On a Thursday afternoon in September 2016, Peter Greer scribed notes on his whiteboard as Jill Heisey and I kicked around ideas about a new book project. We came into that meeting with very little clarity about what the project would become. We left that meeting with just a bit more clarity, but a shared commitment to pursuing the project together.
In just two weeks, Rooting for Rivalswill be available in hardback and audiobook at all your favorite booksellers. Nearly two years after the genesis meeting, a whiteboard becomes a book. Just for fun, I’ve included the most common questions I get about the book below.
What’s the story behind the name?
The original working title for the book was Open Hands. We also kicked around the title Kingdom First. In the end, we liked Rooting for Rivals because it is both sticky and communicates the heart of the book. It was on a trip to Australia, however, where we learned that “rooting” holds quite lewd undertones Down Under. While blushing during a meeting with an Australian director of a Baptist camping ministry, I asked if we should consider changing the title. Without hesitation, he responded, “Absolutely not. Most Australians understand the American use of the word. And, you’ll likely sell more copies in Australia if you keep it as-is.”
What role do your agents play?
Andrew Wolgemuth was our agent for both Mission Driftand Rooting for Rivals. Andrew (also my brother-in-law!) is an agent with Wolgemuth & Associates (“W&A”). Akin to sports agents with athletes, literary agents help authors pitch their ideas and serve as guides to the confusing world of book publishing. We’ve said this elsewhere, but Andrew and the W&A team—Robert, Erik, and Austin—are the very best in the business. I’m obviously biased, but these guys are capable, faithful advisors and friends.
Who is the publisher?
Like with Mission Drift, Andy McGuire at Bethany House (an imprint of Baker Publishing Group) believed in this project and believed in us from the very beginning. The first time around, we pitched Mission Drift to a slew of publishers. Because of that experience, though, this time we went straight to, and only to, Andy. What stands out about Andy and the Bethany/Baker team is their genuine enthusiasm for these ideas.
What was Jill Heisey’s role?
Better question: What wasn’t her role? Jill and I both joined HOPE’s staff in 2006. During the last 12 years, she has worked in a whole host of full-time and part-time roles. But, in every assignment, she demonstrated her gifts as a writer, editor, and thinker. Jill sharpened our thinking and refined our writing. That she agreed to work with the two of us makes Peter and I forever in her debt. It’s not an exaggeration say this book wouldn’t exist if not for Jill. I’ll also note the roles of Brianna Lapp and Tom Lin. Brianna joined HOPE’s staff midway through this project and has played an important project management role over the last year. Tom embodies the principles in the book and wrote an exceptional foreword.
What’s it like to co-author?
Writing with Peter Greer is like sparring with a grizzly bear while riding a bull.
In seriousness, writing with Peter makes both of us better. He invites critique and offers it. He puts forward bold goals and invites helpful constraints. Our team used a shared Google Doc to draft, suggest edits, and collaborate. It became a bit unruly when the draft surpassed 30,000 words. But, otherwise, we found it to be a big improvement over emailing Word documents back-and-forth like we did last time. Some people ask if Peter is involved in the nuts-and-bolts or just the big ideas of the book. And, I can honestly say it’s both. Despite leading a full life and a growing organization, he is actively involved from start-to-finish.
Who financially profits from the book?
The Kingdom! Unless your last name is Rowling or Sparks, writing is not lucrative work. But, Peter and I have committed all the royalties from this project to HOPE and other like-minded churches and ministries. So when you buy a copy or a case (thanks, Mom!), you can trust it’s lining God’s pockets, not our own.
Why the seven deadly sins? …and the 2×2?
On the whiteboard in Peter’s office, we scribbled out a bunch of chapter ideas about how open-handed faith-based nonprofit leaders operated in contrast to close-fisted leaders: Covet vs. Celebrate, Hero vs. Humility, Enemies vs. Allies, etc. As these ideas germinated, we discovered our somewhat arbitrary list tightly mapped to a more time-tested list: the seven deadly sins. An early iteration of this concept, circa March 2017, shows a snapshot of the progression of the chapter outline.
The version of the 2×2 we included in the book emerged from the brilliance of Madi Burke. Madi, then a college student interning with us in Lancaster, suggested we consider Augustine’s categorization of sin as deficient love, excessive love, or misdirected love. These categories proved enormously helpful in organizing a 2×2 that was at that point still very much a work-in-progress (an earlier draft also included here, just for fun). Those two organizing frameworks helped to make sense of the book’s main ideas.
