December 10th, 2007 05:17 EST
Conspiracy Restores Scandal of Christmas
The Advent Conspiracy ( www.AdventConspiracy.org) -- an emerging international movement that seeks to restore the "scandal" of Christmas by worshipping Christ more authentically, giving simple gifts that foster and further relationships, and using money not spent on excessive gifts to help needy people around the world - has shown phenomenal growth since starting with only five churches a year ago.
This year, more than 1,000 churches in 17 countries are participating in the Internet-based, "virally" spread project, with clean drinking water for communities in impoverished developing countries being the primary gift given. Another 600 churches have asked for more information about the program.
"It's called the Advent Conspiracy, because Jesus' birth -- his coming or 'advent' -- was done in secret, almost hidden," said Rick McKinley, senior pastor of Imago Dei Community (church) here. "His coming was scandalous. He didn't come parading as a king. He didn't come posturing for power. And he gave himself away to others. Ultimately, he gave the greatest gift of all -- his life for our life. We think Christmas should be celebrated the same way."
The Advent Conspiracy's credo is "worship more, spend less, give more and love all," he said.
The Advent Conspiracy fosters "relational giving," where someone gives a gift that brings the giver and the recipient closer together, rather than focusing on the cost of the gift.
"There's nothing wrong with giving a perfunctory present or a gift card, but what that often does is rob both the giver and the recipient of the joy and depth of relational giving," said McKinley. "The meaning of the gift -- and the meaning of Christmas -- can be easily lost."
One example of relational giving was a granddaughter who bought an $8 package of coffee to be shared with her grandmother, so the grandmother could share with her stories of her life and growing up, said McKinley. Another was a father, who instead of giving his son an X-Box, gave him a baseball glove and pledged to spend more time playing catch with him.
Imago Dei was one of the five organizing churches a year ago. Others were Ecclesia in Houston, Windsor Crossing Community Church in Chesterfield, Mo., New Providence Community in Nassau, Bahamas, and Fellowship Church in Anthem, Az. The five senior pastors decided the greatest and most significant gift their movement could provide would be clean water to a needy world.
Last year, $400,000 was raised and given to Living Water International (LWI) (www.water.cc), a Houston-based ministry that provides clean water and medical attention - along with the 'living water" of Jesus Christ - around the world. The water projects were in Honduras, Liberia and Nicaragua.
"Clean water changes lives," said Stan Patyrak, assistant vice president of LWI. "It changes our lives too. When clean water is offered in the name of Christ, it changes the recipient's view of Jesus. Their thanks go back to him, not to us."
Contrasted with the $455 billion to $475 billion spent on Christmas giving just in the United States, it would take only $10 billion to solve the world's water problems, Patyrak said. Unsafe water takes the lives of nearly 14,000 people each day and is responsible for 80 percent of the sickness in the world, he said. More than 1.1 billion people lack access to clean drinking water, according to the World Health Organization.
In addition to the gifts funneled through LWI, the churches also gave substantial amounts to other worthy local projects, such as needy children. This year the Advent Conspiracy is asking participating churches to contribute at least 25 percent of donations to any clean drinking water projects around the world.
World Relief, whose mission is to "relieve human suffering, poverty and hunger worldwide in the name of Jesus Christ," has become involved and is supporting the program on its website (www.wr.org).
The ministers initially involved spread the word through speaking engagements. And the buzz has spread quickly over the Internet. Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church and author of "The Purpose Driven Life," allowed the group to include information about the Advent Conspiracy in his "Ministry Toolbox" at www.pastors.com .
"We are excited to see how the movement has caught on," McKinley said. "And we would love to see the church re-tell the story of Christ's birth in a way that evokes worship and justice in the world."
McKinley said stories from this year's Advent Conspiracy will be reported on the movement's website in January.