When I first went to work for a denominational agency in Nashville, I encountered two wasteful patterns that forever set me in another direction.
One was individual sloth. The other was organizational misdirection.
I observed that some religious bureaucrats were among the most unproductive employees with little passion for their purpose and modest commitment to their mission.
They spent the first hour of the day drinking coffee and reading the newspaper. Then, they called friends to arrange their mid-morning break. After that extended time of yammering, they called other bureaucrats to arrange when and where to go to lunch. After lunch, the next assignment was to arrange their afternoon break. Of course, they would answer a few phone calls and dictate a few letters. They would attend a few meetings—meetings in which decision making lapsed into paralytic analysis. Simple, short-term projects became elongated projects pursued at a glacial pace. I'm exaggerating, of course, but only slightly!
Dependent on the sacrificially given contributions, some bureaucrats disrespected donors with their sloth.
Aware that bad habits came early, Foy Valentine warned me in my first week of work at the Christian Life Commission to avoid hanging around certain people—people he deemed unproductive.
The other disturbing pattern of waste was more serpentine. It was organizational misdirection.
Some religious organizations saw their primary constituency as their board of directors, not church members, not churches, not the larger community. These bureaucrats produced products in order to justify programmatic existence to their directors, not to raise the level of moral awareness or challenge cultural prejudice or to create social change. Products were produced, sat in storerooms and were never used. These bureaucrats wasted sacrificially-given gifts by accomplishing nothing of earthly good.
Again, religious bureaucracies dishonored donors.
I have sought for 15 years to make sure that the Baptist Center for Ethics honors donors and respects their donations with hard work and wise work. I think we have a terrific track record on this front.
Recall a few of the things that we've accomplished in 2006 with a staff of four:
--We shifted from only news coverage of the fundamentalist-driven, anti-public school effort to pro-active educational and advocacy initiatives to support greater public schools, including a pastoral letter signed by hundreds of ministers and resources for use in churches.
--We provided daily coverage of the Israel-Hezbollah war with news stories about and columns from Lebanese Baptist leaders.
--We offered the most extensive coverage of any source of the annual gathering of the Baptist World Alliance in Mexico City.
--We had firsthand coverage with follow-up articles to advance Baptist accountability for clergy who sexually abuse children.
--We organized goodwill Baptists and produced a DVD with an online study guide about worldwide hunger and what global Baptists are doing together to redress poverty.
--We have begun posting videos on EthicsDaily.com, are preparing a free Bible study on Lent in partnership with the Baptist World Alliance and have two new DVDs that will be released next year.
--We moved in the spring from a bricks and mortar office to a virtual office as a way to be better stewards of what has been entrusted to us.
Over the course of 2006, EthicsDaily.com established a record high of 258,822 monthly page requests, a measurement of the number of times in a single month that articles are read. Our educational resources were used throughout the U.S. and in Australia, Britain, Canada and Japan. Three different editorials were carried on Sunday opinion pages of three different major newspapers over an eight-day period. We had appearances on CNBC, BBC and national radio.
We have had a terrific year of opportunity and productivity.
That's why I feel comfortable promising financial faithfulness to our donors.
"We will be good stewards of the gift you have entrusted to us," I promised a month ago to a Methodist couple who made a significant pledge toward the faith and politics DVD that we plan to release in 2007. I made the same promise to a Baptist lawyer in Missouri after we received an unexpected check from him for the same project.
I repeat that promise today to the readers of EthicsDaily.com. My promise is a way of honoring the giver and the gift with a commitment to those who contribute from hard-won earning and personal sacrifice.
My plea is for contributions in the final week of the year. End-of-the-year donations help us to charge ahead without hesitation and to prepare for the lean months that inevitably arise.
I hope we have earned your trust. I hope you will make an online contribution today.
To make a secure online contribution, click here. To mail us a check, click here.
As always, we will strive toward good stewardship of the gifts that you give us.
Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.