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Becoming a Leader of Stewards: The Practice of Showing Up

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Deborah Rexrode is curating a blog series called “A New Perspective on Stewardship.” We’ll hear from some stewardship experts across the country on a wide range of what stewardship means for them. What are ways stewardship can be a spiritual practice? How might we come to a new understanding of the role of stewardship in ministry? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Sean Mitchell

When I was attending a seminary class years ago, a professor ended the lecture with a statement that stuck with me. The final moments of this class had moved all of us into a discussion on prayer. One student finally asked the professor, “If you could summarize the theology, mystery, and practice of prayer in one sentence, what would it be?” Yes, I thought, good question. Without missing a beat, the professor said, “The most important thing I have learned about prayer from study and practice is this: simply show up.”  

Simply show up. At the time, these words seemed, ironically, too simple. Yet after years of living as a pilgrim, I get it. We need to keep showing up and praying…again and again and again. Show up, do it, and trust God.

After eleven years of working in stewardship ministry, one of the greatest lessons I can pass on to those hoping to become leaders of stewards is, in the words of my seminary professor, simply show up. There is much to be learned about stewardship ministry: the asking, teaching, preaching, mentoring, as well as the storytelling, reading, writing, and team-building. But to show up again and again is at the essence of practicing the leadership.

On multiple occasions, I have worked with pastors or lay leaders, who, when looking to practice more intentional stewardship leadership, have shared some reservations due to perceived lack of skills and lots of fear. Sometimes it is obvious that the fit is not right. For some, it is simply not time for them to lead.

But for others, as they are discerning a call, I often counsel for them to show up and just to do it afraid. The more immersed they are in the work, the less afraid they are of it. As in the case of Moses and others who have taught us how to live faithfully, the way forward is to trust God that all will be provided. We simply show up, read what we find, write and preach what is inspired by Scripture and sacred conversation, live what we are learning, and lead others through the courage that God provides.

Showing up is a practice of prayerful attentiveness. We show up, committed to leading in the ways that God shows us to lead. We show up with our strengths and weaknesses, our convictions and concerns, our hopes and worries. We show up as we are and expect God to be with us along the way and for the Kingdom to come and God’s will to be done. Over the years, I have watched many people show up in stewardship ministry and begin leading. What did they do? What did they learn about becoming a leader of stewards?  What happened to them along the way?

Here are two stories:

  • A pastor and her church community began their first capital campaign together. This size fundraising initiative was the first for this pastor. How could she lead? What was expected of her? One of her first steps was to write some of the narrative for the campaign communications pieces. She is a good writer and communicator, so she decided to share this strength with the campaign implementation team. Her writing was meaningful, challenging, faith forming, and of course, well received by the congregation.How did she lead?  She simply showed up.  And then she did the next thing: share her strengths with the campaign.
  • A church member was invited by his pastor to join him in a multi-month stewardship ministry learning experience, to which he said yes. Weeks later, after some of the education had taken place, he decided to write out his stewardship journey. He shared it with his pastor, and the pastor invited him to share it with the church on a Sunday morning. He did, and as he did, he was leading. He showed up. He learned. He reflected. He shared his story, and his story inspired others.

The first step on the journey of leading stewards is simply showing up. It’s about saying yes. Yes to the opportunities, invitations, and resources God will provide for the leadership. This is what the above leaders have learned, and what many more will learn as they humbly, courageously, and faithfully show up again and again and again.


Sean Mitchell is the Stewardship Development Director at Myers Park Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, North Carolina.  He is also the founder of Generosity Development. Sean works closely with churches to develop annual and capital campaigns, major gifts, and planned giving.  

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Toward a Year-Round Stewardship Ministry

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Deborah Rexrode is curating a blog series called “A New Perspective on Stewardship.” We’ll hear from some stewardship experts across the country on a wide range of what stewardship means for them. What are ways stewardship can be a spiritual practice? How might we come to a new understanding of the role of stewardship in ministry? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Ann Michel

As a child, I would roll my eyes when my mother repeated herself again and again and AGAIN. But as an educator, Mom knew that repetition is the key to learning. As a stewardship professional, I note with some irony the many church leaders who complain that their congregations just don’t seem to get it when it comes to giving and stewardship. And yet they never talk about stewardship outside of a commitment campaign conducted in a perfunctory way over a couple of weeks in the fall – a campaign culminating in “The Stewardship Sermon” – the one-and-only time each year when stewardship is preached from the pulpit.

