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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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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 as Intentional Caring

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 Jordan Davis

When I was a student at Union Presbyterian Seminary, “stewardship” might as well have been a four-letter word. My understanding, at the time, was that stewardship meant a request for money (of which I had very little!) and stewardship month was the most painful month of the church.

When I was asked to write about stewardship and the seminary student, I groaned but also prayed that maybe my experience was a unique one. I have learned a great deal about stewardship since those early years, but also I have been working on a capital campaign at Union Presbyterian Seminary for three years. I knew that our students have heard a lot about money and I hoped that we hadn’t clouded their minds in the recent months.

And so, I took to social media and asked “What do you think of when you hear ‘stewardship’?” Preparing for the worst but hoping for the best, I began to read the responses and y’all… the future of the Church is in good hands!

Rather than worrying about money, seminary students are worrying about — wait for it — caring! An overwhelming number of responses came in highlighting that stewardship is about caring for God’s creation through the use of our time, talents, influence, and (of course) money. Special concern was shown for stewardship of the earth, in the way that those resources are both cared for and used.

One word that was used in these responses was “intentionality.” I think that this is what sets seminary students apart from so many: their intentionality. Our seminarians are being taught to think critically and act intentionally. Papers and actions are dissected as every word and movement is looked at through the lens of an “other” in hopes that they can learn more and therefore model better. Seminarians are learning that ministry is not just about preaching on Sunday morning and visiting hospital rooms during the week. Ministry in the 21st century is about breaking down barriers as we both look at and refine the way we live with one another in God’s creation. This intentionality, this thoughtful care, is quickly becoming the new face of stewardship.

I spend a great deal of time with congregations of all shapes and sizes, and I have heard my (not so fair) share of stewardship sermons and campaigns. I am always so disappointed at the focus placed on money, especially in areas where I know that money may not be the best or most accessible resource for that particular congregation. I have grown weary and frustrated with the idea that no ministry can happen without someone sitting poised and ready to write a check! If we will give these students a chance, if we will welcome them into our congregations and give them the space they need, they just might change the way that we minister in the 21st century.

Yes, Jesus spoke of money, but he mostly spoke of care and love for one another. I fear that many of us have lost focus of this crucial message in our attempts to “save the church.” Every year when the “ask” is made for a financial pledge (which IS vital, but maybe not the most important), more members grow tired and our congregations grow weaker. If we give these students space as they begin their ministry and heed their advice in our own ministries that have already changed multiple times, maybe our congregations will find new energy and endurance in their care for one another and God’s creation!

I also asked current seminary students how they are involved in stewardship.  One of my favorite answers was simply, “Through immersion.” I think of the students I regularly see in my work, and I think of the time they spend carrying compost buckets, serving in multiple capacities within congregations, cleaning kennels at the animal shelters, and hosting prayer vigils. They help to fundraise and they remind those of us who are so focused on money the importance of coming together to play.

Stewardship is about caring, and I think it is time that we allow these students to be our teachers.


Jordan B. Davis received her Master of Divinity from Union Presbyterian Seminary in 2014 and has a passion for building relationships within the Church and the world. Jordan devoted her time at Union to finding ways to strengthen the community through fellowship and worship. Taking a call as a Church Relations Officer for the seminary was a natural next step after graduation. She enjoys working in a setting allows her to continue learning both from congregations and students, recognizing that the church is already very different from when she started on this journey! Learn more about her ministry at www.congregationalcorner.wordpress.com.

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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A Place of Response and Action

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 Frances Rosenau

“Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral.”

Paulo Freire

The NEXT Church National Gathering really stuck with me this year. I’ve been to a previous National Gathering and came home inspired and renewed. The same thing happened in 2017 as well.

What was different this year was the sense of urgency and action. Gone is the “woe is me” trope that the denomination of our past is shrinking. Instead of reacting to the situation in the church at large, the National Gathering is now a grassroots gathering for something: for including all voices at the table, for amplifying the contributions of young leaders, and for standing up against injustice.

The Sarasota Statement has had a lot of buzz since it debuted at the National Gathering. I particularly appreciate how the statement directly addresses groups of people and actions that will be taken to bring reconciliation. Not simply a statement of faith, this statement addresses its intended audience and brings the conversation to a place of response and action.

