We are going to distribute Christian material for free, say SMBC grads

A group of pastor who are M.Div graduates from Sydney Missionary and Bible College have announced they are producing Christian resources for free. The Team behind Catalyst Conference, held in Kingsgrove, South West Sydney over January 23 – 27 plan to make their conference materials free and to build from there.

Catalyst Conference started last year as a paid for conference but this year the conference and the material written for it will be free. “It means a lot to me to be able to start a quiet revolution for churches and ministries to do what secular software developers have done for decades and make stuff available for free so that we might all benefit,” said Peter Ko, Lead Pastor/Church Planter at South-West Evangelical Church, the site of the conference.

Ko is part of the team of writers that includes recent SMBC grads Jon Here, Marshall Scott, and Ernest Chiang. {Update Ko turns out to be a Moore grad – so its a unity ticket.] They want the conference to be funded like church. “We don’t charge people for coming to church but ask God’s people to give generously to support and financially partner,” Ko told The Other Cheek. He points to the increasing number of free resources from The Gospel Coalition as a good model – they use a Creative Commons license.

Why make it free?

The quiet revolution of making the conference material free – so that others can run similar conferences comes from John Here of the SellingJesus.org website. Ko suggested he was the best person to explain the thinking behind the “make it free” concept. So The Other Cheek asked a few questions.

1) Why should Christian Bibles, books and resources be free?

We have a wealth of articles [on SellingJesus.org] with more nuance and depth but for a short/straightforward answer:

Because Jesus commanded his disciples to freely give ministry (Matt 10:8), Scripture condemns the sale of teaching (Micah 3:11, 2 Cor 2:17), and restricting access to ministry resources hinders the gospel (1 Cor 9:12).

It’s only in the last couple hundred years (well after the Reformation) that copyright has been adopted for ministry and in turn, ministry resources have been commercialised. Expensive commentaries are out of reach for low-income believers, and the wealth of resources the West has is off limits to the 7000+ other languages of the world without a right to freely translate them.

This is primarily about the teaching being free, not necessarily the paper it might be printed on. But ministries should make their resources as freely accessible as possible, without any copyright restrictions.

2) What do you think causes most Christians to accept commercial Christian operations?

Mostly pragmatism and misunderstandings of Scripture. Selling ministry resources has worked as a business model, especially in affluent societies. As one author put it, more money = more ministry. Despite doing this for the last couple hundred years, it is very difficult to find anything written on what is permissible to sell. I.e. Why it is ok to sell some forms of ministry (like trainings) but not other forms (like church services and prayer). There is no solid biblical basis for this, it is just what is pragmatic and seems to work.

3) What is the biblical basis for requiring free giving? Shouldn’t oxen be fed?

Ministry should be financially supported, but not sold. This is the model churches have followed for thousands of years, allowing free access to hear the gospel preached and receive ministry, all the while still supplying the needs of their pastors through donations. The model works and is biblical. It can apply to all forms of ministry, such as conferences, music, books, etc.

The problem is, many have wrongly assumed ‘not muzzling the ox’ and ‘a worker being worthy of their wages’ justifies not only the support of ministry but the commercialisation of it. There’s several problems with this:

1. It’s in contradiction to Jesus’ command (Matt 10:8) and Scripture’s condemnations (Micah 3:11, 2 Cor 2:17)

2. We instinctively know some things should never be charged for, even if they require time/money. Church should never have an entrance fee, prayer/baptism/communion/evangelism should never be paid for. But there is no Scriptural argument as to why e.g. it is ok to charge money for sermons at conferences but not at church.

3. Paul doesn’t distinguish between for-profit and non-profit, he distinguishes between free and not-free. He was different to the false apostles not because he charged less and just “covered his costs” but because he didn’t charge at all (2 Cor 11:7). When Paul said in 2 Cor 2:17 that he does not “peddle the word of God for profit”, the “for profit” was added by the NIV and is not in the Greek, which has caused much confusion over the decades.

4. People read modern day commerce into Paul’s discourse on finance in 1 Cor 9, yet none of the examples Paul gives implies a right to sell ministry, they are all about the support of people in service to God. I’ve never met anyone who would say Paul would approve of someone in his day charging entrance fees to receive biblical training, yet somehow believe he was writing to affirm it in our day. This is eisegesis. Paul gave up his right to provisions (1 Cor 9:4) in that situation, not a right to charge every individual who heard him speak.

I have no doubt most who charge for ministry are well intentioned, but Jesus took this topic very seriously (John 2:16) and so should we.

4) Are there good resources, for example, a Bible, copyright-free?

There are starting to be more and more free resources. There is a movement amongst especially Bible translators to openly license resources, however, they are not technically copyright free. They give permission to make copies of a resource under certain conditions, always requiring attribution as a bare minimum.

In terms of truly free public domain resources, the Berean Standard Bible is the most significant resource I know of. Some other examples would be free Hebrew and Greek courses and software. I post openly licensed and free resources as I discover them.

Catalyst will cover a lot

Catalyst is designed for workers, so the schedule will include evening sessions on weekdays and daytime sessions on the Saturday and holiday Monday on the January long weekend. It runs January 23 – 27 The Calalyst conference covers an ambitious number of subjects, making the team’s task of producing original material a big one.

Here’s how the conference decribes its topic areas “The core components of Catalyst are in the Bible and Theology (“Foundations”) stream. In this stream, you will progress over three ‘strands’ where you will learn how to understand a Bible passage better in order to teach it (strand one ‘exegesis’); learn the big picture of the Bible, Old and New Testaments (strand two ‘Biblical Theology’); and learn about the big ideas from the Bible that organise our thinking about God, the world, and his revelation (strand three ‘Systematic Theology’).

“Starting in 2024 there is a new stream for those who have completed the three strands (or from an equivalent conference such as NTE or NextGen). This is the Ministry Development stream. In 2024 we’ll be offering a personal evangelism strand, as well as a preaching strand. And we hope there’ll be more to come in following years.”

The registration link for Catalyst Conference is go.swec.org.au/catalyst

Image Credit: Jeremy Brooks / Flickr