Are you doing anything fun to launch this book?
Yes! A group of 180 friends, family, and co-workers signed up to help us launch the book (THANK YOU!). With the tutelage and hosting of our colleague, Blake Mankin, we are producing a six-episode Rooting for Rivals podcast series. We interviewed a few of our heroes and can’t wait for you to hear directly from them. We also have a series of videos forthcoming where we’re not promoting the book but practicing it—actually rooting for our rivals. Be on the lookout.
What do your kids think about Rooting for Rivals?
My kids—ages 7, 3, and 1—are absolutely pumped about it. Apart from our oldest, all they know about the book is that the only pictures are tiny author headshots. Still, when I first saw the final product, they expressed their enthusiasm in their own unique ways:
Many other friends—some of you are reading this very post—volunteered to help launch Rooting for Rivals. Thank you, thank you.
(To protect confidentiality, I have changed the names in this story.)
It started like many good things do: By accident.
On a cold night, Donna and several members of her suburban church showed up at a homeless shelter in an oft-overlooked Philadelphia neighborhood. The shelter, housed in a church basement, epitomized what’s best about urban churches in this country. The founder, Sally*, did her Good Samaritanism with little fanfare. She relentlessly loved the vulnerable on her block, serving up warm food and insatiable cheer to the men and women who walked through the basement doors. Today, however, her life’s work has been sterilized.
Donna and her friends’ volunteerism started so right. When they discovered the basement shelter, they fell in love with both the cause and the leader.
“Sally was a wonderful Christian woman,” Donna said to me as she reminisced. “After five months of serving there, Sally shared with me that we needed to start something for the children.”
And they did. Sally’s vision collided with Donna’s heart. Donna and her husband became the ringleaders. Together with Sally, they soon raised enough money purchase equipment and hire a preschool teacher. The church volunteers rounded out the staff. In just a few months, they launched a thriving urban preschool to complement the shelter. They showed up consistently, without pay, to serve some of Philadelphia’s most vulnerable children. They served meals, taught Bible stories, sang Christian songs and prayed with the kids. New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof once noted that “the further he travels from the capital city” in countries he visits around the world, “the greater the likelihood the aid workers he meets will be from a religious organization.” The same holds true in the back-alleys and forgotten neighborhoods in our cities. The Onion satirically posted the headline, “Local Church Full Of Brainwashed Idiots Feeds Town’s Poor Every Week.” We might be a little crazy, but at our best, Christians are crazy in ways that surprise our culture. Sally, Donna and their churches showed up where others would not. Compelled by their faith, they served in the selfless way of Jesus.
The influx of children and well-heeled volunteers into Sally’s shelter brought attention to the program. And it soon began growing quickly. Publicity, donations, and needy families flooded the shelter’s doors. Sally’s nonprofit soon experienced what parents call growing pains. Increased exposure meant increased public scrutiny.
“The kitchen needed to meet regulations, understandably,” said Donna. “We needed to have certified food handlers delivering meals. That, essentially, ended the church serving meals. Slowly, our role as a church became more vague.”
As the shelter grew, Sally and Donna’s mission began to fade. The board brought on wealthy benefactors who had deep pockets but a very different vision for the shelter. Month by month, the founding fire dimmed. Bureaucracy supplanted soul. Neutrality replaced conviction. Soon, just a façade of Sally’s mission remained.
“The board brought in a new executive director to replace Sally, the wonderful woman who had run the program for so long,” Donna lamented. “She was a professional social worker, but she didn’t understand the mission.”
Soon, Donna and her church began to feel like they were no longer welcome.
“When we would come from the church, there were no opportunities for us to serve. We set it up overtly Christian. It was there. And it’s no longer there.”
Over the course of just a few years, Sally’s nonprofit experienced Mission Drift. What began as a vibrant partnership between a suburban church and an urban ministry is today a sterile human services agency that scarcely resembles its founding. No Christian staff. No Bible stories. No Sally and no Donna.
“We are no longer involved there,” shared Donna.
Sally and Donna grew their organization from scratch. And today, the agency is highly professional, yet lacks the fervor and tenderness—the Christlikeness—it was founded upon.
I mourn with Sally and Donna. They lost something they cared about deeply. And I mourn for the families and children they used to serve. Because with the new professional management, the neighborhood ultimately loses. Our communities need vibrant faith-based organizations. I believe the shelter’s secularization hurts all of us, even those who do not share Sally and Donna’s beliefs.
There are dire societal consequences for the widespread drift within faith-based nonprofits. In How Children Succeed, bestselling author, Paul Tough, writes about the “hidden power of character.” He posits a compelling case for why America’s nonprofits need to concern themselves less with cognitive skills and more on the softer skills like grit, curiosity, perseverance and self-control. He argues not as a Christian, but as a scholar who has seen what helps at-risk children thrive.
When Sally’s shelter new leaders abandoned Bible lessons on character, ditched their church volunteers and ceased to pray with the students, they stripped the preschool of its most precious asset. What happened at the shelter is what a friend likened to “the selling off of the family heirlooms.” The shelter might have full coffers today, but it’s traded away what mattered most.
Mission Drift is prevalent, but not inevitable. To share the stories of hope, and help the faith-based organizations you love stay true to their founding mission, please consider joining the Mission Drift launch team (the book releases on February 18). Simply email me or leave a comment below to help us spread the word. Below, I’ve posted the newly released video teaser for the book.
I still don’t know why I answered my phone. I didn’t recognize the number, but took the risk and put my clunky Blackberry to my ear. Matthew introduced himself. He had recently sold his law firm and was smitten with the mission of HOPE International. I almost declined the call, but I’m sure glad I didn’t.
That call came just over five years ago. At the time, I was new to my role as a fundraiser with HOPE. I’m sure Matthew sensed my nervousness, but he was gracious. We small-talked for a bit and then he asked me about my work. I told him of a crazy trip my new wife, Alli, and I were taking across the country. We dubbed the trip 10ten10 because we had planned ten events in ten states to commemorate HOPE’s tenth anniversary.
[As an aside, yes, the now vintage (and embarrassing) trip blog still exists. Thanks, Mom, (commenter name “P.M.” for “Proud Mother”) for the blog comments!]
Matthew liked the concept. And he decided to throw his weight behind it. He offered to match dollar-for-dollar every donation from the trip, up to $5,000. I pumped my fist in my office, but played it cool on the phone, pretending I received that sort of pledge often. I hadn’t (ever).
Alli and I started our 10ten10 trip in Pennsylvania and wound our way west to Seattle, then south to San Diego, and finally back east to Colorado. We held events all along the trail. As Oregon Trail aficionados, we were saddened to not ford any rivers or hunt any bison. But, at one Wyoming ranch, we did hunt prairie dogs (this is very normal, legal and humane in Wyoming—just trust me on this one). And, our Ohioan host was one of the nation’s top Cutco salesmen. And we exceeded our fundraising goals. All told, 77 new donors gave over $25,000 to fund HOPE’s work around the world during the trip.
The trip launched me into a career I’ve come to love. I like the trips, the days where my car becomes my remote office, and even the occasional crazy person who accuses HOPE of various sorts of heresy. And I really like writing. I started writing with these very poorly written early blog posts. Since then, I’ve written one short blog post for 60 straight months. “Practice makes better” and next month, my first book, Mission Drift, officially launches.
[As a second aside: I can’t think of anything that “screams Christmas gift” more than an IOU preordered copy of the book! Am I right?]
But most of all, I love our donors. Young and old, pastors and entrepreneurs, Anglicans and Baptists, oilmen and activists. Bankers and lawyers, like Matthew. They hail from different vocations, but they share affection for Good Samaritanism and for the Good News. And they make my work anything but the daily grind.
In mid-2006, HOPE extended me a job offer. I still am not sure why, as my previous work was not exactly related. I had worked as a construction laborer, a butcher’s assistant, and an amusement park ride operator (well, technically a senior ride operator, responsible for commandeering the fearsome Sky Princess). But they did. And I joined the grassroots HOPE team as Chief Gopher. That wasn’t my actual title, but for a tiny nonprofit with less than 10 headquarters staff, that’s basically what I became.
Then my boss shipped me off to Romania. Because who doesn’t love traveling, basically, to the Siberian Tundra in the dead of winter? I’m still not sure if it was a promotion or a demotion, but I accepted the challenge with long underwear and parka in tow. After completing a three-month feasibility study, I returned back to the States. HOPE had hired a Chief Gopher in my absence so I found a new role. After a brief stint in our human resources department, I moved over to the fundraising team.
The HOPE International global team, May 2013
When I made that move, our donors were already surging behind HOPE’s mission. They were absolutely the wind beneath our wings. In the 2005 fiscal year, we barely eclipsed $3M in revenue. By 2008, that number crested $6M. This year, Lord willing, we’ll cross $11M for the first time. The HOPE donor ranks swelled all the while. From under 1,000 supporters in 2006 to over 4,000 this year. The growth in other areas has been even more dramatic. From under 10 US staff in 2006 to over 70 now. And most importantly, from serving just over 100,000 clients in 2006 to nearly 600,000 today.