Spiritual formation for stewardship and giving requires much more than this. It happens over a lifetime, as people grow in faith and discipleship. These days, fewer and fewer people come into our churches having learned the values or giving and tithing at home. And they are bombarded daily with cultural messages contrary to what our Christian faith teaches teaching about money and possessions. We have to constantly invite people into an alternative world view – one that attests to the truth that God really does provide for us abundantly, that we are stewards not owners of the things that God has entrusted to us, and that giving is more important than acquiring.

Creating a culture of generosity within your congregation can’t be done in a single Sunday or even in a month of Sundays. It’s something that needs to be done on an ongoing basis throughout the year.

A “stewardship calendar” can be an invaluable instrument in planning a more holistic, year-round approach to stewardship. Some wonderful examples of stewardship calendars can be found online from the Episcopal Diocese of West Texas and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

These planning templates suggest ways that stewardship themes can be tied into scriptural or liturgical themes across the church year and linked with various aspects of congregational life.

When I worked as the stewardship director at a large church in Washington, DC, I would create a yearly timeline to map out the various parts of our stewardship ministry – not just our pledge campaign. I would ask myself, when was the best time of year to focus on planned giving or stewardship of one’s lifetime assets? When would various special appeals be made? How might stewardship education, including training around financial literacy, fit into the overall church calendar? When would we send thank yous and giving statements? How would we help people think about stewardship of their time and talents?

My goal was to make sure that all aspects of stewardship received adequate attention – but at a time of year that made sense given the liturgical season and the church’ programmatic calendar. I also wanted to avoid overlapping appeals or competing messages. Once I knew we were going to be focusing on financial literacy in January, sacrificial giving during Lent, and stewardship of time and talents in the early fall, it was much easier to plan appropriate communication and connect our stewardship efforts with preaching, worship, and Christian education.

The goal of establishing a holistic, year-round stewardship ministry may sound daunting. But the wonderful thing is you can start small. Over the next year, experiment with adding something new. Maybe it’s a sermon series on a stewardship-related theme at a time of year totally apart from when you’re asking people to make pledges. I guarantee people will be more receptive to what you have to say if they don’t think it’s a thinly veiled attempt to get more of their money. Or maybe it’s conducting a “thank-a-thon” to acknowledge the importance of people’s support of the church’s mission and reinforce the connection between generosity and gratitude. And you don’t need to do everything on an annual basis. Classes on budgeting or preparing a will might be needed only every so often. But without planning, these things might easily fall through the cracks.

Our faith teaches that God created different times and seasons. A bit of planning can help us see how God’s call to generosity connects to every time and season, so that we might better reflect the abundant generosity of the God who created us and calls to be partners in God’s divine generosity.


Dr. Ann A. Michel has served as associate director of the Lewis Center for Church Leadership since 2005. She is editor of the Lewis Center’s online newsletter, Leading Ideas. She also serves as an adjunct member of the faculty of Wesley Theological Seminary, supporting the Lewis Center’s curricular offerings as a lecturer in church leadership.

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Creating a Narrative Budget

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Deborah Rexrode is curating a blog series called “A New Perspective on Stewardship.” We’ll hear from some stewardship experts across the country on a wide range of what stewardship means for them. What are ways stewardship can be a spiritual practice? How might we come to a new understanding of the role of stewardship in ministry? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Raymond Bonwell

Numbers have caused people’s eyes to glaze over. To some, financial statements appear to have been written in a foreign language, guided by GAAP and overseen by FASB (even references to Generally Accepted Accounting Principles and the Financial Accounting Standards Board might inspire some to skip the balance of this post).

I would suggest that numbers are NOT the best way to talk about or describe a budget. Numbers certainly have their place in financial statements, and there they are very useful. And I am focusing on “talking about a budget,” or “describing a budget.” For this focus, we use words (not numbers).

Words have meaning. Words speak to us. The world has God’s Word in Scripture. The world has the Word made flesh in Jesus. The Spirit inspires us to lead lives faithful to the Word. And words are powerful.

The following passages of Scripture are each less than a sentence, and look at all they capture:

“Afterward Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, “Let my people go.”‘” (Exodus 5:1a, NRSV)

“In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.” (Luke 2:8, NRSV)

“When a great crowd gathered and people from town after town came to him, [Jesus] said in a parable: ‘A sower went out to sow his seed.’” (Luke 8:4-5a, NRSV).

Not all budgets are created equal. Some use numbers, and others use narratives. Here I explore three types of church budgets, for which I am indebted to Kennon L. Callahan’s Effective Church Finances: Fund-Raising and Budgeting for Church Leaders (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1992).

First, a cost budget is a maintenance budget typically built by a key person. It seldom changes categories year over year, and is typically dominated by the staff, the building, and a few programs, including the denomination. There is a very strong preservation/protection mentality – a need to “keep the lights on” since it “costs” XYZ thousand dollars a month to operate the church. This is not an inspiring reason to give – just enough to get by.

