A Season of Numbers

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Romans 12:2

September is only a couple of days away and signals many things…vacation is over, children return to school, fall church programming kicks off, and congregations hear about Stewardship (hopefully not for the first time of the year). It’s a season of numbers! Sessions, Finance Committees, Stewardship and Generosity Teams, Pastors and members of the congregations look at all kinds of statistics: 

Gracious Stewardship

In the spring of 2016, Sean Mitchell, Development Director at Myers Park Presbyterian Church, was the keynote speaker of our Annual Leadership and Stewardship Event. This past week he and the Rev. Dr. Millie Snyder published a book “Gracious Stewardship: Developing the Church in the Way of Jesus.” Today I share with you a small glimpse into the ideas that Sean and Millie explore in their book. 

Sean reminds us, “We are called to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ, that of gracious forgiveness offered by God to all members of God’s family. Our stewardship ministry is part of our overall proclamation of the gospel, and not a separate fundraising effort to provide the finances for our proclamation. Stewardship must be integrated, both in content and in methodology.” 

Let’s reflect with Sean and Millie on Jesus’ parable about a father and his two sons. The younger son took his inheritance and squandered it in a distant country. When he had spent everything and found himself working in the fields feeding pigs, he decided to return home in hopes that he might become a hired hand for his father. Instead his father welcomes him home and throws a party for him. The older son who had remained home all along found it hard to understand why his father had never shown that kind of attention to him. 

In this story we see a father who enacts grace with both of his sons. This grace was the foundation for his own stewardship. 

  1. The father is a gracious steward of the wealth God has entrusted to him. When the younger son asked for his share of the inheritance, his father was generous and gave it to him.
  2. The father is a gracious steward of his relationships. When the younger son was seen far off, his father saw him and ran to embrace him. This father was willing to accept his son without condition. He also went into the fields to reassure his older son that he had always been a part of the family and had always had a share of the father’s blessings.
  3. The father is a grateful steward. He offered grace freely to both sons. He did not put conditions on their role in the family, and he didn’t withhold blessings from either son. He celebrates and forgives because he is a thankful soul and takes nothing for granted. His gratitude keeps him centered in gracious generosity.

Sean and Millie begin with this biblical story to lay out what they see as the three core values of a grace-based stewardship ministry. 

  1. Transforming Fellowship – relationships are vital to our formation as stewards. What would that mean in your congregation? It would mean:
    ➢ moving toward one another in community
    ➢ sharing our stewardship stories and listening to one another
    ➢ hearing the stories of people who are taking steps toward contented lifestyles
    ➢ hearing the stories of people whose lives and wallets are over-leveraged
    ➢ nurturing an environment of trust where it is safe to listen and challenge one another
    ➢ creating relational communities where we discuss and embrace the gifts of God and discern what gifts we might each share in response to God’s amazing grace
  2.  Gratitude – embracing God’s abundant grace fosters peace, trust, and celebration. Stewardship teams need gratitude as a core value. Without gratitude, stewardship ministry is merely a string of tasks with no acknowledgement of grace. Learning to regularly acknowledge and thank God for provision and resource is a spiritual discipline. Creating special occasions where you can lead the entire congregation in practices of gratitude are appropriate responses to God’s generous grace.
  3. Equipping the Saints – encouraging the church to share, practice hospitality, and live generously. Gracious stewardship teams are encouraging and equipping. They join with the mission of other ministry teams to build up the body of Christ. Their work presents faith-formation opportunities for members to learn how to practice stewardship in real life. They expand the understanding of stewardship to be more than giving and finances. Equipping the body of Christ to embrace stewardship of all of life and creation gives them joy and purpose.

If this grace-filled message from Sean and Millie resonates with you in your Stewardship ministry, I encourage to get a copy of the book to read, invite your Stewardship Ministry team to study the book with you, share a copy of the book with the session, and most importantly consider the values of grace-based stewardship in your own life and ministry! 

Deborah Rexrode
Associate for Stewardship 

Stewards of the Promise

One of the blessings we receive from God is that our faith causes us to strive to be more godly people. When I think about this from a Stewardship perspective, this means that what God does for us, God then enables us to do for others. For example, the phrase we know so well from 1 John 4:19 says, “We love because he first loved us.” Playing with that wording, we also might say, “We promise because he first promised us.” God in Christ has offered humankind a splendid promise, which we in turn can offer others. In so doing, we as believers become stewards of the promise.

One of the lectionary readings for the last Sunday of the calendar year is I Samuel 2:18-20, 26 which begins by addressing the power of a promise. Hannah is a barren woman who prays fervently to God for a child. The story also relates that Hannah’s husband, Elkanah has another wife, Peninnah. She has children, but Hannah has none. Peninnah taunts Hannah incessantly. For years Hannah has bargained with God to dedicate any child to God’s service if God will give her a child. This was Hannah’s promise to God. The biblical text tells us, “In due time Hannah conceived and bore a son. She named him Samuel, for she said, ‘I have asked him of the Lord’” (1:20).

This is often the time of year when many of us make New Year’s resolutions. We resolve to make promises to ourselves, others, or even God. Unfortunately, breaking promises happens easier than keeping them. We have become so familiar with broken promises that we see promise-breaking as a likely human failing, and we are pessimistic when someone offers us yet another promise. We are often hesitant to make promises for fear that we will not be able to keep those promises and cannot bear the guilt of falling short.

The promises we make before God and one another help us recall that a promise is a pledge or a covenant. So reliable stewards learn to know what it means to manage our promises. We promise our children at baptism that we will raise them in a Christian home and place them in the worshiping community. The church promises to help raise them and teach them the faith. We promise to “love, cherish, and honor” one another in the church’s marriage ritual. We build strong families on such promises.

Think about the vows we take to become faithful members of a congregation. When we promise to be faithful to our church community, we promise to be loyal to it with our prayers, presence, gifts and service. We build a strong church by way of that promise. Genuine church growth is not numerical. It is a result of people keeping their vows to God. It is a result of true faithfulness to the promises we have made in response to God’s promises to us. Israel’s history changed because Hannah made a promise to God and kept it.

As we approach a new year, I think we are called to pause and consider the importance and freeing exercise of making promises. A promise is what makes us who we are and what we are to become with God’s help. Perhaps our promise to God comes in the form of a pledge to the ministries of this congregation. Perhaps it is a commitment to teach a Sunday school class. We promise to be more faithful in worship, to attend regularly, to join in the ministries of the church and be engaged in Christian relationships and fellowship. These promises are part of what God has called us to steward, to manage and care for our own spiritual lives and to care for one another.

This year when you think about making promises, consider most importantly the promises you are making to God. How can we be good stewards of the promises we make? How can we live out those promises in the most faithful way possible? What will your promise be to God in the coming year? How will you steward those promises?

May you be blessed during this Christmas season, and may you experience the promises of God in a special way!

Blessings,

Deborah Rexrode
Associate for Stewardship for the Presbytery of the James

 

(Excerpts taken from “The Stewardship Companion: Lectionary Resources for Preaching” by David N. Mosser)

 

The Currency of Relationship

Last month, I introduced you to a book by the Rev. Dr. Eric Law entitled, “Holy Currencies.” Eric’s focus is on the “currencies” that flow through ministry that make our ministries sustainable and missional. One of these currencies is the currency of relationship.

We are all aware that social networks have value precisely because they help us to achieve what we could not achieve on our own. It is through our networks that we find partners, friends, healthy relationships. We have a choice in choosing who is in our network or which network we are a part of. We also have a choice to decide what to spread through our network. Do we use it to spread lies or tell truth, instill fear or foster trust, propagate hate or share love, break down or build sustainable communities?

You’ve probably heard of “six degrees of separation” which refers to the idea that on average we are only six relationships away from any other person on earth. There is also a theory known as “three degrees of influence” which says that everything we do or say tends to ripple through our network, having an impact on our friends, their friends, and their friends’ friends. Our influence gradually dissipates and ceases to have noticeable effect on people beyond these three degrees of influence.

Consider this…an inspiring worship at a church that moves 100 people to do good in the community can have the potential of influencing 500 people in the first degree, 2,500 people in the second degree and 12,500 people in the third degree to also do good. In a small town of under 10,000 people, this means what happens in worship for a small church can have the potential to influence almost everybody in the community. We have a great responsibility for the networks of which we are a part.

Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.” (selected verses from John 15).

Even though Jesus’ initial network was composed mostly of Jews, he also commanded his friends to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth. Building and strengthening the internal network is an essential first step for every church. However, if we are to fulfill Jesus’ command to love our neighbors as ourselves and to spread this love to the ends of the earth, we must learn to develop relationships outside our community of faith, connecting with people in our neighborhood, our city or town, our nation, and across the earth.

Remember the story of Mary and Martha. Martha welcomed Jesus into her home, but she was distracted by her many tasks while Mary came and sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. Many in our churches are like Martha. We are so used to “doing” church that we might neglect to be more like Mary: to be, to listen, and to relate.

Today, one of the determining factors for whether one goes to church is relationship. People go to church because they have relationships with people there, and these relationships are also exchanged for other currencies such as truth, wellness, and leadership. We need to refocus our church’s ministries on being relational. What would our programs be like if we were focusing on building relationships as well as getting the job done?

