J.S. Bach, gospel steward through music


Bach, Johann SebastianToday, this year, March 31st is the 331st anniversary of the birthday of Johann Sebastian Bach, one of the greatest composers of all time, whose musical works expressed the very height of baroque music.

Doing some research, I discovered that the term baroque refers to an irregularly-shaped or oddly-colored pearl. This word led to the idea that something that was “baroque” was unseemly, with too much detail: in music, for example, or in furniture. Before 1600, the main musical instrument was the human voice, but baroque music used all instruments with no voices at all. Its most striking feature was a basso continuo, or baseline theme, that extended throughout the piece, so the upper notes could go up and down, expressing the entire range of human emotions. To me, baroque music shows God’s incredible sense of humor – that this presumably misshapen pearl would become, for all of Europe for 150 years, the “pearl of great price,” the greatest musical expression of glory to God!

And that was Bach’s purpose for composing: for the glory of God. I confess one reason I’m so drawn to him is because he worked even more hours a week than the busiest pastor. For 27 years, he worked fulltime for not one but four local churches, plus the entire town of Leipzig! His main task was to teach several hundred boys in the St. Thomas Boys School, plus direct two choirs and play as organist for two churches, supervise an assistant director for the other two choirs – and write a brand new cantata (one-act opera for church, based upon that week’s lectionary Scripture) every week! He also wrote original music for every civic occasion, and repaired, tuned and maintained the pipe organs, as well!

What draws me to his music is that baroque style, with its baseline that ultimately gives so much freedom. It’s like John Wesley’s “means of grace” (prayer, Scripture reading, etc.), providing a constant framework for freely-lived abundant life. It’s like the ground of God’s unconditional grace and love, upon which we can base our up-and-down lives, in all their eccentric shapes and colors.

Thank You, God, for Your baseline love and grace, and for the freedom it gives us to live as stewards of Your gospel! Amen.

Your partner in ministry,




Going Digital With Your Stewardship Campaign++


Written for “Live Free” issue of Giving: Growing Joyful Stewards in Your Congregation

Republished in Ecumenical Stewardship Resources e-newsletter 6/26/2015

     Communicating electronically is crucial, even if your church doesn’t do that on a regular basis.Computer keyboard mouse Most North American denominations offer websites to their congregations. At least 207,000 congregations have their own websites in the U.S. As for Canada, thousands of churches have websites in the Ottawa area alone. People of all ages have access to laptops, tablets and smart phones to receive personalized information about the world; whatever the purpose, “there’s an app for that.” Even the most print-oriented grandparents email their grandchildren, and once-stodgy businesses now use emails as part of the backbone of their communications.

500 million people use Facebook, half of them logging in every day. Facebook and emails are most popular among Baby Boomers (people born between 1946 and 1964) in the U.S and Canada, and Baby Boomers now dominate church leadership in North American congregations. Pinterest has attracted more than 4 million unique daily visitors. The age of these visitors is overwhelmingly between twenty-five and fifty-four: the age range that is missing in most North American churches.

Take social media seriously if you’ve ever heard the complaint, “We need to attract more young people, more children, more youth.” 200 million people consistently use Twitter, which gets 36 million unique visitors from their desktops each month. The number of tweets topped 300 billion two years ago. In fact, tweets are so popular that several commercial television programs ask for and post Twitter responses during their on-air time. When it comes to Tumblr, a microblogging and multimedia site, 110 million users are registered, hosting more than 180.7 million blogs. Instagram, a photo-sharing social network, has become a massive social network with more than 75 million daily users, primarily teens and twenty-somethings.

It would be foolish not to take advantage of this communication explosion. So create a Social Media Team for this nine-week period. Make sure the team members are the youngest or most media-savvy members, preferably middle school through college age. Have the team chair share the primary messages of your theme, and let them generate at least two dozen ways to get the words and pictures out. Even if your team is only two people, they can have a huge impact!

Many churches already have an email prayer list or database for highlighting events within the congregation. Name one or two people to generate emails to send out on whatever time basis you have determined. Would a weekly email be helpful to help members build excitement over the nine weeks? Be sure to send out an email at least to introduce the program and each of the four weeks when Live Free is your worship theme. Encourage the rest of the team to use other social media as often as they can. If your church has a website or a presence on Facebook, set up a Live Free page and post photos as you go along. The purpose of the interviews is to share testimonies about how God frees them up to give generously to God’s work in the world, and how this congregation has shaped their lives and encouraged them to live generously toward others.

Organize an Audio-Visual Team. What if just two folks are interested during these nine weeks? That’s fine! One person can serve as the interviewer and the other can film it on your tablet camera (iPad has beautiful resolution) or even on a smartphone. Film interviews can be ten minutes or less, or even two-minute responses to questions related to the worship themes. Intersperse these clips with live speakers at your meal presentations, in order to provide a common thread throughout your meal events.

If you have someone who wants to present visuals during worship, he or she can use Microsoft’s PowerPoint or Apple’s Pages. That person can also recommend and project any film clips you may have chosen to use in the four Live Free worship Sundays. Search “generosity” or “stewardship” at www.youtube.com for film clips. Possibilities might include Ankit Bakshi’s “Joy of Giving,” Ministryspot’s “The Gift of Generosity,” Bishop Hannington’s “Grace of Giving,” or ARandVideo’s “God Is Generous in Giving.”

Initially, an electronic effort may sound like a lot to small churches. At the same time, it will feel natural to congregations that already communicate electronically on a regular basis. Thousands of local churches are located in rural or open-country areas that already depend upon electronic messaging, while millions of people in their thirties and younger depend solely upon Internet technology. If Live Free is worth inviting people to participate, don’t leave anyone out!

– Betsy Schwarzentraub

++ This article comes from the center section of the Giving: Growing Joyful Stewards in Your Congregation magazine Volume 17, which includes a timeline, articles, and other resources to create a financial-commitment program with the “Live Free” theme, based on 1 Timothy 6:18-19 and Galatians 5:1. You can used the magazine, corresponding theme materials, and digital Life Free Companion Resource to create your own “Live Free” emphasis. All are available from the Ecumenical Stewardship Center at www.stewardshipresources.org.