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

Stay Focused on God

“They who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.”
(Isaiah 40:31)

In a recent blog, Olanda Carr, Senior Ministry Relations Officer for the Presbyterian Foundation, writes that over the past few weeks, he has been drawn to this passage of scripture…perhaps because all we have been doing for weeks and months is waiting…

Ask, Thank, Tell

December is just around the corner. From a stewardship perspective, December is typically the biggest giving month of the year in churches and also for many non-profits. So, what can we do as church leaders to provide an opportunity for our members to give to the ministries of our churches as part of their end-of-the-year giving?

Charles Lane, in his book, “Ask, Thank, Tell: Improving Stewardship Ministry in Your Congregation” reminds us that the focus of biblical stewardship is on the fact that generous giving is one of the basic acts of discipleship. Charles suggests that there are three foundational verbs that help us to focus on this aspect of stewardship:

  1. Ask. If you want people to give more as year-end approaches, you need to ask them. You can communicate this message in whatever way works for your people: letter, from the pulpit, video, whatever social media platform works for you. We are often far too hesitant to ask people to give. The message can, and should, come from the pastor as well as from leaders of the congregation.
  2. Thank. As you ask, be sure you clearly thank people for their giving so far this year and for their commitments to give next year. If you didn’t send out thank you letters or notes for pledges, do it now. You can’t thank people too much. Most churches do it far too little.
  3. Tell. There are two ways you called to tell the story.

Tell the story of your ministry this year and your vision for the next year. Hopefully you already did this as part of your fall stewardship emphasis. Don’t worry about repeating it. And if you didn’t, do it now! Share with people the difference their giving has made. Whether or not they make an additional gift, it further reinforces their commitment to give to your ministry in 2019.

Tell the truth about your financial situation. If you are facing a real shortfall, be honest about it. Do it clearly and calmly, without a “sky is falling” panicky message. It’s not helpful for leaders to protect the congregation from financial challenges. They can’t step up to help if they don’t know about it.

If you have an abundance of resources, be honest about that. Some leaders think, “We don’t want to let people know because then they will stop giving.” People will keep giving if you give them a reason to give. Make your Christmas offering something significant that will benefit the wider community, and invite people to give generously.

Charles concludes his book with this wonderful vision of Stewardship ministry:

“One of my favorite novels is A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Each year at Christmas I try to see either a play or movie version of A Christmas Carol, or to read the original. A big part of the appeal of the story is the incredible contrast between Ebenezer Scrooge at the beginning of the story and Ebenezer Scrooge at the end of the story.

Notice Dickens’ description of Scrooge from the first pages of his novel, ‘Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner! He was hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire.’ Many, many pages and three Christmas ghosts later, Scrooge wakes up on Christmas morning. To say the least, he is a changed man. He sends a Christmas turkey to the Cratchit’s that is twice the size of Tiny Tim.

And then Dickens writes, “The chuckle with which he said this, and the chuckle with which he paid the cab, and the chuckle with which he recompensed the boy, were only to be exceeded by the chuckle with which he sat down breathless in his chair again, and chuckled till he cried.”

I don’t wish for any of God’s children to be scared to their senses by night visits from past, present, or future ghosts. However,

  • I do have a vision of people in your congregation so enjoying their generous giving that they chuckle until they cry.
  • I do have a vision of people in your congregation who discover the radical truth of Jesus’ words, ‘Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’
  • I do have a vision of people in your congregation whose generosity grows by leaps and bounds, and who discover that this generosity has indeed led their heart to Jesus.
  • I do have a vision of people chuckling, or at least smiling as they drop their offering into the plate on Sunday morning.”

If you have a special story to share about your fall Stewardship program, I would love to hear it! What’s been special about your celebration of stewardship this year? You can contact me at deborah@presbyteryofthejames.org or 434-996-6032.

Deborah Rexrode
Associate for Stewardship for the Presbytery of the James

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

 

Giving Courageously

Now in its twentieth year, “Giving: Growing Joyful Stewards in Your Congregation” has become a premier stewardship resource for churches and denominations throughout North America. It is published annually and available sometime early in May each year. I have found this magazine to be a helpful tool for congregations to select a theme and a method for conducting an annual Stewardship program as well as learn more about Stewardship to enhance the church’s overall ministry.

Carols for Year End Stewardship

As we journey through this season of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany, I encourage you to think about the carols, hymns, and other songs we sing and hear their familiar words this year in a new way as a way to “repeat the sounding joy” of generosity and stewardship. Here are a few with some tips for what the song might call you do: