The Gift of “Extra” Time

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The following was spoken by Heather Linsley, Worship Leader today, February 28th, in my home church. I share her words and prayers with her permission.     – Betsy Schwarzentraub

clockWritten by Heather Linsley

            For those of us who have secretly (or not so secretly) wished we had just one more hour in the day in which to get to the seemingly endless tasks on the To Do List done, here is not just an hour but a whole day! February 29th, leap day, the extra day that our astronomical community has given us in order to reposition the earth in its orbit around the Sun.

In looking for a few factoids to share with you about leap years, I discovered a wide range of traditions that various cultures have regarding the calendar. Our Gregorian Calendar is a pretty good one, only off by a day every 3,236 years, but the Iranian Calendar is only off by a day every 110,000 years. The Chinese Calendar, based on lunar cycles, gives us a whole leap month every three years. The Jewish or Hebrew Calendar also adds a whole month seven times with a nineteen-year period, calling those leap years Shanah Me’uberet, or “pregnant years.”

My point with all of this trivia is that no matter where you live or what your cultural or faith tradition, time plays a central role in our lives. But time is not determined by the whims of an individual, but rather by phenomena far outside human control, be it the oscillations of a Cesium atom, the rotation of the Earth, the revolution of the Earth around the Sun, or the Moon around the Earth. Let us pray. . . [Laughter from congregation] . . . No, seriously:

Prayer for Gathering

Lord, tomorrow we know the Earth will keep spinning and moving in its cyclical path around the Sun. Help us to claim just a few of those leap seconds for ourselves. Help us to “reposition” ourselves in our own orbit around You. Remind us that You are the force that guides us on our daily path, and You are the standard by which we measure our time on Earth. Amen.

Prayer for Offering

Thank You, Lord, for the gift of time, with all of these precious gifts. May we use these offerings to position You at the center of our faith community. May we be good stewards of the time You have given us and these financial gifts offered in Your name and the name of Your Son. Amen.

Simple Rules for Money: John Wesley on Earning, Saving, & Giving

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James A. Harnish, Abingdon Press, 2009Simple Rules for Money cvr

Written for the “Live Simply” (2016) issue of

Giving: Growing Joyful Stewards in Your Congregation

published with permission

In Simple Rules for Money, James Harnish offers Methodist founder John Wesley’s guidelines for financial living, still strikingly appropriate for us today. “Wesley’s rules are not about fund-raising for the church,” he states. “They are about practicing the spiritual discipline of generosity so that we become generous people whose lives are shaped in the likeness of an extravagantly generous God.”

In this small book, individuals or study groups can delve into Wesley’s admonition to “gain [or earn] all you can, save all you can, give all you can.” With help from the book’s discussion questions, it prompts readers to realign their daily habits.

Earn all you can, says Harnish, but not by harming your health, hurting your neighbor, or damaging your soul. Work at your livelihood supported by your Christian community and financial counselors, trusting God in the process.

“Save all you can” means not to waste money on things that derail us from our relationship with God. Here the author offers eight real-life steps we can take to counter our instant-gratification, credit card-addicted culture.

“For Christ-followers,” Harnish says, “giving is a defiant act of rebellion against the insatiable power of greed.” Wesley’s phrase “give all you can” is not about giving from our financial leftovers, but “a total reorientation of our financial life around our commitment to Christ.” He then highlights Wesley’s four challenging questions to ask ourselves before we make any expenditure.

Summarizing Wesley’s outlook, Simple Rules for Money affirms that generosity is a non-negotiable Christian practice. It requires planning, motivated by our identity as children of God. And it results in joy, as we see our generosity “touch(ing) the life of this world with the love and grace of God.”

Kids, Money & Values: Creative Ways to Teach Your Kids About Money

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By Patricia Schiff Estess and Irving Barocas, Betterway Books, 1994

Written for the “Live Simply” (2016) issue of

Giving: Growing Joyful Stewards in Your Congregation

published with permissionKids, Money & Values

It’s no surprise that Kids, Money & Values is still in print: it gives practical ideas and exercises for parents and other adults to use with children. Authors Estess and Schiff first present a developmental chart of usual interests, skills and abilities of children from preschool to early teens as they relate to arithmetic, money, property, and honesty issues. Next they invite readers to answer a quiz about their own goals for the children they have in mind. Each chapter presents a scenario, then discusses different options for adult response to the child. Topics range from parenting and passing on values, to earning, saving and investing; and from spending, sharing and caring, to making responsible choices.

Allowances can help children learn to manage money, grow in their sense of control, and share in the family’s resources. The authors advise keeping an allowance separate from chores, love, approval, punishment and rewards. While kids are bombarded with “buy” messages every day, Estess and Barocas recommend graduated ways to help them outgrow the “I want what I want when I want it” syndrome.

