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

Grief, Gratitude, and Giving

Changing the calendar to a new year looked somewhat different this time. It did not feel the same as it has in the past where the excitement of a new year brings resolutions and goals for what we hope to accomplish. It is hard to think about planning for what we might do this year when we are limited in our ability to be together as we have been in the past. Some days it is hard to think about what we can do at this moment let alone think about next month or the month after.

Is the Church a Business

Recently Minner Serovy, one of the Ministry Relations Officers for the Presbyterian Foundation, shared an interesting experience she encountered while participating in a panel for an adult education class. The opening question was, “Is the church a business?” All the other panelists were members of the church where the panel was taking place, and all were businesspeople. They explained their reasons for thinking of the church as business. With some discomfort, Minner said, “I could not find my way to agreement.” 

Stewarding the Church

“Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.” (I Peter 4: 10)

We spend a lot of time during the fall Stewardship programs of our church helping our congregations understand what Stewardship is and what God is calling them to do as good stewards of all that God has given to them. We challenge them to consider their response to God for all that they have and all that they are. We plan programs to inspire and encourage them in their personal journey of faith and specifically in their giving.

As pastors and leaders in the congregations where we serve, I think we too are called to be good stewards of the resources we have been given, to serve our congregations with whatever gift each of us has received. We have been given both a responsibility and an opportunity to steward the congregations in our care. How is God calling us, as leaders, to be good stewards of the church? What are some of the gifts we have received?

We are stewards of God’s Word.  In First Corinthians 4, Paul describes the ministry of the apostles in this way, “We are servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries.” That message is just as important to us today. In all that we do, we are servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries. God has entrusted us with something precious to submit our lives to Christ and to proclaim the Word of God. Every leadership decision or action we take is first and foremost spiritual in nature and should focus on connecting persons to God.

You and I have been called to steward the amazing mysteries of God revealed to us in Scripture. That’s part of our stewarding of the church, being good stewards of the gospel so that it is God for whom we bring glory.

We are stewards of God’s vision. We are called to listen deeply to the heart-songs of God’s people and articulate the vision God is imparting to them. The vision for a church answers the question, “What does God want us to do?” We are called to help our congregations embrace a clear vision of God’s call. Every congregation is unique, and every congregation has its own unique vision for what God is calling them to do and be.

We are stewards of trust. We are called to develop and nurture authentic relationships that cultivate trust. As stewards of trust, we serve one another in an open transparent way. We keep the lines of communication open, avoid judgement, become vulnerable, offer and receive forgiveness, and model Christ’s love and sense of welcome to all.

We are stewards of administration. This involves coming alongside our congregations to help them fulfill their vision and mission. The most essential ingredient in this area of stewardship is identifying and equipping new leaders. Most of the issues that plague churches – giving, attendance, evangelism, leadership, and mission – are minimized when church leaders focus on equipping the saints. The process of equipping and empowering people is what helps someone move from simply believing in Christ to being a true disciple. When people are growing spiritually, they will give, attend, tell others, volunteer, and serve.

Finally we are stewards of financial resources. At the core of being financial stewardship leaders is creating a culture of extravagant generosity. Generosity is a spiritual attribute that extends beyond merely the use of money. There are people who are generous with their time, with their teaching, with their love. Generosity is something people acquire in the actual practice of giving.

In Second Corinthians, we read, “But just as you excel in everything – in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us – see that you also excel in this grace of giving.” Churches that practice extravagant generosity don’t talk in general terms about stewardship. They speak confidently and faithfully about money, giving, generosity, and the difference giving makes for the purposes of Christ and in the life of the giver. They emphasize the Christian’s need to give more than the church’s need for money.

Churches that cultivate giving speak of joy, devotion, honoring God, and the steady growth of spirit that leads to greater generosity. Stewardship efforts deepen prayer life, build community, unite people with purpose, and clarify mission. People feel strengthened and grateful to serve God through giving.

As you make your way through this particular season of Stewardship, consider how well you as leaders are stewarding your churches and your congregations. Be faithful stewards of the mysteries of God, preaching and teaching and leading your congregations to become faithful disciples who know what it means to be stewards of all that God has entrusted into their care.

