Setting priorites

Last week when writing about my day with Tearfund, I mentioned that there would be a follow up ‘serious’ post, and here it is. As a disclaimer, when invited to the day, there was no expectation that we would write about/advocate for Tearfund, so this is entirely off my own bat and mainly because it happened to connect with something I was already passionate about…

One of the highlights of the digital day was our session with Chief Exec Matthew Frost – his spending two hours with us (a ramshackle collection of people) was very generous and also very illuminating. He shared with us his vision for Tearfund and in particular, the role that the local church has in effecting change – not just in the UK but in the world generally. I think in Britain we can take for granted (or perhaps forget) the impact that the church can have in campaigns – it’s an amazing grassroots network and engine that can really have an impact upon issues. Remember Jubilee 2000 and Stop the Traffik? Classic examples of this. Tearfund have also become aware of the way in which local churches overseas can positively impact their communities and become drivers of social change.

However, there is an issue with local churches in Britain and it’s one that’s been around for a long time. Although they’re passionate about supporting international development or overseas mission, they want to set their own priorities and targets. Its understandable, in a way, that a church might decide that a well or house building project is a great thing to support because it’s tangible and the results are easy to see. But wouldn’t it be better if they gave their money so that churches and organisations overseas could spend it according to their own priorities?

One of my past lives involved being a fundraiser for the mission funds of the Methodist Church. Time and again churches would ask me for a ‘project’ to support and time and again I would have to explain that the church only gave its partners ‘general grants’ that were spent by the church of the country concerned on the things that were their priorities. Well why shouldn’t they? Do you know how frustrating it is to know that there’s an obscure fund of money that can only be spent on the breeding of goats in Outer Mongolia when the church in Burma desperately needs funding to train people in HIV awareness?

Imagine your church (or local community – this doesn’t actually need to be a religious example) is fund raising because its identified a series of needs that need to be met. Maybe it’s a new building, maybe it’s training that’s needed, maybe there’s been a natural disaster that’s destroyed homes – and you get offered a grant. Fabulous. But then you’re told that the grant can only be spent on blankets, but you don’t need blankets. Can you see how disempowering this is?

The key word in all of this is ‘partnership’. I’m a geek about many things, but one thing in particular is mission. Yes, I’m a missiological geek. [I’ll blame my Mish Kid birth…] This term isn’t a new one – in fact it’s around 60 years since Max Warren (one time Gen Sec of CMS) came up with the theory that the best, most constructive way to do mission in a post-colonial world was through partnership – that the hierarchies of world churches should be abolished, and everyone should work together through even handed partnership. A primary element of this was that each partner should be able to set their own priorities.

Decades later and many people still haven’t got to grips with the idea and it’s something that many major denominations and mission agencies have struggled with. What I was overjoyed to hear at Tearfund is that they’re now running a campaign to help local churches understand this, and in very simple, accessible ways.

The See For Yourself programme enables churches in the UK to see how churches overseas have worked out their priorities and set about achieving transformation. Churches can connect wither either Nepal, Peru or Uganda and via these examples see how it works in practice, and help them understand why this way of working is so important.

I’m really hopeful that this will help people understand why partnership is so important, and ultimately see some radical changes happening both overseas and in Britain.


  1. Excellent post, Liz. It was a rich day!!

  2. Really interesting post, clearly thought out and very well written. But not what I expected you to write about. Wasn’t the day about blogging and social media?
    Really good tho…

  3. Thank-you… Yes it was, but in the context of the wider picture of Tearfund’s work.
    You can take the girl out of Mission Education…

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