As HOPE’s support base has grown, our team of regional representatives has grown along with it—now stretching from Southern California to New England. I count it one of my greatest professional joys to serve alongside this talented group of HOPE ambassadors. In our cities, we enjoy the privilege of representing HOPE to our partner churches and donors, like Matthew.
When I called Matthew after our 10ten10 trip to share the exciting news about meeting the $5,000 match, he made our second phone call even more memorable than the first. He said he wanted to match the whole thing. All $25,000. As 2013 comes to a close, I’m swelling with gratefulness for Matthew and the thousands who have joined him in propelling the mission of HOPE around the world. When the all-powerful Creator entered the world in a manger, it was a breathtaking and unexpected act of generosity. And this Christmas, amidst all the asking and fundraising, I want HOPE donors reading this post to know how abundantly grateful we are for you. Thank you for reflecting the surprising generosity of Jesus.
“There are a lot of universities that would prefer to see us off-campus,” shared Alec Hill, president of InterVarsity USA. “But, we have a Lord to obey.”
Peter and I have conducted a grueling number of interviews over the past year. We held long phone calls and consumed copious amounts of coffee as we wrote, rewrote, and rewrote again for our forthcoming book, Mission Drift.
Just a few weeks remain before our deadline. Late last week, I picked up my phone and punched the numbers to Alec Hill’s office, with some fatigue. The call came at the very end of the workday and at the end of a long writing process.
The conversation rattled the fatigue off. Hill stirred my enthusiasm and steeled my resolve.
In Mission Drift, we share stories about organizations like Harvard and ChildFund, two organizations founded by Christians fervent about their faith. Sadly, neither Harvard nor ChildFund resemble the organizations of their founders. They’re not doing bad work. They’re just not doing the work they set out to do.
And this is what makes organizations like InterVarsity so compelling. A group of British students founded InterVarsity at the University of Cambridge in 1877. These bold students prayed, studied the Bible, and shared their faith with their classmates, despite the disapproval of university officials. 136 years later, InterVarsity stands Mission True.
InterVarsity now serves students on over 575 campuses, their leaders’ hearts beating to the same cadence as those who founded InterVarsity. But like the first InterVarsity groups, and just as Alec Hill acknowledged, they face increasing pressures on campuses across the country.
Alec Hill, president of InterVarsity USA (photo credit: Seattle Pacific University)
Over the past few years, news outlets like the Wall Street Journal featured the stories, all with the same basic headline: Christian organization expelled from campus. Officials at close to 50 universities—including prominent colleges like Rutgers, Georgetown, Vanderbilt and the University of Michigan—have challenged InterVarsity’s right to exist.
On a handful of campuses, school officials have given InterVarsity the proverbial pink slip. Because InterVarsity requires their campus leaders to be Christians, these schools allege discrimination. Vanderbilt hit national news in 2012 when university officials voted to disallow the organization on campus
Nicholas Zappos, Vanderbilt’s chancellor, outlined the university’s position:
“We… require all Vanderbilt registered student organizations to observe our nondiscrimination policy. That means membership in registered student organizations is open to everyone and that everyone, if desired, has the opportunity to seek leadership positions.”
In short, Zappos believes that a Christian ministry selecting Christian student leaders is impermissible. And the implications of this rationale extend far beyond university campuses. The implications extend to foundations, urban ministries, and missions agencies. And it is in these moments when leaders of faith-based organizations face two options.
The first option? “You can kowtow to the pressure, accommodating culture to be liked and accepted,” stated Hill.
Or you can stand by your convictions, knowing it could hurt. Hill and InterVarsity’s leaders didn’t back down. They doubled-down, refusing to bend their knee to those who demand they change their mission or soften their approach. Softening their approach, they realize, will strip away their very raison d’être.
InterVarsity student leaders at the University at Buffalo of the State University of New York understood the significance of their crossroads when officials asked them to change their club’s constitution to open leadership to everyone. These courageous students knew the implications were high. They knew their “immutables” and didn’t budge on their core.
“We have decided to retain our current constitution,” the students stated with resolve.
It’s more than keeping a constitution. InterVarsity leaders decided to retain their identity. My conversation last week with Alec Hill reminded me why the late-night writing and vigorous editing sessions are worth it. The stories of Mission True organizations like InterVarsity need to be told. Our culture needs vibrant faith-based organizations. And our faith-based organizations need to hold fast to their identity.
