We are often asked why BiblicalTraining is free. While some of the advanced features carry a cost, basic access to the classes will always be free. This includes streaming the video/audio, downloading the audio, outlines, the library (including transcriptions), the basic app (which may some day have in-app purchases for added features) and all non-English classes.
Here are our reasons, and also the challenges of the decision with which you can help.
Challenges of free
There are many good arguments as to why we should charge:
- encourage the student to finish the course (When you pay for something, you tend to value it more than you value something that is free; and if you value something more, you tend to complete the task.)
- perceived value
- the ability to grow the ministry and offer more classes
There is nothing wrong with charging. It does not necessarily show a lack of trust in God’s provision. It is not inappropriate for a non-profit; in fact, grant giving foundations generally require some earned income as a sign of sustainability.
There also is a theological argument. An eminent Old Testament theologian once told us that we were teaching people to take without giving, and that is unbiblical. If anyone else had made the argument, we would have dismissed his comment; but considering the source, we had to think through it carefully.
We humbly and prayerfully ask you to consider entering into a relationship with BiblicalTraining and to give not only some of God’s wealth that is under your control, but also your prayers and time. Talk to your friends. Introduce them to what we are doing and invite those interested to join as well.
God built all of us with a deep desire to love and be loved, and to belong. The goal of BiblicalTraining is to enable communities to have a world-class educational component and so enrich those communal ties and the advancement of the kingdom. If your desire to “be part of something greater” resonates with our vision and mission, then we invite your relational and financial participation. Being free allows all this to happen.
1. Accessible for all
The dream of BiblicalTraining began with a deep desire to make the best Christian education available to all people; and if it is to be available for all, then it must be free. The vast majority of pastors around the world have virtually no money and virtually no training. We considered charging outside of the Majority World, and offering scholarships for Majority World pastors, but it felt like we were devaluing the poor, and the cost of administering this approach was significant.
2. Display of God’s glory
When a world-class education is offered to all, for free, God receives the glory. No one else.
When similar ministries charge — and as we have said, there is nothing inherently wrong with charging — people may be thankful for the founder’s vision, may rightly perceive it to be valuable, and may make significant use of their resources. But does it go any further than that?
It is somewhat like an established Christian school. When most schools are young, it is clear that if the Lord does not build the house, the builders labor in vain. Everything is run on a shoestring, budgets are tight, and the people are serious about praying for God’s provisions. But once the school is built, marketing is set, development is building an endowment, and the business plan in place, it is easy to forget who built the house and who continues to sustain it.
When people come to BiblicalTraining we want them to marvel at the goodness of God, not the staff. We want them to be thankful for God’s provisions, not the support of the board. We want them to feel invited into the community of the organization, not passively understand the business model.
3. Perceived Value
The argument of perceived value is strong. When looking to buy an item, why do we think that the one for $9.99 is better than the one for $5.99? How we perceive the value of something is directly related to its scarcity, and one factor in making something scarce is its price.
A related question is, How much? What price tag do you put on, for example, Bruce Ware’s Systematic Theology class? If you went to seminary, you would pay about $2,000. But what price would you put on his class in BiblicalTraining? $19.99? Is this class only worth $19.99? Is it worth $49.99? Really? It gives you a comprehensive look at the character and activity of God. It helps order your thinking and directs your path. What is that worth? We think it is priceless.
If this issue of perceived value is important to you, if you prefer to spend your limited time on things that are of perceived value, then we have a simple solution. Make a significant contribution to BiblicalTraining for every class you take. Your gift shows your perceived value, it will encourage you to complete the course, and you will be making the class available for hundreds of people around the world who cannot afford to pay the class’ true value.
We are working on other ways to increase people’s perceived value of our classes in ways that will not make the classes inaccessible to others. One is to require a commitment to participate in group discussions; in other words, to commit your time as a way of acknowledging the value of the class.
4. Trust God
One of the problems of endowments is that it is easy to stop trusting the Lord. Why trust when there is $10M in the bank? That is why we spend what we receive. When you give to BiblicalTraining, you can know that it will be spent within the next 12 months. You are not giving to pad our bank account; you are giving so we can use the money to advance our mission to change lives around the world.
We still need to be responsible. We need money for cash flow or unexpected costs. We need to be frugal in how we spend the money. But at the end of the day, we enjoy trusting the Lord, looking forward to how he will provide. We prayerfully make our plans, and prayerfully carry them out.
5. Clarity of Vision
One of the unexpected advantages to being a donor-based ministry is that it forces us to clarify our vision and mission. With limited funds, we have to know with razor sharp certainty what we are doing, and why. We have to be willing to say No to a thousand good ideas so we can say Yes to the one.
We pray, “May your kingdom come.” God’s kingdom is his kingly rule in our lives, and through us to our communities and the world. While his kingdom will not be consummated until the end of time, his kingly rule has begun.
