We want you to know what we think we’ve gotten wrong about “We want you to know…”
We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor[ of taking part in the relief of the saints— and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also. (2 Corinthians 8:1–7)
Well, it seems I “bit a hog in the tail,” as we say down home.
My declaration that I should henceforth seek to undertake my work as Vice President of “Advancement” (the uptown word for “Fundraising”) in the spirit of 19th-century evangelist George Müller has the last few days spawned a mix of glorious affirmations, attaboys, questions, suspicions, doubts of our sincerity, and even one suggestion of gimmickry. God forbid that any should doubt our most earnest desire to walk in a manner worthy of our calling.
Have we fundamentally changed our fundraising strategy? Will we “ask” for money? Do we really plan to evidence such God-dependence? Will we stop reporting weekly to trustees, staff, and faculty where we stand currently in relationship to advancement and admissions goals? Can we still tell someone “We need $X?” All good questions.
Some people seem to regard it necessary to make some distinction between the “George Müller of History” and the “George Müller of Popular Imagination.” That is to suggest that maybe Müller wasn’t so utterly God-dependent as contemporary tales purport him to be or that the material provision for his ministry didn’t present itself quite so supernaturally as we might be led to believe. While I intend to spend much time in the year ahead with Müller, combing the biographies, considering the scholarship, and most importantly pondering his own extensive journals (and sharing my insights with you along the way), I’m presently of the mind that Müller’s God-dependence and extreme care that he should ask no help from man are indeed factual and historical, not legendary. Still, as Müeller made no direct appeal for aid, he n’ertheless “issued reports to acquaint the public with the history and progress of the work, and give an account of stewardship to the many donors who had a right to the report.”
Chancellor John Piper has written of George Müeller’s “reporting,”
“Müller walked a narrow line: on the one hand, he wanted to give God all the credit for answering prayer for meeting all his needs, and so he did not ask people directly for help. But on the other hand, he wanted this work of God to be known so that Christians would be encouraged to trust God for answered prayer. But in the very publication of the work of God, he was making known how much he depended on the generosity of God’s people, and thus motivating them by human means to give.” (4)
I feel moved by the Spirit to tune up the way we report to you—to do it more as George would. We’ll be seeking to learn more about how Müller reported such “history and progress” and seek to emulate that approach. In the meantime, we share with you the following highlights from the progress updates that were given to the Trustees; we are glad to make financial report available to our generous contributors on request.
From the President’s Report
- We have forecasted our financial model to scale (250 full-time students) and determined that it still works.
- 42% of our college graduates have come to us from homeschool settings, 44% from public high schools.
- We have identified 75 strategic church relationships based on student-sending, financial support, alumni pastoral leadership, and attendance at Serious Joy: The Bethlehem Conference for Pastors. We are eager to serve these churches and others.
- We have expanded our faculty to more fully support our Theology and Global Studies degree programs, for the hope of the nations.
- We have expanded our student recruiting team in the interest of getting more quickly to scale.
- Our evening degree programs on the main campus and at our extension sites remain an important aspect of our missional and financial models.
From the Academic Dean’s Report
- The renovation of our undergraduate program now presented as “Great Books in Light of the Greatest Book for the Sake of the Great Commission” has caused fewer students to depart after just two years (A.A.s) and instead stay to pursue B.A. and M.A. degrees over five years.
- We graduated 42 students on May 20. Among them, 19 will pursue further graduate studies, 9 will launch immediately into local church ministry, 7 into cross-cultural ministry, and 5 into teaching and parachurch ministry.
From the Dean of Admissions’ Report
- 25 men have been accepted to the seminary for the Fall, promising the first full cohort post-COVID.
- 25 men and women have been accepted to the college—less than usual, but historically we see numerous application and enrollment decisions made between now and the start of the school year.
So, there is our first attempt at a George Müeller-style report. Less objective but perhaps more compelling is the one my dear Adrien shared at our own dinner table, reflecting on her first year of service as co-coordinator of women’s discipleship. She said, “Unlike you, I’ve spent my year in close connection with the students: women, men, college, seminary, and seminary wives. You and I can take deep satisfaction in knowing that God is doing here what we prayed he might when we came. These students are in the Word, attentive to their school work, praying, serving, treasuring Christ, and growing wise in godliness.”
