Becoming Generous

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Giving wordle Edina MN ELCA“Yes, Scripture reminds us that God loves a cheerful giver. But how can we become generous, joyful givers?” This is the question that Yvonne Martinez Thorne asks in “A Practical View,” in the just-out 2011 issue of Giving: Growing Joyful Stewards in Your Congregation magazine.1
Ah, this is a key question, isn’t it? Most of us can describe very well what it would look like for us all to be generous and joyful. But how do we help ourselves and others in the churches we lead to become more generous in our living and giving?

Thorne suggests five practices to help us grow in practicing generosity:
* First, as church leaders, we need to make sure that we are modeling generous and joyful giving. (My comment: it’s not very powerful if we’re saying “Do as I say, not as I do.” Also we can’t lead where we haven’t been in our own experience.)
* Second, lift up “Christ’s paradoxical teaching that it is better to give than to receive.” This way, we have a chance to experience the mutuality of giving and receiving that God has designed for us. It’s impossible to give without receiving in the process; and in receiving from someone else, we also give that person the gift of gratitude.
* Third, practice giving every day as a means of growing closer to God. We can start by giving small and making a plan to increase our giving over time.
* Fourth, inspire one another to give so that no one is left out of giving. The issue is participation and spiritual growth for us as givers, not the amount of money raised.
* Fifth, invite one another to give, not only from our finances, but also out of our spiritual gifts, talents, and/or time. Stewardship is about managing and using all that God has entrusted to us, including the gospel and life itself.
Becoming more deeply joyful, grateful, and generous is a lifelong process. These five suggestions can help us take a step or two more down the road toward nurturing generous living.

Your partner in ministry,
Betsy Schwarzentraub
Written 2/22/2011 for the General Board of Discipleship
of the United Methodist Church

Five Star Stewardship Award

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What would it take to help your congregation develop a plan for cultivating generosity year-round? The East Ohio United Methodist Foundation has created an incentive for local churches in its conference, called the Five Star Stewardship Award.

“The important thing is not to compete with other churches or gain a certain number of points, but to say ‘What are the things that my church needs?'” says Brian Sheetz, Executive Director of the Foundation. “What are the things that we do well, and what can we learn from others that’s a good idea so we can do things better?”

The purpose of the award is to encourage congregations to engage in a comprehensive stewardship program by recognizing them at four levels: the Five Star Church (all churches with 150 or more points and all required components); the top earning Five Star Church in each district and in the conference; and the district with the highest percentage of Five Star Churches. The Foundation will give $250 to the mission project of the top point church in the conference.

The award has four major components: connectional stewardship, local stewardship effort, church finance and budgeting, and a narrative summary describing changed attitudes and outcomes.

The award gives specific options. For example, the church can create an active stewardship committee that is separate from finance; have a ministry supported by the church speak about how the church’s gifts change lives; or show staged increases in shared ministry apportionments. A church can have at least five stewardship sermons throughout the year, set up endowment fund policies, or do a ten-year analysis of ther church’s giving.
The Foundation also provides lists of possible “Thank You” speakers, International Mission speakers, and suggested congregation-wide studies. To see all criteria, see “East Ohio Five Star Stewardship Award.”

Questions for Discussion
* What encouragement does your conference have for churches to cultivate generosity year-round?
* If you were to create a year-round stewardship plan for your congregation, what components would you include?
* What assistance does your Conference United Methodist Foundation offer for stewardship education and action in any of these aspects?

Written 2/11/2011 for the General Board of Discipleship
of the United Methodist Church

Talking with Children about Stewardship

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Children can both learn and teach about faithful stewardship.

All that we have belongs to God, and we get to share, manage, and use it on God’s behalf. Stewardship is caring the way God cares for the earth; our minds and bodies; our abilities, money and things; and our choices, time and relationships, all in grateful response to God’s love. We communicate this joyful message with children when we:

Tell stories with the senses. Stories help children understand God’s love and activity and describe ways in which we can respond with gifts that have first come from God. When we tell stories to children, we invite them to meet God in the story. When they act out the stories, the lessons move from their heads to their hearts. The more senses we use in relating each story, the more they remember it.

Focus on play. Play is children’s work. Carol Carter, Godly Play director, says that play becomes spiritual work whenever children act out their relationship with what is greater than themselves. God is already present in their lives, and play gives them the opportunity to incorporate learnings and express their experiences.

Connect with life events. There are stewardship elements in all aspects of living, particularly when children deal with life transitions or new situations. For example, we can reinforce stewardship learnings when children are:
* Learning to share, going to the grocery store, or caring for pets;
* Cleaning up their rooms; watching television ads, or doing a community project;
* Receiving an allowance, earning money for the first time, or getting their first bank account.

They can start early learning about tithing and sharing with people who have less than they do. In each of these situations, we can identify a stewardship lesson and then plan how best to communicate it.

Teach stewardship to match children’s growing abilities. When we are aware of children’s capacity for understanding and activity at different age levels, we can encourage them to grow as God’s stewards. For example, Delia Halverson’s book Let the Children Give lists natural stewardship learning goals for children through grade six. We can incorporate stories and experiences not only through Sunday school but also with children in worship, in groups with parents of young children, and in after-school programs.

