaunch our e-zine and begin the semester away program at the Mustard Seed Village. We will also host a series of events designed to stimulate our imaginations and stir our creativity to respond to the growing challenges we face. The MSA team is passionate about the need to provide resources that prepare us to live as more effective followers of Christ in our turbulent and broken world and we know that we cannot do it alone.
However we are also aware that in our changing economic times charitable donations are not what will keep us moving into the future. And the question we, like so many, are grappling with is: How do we make our organization self sustaining without letting go of our core values of simplicity, sustainability, hospitality and spirituality?
We affirm what most advisors tell us, that we will need to become more entrepreneurial in the future, designing, marketing and selling products that help provide income while furthering the reach of our ministry’s goals. Even the IRS here in the US has recognized this and provided avenues for Not for Profits to sell products related to their ministry.
The question I struggle with however is: When does the selling of products push us over the line away from our Christ centred values and into the crass consumerism of our secular culture? And I can tell you I don’t have all the answers either. Selling books, DVDs and mp3s that have been produced by participants at Mustard Seed events or by those of us that are full time on the MSA team has always helped provide for our needs. And we constantly seek to balance the resources we sell with a range of free downloads.
In a couple of weeks we will launch Wait for the Light – an Advent devotional drawn from blog posts and reflections contributed by a diverse group of people that are part of the MSA network. This will be the first of what we hope will become a series of devotional resources to strengthen our faith throughout the church year. these resources all seem well within the boundaries of our mission. I am also working on my annual Advent reflection video which I hope will be on line by the beginning of November.
But then I come to the crunch point. Last week I was asked to consider making prayer cards and book marks from some of my daily prayers. One person commented:
and then you open an alternative Christian bookstore to sell them? Along with only the “good” Christian books (as approved by me naturally) and of course Christian hipster paraphenalia and apparel. Okay… not a helpful comment.
But it is a helpful comment. I constantly affirm on this blog that we need to listen to all the voices through whom God speaks to us and this is obviously one of the voices. I personally find prayer cards helpful tools for prayer in some situations, for others they are so far outside their usual experience of prayer that they just seem like glitzy Christian consumerism.
So first I am asking: What do you think? I know that there are no set boundaries for questions like this, but I still think it is a place in which we need to help each other. Where do you feel we should we place the boundaries in terms of what kinds of products we sell and endorse? And then to the more important question: How do we sustain ministry in the current economic downturn?