Leading into the Future

“This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ
and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed.”
I Corinthians 4:1

These words hold the mysteries of God that not only changed history but will also help us to bring about change now and in the future.

Rob Hagan, Ministry Relations Officer for the Presbyterian Foundation serving the Northwest Region, recently wrote an article entitled, “Leading into the Future.” His article caused me to reflect on how hard it is for us to think about the future when the present consumes so much of our thinking, praying, understanding, and planning. Most of us find it difficult to create plans for the future when knowing what we will be able to do is so uncertain.

Rob says, “Those voices of the past and of the future embody the Heliotropic Principal. Simply put, the Heliotropic principle states that every living organism gravitates towards the strongest energy, whether that energy is positive or negative. The sunflower is the strongest example of this principle. It begins its journey with the sunrise and ends the day following the sunset. The stories of impact which people of faith have exhibited in the local church must be rekindled and shared with those in pews at home and in person.”

The idea of the Heliotropic Principal causes me to wonder what would happen if we took a look at where our congregations tend to gravitate. What is the strongest source of energy being generated? Are we gravitating toward the things that bring about positive outcomes, or do we find ourselves stuck contemplating the need for more members and more money? Do we focus our energies on our abundance or what we perceive to be our scarcity?

As with the churches that Rob serves in the Northwest, the churches in our own Presbytery have risen to the opportunity for the ministries which this time affords. We have seen churches pivot and embrace change in worship, find new ways to “collect” the offering, creatively hold congregational meetings, and joyously celebrate high holy days. We have learned that ministry is not confined to a building, and caring for one another is one of the most important ways we can be servants of Christ.

It is important to celebrate the past, but we need to embrace a vision for what the future holds. How will we worship and do ministry in the future? How are we being called to grow spiritually? Where will we focus our energies in the future? Is it possible that some of what we have adopted to get through this unusual season of ministry is part of the adaptive change we have been needing to make for a long time? A vision for the future begins with the leadership of our congregations, and that means not only our pastors but also elders and other volunteers who provide leadership roles.

Here are some ideas for how we might get started:

Set Direction. 

  • Develop a new vision and strategies to achieve that vision
  • Set high and reasonable standards
  • Cultivate stories of how people are already living out that vision

Set Priorities.

  • Identify your gifts and your strengths
  • Focus on what your congregation does well
  • Devote time and resources to those ministries

Align People.

  • Communicate direction to influence teams and staff to embrace the vision
  • Connect the ministry vision with life and change
  • Invite leaders into the vison and strategy development process

Motivate, Mentor, and Inspire.

  • Energize people to develop and overcome barriers to change
  • Ask people why they love the church and share those stories
  • Share the ministry plan (the budget) in a way that will inspire generosity through voices of the past and the future

Produce Change. 

  • Let people know the church deeply cares for them and is there to walk alongside them in whatever challenges they face
  • Teach that giving is an act of love and a spiritual discipline just like prayer, worship, and bible study
  • Communicate stewardship with grace and love

We as the church are being charged to adopt the Heliotropic Principle by revering the voices of the past and engaging the voices of the future as the church changes ministry in a changing culture.

Deborah Rexrode, PhD
Associate for Stewardship

Grateful: Finding Hope in Every Day

Grateful: Finding Hope in Every Day

 “For surely, I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord,
plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”
(Jeremiah 29:11)

Diana Butler Bass’s most recent book is entitled, “Grateful: The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks.” We know that gratitude is good, but many of us find it hard to sustain a meaningful life of gratefulness. Most of us report feeling gratitude on a regular basis, but those private feelings seem disconnected from larger concerns of our public lives.

Christmas Gift Giving

People born between 1977 and 1985 are often referred to as millennials. However, nine years is hardly enough to qualify as a separate generation and so many who are born in that timeframe feel as though they don’t quite belong. They have one foot in Generation X and one in Generation Y. They are the bridge between an analog childhood and a digital adulthood, and we often remind them of that.

Tithed and Tired v. Storied and Inspired

Many congregations’ websites describe the practice of tithing on their giving pages, almost as placeholder text. Sometimes it’s simple and direct:

“The biblical model for giving is to tithe, allocating 10% of one’s income
to the church, so that should be your goal.”