Include children in stewardship programs. Children are not the future of the Church; they are the Church now. Include stewardship in Children’s Time. Let a child bring forward the family offering. Make giving a celebration. Teach Raising Financially Freed-Up Kids to parents. Have special offerings that engage children. Host hands-on projects. Pray for and involve the children in your church and community.

Think About It:
* At what events or occasions could you teach and learn stewardship with children?
* How do the church’s policies and practices model good stewardship of finance and Creation?
* What can the younger members of the congregation teach the church about stewardship? Have they been invited to do so?

Betsy Schwarzentraub is Director of Stewardship at the General Board of Discipleship in Nashville, TN.

Written 2/2011 for iTeach newsletter for UM Christian educators

Resources

Let the Children Give: Time, Talents, Love, and Money by Delia Halverson. Available at http://www.cokesbury.com

Raising Financially Freed-Up Kids by David Briggs. Available at http://www.Goodsenseministry.com

Wrapped in God’s Love: Stewardship Education for Children and Youth by the Canadian Interchurch Stewardship Committee. Available at http://www.stewardshipresources.org

God’s Gifts, My Gifts by the United Church of Christ. Order from 1-800-537-3394.

Afire With God: Becoming Spirited Stewards by Betsy Schwarzentraub. Available at http://www.cokesbury.com

Stewardship Nuggets and other resources at http://www.gbod.org/stewardship

Children’s books on Stewardship http://www.luthersem.edu/stewardship

Sample Themes for a Generosity Plan

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Here are sample themes you could use for a year-round Generosity Plan. You might pick one Scripture as the umbrella theme for the entire year for your congregation’s ministries, or you may just use the quarterly themes. Either way, you can weave in worship and Christian education topics and other dimensions of your ministry. Within each season, you might decide to offer one or more of the following:

* A worship service with that season’s stewardship focus;
* Prayers or reflection pieces in your newsletters or on your church web site;
* A small group, workshop or retreat related to some practical aspect of the stewardship theme: how your church members seek to live it out in their everyday lives; or
* A book study or hands-on outreach event that embodies the learnings from the theme, as part of the congregation’s ministry and mission.
There are many possibilities! Here are a few sample themes to get you going:

“Called to Stewardship:”

You might start with a year-plus focus on the meaning and practice of our United Methodist membership vows. Jim Harnish’s book A Disciple’s Path can give you helpful substance for worship and small group exploration.

* Fall – Prayer
* Winter – Presence
* Spring – Gifts
* Summer – Service
* Fall – Witness
The Cycle of Grace:

The words for these four seasons are taken from Holy Smoke! Whatever Happened to Tithing? by J. Clif Christopher and Herb Mather. As part of your planning, you could choose to offer a small-group study of Holy Smoke during one season, followed by an Experimental Month of Tithing (with Bible texts and reflection questions provided in the book) for those who choose to experience it.

* Winter: Advent-Epiphany – Grace
* Spring: Lent-Easter – Giftedness
* Summer: Early Pentecost – Giving
* Autumn: Late Pentecost/Kingdomtide – Growth
The Great Commandment:

When asked what is the greatest commandment, Jesus answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mk. 12:28-31) This text lends itself well to four quarters of stewardship focus.

“Heart” in the Old Testament means “bias,” “leaning” or “thrust” of one’s life; we might say our lifestyle or the non-verbal witness of our actions. “Mind” includes both our reason and imagination. “Soul” in the Old Testament is literally “throat” (as in lifebreath), so we could translate it as our very lives. “Strength” refers to our bodies and physical health. It is natural to pair each of these aspects with Jesus’ intertwined second commandment: to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. These seasons could give a great focus for teaching and practicing joyful stewardship in your congregation.

* Winter: Advent-Epiphany – Heart and Neighbor as Self
* Spring: Lent-Easter – Mind and Neighbor / Self
* Summer: Early Pentecost – Soul and Neighbor / Self
* Autumn: Late Pentecost/Kingdomtide – Strength and Neighbor / Self
“Stewardship in Season” (from Radical Gratitude):
* Winter: Advent-Epiphany — “Awakening to God’s Grace”
* Spring: Lent-Easter — “Living Simply in God’s Grace”
* Summer: Early Pentecost — “Helping to Unveil God’s Grace”
* Autumn: Late Pentecost/Kingdomtide — “Sharing God’s Grace”

Written 2/2011

Note: “Radical Gratitude” is an outstanding e-newsletter and web site resource created by Tanya Barnett and Tom Wilson of the Pacific Northwest United Methodist Foundation. To subscribe or to access their archives (with all three years of the Common Lectionary, as of February 2009), go to http://www.umfnw.org.     Here is what they say about copying: “All materials in “Radical Gratitude” were researched and prepared by the PNW Annual Conference’s Stewardship Emphasis staff and advisory group. You are welcome to forward and/or reproduce these materials for church use (please cite “Radical Gratitude,” http://www.umfnw.org).