Through the month of May, the congregation I pastor, Culver City Presbyterian Church, is taking four Sundays to walk through the Sarasota Statement in worship. Below are the sermon titles, scripture passages, and themes of each service, each of which corresponds with one part of the Sarasota Statement.

Preamble 

“Kingdom Come” Matthew 6:7-15

The Preamble of the Sarasota Statement is rich with theology and imagery, the most grounding image being that of the coming kingdom. Jesus is Lord over a kingdom that exists already, as the statement reads. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus prays for the kingdom to be present on Earth as it already exists in heaven. That means God’s kingdom is possible; a reign free of violence, starvation, and injustice can be achieved on this earth, not just in heaven. Jesus prayed for it and Jesus calls us to join in that kingdom work here and now.

Part 1 – To the people we ignore, reject, or demonize for living outside the tribes we claim

“Peace in All Its Forms” Luke 8:1-3

We claim so many tribes. Like the star-bellied sneetches in the Dr. Seuss story, we create differences between people even if they don’t already exist. And when they do exist, we oftentimes become so entrenched in our own tribes that we “ignore, reject or demonize” others.

First, we recognize what tribes we claim, whether we have done it intentionally or not. Then we work to build a community across those tribes just as Jesus calls us to. Jesus called women to leadership, even though they were outside of the “tribe” of maleness he was a part of. Systems of power and privilege keep divisions in place, and we commit to intentionally work against them.

Part 2 – To the people we dehumanize and dismiss on the basis of political and ideological differences, and those who suffer at the hands of our idolatry

“Watered Down Idolatry” Jeremiah 29:4-7

The people in exile had lived through so much suffering, they held the Babylonians in contempt. They had been wronged and abused and could not see the humanity in the people keeping them there. And yet God through Jeremiah calls them to build houses and marry into Babylonian families. The people hearing these words likely did not welcome the call. They wanted to protect their identity and not open themselves up to the Babylonians.

Our context is quite different, and yet we often “conflate Jesus’ message with political platforms and look to partisan ideologies to affirm [our] ethics and action.” We commit to prayer for our political system and our leaders as well as speaking on behalf of those silenced or who may differ from us.

Part 3 – To the people for whom we have failed to seek justice, offer hospitality, or fully embrace as part of God’s beloved family

“On the Other Foot”  Leviticus 19:33-34

Whenever I travel in other countries and am confused or lost, I have overwhelming gratitude for locals who come to my aid. As a teenager, the light bulb went off – Oh, this is how all the foreign exchange students in my school must have felt. 

“For you were aliens in the land of Egypt…” is God’s not-so-subtle reminder of when the shoe was on the other foot. Welcoming and protecting immigrants and refugees is as ancient a practice as our faith. God’s people are on the move throughout scripture, often moving either toward conquest or fleeing from it. This is still our story. As people whose story transcends the narrative of any one ethnic group or lineage, we are called to listen to the stories of those who are moving now and stand with them.

The Church is called to live differently than the powers and principalities of this world. We are called to stem the cultural tide of racism and inequality in the way we do church, to intentionally work against our biases and form a community of equality. Since we swim in the waters of injustice from Monday to Saturday, we have to work very hard at doing things differently in the Church.

The NEXT Church National Gathering this year and the Sarasota Statement in particular has given me sustaining water for the long journey, overflowing to my congregation and beyond.


Frances Wattman Rosenau is the Pastor of Culver City Presbyterian Church in the Los Angeles area. Her DMin studies focused on multicultural and multiethnic worship. She has a passion for the global church and has lived in India, Scotland, Arizona, Upstate New York, Paris, Chicago, and Tulsa. When Frances is not at church you will find her training for a race, reading about bulldozers with her boys, or searching for her husband in a used bookstore.

The Kingdom of God Is

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Brandon Frick is curating a series about the Sarasota Statement, a new confessional statement in response to the current state of the church and world. The series will feature insights from the writers and conveners of the group. What are your thoughts on the Statement? How might you use it in your context? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Chris Currie

“The kingdom of God is justice and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. Come now, and open in us, the joys of your kingdom.”

