Why Leadings?

Not to lead, but to be led            -- by the Holy Spirit.

See Leader, Servant, or Slave? in the section below, "Walking the Walk".

Jack in Denali National Park, 2012.

God's Wrath

Why was Sodom destroyed? Ezekiel tells us in chapter 16, verse 49: "This was the sin of your sister, Sodom: Pride, full-ness of bread, and abundance of idleness. Neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy."

That's also why Jerusalem was destroyed.

And now, with greed as our national virtue, what hope is there for the United States of America? We are afflicted by imperialistic pride, obesity, and entertainment addiction, and we are all called to do our part to "strengthen the hand of the poor and needy".

"Strengthen the hand" is the King James wording. Modern translations say "help the poor and needy." And there's a world of difference between the two. Helping the poor = as little as throwing some cash in the Salvation Army bucket at Christmas time. That's charity. It's doing for, not doing with.

My Grandmother was right about charity. On a below-zero day, she went out on the back porch with a skillet to throw hot grease on the back-yard snow. She shivered as she re-entered the kitchen and said, "Wooooh, colder than charity."

Strengthening the hand is much different. We get personally involved with another person who needs help, and we work with her or him to get the needed help. That's risky. You're vulnerable. It takes prayer, time and patience. You need knowledge and wisdom from the LORD. There are great rewards, however. You get a brother or sister.

Strengthening the hand is great work for our churches -- which we ignore far more often than we perform. Why? Because we're afflicted with the Ameri-can curse of individualism. Christians are to be a tribe -- a tribe that takes care of each other. In Galatians 6:16, Paul calls us "the Israel of God" -- the new 13th tribe.

Jesus said, "The poor you shall always have with you." He didn't mean that as a curse -- the notion that the poor are an inevi-table nuisance and expense, to be hidden in the slums. Rather, He was saying, "You shall always be among the poor."

When you strengthen hands, you fulfill Deuteronomy 15:4-5: "However, there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, if only you fully obey the LORD your God . . ." It's a glorious responsibility and promise.

And how do prosperous Americans fulfill that promise? Generally, by making sure they have no contact with people who are poor -- and we have been that way from our beginnings in the 17th century. Early villages in Massachusetts solved the problem by out-lawing poor people. Today, we deal with the same problem by confining the poor in urban reservations, our slums.

As the Supreme Court Bailiff says at the beginning of each session, "God save the United States of America..." 



My article about law school ended with the comment that if I could do it again, I wouldn’t go to law school. Rather, I’d pursue one of my deep-seated dreams –

+  Working with economic development in emerging cultures without major capital funds, or

+  Writing, producing, directing, acting in Christian drama in theater and movies.

This statement prompted a question from friend Sam Charters –

“I have heard several people recently speak of living out the reality that God has put in the core of our being. What are your thoughts regarding how to handle the tension between an immediate need for means and the more natural vocational fit that you speak of?”


Putting the matter crudely, what happens when you jump off the fiscal cliff?

First, I found that there was an adrenalin rush at leaving a conventional job and career that was no longer fun or challenging.

Second, there’s the reality that the closer you get to the God-given desires of your heart, the less money there is. That’s not caused by a malicious universe; it’s just common sense.  The vision that God gives you is probably unique.  Well, naturally, no one has provided funding for a dream that no one has thought of before. So, you go ahead anyway.  You jump off the cliff and discover –

Third, if you really know what you want to do, money is almost never the problem.  The LORD can and does provide – if you’re walking in His Spirit according to His will.  And many times the help is not cash – it’s volunteers, or food, or supplies, or a vehicle, or whatever else you really need.

Fourth, if you run out of money, you’re not going to die.  (At least that’s true in the U.S.)  All kinds of help and support are available to you if you’re really poor and really want to serve.  You don’t know the angles because you’ve never been really poor before.  So, voluntary poverty teaches you street smarts. 

Examples:  Supposing you need lumber. Where in the city can you get free lumber? At a plate glass store. The glass is transported in wood crates, and the wood becomes an expensive nuisance to the store.  The owner is glad if you’ll take it.  

Also, poor people are more likely to be armed robbery victims than rich people, so you learn that ones go in your wallet; big bills go in your socks or underwear.

Fifth, if you’re sure of the LORD’s will in your life, follow the Nike slogan, “Just do it.”  And that brings us to the related problem: Once you start following the guidance of the Holy Spirit, will you have doubts? You betcha. Sure as poop follows a puppy, you’ll doubt everything:

            Why did I leave a good paying job to wallow in this mess?

            Here I’m working to help people get their lives together and they aren’t even grateful.

            I have a family to support.  Doesn’t anybody care about that?

            I’ve just been stiffed again.  I need to get a job with a regular paycheck.

            I can’t be sure of any income.  How am I going to make my mortgage loan payments? And pay the                       rest of my bills?

So, what the remedy for chronic, overwhelming doubt?  Trusting in Jesus.  It worked for Thomas; it’ll work for you.

So that’s the sixth reality – one they don’t talk about in church – if you really set out to follow Jesus and do His will and His work – nothing is a done deal.  Everything depends on walking off the cliff – repeatedly. Nothing is certain.  Little is known or knowable.  All depends on trust in Jesus.  Jesus told us in John 10:10 --  “I have come so that they may have life and may have it abundantly.”  Other translations read, “that they may have life in its fullest.” 

In American churches, that verse often reads, “so you may become wealthy.”  Well, bull.  That’s not what Jesus is talking about.  The abundant life is what you experience when you faithfully follow Him.

Think about the disciples.  Apparently they quit paying-jobs to follow Jesus.  They enlisted to become holy hoboes for 18 months to three years. They usually didn’t know where their next meal was coming from. They usually didn’t know where they’d sleep. They didn’t know where they’d find shelter in foul weather. That’s the abundant life Jesus was talking about – being with Him, following the Holy Spirit, expecting miracles and seeing them happen.  Jesus doesn’t promise the lush life; He promises a life of adventure – more excitement than we want.


OK.  You have your vision.  You’ve decided to go with it.  You need income to survive.  How can you get income?  In one of four ways:  Pray it in, start a business, use a non-profit agency, or stay out of the system.

Pray it in.  Don’t solicit any donations.  Just trust Jesus for the funds you need.

Haw-haw.  That’s silly.  It can’t possibly work.  Or, if occasionally He does toss you a morsel, in the real world you can’t run an enterprise that way – conventional wisdom knows better.

Fortunately, we have an example to the contrary:  George Müller, a Prussian living in England in the 19th century, ran a quality orphanage for 1,800 children – and did his fund-raising entirely by prayer.  Müller asked no one for money – only God.  And our LORD responded by gifting the ministry over many years with 1,381,171 pounds.  (At today's rates, that's about 90 million pounds or 140 million US dollars.)  As a good Prussian steward of God’s funds, Rev. Müller accounted for every farthing, sent thank yous to all donors, and annually published a listing of all donations.

I’m not making this up.  Please check out the “George Müller” listing in Wikipedia.  Even better, read his autobiography:  Müller, George (2004). Autobiography of George Müller: A Million and a Half in Answer to Prayer. Vestavia Hills, Alabama: Solid Ground Christian Books. ISBN 0-9647552-0-3.

OK, for 22 years I was director for Sign of the Cross Housing in Over-the-Rhine, Cincinnati’s #1 slum.  We had an excellent Board of Trustees of devout Christians.  Did we finance the housing firm by prayer?  A little, but mostly not. Three times, however, the LORD sent large, unsolicited gifts that kept us from going under.

We did have one Trustee, Carol Laken, who kept urging us to jump off the cliff and finance entirely through prayer.  She was a church secretary with a high school education.  In contrast, other Board members had graduate degrees and prominent positions. She did have one advantage over us, however. Four times she had been resurrected from death -- clinically-registered death.  But, the rest of us didn’t trust Jesus enough to go financially naked.