Second, an organizational budget, is a local budget typically built by key committees. Priorities and the budget are driven by these congregational committees. While the congregation may be financially healthy, this organizational budget is still scarcity focused – a few people on a few committees see a few resources. The organizational chart of church may not be actually printed in the budget, and it is certainly visible by the grouping of the budget lines. People are asked to give to support the organizational, institutional welfare of that local church.

Third (and finally), the mission budget is an externally-focused budget informed by the major priorities of the coming year. This focuses more on narratives than numbers, and it serves as a high-level overview. (Yes, full financial statements would be available for the chosen few whose joy is not complete unless they make sense of all the cents.) This mission budget invites people to give to generously to major priorities; stewardship is the purpose and mission is the result. It is very people-focused. People give money to people; who will be helped by the congregation’s major priorities.

Cost and organizational budgets are created with numbers and are very format-driven. Accounting software generates a report, or figures are updated in Excel.

Mission budgets, however, are created with narratives and are tailor-made to describe that specific community. This is what makes them so challenging to create, and makes the efforts so rewarding. Given the connectional nature of the church, the Presbyterian Foundation’s Ministry Tool Box includes three examples of narrative budgets and includes instructions on how to write narrative budgets in Word. (This, and other resources, is available online. No registration is required. These are resources from the church, for the church.)

Scripture is full of paradoxes: “Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10, NRSV).

And here is a budgeting paradox to be effective – do not use numbers; use narratives.

Do not focus on Excel; focus on (The) Word.


Raymond Bonwell is the Corporate Secretary of the Board of Pensions of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and is responsible for advising on best practices for corporate governance and ensuring directors have needed resources to guide the Board of Pensions. A classically trained economist, his first professional career was twelve years in institutional investing and personal financial planning. A graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary, he served two churches and as a Director at Princeton for five years.

Being Generous

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Deborah Rexrode is curating a blog series called “A New Perspective on Stewardship.” We’ll hear from some stewardship experts across the country on a wide range of what stewardship means for them. What are ways stewardship can be a spiritual practice? How might we come to a new understanding of the role of stewardship in ministry? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by David Loleng

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth…but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven…for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21)  

“Generosity is something we want for you, not from you.” I think the church needs to take this phrase to heart.

In their book The Paradox of Generosity: Giving We Receive, Grasping We Lose, Christian Smith and Hillary Davidson state: “Generosity is paradoxical. Those who give, receive back in turn. By spending ourselves for others’ well-being, we enhance our own standing.” They go on to show that generosity positively affects our happiness, health, life purpose, and personal growth. Generosity is at the heart of discipleship and human flourishing. But here is the paradox: although generosity is good for us, generosity is often elusive in our churches.

How, then, can our churches form generous disciples? We tend to turn to technical fixes and best practices as the answer. Things like narrative budgets, e-giving, revamped stewardship campaigns, and talking about stewardship throughout the year are important and impactful, but I believe they are not enough to bring about lasting transformation in people and in the culture of the church. The real paradigm shift is from focusing on funds development to people development. To put it another way, we need to measure our success not by the quality of our programs but by the quality of our people.

I believe the way to form generous disciples of Christ is by creating habits and practices that will truly begin to change our beliefs and behaviors. It’s not just the occasional generous act but sustained practices, disciplines and a lifestyle of generosity that will have a transformative and lasting effect on individuals and our faith communities.

My question is this: what are some spiritual practices that will help cultivate generosity and Christ centered stewardship in the lives of those in our churches? I want to briefly share two spiritual practices that have become important for me recently as I have thought about how to be a generous steward of my, time, talent and resources.

First is the spiritual discipline of simplicity. Simplicity helps us to let go of our inordinate attachment to things (possessions, experiences, achievements) and our insatiable desire for more.  It is uncluttering our lives of excess and practicing things like frugality, contentment, thankfulness, and graciousness.

Richard Foster describes the importance of simplicity in his book Freedom of Simplicity: Finding Harmony in a Complex World. He writes, “The complexity of rushing to achieve and accumulate more and more threatens frequently to overwhelm us… Christian simplicity…brings sanity to our compulsive extravagance, and peace to our frantic spirit. It allows us to see material things for what they are – goods to enhance life, not to oppress life. People once again become more important than possessions…it is the Spiritual Discipline of simplicity that gives us…a strategy of action that can address this (poverty and hunger) and many other social inequities.” Simplicity helps us to re-calibrate our lives back toward God and God’s will. It frees us to be more generous with our money and resources and become more mission-focused.

