The New York Times claimed last year that Christian relief and development agency Samaritan's Purse blurred the line between church and state by using U.S. Agency for International Development grants to "preach, pray, and seek converts" in El Salvador.
The organization responded that in its aid work, federal funds exclusively pay for building materials and supplies—not evangelism. But Samaritan's Purse did not deny its efforts to "preach, pray, and seek converts."
Instead, as it has since its founding 32 years ago, the organization clearly stated its motivation: the love of God. Says Mark DeMoss, spokesman for president Franklin Graham, "We are going to tell people what we do and why we do it."
This clarity of purpose—and the open presentation of it—is one key way Christian organizations remain true to their original vision.
"As an institution grows and the founders move on, an organization becomes more professional and more influential," says David Beckman, president of the ecumenical lobbying group Bread for the World and a Lutheran minister. "In the course of that growth, it is relevant to ask, 'As we evolve, are we staying consistent with the original vision?' "
Many groups maintain their vision through Bible studies, prayer, and worship. At World Vision, a weekly chapel service is "probably the most important thing we do," says Serge Duss, director of public policy and government relations. "There, we constantly affirm to each other to follow Christ where he wants us to go. We are all led here to do this work."
Employees at Bread for the World have started their own prayer and study groups during lunch hours or before work. Board meetings also include devotions and prayer. Says Beckman: "It is a very powerful religious experience being here, because there's prayer going on all the time."
Beckman told Christianity Today that the Christian vision starts at the top of Bread for the World. Three-year plans include objectives to spiritually deepen the life of the staff. Board members see themselves as stewards of the mission. They systematically evaluate the organization's current work against its founding principles.
Two years ago, the board used the group's original vision to study how Bread for the World makes decisions and presents itself. The group maintains a consistent, clear message about its faith by having all employees use established principles on what to say and how to say it when they speak to the public.
Samaritan's Purse analyzes individual projects to ensure they are accomplishing the group's goals. Site reports do not just look at the relief work but also the "faith work" being done. These reports, which are reprinted in newsletters and annual reports, include lists of the churches or partnerships involved in an activity, the number of those who have committed themselves to Christ, and what local pastors say about the work. If reports show that evangelism on a specific activity is inhibited, the project is reevaluated.
"We wouldn't talk about blanket distribution without detailing the sharing of the gospel as well," DeMoss says.
At relief and development agency Food for the Hungry, the Christian vision is embodied in a corporate mission statement that helps employees envision and maintain the organization's identity and keeps offices in 40 countries moving toward the same goals.
This mission statement serves as the basis of a mandatory training course for new employees. Approximately every two years, all employees and board members take an intensive refresher course that covers the mission statement.
Jeffrey Houser, associate director of corporate and foundation relations, says employees are encouraged to apply the mission statement when making key decisions.
Employees' growth in faith is a priority in the mission statement. In their annual reviews, supervisors concentrate on employees' spiritual growth. "We look at how the person has contributed to the mission statement in our office," Houser says. "Numbers are important, but growth in our core values is more important."
—Todd Hertz, CT online assistant editor
Copyright © 2002 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
Also appearing on our site today:
How to Build Homes Without Putting Up WallsHabitat for Humanity strives to keep its Christian identity—a tricky task, when everybody wants to join.
Evangelism of the HammerHow Habitat's Christian identity gets translated in Costa Rica.
See a more extensive version of this article in a CT online exclusive, "Keeping Christ in Christian Organizations."
A Bible study based on our Habitat cover article is available in Christianity Today'sCurrent Issue Bible Study Series. This unique series uses articles from current issues of the magazine to prompt thought-provoking discussions in adult Sunday school classes or small groups.
Official Websites for organizations in the article include:
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