Go Into Business:  Some prominent business people have seen their enterprises as ministries and credit their success to the LORD’s care, including Dave Thomas (Wendy’s), J. C. Penny, Dolly Parton (Dollywood), Sam Walton (Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club). 

So, if you’re starting an enterprise, you can consider making it for-profit.  Advantages include being your own boss, as well as having fewer government regulations and simpler tax forms than a non-profit. Warning: If you do want a proprietorship, you should incorporate. At least at the beginning, you should also incorporate as a Subchapter S corporation to avoid double taxation of your earnings.

Don’t try to incorporate or liquidate on your own. Get an able attorney or CPA. (I don’t make up that counsel. I've been educated by lots of unnecessary expense and wasted time.)

Non-Profit Corporation:  The structure of our non-profit charities is one of the great U.S. inventions. It's admired and imitated around the world.  Non-profits are incorporated under state law, but they have to be approved by the IRS to receive their 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status.  The 501(c)(3) approval exempts agencies from Federal income taxes, but not payroll taxes.  The 501(c)(3) status also gives donors tax deductions for supporting your agency.

If you’re just starting a ministry, I urge you not to incorporate or go for a 501(c)(3).  The incorporation is simple.  The 501(c)(3) can be a nightmare – and it’s followed by the annual filing of the 990 tax form.  As a real estate broker, I annually filed a two-page 1041 corporate income tax return.  As director for Sign of the Cross Housing, my annual 990 filing was 11 pages long, with six pages of attachments.  It took me a week to prepare.  You don’t need that mess.

Here, I’d like to say a good word for the IRS and the Internal Revenue Code.  As a citizen and taxpayer, I’m glad that the IRS is tough on 501(c)(3) applicants.  We have millions of bandits in the U.S.  The IRS has to be vigilant to prevent shady entrepreneurs from running businesses in the guise of charities and avoiding Federal income taxes.

A better alternative for your fledgling ministry is to come under the umbrella of an existing 501(c)(3). The obvious choice is to work through your congregation.  Bad idea.  For two reasons:  You immediately dry up most donors, except those of your own denomination.  And second, your ministry comes under the authority of the congregation’s ruling body.  The members don’t understand your ministry, but they may think they do and want to control it.

Example:  In 1967, I was a member of Immanuel Lutheran Church at 88th and Lexington in Manhattan. The congregation owned the two adjacent apartment buildings. Every eviction was reviewed by the Church Council. You don’t need that aggravation.

So, what do you do?  Come under the umbrella of an existing 501(c)(3) agency with two characteristics:

(1)  Its goals are compatible with yours.  (2)  The director is a gifted manager.  Most agencies – like most businesses, hospitals, and universities – are poorly managed.  You don’t need that kind of aggravation either.

How do you find out who the great agency managers are in your city?  There will be one or two people at the United Way office who really know your city’s public charities.  Arrange a meeting.  To those savvy people, the able agency managers will stick out like oases in the desert.  Find out who the good directors are; call and make appointments; present your ministry plan, both in writing and orally.  Make the pitch for becoming part of the agency’s program – but operating independently.  

You have five selling points:  (1)  You have a specific vision for a needed community service which will strengthen the agency’s image.  (2)  You will do your own fund raising, so your finances will just be a pass-through for the agency.  (See the Section at the right, “Getting Grants”.)  (3)  You will coordinate with the agency’s development director (i.e. its beggar), so you will not duplicate solicitations of foundations, churches or individuals.  (4)  You will have your own advisory board, so you won’t burden the agency’s Board of Trustees.  You will, however, submit periodic reports to the Director and to the Board, e.g. monthly, quarterly, as the Director requests.  (5)  If appropriate, you will pay rent for office space in the agency, thus adding to its bottom line.

If the director thinks well of you, she or he will probably show you the empire. Pay attention. Ask good questions.  It's both an orientation and a test. 