The second is connected to simplicity. It is creating margin in life. As Dr. Richard Swenson describes in his book Margin, it is like the margins on a piece of paper: there is no text on the top, bottom, and sides; just empty space. As James Bryan Smith writes in his book The Good and Beautiful God, “We add so much to our schedules that we have no ‘margin,’ no space for leisure and rest and family and God and health.”

Creating margin means uncluttering our schedules, our time, and our lives. When we have more margin in our lives, we can be more generous with our time and our talents. Creating margin positively affects our relationship with God and others, our health, and our ability to join in Christ’s mission in our communities and world.

The spiritual disciplines of simplicity and margin not only help to cultivate a culture of generosity, but help form people in our churches who are growing as generous disciples of Jesus Christ, with a greater impact on our communities and world.


David Loleng is the Director of Church Financial Literacy and Leadership at the Presbyterian Foundation (PCUSA). He is the co-author of the Engage (Gospel, Discipleship, Mission) Curriculum. Loleng is leading the effort to assemble a body of educational materials and tools for effective financial church leadership and administration and make them available to both pastors and lay leaders. Loleng most recently served as Associate for Evangelism in the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

Stewardship of Energy

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Deborah Rexrode is curating a blog series called “A New Perspective on Stewardship.” We’ll hear from some stewardship experts across the country on a wide range of what stewardship means for them. What are ways stewardship can be a spiritual practice? How might we come to a new understanding of the role of stewardship in ministry? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Than Hitt

I was in Paris recently for a screening of “From the Ashes,” a powerful new documentary on climate change, and the contrast was hard to miss: Paris, a symbol of global cooperation for climate protection, on the heels of the American withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.

It’s true that traveling helps you see home in a new light, and this trip certainly did for me. I found myself asking how America, the largest contributor to climate change, could turn its back on the global effort against climate pollution and meanwhile miss new opportunities for clean tech innovation and job creation at home?

The word “negligence” comes to mind, as do others unfit to print.

But seeing home from a distance also helps me appreciate the good that is afoot: many American cities and states have stepped up to achieve the Paris goals. Many churches have as well, notably through the “Paris Pledge” organized by Interfaith Power and Light with over 160 congregations dedicating themselves to this goal.

Yes, many churches are responding in creative and positive ways, including new investments in clean energy. So why aren’t all church rooftops crowned with solar panels today? Perhaps congregations don’t see a connection between their faith, the Earth, and their energy source, but I doubt that is the main reason. Instead, I think it’s primarily a financial hurdle – particularly the initial investment capital. And who wants another capital campaign?

So how do we move forward?

Let me share some thoughts from my experience helping Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church (SPC) “go solar” in 2014. Full disclosure: I’m not an expert on the solar industry or financing (I’m a fish biologist working on climate change science and endangered species research in West Virginia). But I have glimpsed how financial thinking can merge with ethical and spiritual thinking when it comes to a church’s investment in clean energy. And that’s some powerful stuff.

In our initial discussions at SPC, the environmental benefits of solar usually came up first. That makes sense, particularly in West Virginia where we see the costs of fossil fuel development. Of course this issue was not new to folks at SPC, which has been a proud PCUSA Earth Care congregation for years. The question was more “how” than “why.”

We couldn’t take advantage of federal tax incentives and our state incentive programs had recently been stripped away. So we had to think differently. And we did. We started working with Solar Holler to finance our solar project from energy efficiency savings pooled from our individual homes. It worked. We were fortunate to receive a national award for our efforts, and we plowed the award money back into energy efficient LED lighting for the sanctuary.

We’re currently saving thousands of dollars a year on electricity bills and are producing about 40% of our electricity demand. Meanwhile, the regional utility rates keep going up, so this further increases the value of solar into the future.

If you want to go for it, here’s where I recommend you start: take a look at your church’s energy bills over the last several years. You might be amazed, particularly when you consider the opportunity costs. What mission work is not happening because you’re paying so much for energy?

Then look around the church for ways to improve its energy efficiency. You might find what others have – that you already have the capital for an investment in solar all around you – that you could use cost savings from energy efficiency planning to finance an investment. This is the model currently expanding to churches and other nonprofits across West Virginia from the good work of Solar Holler.

Particularly now as we hear the tired, false narrative of “jobs versus environment” touted loudly by national leaders, it’s up to us to tell a different story. Churches have to be leaders in this great effort. After all, the sun gives physical energy – and metaphysical energy!


Than Hitt lives in Shepherdstown West Virginia where he spends his time as a husband, father, biologist, musician, river runner, explorer, and procrastinator.