The book also suggests ways children can make the connection between work and money within the family and in neighborhood involvement. The authors recommend ways to teach children to save on a regular basis, put off satisfaction for a reasonable time, and find other ways to help their savings grow. Most powerfully, children look to their parents to model the behavior they teach.

When it comes to spending, Kids, Money & Values recommends ways for children to discover how to trade items, talk back to television commercials, and learn about sales pitches. The book also gives tips for helping kids become better consumers. Best of all, in each chapter the authors recommend what adults can do when children make mistakes, so they can learn from their experiences and move on.

Ways to Share Your Narrative Budget++

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Achievement 5Spread your good news! Plan the strategy for sharing your congregation’s narrative budget over the year. Consider any of the following ways of telling or sharing your good news:

  1. Use posters and bulletin inserts that proclaim the ministry.
  2. Highlight one ministry area a month, or feature a ministry area in weekly bulletins.
  3. Have first-hand testimonials from the congregation speak about the special ministry in which they are active. Include all groups and ages, from children to seniors.
  4. Use the narrative budget in New Member Classes.
  5. Make a video or DVD presentation based on your church’s mission statement and/or narrative budget.
  6. Ask for a half-hour time slot on your local cable television station to share your congregation’s mission and budget.
  7. Ask every group in your church to give fifteen minutes in study and prayer, based on the narrative budget.
  8. Plan a Presentation Breakfast or Luncheon or Dinner to present the narrative budget to the congregation.
  9. Incorporate your narrative budget into your home visitation.
  10. Plan a special mission weekend to interpret your ministry areas.
  11. As new church leaders are installed for the year, present the narrative budget as part of their dedication.
  12. Give time in worship to celebrate your participation in each of the core areas of ministry.

The possibilities are many. Be innovative, and remember to include the children and youth in your plans.

++ From A Declaration for Mission: Your Congregation’s Budget, by the Canadian Interchurch Stewardship Committee, 1992

 

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

Creating a Narrative Spending Plan

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How can we build a Narrative Spending Plan, or Narrative Budget? Church leaders and pastors are familiar with the process of establishing a line-item budget, but a Narrative Budget is done a different way. It starts by forming a small group of church leaders who are familiar wGiving wordleith the church’s current ministries, including the pastor.

Each local church develops its own creative way of doing it, but these are the basics:

  1. Identifying Ministry Dimensions

What are the three or four core dimensions of our congregation’s ministry? We’re not talking about individual programs here, but essential umbrellas that make this church the Church. It also may include an aspect that is part of the congregation’s essential DNA. Here are four real examples, with sample programs under each category.

I:

+ Spiritual Formation – Ex: Worship; children, youth and family ministries, Sunday school; Bible studies and small groups

+ Compassion and Service – Ex: Food for the hungry; local homeless and advocacy ministries; international mission; denominational and ecumenical shared ministries

+ Congregational Care – Ex: Hospitality; fellowship events and groups, classes, women’s and men’s groups; shawl ministry; Communion to shut-ins.

II:

+ Worship – Connecting to God

+ Congregational Care – Connecting to one another

+ Faith Development – Connecting to our own best selves

+ Mission and Outreach – Connecting to God’s agenda for the world.

III:

+ Connectional Ministry – Local, independent and denominational mission

+ Christian Education – Learning for all ages; materials and support for short term and ongoing groups

+ Community and Regional Outreach

+ Media Plan – Witness and Welcoming.

IV:

+ Open Hearts – Ex: Various events that reach out to parts of the church family; celebrations of the Church Year; a weekly newsletter; talent, equipment and supplies for worship and music ministries; a repainted parsonage and improvements on the place we call home; and pastoral leadership for worship, teaching and personal support

+ Open Hands – Ex: Peace with Justice and Church-and-Society work as a congregation; weekly outreach and Thrift Shop; maintenance and upgrades of the church and other buildings to host weekly and monthly meetings of community groups; participation in CROP Walk, AIDS Walk, etc; special offerings in response to world disasters

+ Open Minds – Ex: Curriculum and materials for Sunday school leaders; facilities and teaching materials for adult learning groups; involvement in community studies; support through Shared Ministries for seminaries, colleges and training; a local church scholarship for single heads of households.

Where a given church places a specific program depends upon the nature of the group and its community context at this time. For example, a congregation may put the Youth Group under congregational care for the youth in its church family. Another sees the program as community outreach, since most of the participants are in the community. Or they may see it as spiritual formation, since they are offering a biblical basis for living, shaping young minds, hearts and lives.

2. Allocating Time for Staff and Facilities

            Pastors are not overhead! Neither are other staff members, from church administrators to gardeners. In this second step, we divide up salaries, materials and financial benefits for each person according to our dimensions of ministry. For example, in Model I above, 80% of the cost for a Christian Education staff person might go under Spiritual Formation (for preparing, coordinating and leading the Sunday school and other small groups), 10% under Congregational Care (for connecting with families within the congregation), and 10% under Compassion and Service (for direct community outreach inviting families to attend invitational events). In some situations, it might be 25% or more relating to the community.