Deborah Rexrode
Associate for Stewardship for the Presbytery of the James

 

Take Hold of Life that Really is Life

Now in its twentieth year, the magazine, “Giving: Growing Joyful Stewards in Your Congregation” has become a premier stewardship resource for many churches. For the past four years, “Giving” has focused on 1 Timothy 6:18-19: “They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasures of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life” and each year focused on one of these sub-themes:

Live Free is based on Galatians 5:1 and 1 Timothy 6:18. Find a good steward, and you’ll discover a person who understands what it means to live free in Christ. They realize their economic status does not define them. They know that true riches will not be found in their bank accounts. They freely and wisely give away what they’ve been given as agents of change and as God’s ministers of restoration and redemption. They have a mindset focused on abundance, not scarcity.

Live Simply is based on Philippians 4:11 and 1Timothy 6:18-19. We know that Paul’s contentment came from his life in Christ. One of the simplest – and at the same time most comprehensive – description of Christian stewardship is that it is “everything we do after we say we believe.” Live Simply offers spiritual insights and practical ideas for finding contentment though simpler living. The financial stewardship emphasis includes worship services and special meal event.

Live Generously is based on 2 Corinthians 8:9 and 1 Timothy 6:18-19. Generosity seems to be the buzzword these days when we talk about giving and stewardship. In our culture today, we often hear of trendy methods to encourage generosity such as Giving Tuesday, the Ice Bucket Challenge, or crowdfunding responses to personal needs. Live Generously challenges us to practice faithful generosity at a deeper level as a measure of our discipleship.

Live Courageously is based on Psalm 31:24 and 1 Timothy 6:18-19. Twenty-first century North American culture has presented unprecedented challenges for the church and a new sense of what it means to practice our faith courageously. This includes our understanding of the spiritual discipline of stewardship and how we live that out through our generosity. Attentive listening and gracious conversation takes courage, but can led to fruitful results.

Hopefully you are thinking about your congregation’s annual stewardship emphasis for this fall. The “Giving” magazine is just one of many resources available to help you plan your annual stewardship program. One of these four themes might speak to your congregation’s current journey, and if so, I would be happy to assist you in putting together a program that would center on of these themes.

If you are a congregation that has been conducting the fall stewardship program the same way for many years, this would be a good time to introduce something new and fresh that would inspire and encourage the spiritual and financial giving in your congregation. Some of the things you might consider are:

  • Provide a simple meal for your congregation to gather and share their stories of generosity. In your table fellowship, talk about some of the most generous people you have met on your spiritual journey and what it means to benefit from someone else’s good works.
  • Invite everyone in the congregation to bring in the ingredients for a “Stewardship Stew” or have several individuals or families prepare and bring in pots of stew to add to one big pot at the church for your fellowship meal. Invite people to share their thoughts about what living simply means.
  • Invite several people to host a small group either at their home or at the church. Invite members to sign up for the gathering they would like to attend and to bring a dessert or snack to share. The major components of the gathering are Bible study and conversation. Have a brief presentation of the ministries of the congregation and provide an opportunity for people to share ideas and to ask questions about these ministries.
  • Consider scheduling special visits to every household. This is a way for persons to share affirmations and concerns, strengthen their understanding about faithful generosity as a spiritual discipline, build fellowship, and respond in support to the congregation’s shared ministry. Visits should focus on connecting persons in your faith community with your congregation’s ministry and showing them how their generosity makes it all possible.

Deciding what type of annual stewardship program is best for your congregation should be based on the life and health of your congregation. I am available to assist you in considering these options and choosing one that will be an inspiration to your congregation and will enhance your stewardship ministry. You can contact me at Deborah@presbyteryofthejames.org or 434-996-6032 for assistance or more information on how to obtain the “Giving” magazine.

 

Deborah Rexrode
Associate for Stewardship for the Presbytery of the James

Stewardship of Time

Adam Copeland has recently edited a book entitled, “Beyond the Offering Plate: A Holistic Approach to Stewardship.” In this book, he has brought together writings from various scholars and theologians on the topic of Stewardship. These authors help us to expand our understanding of what Stewardship really means and broaden that definition beyond the usual interpretation of time, talents, and treasures.

An Annual Stewardship Emphasis

In their recent book, The Paradox of Generosity: Giving We Receive, Grasping We Lose, Christian Smith and Hilary Davidson claim that generosity is a practice, not a “haphazard behavior but a basic orientation to life.” In Galatians and Ephesians, Paul talks about generosity as a virtue, a habit of the heart, and a character trait. Generosity as both virtue and practice connects attitude to action.