What are your potential sources of funds?  Donations, grants and fees.  Forty years ago, we solicited donations with newsletters; now it’s done through web sites.  Grants can come either from foundations or churches (Here'a the formula: The more ardently Christian your ministry, the fewer potential grantors. But those grantors thou hast will be the more enthusiastic.)  To solicit from either churches or foundations, you need to be (or to find and probably pay) a skilled grants writer / marketer.  Follow the mendicant wisdom:  Make friends instead of funding sources.

A non-profit can charge fees for services within the scope of its legitimate public-service mission.  At Sign of the Cross Housing we charged rents, somewhat below market, and reported them all on our 990 form. In addition, Housing Manager Bob Clarke and I were both licensed real estate agents. We obtained management contracts with apartment owners.  The contracts had to be signed by our broker whose office was in the suburbs. As licensed agents, we could sign the leases.  Under those contracts, the properties paid Sign of the Cross Housing a monthly fee of 10% of gross rents, and we included those fees on our 990 form. The IRS made no objection to the way we operated.

However, it would have been cleaner if we had used the 990-T, in which the agency declares the fees which are outside its charitable purpose.  Those fees are subject to Federal income tax, but the 990-T also protects the agency’s 501(c)(3) status.

Stay Out of the System:  The Catholic Worker, founded by Peter Maurin and Dorothy Day, is not a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt charity.  Thus, donors do not get tax deductions for their contributions.  So, donors are really sold on the value of the ministry.  On the plus side, the Catholic Worker is exempt from a whole lot of Federal red tape.


That’s too much detail above.  However, it demonstrates that you must be truly convinced of Jesus’ vision for you.  If not, you won't be able to endure your years in the swamp.  Three words of caution:

(1)  The people who have been through this ministry mess, including me, know what we know, mostly based on experience.  Always test our advice with the Holy Spirit.  Your vision may be so far outside expectations that many savvy people, including me, will tell you it won’t work.  And we’ll be right – except that we won’t be allowing for the creativity of both you and the Holy Spirit.  Along with a lot of prayer, be ready to go with your vision even when others say no.

Example:  At Sign of the Cross Housing, we provided quality, affordable housing for low income neighbors in Over-the-Rhine – without need for Government funding.  The people at the Cincinnati Planning Commission considered us a humming bird.  Humming birds are a puzzle to aeronautical engineers; the birds defy laws of physics, but they fly anyway.  Planning Commission people admired how Sign of the Cross Housing stayed aloft, but they couldn’t understand how we did it.

(2)  Keep your organization from getting rigid.  In the early stages of ministry, you’ll be alongside the people you help.  Then, you’ll add some staff, and relationships will change.  You may begin calling them “clients” instead of friends or neighbors.  They used to hang out in your office, but you may install a desk, which is really a barrier, to confine them to a small lobby.  And so on.

You may hire wonderful Christian people to work in your ministry – people who can triple their income by quitting. However, you see your staff every day, all during the day. Soon, they have more influence on your decision-making than any of the people you serve. It doesn’t take long before the real purpose of your organization is serving the needs of your staff, rather than the people you’re supposed to be helping. (If you’ve been hospitalized, you know how this can work to your disadvantage.)

How do you deal with organizational rigor-mortis?  In staff meetings, identify it, pray about it, talk about it, organize against it.

(3)  Be wary of success.  At the beginning of your ministry, you’ll be starved for funds, but after ten or fifteen years, you may have a steady funds flow.  At the beginning, you were probably a threat to the system.  Now, you’ve become a valued part of the system.

And here's the great temptation.  Without even making a conscious decision, you may shift from being a ministry to being an industry.  (This situation should not surprise you.  Many churches in America have made this shift since the Second World War.)  That is, while keeping the form of ministry, your real purpose becomes raising the funds to support a large staff.  And inevitably, ministry declines both in quality and/or quantity.

So, I've again made the decision to go into the unique ministry to which God has called me. Have you?  If so, may God have mercy on us.

Next blog:   Results of Jumping Off the Fiscal Cliff with Sign of the Cross Housing


Purpose of this blog is to compile books for my grandchildren to read in 25 years.

Copyright © 2013 by Jack Towe


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