I have thought about writing an article like this for the past several years, and have been sure that I would write it for the past several months. Our practice of not asking for support and continuing our ministry as long as we have the resources needs to be reviewed. Our choices are to end the ministry, to go into debt to continue it (which is neither wise nor a part of our original plan), to greatly scale it back or to write this article.
My family and I began Servants’ News in the spring of 1995. I had resigned my job with the Global Church of God in November of 1994 and we moved to Arkansas. Our family agreed that I would not take another job, but that we would use our family savings to support ourselves and to buy what was necessary to start a ministry. If God made it possible for us to support ourselves through the ministry, then we planned to continue.
During 1995 we spent $8,500 for printing and computer equipment, $7,000 for paper, envelopes and printing supplies, $6,000 for postage (first class in those days), $2,000 for telephone bills (lots of people wanted to talk and e-mail was not common) and $2,000 on office supplies and other miscellaneous items. That total ministry cost of $25,500 was offset by $23,000 in offerings, leaving a net cost of $2,500. However, the cost of maintaining our family of six was about $20,000 that year, so we essentially spent about $22,500 of our savings.
Nevertheless, at the end of 1995 offerings were increasing, and we decided to continue onward. The ministry largely supported itself and our family over the next few years. However, the circulation list increased, especially in international areas, which cost several times as much to mail. Postage and paper costs have risen. The size of the publication grew, and we added a second publication, Shelter in the Word. Also, as our children grew, the needs of our family increased. Autos, appliances and houses wear out and things need to be repaired or replaced. Children in high school simply cost more than grade school. The printers and computers originally purchased for the ministry needed replacing.
The amount of offerings and gifts coming to us to take care of the ministry and our family was in the $60,000s each year, peaking at $71,000 in the year 2000. Since then it has dropped off, and the present year’s projection is for only $44,000. We are very thankful to the 14 families that have provided a third of our support over the years—we clearly could not have done it without you. Even so, half of those are no longer helping on a regular basis. Another hundred or so readers make up the next third of our support. The rest comes from those who have made an offering once or twice, or those who simply try to pay the cost of the literature they receive. Over half of our readers never send anything.
While dealing with the decrease in offerings, we have gotten behind in getting the issues mailed. Also, the amount of non-publishing work that I do has increased. The number of people submitting articles, news items, papers, books and letters seems to be holding steady. I look at many, but there are many more that are still waiting. I spent hundreds of hours studying the US-Iraq war—when an army marches into the Middle East, Bible students should take note. (I realized from the Scriptures that sometimes God sends one nation to fight another to carry out a punishment, but there are other times when nations decide to go to war on their own—and God is very concerned about their reasons for it.)
The number of people calling to talk about their local congregations or to ask for prayer has gone up. We have also taken on projects, which I consider to be vitally important, such as the Local Servants Directory, Scattered Brethren Contact List, the Holy Scriptures translation, and now the Sabbatarian Educational Environment. But probably most of the time that I need has been taken by efforts to further save money.
A Penny Saved Is a Penny Earned — Unless It Takes Too Long To Save It
I continually find ways to economize, both for the ministry and our family. We went to “bulk mail”, then to “periodical mail”, saving thousands each time, but adding complexity to mail preparation. I found inexpensive sources for printing supplies, computer equipment, software, telephone service, etc. We bought used appliances, vehicles, even clothes for the family. After learning to bid on eBay Internet auctions, we were able to save even more. For example, a tube of printing ink may cost $45 from the manufacturer’s representative, but only $25 from a discount vendor. “Compatible” ink made by another vendor is only $20 per tube, but I paid as little as $5 on eBay. When using 100 tubes a year, that is significant.
But sometimes cheaper items have difficulties. The cheapest ink is much more difficult to print with—if the machinery is not set just right, it tends to bleed through and produce a smudgy look. Low-priced computer hardware and software tends to take longer to install and maintain. My first Risograph printer was $5,200 new and ran over 5 million copies with very little maintenance. I have printed 5 million more copies with three used Risographs bought at $500 each, but several times as much maintenance.
I fix nearly everything that breaks down in our ministry and family. I like working with mechanical and electronic things, but spending a day to learn how something works when one is hoping to finish an article or newsletter can be very frustrating.
During the last couple years, I have found myself out of time as often as out of money. Some of our readers have volunteered to help with websites, articles, etc., but it seems that I am always so busy trying to get an issue out, or make some piece of software or hardware work, that I do not have time to integrate them into our operations. Accepting help from someone hundreds of miles away is not always an easy task. A co-ordinated system is needed to make sure that everyone’s software is compatible and that two people are not trying to change the same document at the same time. Distant help cannot use or fix my equipment, access our paper files or do other things that need to be done right here. The vast majority of our articles and letters are still not in electronic format (and our scanner has not worked since we upgraded the computer it was attached to).
