Since when does "giving to God" mean "giving to the church?" Well... since centuries ago, actually. But does that dog still hunt? Can church leaders still make that assertion - that offering money to God means dropping cash in the offering plate? In an increasingly "flat" model of church where hierarchies are softer rather than rigid, where sacraments are in the hands of ordinary people rather than special clergy, and "God's work" is seen as happening more outside church walls than within them, it seems that churchgoers need to talk more openly about why they're donating to their church and what they're donating to. Essentially, the purpose of shelling out cash to "Church, Inc." is to free up certain individuals to deliver services every week and to secure meeting spaces that add value to life. That's a good thing, but more challenging as the church has now joined the ranks of all the hospitals, shelters, child sponsorships, youth programs, soup kitchens, and any and every agency and ministry that brings aid, relief, and service to our communities and calls on us for support. How must churches adjust to this change?
Then Mark sits down with Eva Wong of Borrowell and Toronto Homecoming. They talk about how she came to become a pastor despite her best efforts and how others can see our gifting and potential even when we ourselves don't. Then she shares how she and her business partner actively tackled two of the problems they perceived in Toronto: first, Canadians working abroad who pined to come home for meaningful work and sustainable family, and second, borrowers suffering under heavy loads of debt with very few options for relief. Their entrepreneurial efforts have had a tangible impact in the lives of real Torontonians. She explains how business can be a force for good in the city and make a positive difference in the lives of families and neighbourhoods. And then Mark and Eva kick around the idea of 'ministry' and how reserving that word only for church work doesn't quite do it justice; ministry happens with all the people consciously thinking about how to follow Jesus well in the marketplace and serve people better every day.
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Notable Quotes from Eva Wong
"It's really incredible to look back - I feel like God had his hand on both my sister and me from a really young age by putting other Christians in our lives."
"I do think it's an approach that I've taken going forward, which is: I'm not sure I know what I want to be doing in five years or 10 years, but let's take what I do know and what I do like, and make a decision based on that, and hopefully that leads to other good things. So for me, it's been much more about choosing the next step as opposed to choosing the destination."
"I think we all at some point are like, 'What am I doing with my life? What do I want to do with my life?' It's even biblical: God shining a light and showing us the next step on the path."
"I always had felt like a little bit of an outsider at church and didn't feel like I fit in with more stereotypical suburban church experience, and [The Meeting House] to me was like... sort of 'my people.' I felt like these were people I can be honest with, and actually hang out with outside of church, and I had the experience of small group home church, which was a great sense of community. So I loved every aspect of my Meeting House experience."
"That's one of the things I've learned to be careful of: the things that you're saying you want or that you're praying about – how do you actually play into the answer to that prayer?"
"Be careful what you are wanting to happen in the world because I feel like God has a way of saying, 'Okay what part are you willing to play in making this happen? .... I felt very strongly that in this particular role there should be a woman in it. And I ended up taking that role.'"
"[It all started] at a conference where we were encouraged to think of different things we could do as city builders to give back and build up the city of Toronto to make this an even better place to live.... Recognizing that there are lots of young people who want to do something for their own professional and personal development, could you actually do something that is not going to courses and training but just taking on projects to tackle a challenge or create a new opportunity?"
"We were challenged to find something that would help improve the economy of Toronto, so we took it from a very big picture: if we want more economic growth, we need to have more innovation. And if we want more innovation, that comes from talented people. So how do we get more talented people in Toronto and what's the easiest way of doing that?"
"There's lots of things that I feel make Toronto a great place to live. I think it has a great mix of being a very livable city.... I feel like I live in a great neighbourhood with so many things that are walkable: my son's school, lots of local independent shops and restaurants, and amazing parks, amazing recreation centres, and all that stuff. But at the same time, you have this amazing city of 5 million people and all of the diversity and arts and culture that that brings and economic opportunity."
"Canadians are carrying 75 billion dollars in credit card debt.... We can do something about that! Most of that is at 20% interest. And so we feel like that's a problem. And another problem would be people who are investing their money at a bank through a GIC or a high-interest savings account – you are making maybe 1% interest. And not just individuals but lots of companies as well have funds to invest and they're not making a huge amount. So the spread between the 1% that people are getting on their investments and the 20% that people borrowing are paying is quite a wide spread. So what were doing is creating an online platform for the marketplace where borrowers and lenders can find each other."
"We are targeting people have good-to-great credit - of the people who are paying 20%, those who have good credit and shouldn't be paying 20%; they should be paying 12 or 13% or somewhere in there."
"In financial services we are maybe where retail was 10 years ago where there was some stuff online, but it wasn't as prevalent as it is today. And so we feel that with financial services there is lots of room to grow and bring it into the 21st century."
"It's definitely a for-profit business, but at the same time I think we're excited about being able to provide more options and choice for Canadians and hopefully help out a big segment that are indebted and they may be struggling under that debt and not sure if they are ever going to pay off their credit cards. So that's what were really aiming for. People can use their loans for home improvement or for other things, but initially our target is going to be people who are carrying credit card debt - paying high rates of interest and not sure whether they're going to pay it off. So our recommendation would be take a loan from us, pay off your credit cards, it's a fixed term loan that is like a mortgage in that it's fully amortized - it gets fully paid off in the course 3 to 5 years."
"I've always been a believer that business can be a force for good. I worked at the UN in the division for business partnership. So even organizations that are focused on bringing more good into the world are recognizing the role that business can play. I think there are so many things that the business community brings – capital, experience, and all those things."
"I wouldn't say that I'm a big fan of Walmart is an example, but Walmart has so much buying power and so much clout that a decision that they make to say, 'You know what? If I'm buying tooth paste from this company, I want them to reduce their packaging,' that has a huge environmental impact.... I think just the scale the corporations can bring can have an impact that's bigger than someone petitioning someone else to try to do something."
"'Ministry' is such a loaded word. Is it that special that I worked at a church that it should have its own title of being called ministry?"
"I worked at The Meeting House and did Toronto Homecoming at the same time and I feel like both of them were really complimentary in terms of the skills I was using and the people I was interacting with and working with. Was one more 'ministry' than another? I don't really know – it was just my life. Or I was a stay-at-home mom for a couple of years when I had my kids and I was on parental leave. Was that 'less ministry' or was that 'not work?' It's like, 'Can we just live life and follow Jesus?'"
"If I had to pick one camp or another I think I would be much more in the camp of 'we are all doing ministry' and working in a church doesn't give you a buyout to say, ' Oh, I work for a church so that means I can do whatever I want my free time and it doesn't matter how I do what I do because I already do ministry for work.' That was a trap I think I started to fall into a little bit working at a church."
"I think the fact that I don't work for a church now does make me think a little bit more about, 'So what am I doing with my life?' It's the 'what' and the 'how.' And when the 'what' isn't very clearly ministry, then the 'how' becomes more important."
[Recorded on location - thanks to Marche Brookfield Place for accommodating the interview!]
Next Week, Episode 17:
Guest: Donald Goertz - Missiologist, Director of In-Ministry Program at Tyndale Seminary