Crowdfunding Your Congregation

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Deborah Rexrode is curating a blog series called “A New Perspective on Stewardship.” We’ll hear from some stewardship experts across the country on a wide range of what stewardship means for them. What are ways stewardship can be a spiritual practice? How might we come to a new understanding of the role of stewardship in ministry? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Adam Copeland

What if a new technology existed that completely changed the way congregations raised funds for mission? What if there was a tool to make difficult-to-fund projects overflow with supportive donations? What if, by using a simple website, a congregation could discover hundreds of new giving units without any trouble at all? Well, I suppose if such a technology existed, we’d all be using it. As far as I know, no such a miraculous tool exists.

Today’s post is on crowdfunding and while I believe it has great potential, let me be clear: crowdfunding is no silver bullet. It is not the fundraising savior. Crowdfunding is, though, a relatively new way to think and go about funding specific projects that might be of interest for your congregation. It’s also a particular interest of mine and, therefore, the topic of today’s blog.

Around 2008, crowdfunding websites like Kickstarter, Indiegogo, GoFundMe, and dozens of others developed a new way to give money to support a particular cause, project, or vision. While there are plenty of ways to raise money online, I define crowdfunding as goal-based fundraising ventures, conducted by groups or individuals using the Internet, that seek small contributions from a large number of people. Beyond that general definition lie several different types of crowdfunding. There are campaigns in which the funder receives rewards or gifts if the project is fully funded. Other campaigns work more like traditional charity fundraisers — people give to the causes they support. Some campaigns are set up in an all-or-nothing way so, if the goal isn’t reached, the project does not go forward. In common, though, is the notion that a good crowdfunding campaign seeks to raise money for a specific goal.

Usually, we think of a church budget as a big, bulky mixture of various missional priorities. We might call funding the budget a “macro goal.” Crowdfunding thrives on “micro goals:” specific, often time-sensitive, visions of something new. As Perry Chen, a Kickstarter co-founder, has explained, potential backers see a pitch and think, “That’s really cool. I want to see it exist in the world.”

Crowdfunding is about bringing vision to life or making dreams a reality. Campaign creators describe their vision — what they think the world needs — and they ask the crowd for help. Together, they create something that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. I’ve come to think of it this way: crowdfunding supporters don’t give away money; they midwife dreams.

What does all this pie-in-the-sky description actually look like? Well, for a church plant in Wilmington, North Carolina it meant raising $20,000 to launch a new space. St. Lydia’s Dinner Church in Brooklyn, New York has conducted several successful campaigns. For a student at Illif School of Theology, it means raising $1,100 to help her go to seminary. And dozens of faith-related music albums now exist thanks to campaigns like this one and this one. In sum, crowdfunding offers congregations and faith-related non-profits opportunities to share their vision with the world, and ask the crowd for support.

Now, I want to be clear: crowdfunding takes work, organization, coordination, some technological savvy and, most of all, a good idea. I’m really drawn to the crowdfunding world because of the possibilities that it might help the church think differently about mission and funding, but it’s no panacea. For that reason, I’ve written a guide booklet titled “Crowdfunding for Congregations and Faith-related Non-profits” that you can download as a resource. Crowdfunding may not be right for your congregation, but I do think it has potential for some. Who knows, maybe God is doing a new thing. Either way, I think the church has much to learn from the invitational language, compelling videos, and inspirational vision on display in many crowdfunding campaigns.


Adam Copeland is Director of Stewardship Leadership at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota where he teaches as well as directs the Center for Stewardship Leaders. Having served as a rural pastor, church planter, and college professor, his scholarly interests consider stewardship and generosity, church leadership, rhetoric, and digital culture. His books include Kissing in the Chapel, Praying in the Frat House: Wrestling with Faith and College (Rowman & Littlefield, 2014), and the forthcoming Making Stewardship Whole (Westminster John Knox, 2017). He holds degrees from St. Olaf College, Columbia Theological Seminary, and is a pursing a PhD rhetoric, writing, and culture at North Dakota State University. Find him online at http://adamjcopeland.com or follow his tweets @ajc123.

 

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Living Generously Begins With Trust

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Deborah Rexrode is curating a blog series called “A New Perspective on Stewardship.” We’ll hear from some stewardship experts across the country on a wide range of what stewardship means for them. What are ways stewardship can be a spiritual practice? How might we come to a new understanding of the role of stewardship in ministry? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Marcia Shetler

The Ecumenical Stewardship Center produces resources to help congregations encourage faithful generosity. Our Giving: Growing Joyful Stewards in Your Congregation magazine and complementary materials focus on a different biblical theme each year. In 2017, that theme is “Live Generously” with a focus on scripture texts of 1 Timothy 6:18-19 and 2 Corinthians 8:9.