Other descriptions are more subtle:

 “We appreciate your support for this church, where our mission to share Christ’s light with the world includes the practice of directing 10% of church gifts to support global charities.”

Thereby implying, we tithe as a church so you should, too!

As congregational leaders of Stewardship, we are aware that many in our congregations give closer to 1% than 10%, so giving invitations might not mention percentages at all. But avoiding the conversation entirely may abandon an important opportunity to nurture disciples in the joy of giving. Whether it’s welcoming a handful of crumpled dollar bills from a single parent, or a retiree’s hefty Qualified Charitable Distribution, we must provide a way for everyone to grow in their generosity and giving.

There are serious limitations if we structure our Stewardship message around the supposed “Biblical Standard” of tithing. Let’s rethink how we invite people to give, inspiring their giving rather than obliging it.

Tithing 

The data indicates that, on average, U.S. individuals give around 2-3% of their after-tax income to charities (including churches). So while there may be some tithers in your congregation, average church-goers will give away 2-3% of their income and probably not to your congregation alone. Given this reality, if our Stewardship pitch focuses on the tithe which may be as much as four times what someone is currently giving, there is a good chance our Stewardship goal is probably not going to make its mark.

A fair reading of scripture does not reinforce any goal or requirement that Christians today should give 10% of their income to their local congregation. If tithing became a key concern of Jesus, he would probably mention it. Instead, while Jesus talks about money all the time, he is nearly always addressing people’s relationship with money, and the injustice associated with the distribution of money. In imagining the Christian life, Paul embraced generosity, cheerful giving, and caring for those in need. But there is never any sense of a 10% catchall expectation in the Gospels, epistles, or elsewhere in the New Testament.

The Old Testament includes several passages that note the practice of giving 10% to the Temple. This money went to support the Levitical priests, temple upkeep, sacrifices, and charity. Deuteronomy 14:22-29 suggests tithing also led to huge parties with good food, strong drink, and great rejoicing.

Stories

So, if we don’t use tithing as a rhetorical device to compel giving, what should we do? This path is where we should lean on invitation rather than the obligation. And for Christians, invitation is a key ingredient of discipleship.

As Henri Nouwen famously observes,

“Fundraising is proclaiming what we believe in such a way that we offer
other people an opportunity to participate with us in our vision and mission.”

Stewardship ministry then becomes a way to proclaim what we believe.

One of the best ways to make this proclamation is to tell stories; stories of our ministry, stories of lives changed, stories of the Spirit working through the gifts we give to God in the offering.

  • Tell the story of Dave whose life was changed by volunteering at your food shelf.
  • Tell the story of Nikkeya who led confirmation classes and is now going to seminary.
  • Tell the story of Haden who discovered God on a mission trip.
  • Tell the story of Edna who was touched when the pastor visited her last week.

We are made of and moved by story. Stewardship, at its best, invites people to join in the story of God’s work in your midst — an invitation that can truly inspire generosity.

 

Deborah Rexrode
POJ Associate for Stewardship

 

*Adapted from a recent blog by Adam Copeland, Assistant Professor of leadership and Director of the Center for Stewardship Leaders.

 

Healthy Congregations are Generous Congregations

I recently attended a “Healthy Congregations” Seminar at Montreat Conference Center. This seminar is based on Peter Steinke’s book, Healthy Congregations: A Systems Approach. The book is about the stewardship of the congregation: how people care for, respond to, and manage their life together. It is about holding in trust the well-being of the congregation.

Grace and Gratitude

Have you ever been notified by an attorney that your presence was requested at the reading of someone’s will because you are going to receive an inheritance? Most people think this is a bittersweet time for obvious reasons. I can only imagine what it would be like because I have not experienced this, but for those who have, I’m told it is an emotional time. Imagine how it must feel to come to the realization that someone thought enough of you to want to leave you something upon their death. With that thought, you start to reminisce on the relationship you had with the person, and this reflection usually reveals one of three different types of relationships.

Stewardship 101

Every faculty you have, your power of thinking or of moving your limbs from moment to moment, is given you by God. If you devoted every moment of your whole life exclusively to God’s service, you could not give God anything that was not in a sense God’s own already.
– C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

For us as Christians, all that we have and all that we are belongs to God. So then what does stewardship look like in our lives today? How do we define stewardship?