Having strong relationships among members of the church is essential for a sustainable ministry. Church members will gladly offer their volunteer hours for ministries when they have strong ties to the church community. Through a strong internal network in our congregations, raising leaders is accomplished usually by friends inviting another friend into some leadership role. Members can offer their gifts and skills for ministry, not only as individuals but also working together in teams, because of the relationships that are already developed.

In addition to building relationships among members of our congregations, we need to maximize our relationships with other congregations in our community. Having working relationships with other churches will enable churches to pool their resources of time and place, money, and gracious leadership to create and sustain ministries that can be done together while respecting the unique ministries of the separate communities. Churches in the same area can also enable each other to see the bigger picture of the needs and concerns of the larger community and find resources to support ministry projects they can do together.

The key purpose to developing relationships is to create wellness within the church community – spiritual, social, and sometimes financial wellness. How much time does your congregation spend building relationships? Is there time during and after worship for relationship-building? What portion of your budget includes relationship-building ministries?

 

Deborah Rexrode
Associate for Stewardship for the Presbytery of the James

 

(Taken from “Holy Currencies: 6 Blessings for Sustainable Missional Ministries”
by Eric H. F. Law.)

Holy Currencies

Eric Law is an Episcopal priest and the founder and executive director of the Kaleidoscope Institute in Los Angeles. Eric has an understanding of what it means to lead an organization and struggle with money issues. In his ministry, he has found that congregations who talk about sustainability spend a lot of time focused on money. How can we make our ministry sustainable? Where do we find the money to finance our ministries? How can we raise the money to start a needed ministry?

Congregations who talk about being missional tend not to talk about sustainability. Eric found at the Kaleidoscope Institute that what made it sustainable was not just about the money. They increased their annual budget entirely from contributions in exchange for the leadership-training programs and resources they provide. They were serving, resourcing, and building networks of relationships. Serving, resourcing, building relationships, and giving! Isn’t that what we are called to do?

After more than a year of research, Eric concluded that there are at least six currencies that flow through a sustainable missional ministry. In addition to money, these currencies are time and place, gracious leadership, relationship, truth, and wellness. These currencies “flow” through your ministry, exchanging themselves for other currencies, forming what Eric calls the “Cycle of Blessings.” The sequence rejuvenates what is spent initially, recirculates resources, and regenerates more currencies, thereby growing and expanding the ministry.

In his book, “Holy Currencies: Six Blessings for Sustainable Ministries,” Eric Law discusses each of the following types of currency and assists congregations in assessing the currencies that are often overlooked and under-utilized. Here is a brief definition of these six currencies:

Currency of Time and Place – This currency includes the paid and volunteer time that leaders and members offer to the church or ministry. It also includes any properties from which a congregation operates, and other property which can be accessed by the congregation. Imagine the volunteer hours that people give to the ministries of your church. Imagine your facility being used to its fullest capacity!

Currency of Gracious Leadership – This is the ability to use skills, tools, models, and processes to create gracious environments within which mutually respectful “relationships” and the discernment of “truth” across differences can be built among members and with non-members. Differences can be racial/ethnic, age, class, political or simply day-to-day relationships with one another.

Currency of Relationship – This is the internal and external networks of mutually respectful connections that leaders and members of a church have such as relationships among members in small groups and classes, workshops and seminars. It might also be connections with organizations outside the congregation to build relationships and partnerships to meet the needs of the community.

Currency of Truth – This type of currency is the ability to articulate the stories of your congregation, the beliefs of our denomination, and the experiences of our ministries. We often fail to use this currency to show the community, the neighborhood, the city or town what makes us unique and inviting and transformational.

Currency of Wellness – Wellness is the state of being healthy physically, socially, economically, ecologically, and spiritually within our congregations, within our neighborhoods, and within our country and the world. Congregations in a state of wellness have energy, intelligence, imagination and love enough to share with others.

Currency of Money – Money is the medium of exchange, a measure of value or a means of payment. It is often the only currency we can envision.

Consider these important facts:

  1. It is the flowing of these currencies that gives them value. If you have a beautiful church building, but it’s only used on Sunday, the currencies of time and place are not being maximized.
  2. The flowing of these currencies needs to include all six in order for ministry to be sustainable and missional. If a church uses the time of volunteers to provide wellness to the members only, there is no energy flowing outward to build new relationships.
  3. The flowing of these currencies must recirculate back to replenish what was spent to ministries can be regenerative. People experience the mission and ministry and respond with their giving.

Over the next few months, I will be sharing with you more about each of these currencies and how you might incorporate them into your stewardship efforts.

Please contact me at Deborah@presbyteryofthejames.org or 434-996-6032 if I can assist you in your fall Stewardship planning.

Deborah Rexrode
Associate for Stewardship for the Presbytery of the James

*Excerpts taken from “Holy Currencies: Six Blessings for Sustainable Ministries” by Eric H. F. Law.