“Holding the gospel in humility and grace,” Hill responded. “We will be faithful to our calling whatever the cost.”
It was a first for me. I’ve led many trips to the Dominican Republic, but they’ve always been HOPE International trips. We’ve exposed our guests to the Dominican culture and introduced them to the hard-working clientswe serve. But for this trip, I linked arms with friends at Edify and Plant With Purpose. We invited friends of each of our organizations to meet Dominicans served by all three of our organizations. Compassion, Healing Waters and the Local Church
We landed in Santo Domingo just after noon. Our guests packed light and we were able to bypass baggage claim and head straight for our first ministry visit. As a bonus, we arranged a visit to a church near our hotel. This Pentecostal church modeled partnership perhaps better than I’ve ever visited. Their church building was a hub for ministry in the community. In the basement, children sponsored through Compassion International met in classrooms to study God’s word, learn to read and to play with one another. A sewing and literacy training center was located on the second floor. And at the ground level, a clean water outlet disbursed safe water to the community. Healing Waters International designed the water solution. Using creative technologies will provide clean water to this community for at least ten years.
Church-based water filtration technology
Highlight: The pastor, Domingo, reflected on how his church has changed over the years. Early on, he and his church condemned their neighborhood, quick to note the sin they saw in their community. Today, however, the community knows them by the way they serve. And the church is growing. This church serves with the help of partners, all of whom work with and through their church. “We see all these organizations as links in the same chain.” Plant With Purpose
On day two, we were on the road early and started our day with Plant With Purpose (PWP). We visited a community they serve and met the farmers they work with. We toured the farm of Eladio Cabrera. He showed us the compost pile and organic fertilizer he created with the help of PWP and pointed out the diverse crops growing on his beautiful land. Avocados, coffee, pineapples, yucca, and citrus trees colored the fertile countryside. We finished our morning with a lunch at his home, feasting on the produce from his farm. Highlight: As we stood by the lemon trees overlooking the rolling Dominican hills, Mr. Cabrera commented, “Even if someone offers a great price, I will not sell this farm. I raised my family on this land.”
Plant With Purpose farm
In the afternoon, we visited the first of three Edify schools we saw during the trip. Edify serves over 500 “edupreneurs” in the DR. On average, these private Christian school proprietors outperform government schools by a margin of 3:1 and do so affordably. The first school–Mi Casita (“my little house”)–served close to 300 students, all paying $20/month for a top-notch education. There are some children unable to afford that rate so this edupreneur actually has 35 students on full scholarship. My wife, Alli, teaches first grade in a Title 1 school in the Denver Public Schools system. And so meeting these students and seeing them thrive brought great joy to me, personally.
First grade students in an Edify school
Highlight: We prayed for the proprietor before leaving her school. And she blessed us by returning the favor, praying for the members of our group. The spirit of mutuality we experienced throughout the trip sharply countered the paternalism so common on many short-term missions trips. HOPE International
We visited two additional Edify schools on Friday. Our partner, Esperanza, partners with Edify as their lender. When these school owners are ready to expand or improve their buildings or add computer labs, Esperanza and Edify together provide the loan. Esperanza serves over 8,000 Dominican entrepreneurs. Brunilda was the “missionary banker” to the three Edify edupreneurs we visited and a separate group of eleven entrepreneurs we also met. We participated in an Esperanza community bank meeting, where Brunilda artfully modeled the three services HOPE provides its clients: biblically-based business training, savings accounts, and business loans.
Brunilda, a missionary banker in her community
Highlight: We finished our day by visiting Ingrid. Ingrid took her first business loan out in 2010. At that time, she had just one sewing machine and two employees. Today, she has five sewing machines and seven employees. Her business continues to flourish. I was struck, however, not by her business success, but by the way she conducted her business. The Bible on her desk was not a paper weight. It was her source of encouragement and guidance in her business. “My faith impacts everything that I do,” she shared. “I came to Esperanza for the business loan, but experiencing God was the real value of working with them.”
Ingrid, seamstress extraordinaire
Summary: The 13 guests I traveled with were all emerging young leaders. As a group, we read the story of William Wilberforce, a man who at the age of 26 determined to abolish the slave trade in the British Empire. And he did. But he didn’t do it alone. In his summary of Wilberforce’s life, biographer John Pollock summarized, “Wilberforce proved that a man can change his times, but that he cannot do it alone.” Amen.