When we define faithful generosity—or stewardship—we often think in terms of time, talent, and treasure. But when I look at the logo for the Live Generously theme, another important “T” word comes to mind: trust. It is difficult to be generous without it.

Trust seems to be a tough concept for many North Americans to master. It’s ironic since we have so much. But our culture tells us to put our trust in the goods, systems, and financial reserves that we have created. We tend to ignore the fact that all of these can fail us. We forget that as Christian disciples, we are called to a counter-cultural way of living.

Trusting in God is part of our responsibility as followers of Jesus. It allows us to joyfully and generously let go of what we think is ours and release it for God’s use. Those acts of generosity are our witness to the world, sharing God’s abundance as channels of God’s love.

We can find many examples of trust in the Bible. Elijah asked the widow of Zarephath to be generous by sharing her last meal and trust that she and her son would not go hungry. In another account, a small boy gave his lunch of five loaves and two fish, and more than 5,000 people were fed. Moses’ mother trusted God with her son’s life. Twice. The first time she placed his life in God’s hands when she put him in a basket in a river, Moses was returned to her and she was able to raise and love her son while he was young. Later, she gave him up again, and Moses ultimately fulfilled God’s call as leader of the Hebrews.

“The Widows Mite” by James Christensen

One of the most well-used stewardship sermon scripture texts is the story of the widow’s mite, and there have been numerous interpretations of this incident. But perhaps what was most important was not only the widow’s ability to give to God totally, but to trust God completely. Maybe that is the lesson Jesus was trying to teach his disciples, and what we should learn from the widow’s example.

The hymn “Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus” was written in the late 1800s by Louisa M. Stead. She understood well the need for trust. Her husband drowned while trying to save a boy from drowning as she and her young daughter watched. The hymn was inspired by this tragedy. Louisa continued to trust God and followed God’s leading to Africa, where she remarried and served as a missionary for many years. The continent became her home and she died there in 1917.

So when I look at the Live Generously logo, I see the open hands that we must have to be generous. But I also envision the hands as God’s hands. There’s even a hint of an arrow pointing to the center of those hands. That’s where I need to be if I’m truly going to be generous: in the center of God’s hands, trusting in God’s care.


 

Marcia Shetler is executive director/CEO of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center. She holds an MA in philanthropy and development from St. Mary’s University of Minnesota, a BS in business administration from Indiana Wesleyan University, and a Bible certificate from Eastern Mennonite University. She formerly served as administrative staff in two middle judicatories of the Church of the Brethren, and as director of communications and public relations for Bethany Theological Seminary in Richmond, Indiana, an administrative faculty position. Marcia’s vocational, spiritual, and family experiences have shaped her vision and passion for faithful stewardship ministry that recognizes and celebrates the diversity of Christ’s church and the common call to all disciples to the sacred practice of stewardship. She enjoys connecting, inspiring, and equipping Christian steward leaders to transform church communities.

Stewardship 101

by Deborah Rexrode

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?

Too often stewardship means the Annual Stewardship Campaign. It means filling out a pledge card to make a commitment to the annual budget of the church where we are a member. In some cases, the definition has been broadened to include a commitment of our time and talents so that we don’t put all our focus on money.

As we begin a month of reflections on stewardship, it seems the best place to begin is to ask, “What do the scriptures tell us about stewardship?” I share these biblical principles of stewardship for you to begin to broaden your definition of stewardship:

Ownership – Let’s begin with the first verse of the Bible: “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth…” God created everything! In Psalm 24 we read, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” God is not only the creator but also the owner of everything. The biblical teaching is not that God created everything and then handed ownership off to us or someone else. God still owns all that is.

Responsibility – Once we acknowledge that what we have is God’s, the question becomes: “What would God have me do with all of this?” As God’s stewards, we are responsible to care for all that God has graciously entrusted to us. “Who then is the faithful and wise steward…?” (Luke 12:42) A steward is a person who cares for something that belongs to someone else. The steward is not the owner, but instead manages that which belongs to another. All that surrounds us in this life belongs to God, and we have been given the privilege to manage and care for some of it as we travel through life.

Accountability – One day each one of us will be called to give an account of how we have managed what God has given us. In 1 Peter we read, “Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.” (1 Peter 4:10) As God’s people, we are called to live and give generously, especially to help those in need. We are called to give first to God and God’s work, to give regularly, and yes, to give cheerfully. The Bible tells us that what we do with our money and possessions impacts our faith. We are called to be accountable for what God has entrusted into our care.

