“I feel not at liberty to speak about the state of our funds, as the primary object of the work in my hands is to lead those who are weak in faith to see that there is reality in dealing with God alone.” George Müller, c. 1840
This shall be my last word to you on such matters for School Year ’21–’22.
Readers attentive to this space will know that in recent weeks the example of 19th-century evangelist George Müller has illumined and inspired anew my work here as the principal advocate for The Serious Joy Scholarship at Bethlehem College & Seminary (■■■■■■ ■■■■ and More George). Müller operated a Christian orphanage and is distinguished by his extraordinary dependence on God alone for the supply of the ministry.
Here’s how The Serious Joy Scholarship works:
Our aim is, by God’s grace, to build an intentionally small college and seminary of about 250 students total: 70 in the seminary, 180 in the college.
It costs Bethlehem College & Seminary about $17,000 per year to provide one student our Bible-saturated, academically rigorous “Education in Serious Joy,” a program of higher education laser-focused on the task of equipping a new generation of men and women “to contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3).
We keep student tuition not just low, not just unusually low, but
about $7,000 a year, so that our students can launch immediately upon graduation into adulthood, life, ministry, and vocation without a burden of student loan debt—financially unshackled and ready to answer God’s call on their lives.
We do that by employing extreme frugality in administration and facilities expenses, and by making bold, open-handed investments in hiring and retaining a world-class faculty to teach these students. We own no substantial real estate. Our work is done in the adorned simplicity of unused Sunday school rooms during the week. We receive no federal or state student aid funds.
Beyond that, we depend on God to supply the remaining $10,000 per student or $2.5 million per year. We call this personal ministry on the part of the saints, of which both the faculty and students are beneficiaries, The Serious Joy Scholarship.
In prior years, on such a sixth day prior to the end of our fiscal year, it would have been my practice to let you know in dollars and cents just how much money was needed to fulfill our financial obligations before year-end. We would even count it down before you, creating a visible and recurring urgency. As I have written previously, I have become convicted that what we call here “Classic Bethlehem” theology—Sovereign God, Sacred Book, Serious Joy— compels us to better demonstrate our utter dependence on God in matters of supply, material and spiritual. So, like George Müller, we should seek to “ask no help from man…in bearing the costs in the Lord’s service, nor even state his needs beforehand in such a way as to indirectly appeal for aid.”
C’mon, now! Is this the George Müller of contemporary evangelical imagination or the George Müller of history? Is this any way to raise money for Christian ministry, really?
Consider this documentary evidence from the Müller archive.
Sometime in 1840, after a few weeks visit to his hometown in Germany, Müller returned to his orphanage in Bristol UK during a time of great financial distress in the work. A letter reached him from someone who had been a frequent contributor to the ministry.
Have you any present need for the Institution under your care? I know that you do not ask, except indeed of Him whose work you are doing; but to answer when asked seems another thing, and a right thing. I have a reason for desiring to know the present state of your means toward the objects you are labouring to serve: viz., should you not have need, other departments of the Lord’s work, or other people of the Lord, may have need. Kindly then inform me, and to what amount, i.e., what amount you at this present time need or can profitably lay out.1
Now, in my work at Bethlehem College & Seminary I have fielded many inquiries about the scope and dimensions of our work and financial model, even our “need.” But I’ve never received one like the one above paraphrased thus: “Do you have a need? If you don’t, there are others who do. So, if you have a need, just tell me what it is. My checkbook is open.” Most modern fundraising techniques seek to magnetize such inquiries.
WWGD? What would George do? He wrote back:
Whilst I thank you for your love, and whilst I agree with you that, in general, there is a difference between asking for money and answering when asked, nevertheless, in our case, I feel not at liberty to speak about the state of our funds, as the primary object of the work in my hands is to lead those who are weak in faith to see that there is reality in dealing with God alone.
Then Müller prayed.
“Lord, thou knowest that, for Thy sake, I did not tell this brother about our need, Now, Lord, show afresh that there is reality in speaking to thee only, about our need, and speak therefore to this brother so that he may help us.”*
Müller was the real deal. Nearly every tendon of my marketer’s muscle memory wants to flex in the direction of exposure and disclosure for the sake of spurring urgency and response from—well, from you. Instead, Müller’s example has literally sent me to my knees to plead with God to once again to manifest his glory and faithfulness to this ministry as it seeks to equip a new generation of men and women to spread a passion for his supremacy in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ, and to live and herald the great truth that “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.”
We, Bethlehem—of all people—ought to be thrilled to have the opportunity to evidence utter dependence on God in such things. And we are thrilled to do so, and we are hopefully witnessing this dependence before you. Would that the primary object of my own work here at Bethlehem College & Seminary might be, as George Müller’s was, to help you “see that there is reality in dealing with God alone.”
Bethlehem College & Seminary and The Serious Joy Scholarship are utterly dependent on God in every fraction of every one of the 31,536,000 seconds of a year; no more so in the first second of the year than in the last. We have kept our need before the throne of God all year long, as have many of you. Good financial stewardship will require that we give an account of debits and credits, assets and liabilities, surpluses and deficits where they stand at the end of the last hour of the last day of the fiscal year. That day and hour now approaches on June 30, 2022. May he, and you, then find our stewardship “As unto the Lord.”
Rick Segal is Vice President of Advancement and Lecturer of History and Political Philosophy at Bethlehem College & Seminary.
*So, what happened? According to Müller’s journal, “God moved this inquiring brother to send one hundred pounds, which came when not one penny was in hand.”
1 Pierson, A.T., George Müller: His Life of Prayer and Faith, (Grand Rapids), Kregel Publications, 199, 166-167.