I replied, “It is a privilege to serve in the tent of meeting.”
When Paul wrote to the Corinthians, he began, “We want you to know….” In my work here, I have sought to use 2 Corinthians 8–9 as something of a handbook for fundraising. Often I have written to you beginning, “We want you to know,” for that very reason. But spending time with George Müller has caused me to see what may have been a serious flaw in my application of the text.
I have written “We want you to know [of our $ need].” That’s not what Paul is doing in this passage.
When Paul writes, “We want you to know,” his aim is not that the Corinthians know of the unmet needs of Jerusalem earthquake victims, desperate though they were. An earthquake isn’t even mentioned specifically. Neither is there any mention of corresponding death and injury, refugee plight, outbreak of disease, scope of destruction, cost of rebuilding, etc. What Paul wants us “to know” is not the unmet need, but the qualities of those gifted with the gift of generosity. He wants us to know about:
- the grace of God that has been given among the churches 8:1
- their abundance of joy 8:2
- overflowing wealth of generosity from extreme poverty and beyond their means 8:2
- the favor of taking part 8:4
- completing the act of grace 8:6
- excelling in this act of grace 8:7
- readiness 9:1
- zeal 9:2
- bountiful reaping 9:6
- cheerfulness in giving 9:7
- sufficiency in all things 9:8
- abundance in good work 9:8
- a harvest of righteousness 9:10
- (oxymoronic) enrichment in generosity 9:11
- overflowing thanksgiving 9:12
- submission in gospel confession 9:13
- glorifying God 9:13
The Apostle Paul does not speak here in the language of objective numerical deltas and deficits, and neither did George Müller, as best as I can determine.
But Rick Segal has, and that’s what he’s determined to correct.
For too long we have kept before you the difference between the funds we require this year and the amount we have thus far received—our need. While our fundraising “touch” is substantially softer than so many others whose hands are perpetually out, it’s my view that our approach has been more than a degree too direct and more than a degree too suggestive of dependence on man, and not suggestive enough of our utter dependence on God—which, I must hasten to add, has always been the true and earnest inclination of every servant here at Bethlehem College & Seminary.
Like Müller, we will now employ more extreme “caution lest there should be even a careless betrayal of the fact of pressing need, to the outside public.” But, also like Müller, we will continue to be transparent to “those in closest fellowship,” that they may have such knowledge of the exact state of the work as aids not only in common labors, but in common prayers and self-denials. Without such acquaintance they could not serve, pray, nor sacrifice intelligently.” For the most part that will mean that we will continue to keep our “situation” (admittedly a nuanced expression of what some may call “need”) before our leadership, staff, faculty, and a few others in “closest fellowship.” (5)
But we’re done with keeping the unmet pecuniary difference out front on Main Street and in your mailbox. We are done with counting down.
We will certainly continue to be as clear as we can possibly be about how The Serious Joy Scholarship works.
I not only want to be more like George Müller, but I want to be more like the Titus of 2 Corinthians 8-9, Christ’s first New Covenant fundraiser. Titus was:
- urged (to) complete among you this act of grace 8:6
- (possessed of) a heart of earnest care 8:16
- very earnest in going to you of his own accord 8:17
- appointed…to show our goodwill 8:19
- tested and found earnest 8:22
- (had) great confidence in you 8:22
- a messenger of the churches 8:23
- for your benefit 8:23
Let me repeat, “Not for one fraction of a nanosecond has this school ever been without all that it has required in material and spiritual resources to persevere in the assignment given us by our steadfastly faithful, generous, and all-possessing God.”
We are depending on God. We haven’t the slightest expectation that come June 30, 2022 his steadfast favor and provision will change to our detriment. Please keep us before the throne of all grace in your daily prayers and before your Christian fellows in your conversations.
Rick Segal is Vice President of Advancement and Lecturer of History and Political Philosophy at Bethlehem College & Seminary.
(1) Pierson, A.T., George Müller of Bristol: His Life of Prayer and Faith, (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1999), 71.
(2) Ibid, 82–83.
(3) Ibid, 87.
(4) Piper, John, A Camaraderie of Confidence: The Fruit of Unfailing Faith in the Lives of Charles Spurgeon, George Müeller, and Hudson Taylor (Wheaton: Crossway, 2016), 76.
(5) Pierson, 83.