The simple “Your kingdom come” hides the true meaning of the underlying Greek; it is an imperative. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we are calling on God to act. We are petitioning him to send his kingdom. What does that look like? It means we are asking for God’s rule, in ever increasing measure, to consume and control our lives. We are asking for God to work in us and through us so that his will be done as perfectly in us and in the world as it is now being done in heaven.
This is the very core of BiblicalTraining. Our goal is not to produce a really good classes. It is to do our part to enable people to hear the voice of God, to be changed in their heart and to impact society for Christ and his kingdom.
What does this have to do with free? Simply put, BiblicalTraining offers you the opportunity to put feet to action. It challenges you to mean it when you say, “Your kingdom come!” The king uses heralds, people who speak the king’s words, faithfully and clearly. This was true of town criers; it is true of all Christians; it is especially true for pastors, the heralds of the king. By being a donor-based ministry, we are giving you the chance to learn more about what it means to live in God’s kingdom, and we are giving you the opportunity to help train the heralds of the king around the world.
7. Your Joy
Jesus says that the location of our treasures is the sure sign of the orientation of our hearts (Matt 6:19-21). It is sad to see people of wealth living under the bondage of their money and possessions, to be defined by what they have rather than by who they are.
This is perhaps the least accepted teaching in the Bible. So many of us try to straddle the fence, thinking we are the exception to the rule. We want to keep one foot in our wealth and the other in heaven. But Jesus says you can’t do that; we can’t serve God and money. We have to choose.
A wealthy friend of mine seems to understand the secret of money because it does not control him. When I asked why, he gave me the key. “The only way to control money is to let it know who’s boss, and the only way to do that is to give it away.” Only when you give money away are you able to assert mastery over it, and not it over you.
It is sad to see a wealthy person without joy, having the toys of the world but unable to enjoy them. By being a donor-based ministry, we are giving people the opportunity to teach their wealth who is boss, and to know with certainty that their heart is firmly invested in heaven.
This is the path of joy, of knowing that God has extended grace to you, and you in turn want to give graciously to others. This is why Paul calls giving an act of grace (2 Cor 9).
But whether you decide to support BiblicalTraining or other ministries, please avail yourself of the opportunity to live beyond yourself, to live joyfully.
Henry Nouwen champions the idea that true fundraising is community building (A Spirituality of Fundraising). He says that if we ask for money and you give it, if there is no connection emotionally or relationally, all we have done is made a transaction.
Rather, fundraising must invite people into community over a shared vision and mission. By offering our content for free, we are inviting you to be a vital part of creating a new paradigm for ministry preparation. As part of this new community, we not only ask for your money, but also your time. Will you talk to your friends about this shared vision? Will you be willing to ask them to participate? Will you talk to your church about starting an internship program to train your next generation of leaders? These are the things that friends do.
If we simply had a for-pay business model, if we were interested only in making a transaction, then there is no community.
“Generosity begets generosity. This is especially so when generosity is rooted in the rich soil of relatedness” (Henry Nouwen, A Spirituality of Fundraising, vi).
The doctrine of reciprocity is difficult to understand. Unfortunately, it has been severely misunderstood as some sort of quid pro quo — I do this; God must do that. I tithe post tax; God blesses post tax. I tithe gross income; God must bless gross income. But God is not a soft drink machine where you put in cash and receive the item requested. Or in the words of C. S. Lewis, Aslan is not a tame lion, but he is good.
And yet, the doctrine of reciprocity is clearly biblical. “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Luke 6:38). “If you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matt 6:14-15). “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” (Matt 5:7). And the list goes on and on.
Human generosity begets divine generosity. BiblicalTraining offers you an opportunity see Jesus’ words come true. “Remember this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows generously will also reap generously” (2 Cor 9:6).
10. Opportunity to say No
One of the reasons why BiblicalTraining is free and donation based is that we want to give you the opportunity to say No. The best approach to fundraising sees its task of connecting people with their own dreams and goals. If your passion is elsewhere — caring for the poor, the disenfranchised, evangelism, your church, etc — then please say No to us. While we all want to see God’s kingdom come, our areas of interest are going to be different, and that is a good thing. God gives varieties of gifts to meet the diversity of needs in his body.
Henry Nouwen comments; “Once we are prayerfully committed to placing our whole trust in God and have become clear that we are concerned only for the kingdom; once we have learned to love the rich for who they are rather than what they have; and once we believe that we have something of great value to give them, then we will have no trouble at all in asking someone for a large sum of money. We are free to ask for whatever we need with the confidence that we will get it. That is what the gospel says: ‘Ask, and it will be given to you; … knock, and the door will be opened to you’ (Matt. 7:7, NJB). If for some reason a person says, ‘No,’ we are free to respond gratefully. We can trust that the Spirit of God who is guiding us is also guiding that person. Perhaps her financial resources are more urgently needed elsewhere. Maybe he is not yet ready to make a real commitment. Perhaps we need to listen more deeply to the Spirit so that our asking will be clearer and our vision more attractive” (44-45)