Staying Faithful and Focused in a Click-Bait* Culture
by Mark Oppenlander
In August of 1998, Jan Wood invited me to be on the inaugural Board for Good News Associates. At the time, I worked for a mid-sized non-profit arts organization and had some experience with how non-profits were structured. My job also afforded me daily access to people who had actually done the work of founding a 501(c)(3) organization. Along with John Braun and Maxine Stansell, we sat down at Jan’s dining room table and created the Articles of Incorporation and By-Laws that would launch GNA.
Over the years, I have played a few different roles. I have been the Secretary of the GNA Board, writing meeting minutes for our annual gatherings. I have been the Treasurer of the Board, helping to reconcile the finances and signing off on the IRS 990 tax forms. For the past decade, I have edited and distributed the SEEDS articles which our Associates, Board members and Affiliates have written. And for the last several years, I have been the Board President. Recently, I made the decision to step down from the GNA Board. I felt a nudge to clear space in my life for other—as yet to be defined—things.
Seventeen years is a long time and a lot has changed since we sat around that dining room table. Smart phones, iPads and Fitbits didn’t exist back then. Facebook, Twitter and other social media hadn’t yet been imagined. Bush v. Gore, September 11 and the war on terror, Enron, the sub-prime mortgage crisis, the first black President and legalized gay marriage were all in the future. The phrases climate change, click-bait and school shooting were not yet in the popular vocabulary. And somewhere in there I went from being a young man to being middle-aged.
It has been an honor to be a part of GNA over these many years. There are a number of things that I admire about this group and, while I don’t think I can take a whole lot of credit for them there are things I am very proud that the organization has accomplished during my tenure. Let me highlight just a couple of them.
Trial and Error
Good News Associates has long been a home for experimental ministries. What people may not know is how much experimentation has gone on behind the scenes. In an attempt to be faithful to God’s leading among us, we tried a number of things over the years. We have explored alternate membership formats (e.g. Associates vs. Affiliates), various sorts of financial arrangements (e.g. purely donation based support vs. fee-for-service work) and delved into the realms of producing music and publishing books. We have collaborated with others when it seemed appropriate and we have gone it alone when necessary. Some of our experiments were successful, while others proved to be less so.
GNA itself is an experimental ministry. And I am proud of the fact that we were always willing to listen and discern, trying new things when we felt the leading, failing sometimes but learning from our mistakes. Iteration is a trendy word in the entrepreneurial literature today, but I can honestly say that GNA was iterating long before it was cool.
The Widow’s Mite
GNA has always set aside a portion of its income—on every gift, every purchase, every tuition fee—to put into a grant fund. This grant fund is given away at the end of the fiscal year to someone who submits a ministry proposal to us. Over the years, we have funded writers, musicians, spiritual directors, quilters and theatre artists. We have helped pay for a computer for a young writer in Mexico and for a composting toilet for a sustainability project in Oregon (a list of past recipients is available at here). But the money is always given with no strings attached and without reserve. The selection of a grant recipient has always been one of the most invigorating and joyful tasks we as Board members got to do.
GNA has never been a wealthy organization. There are years when the dollars we offered as a grant would have been very helpful in assisting us with covering our own expenses and furthering our own ministries. And yet there was never a question that we would offer a grant. This was our act of faithful giving, like the widow’s mite in Luke 21. And I am proud that we stuck to that discipline.
One of the things that often surprises people about GNA is that we don’t have a budget. In other words, we don’t estimate revenues and expenses for the upcoming year. Instead, we were built upon a model of spending only what we have and no more. All of our financial systems and processes are built around this. This is one profound example of how GNA is counter-cultural. I can think of no other non-profit organization that would dream of not having a budget. As with many of our other decisions over the years, this was an act of faithfulness.
This does not mean that GNA never learns from outside sources or acquires “best practices” from other ministry and non-profit organizations. But the first impulse for the organization has always been one of asking, “What are we called to do?” rather than “What would common practice suggest?” And this is a deeply counter-cultural stance. Globalization and the internet are strong, democratizing forces. But they can also flatten out important differences and lead to a lot of peer pressure to do things the “right way” or at least the way other people are doing them. GNA has resisted that urge time and time again.
In summary, I am deeply gratified that GNA has developed and retained a unique voice in the world. And although I will no longer be an ‘insider’ with the group, I plan to keep in touch, support GNA financially and follow the group’s activities in the years to come. The Institute for Group Discernment, the Way of the Spirit and the Ireland pilgrimages are all fascinating and important ministries. I can’t wait to see how God will use GNA next. How about you?
* Click Bait: noun (informal) On the internet, content, especially that of a sensational or provocative nature, whose main purpose is to attract attention and draw visitors to a particular web page (i.e. by clicking through the image or headline). If you do a Google image search on the term clickbait you’ll see some pretty funny examples of the genre. Click bait is all pervasive nowadays. The title of the article is actually an example of a click bait headline; “You won’t believe what happens next!”