Reward – Stewardship is the way we use the abundance that God has entrusted to our care to love God and our neighbor. Stewardship is more than money, offering plates, and pledges. As the master said to the servants to whom he gave five talents and two talents, “Well done, good and faithful servants! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.” (Matthew 25:21) They used what they had been asked to manage and multiplied it for the good of the master and his kingdom.

Stewardship goes beyond the church budget or building project and connects everything we do with what God is doing in the world. Stewardship is a way of life. It is one of the primary ways that we live out our identity in Christ. We are called to be faithful stewards in all that God is calling us to do. It is being open to the opportunities and challenges that God places in our lives and serving with faith and joy.

Stewardship is a spiritual practice that allows us to live out the belief that all we have and all that we are belongs to God. Stewardship is our gifts of time, relationship, worship, thanksgiving, prayer, service, and material possessions. It is a way of living that includes giving.


Deborah Rexrode serves as the Associate for Stewardship with the Presbytery of the James. She is an ordained Elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and brings to the presbytery a background of research, study, and application of the theological understanding of stewardship and the importance of ongoing stewardship education in our congregations. She provides consultation to pastors, sessions, and stewardship committees with stewardship campaigns, capital campaigns, and planned giving. Deborah has an M.A. and a Ph.D. in the Sociology of Religion from the University of Virginia. Her research and doctoral dissertation focused on stewardship and the role of clergy in providing strong financial leadership in their congregations.

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Love Letters: The Intentional Practice of Remembering Baptisms

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Sarang Kang and Lynn Turnage are curating a blog series on faith formation. We’ll hear from various people who are involved in faith formation personally, professionally, and perseveringly. How has your faith been formed? How has your faith formed you? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Vickie Caro Dieth

In a family where juggling meetings and appointments and practices and laundry and meals is no small feat, it’s easy to forget things… especially when they happen only once a year. Luckily, my children were born on New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day, so their birthdays are easy to remember. The anniversaries of their baptisms? Not so much. The time of year is helpful, as one was baptized on Mother’s Day and the other, the first Sunday in Advent. But remembering the actual dates of their baptisms has been difficult for me and I’m most grateful for the reminders my phone gives me each year as the days near.

When my first child was born, my husband orchestrated what has become one of the most significant faith-sharing events for our family. Unbeknownst to me, he asked friends and family to write letters to our child about her baptism. As he collected the letters, he put each one into its own manila envelope, sealed it, and slipped it into a notebook where they would all be kept together.

In his planning, my husband requested enough letters to allow for one letter to be opened every year on the anniversary of our daughter’s baptism until she reached the age of confirmation. In the spring of this year, she completed our church’s confirmation process, and we read the last letter.

Some years we’ve done better at honoring the day than others. Some years there were cupcakes and some years the letters were read a few months late. But every year we’ve read a new letter.

It’s always a fun surprise to open one of the letters. I was never told who was asked to write to my daughter, and several years and two moves later, my husband doesn’t remember who responded, but they were all significant members of our own faith family. There were notes from the pastor who led the service and the elder who poured water into the baptismal font. My father’s letter shared his appreciation for the congregation that promised to nurture his granddaughter in her faith in God. There were letters from members of the youth group and their families. Some people chose to include pictures of themselves so she would know who they were. Each message spoke of the gift of belonging to the family of God.

Pastors and church educators are often telling us, “Remember your baptism,” but in a denomination that baptizes infants, this can be difficult to do. We encourage parents to share with their children the stories of the big day, but sometimes the family luncheon afterward or the heirloom gown worn by the baby claims the bulk of the memories, rather than the theological significance of the event. I am grateful for this collection of letters that reminds us of the promises made the day our faith community recognized Christ’s claim on our daughter. It is my prayer that it will help her make connections between her baptism and the day she claims the Church’s faith as her own.

I don’t really know what this notebook means to my daughter. She only knows or remembers some of the people we talk to her about. But to me, it is one of the most special gifts she will ever receive. Each year when we gather around the book of letters, we laugh and we remember. Each year we get to learn a bit of someone else’s faith story. Those who contributed took the time to reflect a little about their own faith and what it means to welcome a child into the church family. In their letters, people shared with our daughter their adult faith. The fact that she doesn’t know some of these folks reminds us of the universal nature of the baptismal vows we make. And every time she opens the book, my daughter is reminded that there has never been a time when she hasn’t been part of a faith community, that there are people other than her parents who love her, and that she is a child of God.


Vickie Caro Dieth is a Director of Christian Education and ruling elder at Christ Presbyterian Church in sunny Tallahassee, FL. Her doctoral work at Columbia Theological Seminary addressed teaching emotional intelligence as a tool for faithful discipleship. She is married to Rev. Danny Dieth and they have two daughters, Hannah and Abby.  

