Symbiotic mutualism and growing givers’ hearts

When fundraising is treated as ministry, organizational leaders don’t worry about the proliferation of good causes to which people can give their time, talent, and treasure. In Kingdom company, there’s no hint of a competitive spirit. In fact, the fast growing community of organizations operating under the banner of Christ is heralded as a benefit. Or as Pam Reist, pastor of the Elizabethtown (PA) Church of the Brethren sees it, as opportunities for “symbiotic mutualism.”

wisteria cropped

Pastor Reist played out the metaphor of symbiotic mutualism at a dinner marking the conclusion of a successful campaign effort by Brethren Housing Association (BHA). Her congregation is a long-time supporter of the Harrisburg, PA-based ministry to homeless families, and in Pastor Reist’s telling, parishioners have gained as much (or more) from the relationship as they’ve given. In describing the flow of blessing between the church and BHA, she referenced the wisteria vine outside her backdoor and the bees buzzing around its blossoms.

“The wisteria needs the bee to transfer pollen so it can blossom and grow, and the bee need the wisteria for food. I learned that it’s called symbiotic mutualism. They need each other. The wisteria vine and the bee. And I’ve been pondering that relationship and think that BHA and the church have such a relationship. In fact, the more I thought about it, and the more I talked with folks, the more I have become aware of the many ways we both benefit from this symbiotic mutualism.”

It was one “amen” moment after another for me as I listened to the good pastor speak, and I knew I wanted to share excerpts here at Generous Matters.  Pastor Reist graciously gave permission.


The BHA 2012 Annual Report quotes Acts 20:35 where we’re told that it is more blessed to give than to receive. And of course we know the truth in that. I would propose, however, that when we both have something to gain from a relationship, it is both blessed to give and to receive. I’d like to share with you some of those ways [from our church’s experience].

  • BHA provides opportunities for church members to use gifts of leadership. For pastors, a sign of spiritual health and vitality is when people are freed and empowered to use their gifts in service to God and others.
  • BHA offers a place for our people to serve with passion.
  • BHA offers a place to serve others. BHA makes our world a little bigger, as it helps us to experience, serve, and understand a bit better the complexity of life that is the city.
  • BHA gives our children and youth opportunities to give and share.
  • BHA helps us to strengthen our sense of community as we rally together to do fundraising. Nothing brings out the best in Brethren better than working together for a good cause.
  • BHA provides a place for financial giving. We are looking for places to share our wealth, great or small, and BHA provides an opportunity for us to give, knowing that it will be handled responsibly and that lives will be changed by the ministry that happens.

We feel blessed to have had this symbiotic relationship over the years, and we anticipate that in the years ahead it will continue to grow and blossom, just like the wisteria that’s about to explode in springtime growth.

Writing in Growing Givers’ Hearts, Thom Jeavons and I urge ministry leaders to “look beyond the organization’s needs and goals to the blessings donors will experience from their generosity . . . to look at the life-enriching relationship with God that can be deepened through the practice of giving, especially when that giving takes root in and expresses a person’s faith. When fundraising efforts evoke that kind of giving, then donors’ hearts grow bigger and the specific need toward which the gifts are directed is amply supplied.”

Symbiotic mutuality beats competition every time.  You can count on it.

For more on this topic, see: 

10 things pastors should remember about giving

Riding the collaboration bandwagon






  1. harrietbicksler says:

    I like this concept, and it does help me think better about the variety of requests for giving that come my way — and the church’s way!

  2. I was particularly taken by Pastor Reist’s comments because she is a pastor — a class of individuals who are more often gatekeepers than door openers when it comes to parachurch causes. There wasn’t a hint of worry that her church is worse off because of the dollars or volunteer time that members have directed to Brethren Housing Association. In fact, the opposite. She sees the church as richer.

  3. Geoff Isley says:

    All our communities would be better off if we had more BHAs. Bravo!

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