–Taizé Chant

Perhaps it is a sign of the times, but there is a wealth of colorful descriptions that attempt to capture all our contemporary anxieties. Two of my favorites are ‘dumpster fire,’ and ‘hot mess.’ According to the Oxford dictionary, a hot mess is ‘a person or thing that is spectacularly unsuccessful or disordered, especially one that is a source of peculiar fascination.’ It has been in our common lexicon slightly longer than ‘dumpster fire,’ which was just recently added to the Oxford dictionary and is defined as ‘a chaotic or disastrously mishandled situation.’ We live in a time of deep cultural anxiety and despair, with real and imagined hot messes and dumpster fires seemingly around every corner.

In such a time, what does the church say and do? Add to the drumbeat of distrust, name-calling, and resentment in our world? Shut up and just try to capture our market share? Storm the barricades? Perhaps the most countercultural posture the church can proclaim and seek to embody is one of confidence and hopefulness. Such a way of faith and action may demand that we live and act counter to our own preferences at times. It may require that we refrain from our knee-jerk inclinations to throw red meat to our ideologically preferred church tribes. But more than anything, such a countercultural way of living in the world is tinged with a refusal to despair. ‘Do not be afraid,’ is a refrain we hear throughout scripture from the prophet of the exile to the angels at the empty tomb. As we sing in the chant from the Taizé community, ‘the kingdom of God is justice and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.’ These are the only distinct gifts the Christian community has to offer to our world, and in spite of their meagerness and lack of measurable virtues, they are gifts desperately needed in a world held captive by its own anxiety, despair, and fear.

My hope is that this Sarasota Statement was tinged with that confidence and hopefulness, that Christ has come and reconciled us, this world, and all creation, and that we refuse to let each other, our neighbors, even our enemies, succumb to anything less. The ‘real world’ is the kingdom of God, not the evening news, not our latest social media feed, not whichever ideological worldview seems to have the upper hand at the moment.

Our confession to trust, grieve, and commit seeks to challenge and comfort each other, our church, and the larger world with the Kingdom of God, but that’s not all. We also urgently proclaim to each other, our church, and our world that there is much more to do until we become what we already are in that kingdom.


Chris Currie has served as pastor/head of staff at First Presbyterian Church, Shreveport, Louisiana, since the fall of 2013. He is married to Stephanie Smith Currie, a speech therapist and clinical instructor at LSU School of Allied Health, and together they have three children: Thomas, Harrison, and Corinne. Chris holds a Ph.D. from the University of Edinburgh, School of Divinity.

2017 National Gathering Ignite: Lee Hinson-Hasty

Lee Hinson-Hasty, senior director of Theological Education Funds Development at the Presbyterian Foundation, gives an Ignite presentation on the future of theological education and clergy at the 2017 NEXT Church National Gathering.

2017 National Gathering Sermon: Paul Roberts

Paul Roberts, president of Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary in Atlanta, gives the final sermon of the 2017 NEXT Church National Gathering during closing worship.

Scripture: John 4:19-26

The liturgy from this service is also available:


Paul Roberts is is president of Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary in Atlanta, GA, a position he has held since the spring of 2010. He is a native of Stamford, CT; however, he grew up in Bradenton, FL, which he considers his home. Paul graduated from Princeton University in 1985 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Architecture and African American Studies. Prior to his career in ministry, Paul worked in advertising in New York City. He later received the Master of Divinity degree with a concentration in New Testament Studies from Johnson C. Smith Seminary. He also is an Academic Fellow of the Ecumenical Institute at Bossey in Celigny, Switzerland. From 1997 through 2010, Paul was the pastor of Church of the Master (PCUSA), a church founded in 1965 in Atlanta, GA, as an intentionally interracial congregation. He serves on the boards of the Presbyterian Foundation (PCUSA) and the Macedonian Ministry Inc. of Atlanta. He is the recipient of the 2016 Devoted Service Award from Louisville Theological Seminary. Recreationally, Paul enjoys tennis and yard work. Paul and his wife, Nina, have three beautiful children—one adult daughter and two teenage sons.