Blest Be the Tie that Binds

This month, strategy team member MaryAnn McKibben Dana is curating a series of posts on our most recent National Gathering. Now that we’ve been back in the trenches of ministry for a while, what ideas have really “stuck”? What keeps nagging at us, whether in a positive or challenging way? How has our view of or approach to ministry been impacted by what we experienced? What continues to be a struggle? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Rachel Helgeson

The request came from the most unlikely of places. Judy was always quiet and loving but rarely spoke out against others or things in fear of making waves. It wasn’t that Judy didn’t have an opinion about things – it was that she valued the relationships that drew her into the fellowship of our congregation more than the conflict. Judy lived and still breathes the words drafted by the hymnist John Fawcett, “blessed be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love and fellowship with kindred minds is like to that above.”

Even so, it was a surprise when she softly raised her voice in the middle of a Presbyterian meeting and said… “Would it be ok if I hung a tie out in our back shelter with socks, scarves, and hats? Because I know…” (she hesitated to say) “we know that there are folks who are living in the 3 acres of woods behind our church in tents or less than that.”

The room stood still, for it was a rare occasion that Judy made a request that had the potential of being controversial – or get push back for not being the way that we do things here – but it was her voice that helped get others to say yes, yes of course, we should do that.

So where do we go from here? In our small corner of the world in pseudo rural Southern Illinois, the problem of homelessness is growing. The state of Illinois has cut resources for folks suffering from mental illness and addiction. A large state prison is located only 20-30 minutes away from our “big town” amongst the smaller farming villages and communities. And while our little corner of the world has a homeless shelter that was endorsed at its inception by the community with the strong influence of my congregation, it came with a price. That price has been lower residency of guests because it is a family shelter functioning in the midst of ordinances that prevent people without homes from residing there if they test positive for drugs or alcohol or, in certain cases, have a felony.

And while I felt a strong pull to learn and grow around this sort of mission work, the work of the people, I felt unprepared to understand how to address the tie that binds us to those who have faced conviction, were recently released, and now have no place to go except the back “forty” of First Presbyterian Church of Mt Vernon.

It was that simple request from Judy that started with a rope tied from one pole to another with socks, hats, gloves, and scarves that helped me rethink: what are we doing here? This is the tie that binds the people living in the woods to the people worshipping in the sanctuary immediately in front of them. It was at the NEXT Church National Gathering, with the help of the creative spirit of the ad hoc, crowd-sourced worship band and the workshop led by Hans Hallundbaek about the rehabilitation through arts program at Sing Sing Correctional Facility, that I learned the Holy Spirit breathes life in the ties that bind us in new and interesting ways as the Body of Christ.

I learned that for many it is uncomfortable to deal with the overpopulation of the prison system. Many are afraid of those who are released back into society. And even more disturbing is that it is very common for former inmates to return to prison because they have not learned any soft skills to transfer to the outside world, leaving them in the cold returning to old habits.

The tie that holds our socks, gloves, and scarves is a visual reminder to my congregation of all of these folks and has had us start to ask the question: what can we do better? How can we equip people to live fully into the lives that God has called them to live without pressuring them to be something different and helping them learn basic soft skills to be able to function in the outside world? What began with a tie that binds in our shelter has now grown into a conversation with our local homeless shelter, community leaders, and the community at large asking how we can serve those experiencing homelessness better. Does it mean housing them in our current, more established family homeless shelter, or does it mean thinking outside of the box and doing something different?

I can’t say that we have answers at this point. But I would say that the time I spent at the NEXT Church National Gathering opened a door for me to remain non-anxious in the midst of the questions. Others have been there before, improving their way to an answer through the melody line of a production held on the inside of a maximum security correctional facility. To hear with an open ear each person’s concern while still acknowledging that there is a problem. To be available to speak between various organizations and help them listen to one another while still attempting to come up with a new solution to strengthen the tie that binds us together.

It started with an unlikely voice acknowledging the thing we, my community of faith, all knew but many tried to ignore and disregard. It helped us see the people in the margins who were and still are quite literally living in our backyard. And we hope to continue to seek out how the tie that binds us in Christian love builds up the holy fellowship of kindred minds beyond the walls of the National Gathering and into our little corner of the world in Southern Illinois.


Rachel Helgeson is the solo pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Mount Vernon, IL, and is still learning and growing into God’s unimaginable call. She never imagined that her gifts in music and passion for mission would be synthesized right in her congregation’s backyard but is grateful for the formative places that led her to this place (including her studies at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, First Presbyterian Church of Dallas’ Lilly Residency Program, and her prior musical training & work in Pennsylvania and New York.)