More to Do With Less
As it stands, our family has used up about $29,000 more of our savings over the past few years and I do not believe there is enough left to continue operating this way. Furthermore, we feel there are new expenses that we believe we must take on.
Our oldest son just graduated from high school, and we have applied to put our next two sons into Spring Vale Academy, a Sabbatarian High School sponsored by the Church of God Seventh Day that is only 10 miles from our house. Our family has considered this for several years, but our local public school was much better than average, and we did not feel we could afford the extra expense. It costs $2,810 per year per student who lives at home. (Most are boarding students, which pay $6,400 per year for Church of God Seventh Day members and $10,000 per year for non-members).
Educating children has always been a dilemma for Sabbatarians. Home school is wonderful if parents have the time and ability. Private schools can be very good, but very expensive. Some public schools are terrible, others can work out well for students who are largely there to study and who have a social life centered around church or family. However, much of the value of schools occurs in their extracurricular activities and in the diversity of people that one meets there. Unfortunately, these activities frequently conflict with the Sabbath and sometimes other Biblical teachings. This is most critical during high school and college years, when young people begin to rethink what their parents taught them and decide for themselves what they believe and don’t believe, what they will do and what they will not do. It is good that young people establish their own relationship with God, and believe things they see in the Scripture, not just what they have been told. But if they spend most of their time among people who do not share their parents’ values, it will certainly affect them.
Specifically, our children excel in sports, music, drama and other extra curricular activities. They have many friends. They want to rise to the top— not be bystanders. This is difficult when they are interested in activities that are partly—or completely—on the Sabbath.
Since there is no chance to “do over” the raising of children, we feel we must act this year. I wish there was an independent Sabbatarian college for my children—but there is not. That is why I wrote the page 1 article in this issue on the Sabbatarian Educational Environment.
With declining support for our ministry and a need of $5,620 more for school tuition, I realize that I must make some decisions in the next month.
I would very much like to continue the work of Church Bible Teaching Ministry. About half of our new readers find us via the website. I have received many phone calls, letters and e-mails of thanks from people who were greatly helped when they were leaving oppressive church organizations and/or starting up new congregations. Some had a Church of God background, some did not. Many find the doctrinal articles and say they have never seen anything else like them. I have huge files of ideas and research for additional articles that I would like to write.
I would like to expand the work of Church Bible Teaching Ministry and could enumerate the ways—but I should not get too excited when I cannot afford to do what I am doing now.
On the other hand, there are now four independent Sabbatarian Newsletters: The Journal: News of the Churches of God (Dixon Cartwright), The Churches of God News (Rick Beltz), Church of God News (Richard Nickels) and Darwin and Laura Lee’s newsletter. Maybe that is enough.
I want to do whatever I can do to serve God and His people the most. We have prayed and fasted that God will make His will clear to us.
I realize that God might have something else in mind for us. I have also applied to become a teacher at Spring Vale Academy. They do have openings and do hire teachers who are not Church of God 7th Day members, but I have not been offered a job and do not know that one will be offered. While the pay is quite low, teachers receive a 75% discount on tuition for their children. It also gives summers off, plus almost a month between semesters. If I took this job I might be able to produce two or three issues of Servants’ News per year, but would probably end Shelter in the Word. It is likely that most projects, letter/e-mail answering and telephone consultations would largely end. I would gain more valuable experience teaching young people (my seven years of teaching at Ambassador College ended in 1988). This experience and contracts there might be helpful in accomplishing the Sabbatarian Educational Environment (see page 1 of this issue).
I realize that God has plans that I do not know about. Twenty years ago I would have insisted that I would never have had this newsletter ministry of a job. I am in my mid-forties, so I hope I can do another twenty years of good work. At this time, I have no idea what that will be. It may be best that I work with young people now, especially when my own children are at home, and then go back to researching and writing when I am older.
Please Return the Enclosed Page
I am asking all of you who read this to pray about it and tell me what you think as soon as practical. In late July or early August I need to make a decision. Our Manville, Illinois, Feast of Tabernacles’ plans are going forward this year no matter what. The camp deposit has been paid and we expect to have a wonderful Feast there.
Please fill out the red page in front of this issue (click here to open the PDF file of this [or here for A4 version], if you have Acrobat Reader, or click here for webpage version — either way, print out and fill in by hand) and return it in the enclosed envelope (only included with printed edition — please use any envelope and address it to CBTM, P.O. Box 107, Perry, Michigan 48872-0107, USA). Please return it even if it is just to let us know that you would like to keep reading Servants’ News for as long as we are able to produce it. If you do not have time to answer all the questions, or the part about the Sabbatarian Educational Environment, that is fine.
Thanks to all of you who have made this ministry possible for over eight years.