The best way to figure out division of the pastor’s time is for him or her to do a not-too-detailed time study for two weeks or a month, and have the pastor divide it up according to the different ministry dimensions. This doesn’t have to be too complicated or a matter of committee oversight: just looking at blocks of time, for example, for visiting in homes, worship preparation, community involvement, etc. Administration is not a category in itself; it’s always for a ministry purpose. For example in Model IV, part of the pastor’s time is named under Open Hearts, and the rest assigned to Open Hands (in community involvement) and Open Minds (in teaching and group work).

The same process goes for the church’s property and facilities. What ministries are the buildings used for? For example, Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step groups may meet there 20% of the time (in Model II would it be put under Mission and Outreach, or Faith Development?), fellowship groups may meet there 30% of the time (under Congregational Care), and worship-related events might take place there 50% of the time. Once we decide the percentages, we can portion out the utilities and other related costs.

Putting It All Together

            For most churches, the Narrative Spending Plan ends up on one or two pages with a single money amount underneath each ministry-dimension category. We may decide to add a few bullets above that number under each category for what we would like to add or expand. When we do that, the piece can be handed out as part of the Financial Commitment response time, to encourage givers. Afterwards, we can take the money amounts off the page and use it as a flyer that answers the question, “What does this congregation do, anyway?” to put in the pew racks and take it around to the community.

Inevitably this process of creating a Narrative Spending Plan produces an “Aha!” somewhere along the way. For example in Model II, maybe we hadn’t realized we put this much energy into Community and Regional Outreach, or so much or so little into Witness and Welcoming. These realizations can lead to celebrating what we’re doing and to deciding to change our emphasis to rebalance the church’s work in the year ahead. It becomes a process of greater awareness for church leaders and an outreach tool for a variety of events.

Churches on the Move

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Downtown Disciples man at keyboard in classroom            What a gift it is to meet and share with colleagues across the U.S. and Canada through the “Stewardship and Culture” online course! One of the topics in our most recent conference call was about churches that are not tied to a specific church building but are literally “on the move” in the community.

One is called The Mobile Church (in Dallas, Texas?). Its members meet for worship in office buildings and unused theaters. One usual spot for midweek gatherings is at a Starbuck’s, where other coffee patrons inevitably are attracted and join in. Another is Downtown Disciples in Des Moines, Iowa. Their weekly “meetups” include live music and worship at a community center; and Wine & Word: A progressive discussion around current events and Scripture, at a winery. Their Meetup Groups frequently get together at Smokey Joe’s Sandwich Shop.

These churches remind me of Old Testament scholar Albrecht Alt, who said that in the entire Ancient Near East, only the God of the Old Testament was “a God Who goes with us.” While other supposed gods were eternally linked to a set territory and shrine, God / the LORD / “I Am Who I Am” could move outside a specific territory, wherever God’s people traveled – even as far as Babylon during the Exodus.

Churches on the move remind us that God is not locked into a specific piece of private property, and we can travel anywhere with God, as well. What would happen if we were bold about using public spaces for ongoing worship as well as witness?

Yours partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

What’s in a Box

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Inspiration can come in some surprising forms. An article in the January-February 2016 issue of Smithsonian left a lump in my throat. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen archaeologscrollical finds in seminary, so I was pleased to see pictures of Galilean treasures unearthed in recent years.

One item is particularly intriguing: a quartzite box found in the synagogue in Magdala (also newly discovered). It has some of the earliest-known carvings of the Jerusalem Temple’s menorah and other sacred items from the Temple areas where only priests were allowed. It even has a symbol of the veil separating the priests’ area from the Holy of Holies. So the box represents a three-dimensional model of Herod’s entire Jerusalem Temple.

Here’s what brought the goosebumps: Rina Talgam, the art historian who is studying the box, believes it represents one more sect of Judaism in Jesus’ day, alongside the Pharisees, Sadducees and others. This group believed that God does not live solely in Jerusalem but is accessible to any Jew anywhere. In effect, the box allowed them to bring the entire Temple to their own provincial synagogue for worship. In this way, Talgam says, that Jewish group was a forerunner to the New Testament with its theme of God’s Reign existing not only in heaven but also on earth and in the human heart. As Talgam told the writer of the article, God is not only in heaven, but also within the faith community and within each one of us.

As stewards of the gospel, we know that God has gifted us with so much, from God’s love to our lives and everything in between. But what makes me tremble is this: God even entrusts us with the gift of God’s own Living Presence. If it takes a miniature Temple on a box to remind us, then that’s fine with me. The fact is that “God Is With Us” – Emmanuel.

How can we be stewards of God’s Living Presence by the way we live today?

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub