The Energy Within

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There I was with the Urgent Care doctor, someone I’d never met before, as he looked at my hand, overused after recent surgery.

“I’m a writer,” I explained. “I’m writing a book.”

“What are you writing about?” he asked.

“Stewardship and generosity: generous-hearted living.”

“That’s great!” he immediately replied, looking me square in the eye. “I see so many people day after day. They’re focused on Number One: themselves.” Then he went on to explain. “There’s this energy within each of us, and it just has to get out. Counseling lets it out, but most people won’t go to counseling.”

“Prayer gets it out, too,” I added.

He went on. This energy gets bottled up and it needs to be let loose, he said, to get out of the box somehow. As he left the room he said, “What you’re doing is needed. You finish that book.”

That gave me both healing and energy – not just for my hand, but also for my heart.

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

Help for Talking About Money

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Stewardship professionals and bloggers can be a great help to a lot of folks on the front lines of ministry – not only sharing their knowledge, but also giving courage and inspiration for our daily work. Rebekah Basinger is one of those people for me, through her site, www.generousmatters.com. For example, she wrote a piece called “Red Letter Money Talk” (Oct. 18, 2016). Here is what I wrote back to her:

“Dear Rebekah, I loved this blog! As a stewardship educator and retired pastor, I agree with Dick Towner that we can come to understand stewardship in a way that transforms hearts and conforms our lives to the image of Christ. But it’s an ongoing, lifelong process! Both confidence and care are good to have in equal measure when we allow use of money to be part of our spiritual care for those we serve.

“The best part, as you say, is knowing that we are not asking for ourselves, but instead ‘present the challenge, invite, and trust God to do the rest.’ Thank you for your encouragement!”

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

Contagious Generosity

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Contagious Generosity: Creating a Culture of Giving in Your Church is a treasure chest of ideas that get us out of the old assumptions and expectations related to giving to church. It’s filled with high-impact examples of actual practices by top congregations in The Leadership Network. Written by Chris Willard and Jim Sheppard, it addresses building a church generosity strategy; developing generous leaders and givers; showcasing changed lives; leveraging worship experiences; embracing the ministries of asking and thanking; and measuring and celebrating acts of generosity as an ongoing process.

My copy of the book is filled with tags on pages and notes in the margins for ideas on which I want to follow-up. The book sets all of its recommendations in the context of generosity as fundamental to the spiritual formation of every Christ follower. “We cannot separate our acceptance of God’s grace from the practice of generosity,” the authors say. “Generosity is the fullest expression of the life of a steward, one who has been given a gift that must be used wisely and for a purpose, bringing glory to God.”

Each chapter ends with a list of key ideas and discussion questions, making it perfect for either personal study or use in small groups. It’s a book well worth working with in both your personal life and congregation.

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

The Commitment Circle

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Ever since first learning about the “Commitment Circle” from the Center for Parish Development,1 I’ve been delighted to present it to local church leaders. It helps us understand different levels of involvement in the church at different points of people’s lives, without laying guilt on other people or ourselves for not getting everyone involved.

Based on ongoing research, the Center discovered four primary segments of people in North American churches. The “Creatives” usually constitute about five percent of a congregation. They’re the ones who unite their personal goals with the goals of the church, and they bring their personal creativity to the church planning process. They often chair all the committees and give generously of their time, energy, abilities and money for the church’s ministries.

The “Responsibles” are usually 15 to 20 percent of the people and are very active. They commonly fill the rest of the committee positions. Together with the Creatives, they give about 75 percent of the church’s budget. They identify with the congregation and come to all-church events. The “Responsives” can make up 20 to 30 percent of the congregation. They attend church infrequently, depending upon their family agendas. They give about 25 percent of the church’s income, and may come to an all-church event if you contact them five ways and offer to personally bring them.

The “Dormants” may be very active in other aspects of their lives, but are “asleep” at this time related to the congregation. They might have been Creatives in the past, before they had a falling-out or moved to another state or province. They may be family members of a Creative. They probably come to church only for baptisms, weddings or funerals, or for personal care during a crisis in their lives. Those who visit them need to feel personally called to a one-on-one relationship, building personal trust over a long time.

The good news about being aware of the Commitment Circle is knowing we can work where it’s most fruitful, tailoring our message to people’s different commitment levels, without implying that they’re not as involved in church life as they “should be.” We can expand from our strengths as a faith community, without trying to do everything for everyone. And the best news of all is knowing that positive change is possible, one person, one family at a time. We can change the percentages by increasing the number of Creatives, then Responsibles, and so forth, around the circle, as we work on one relationship at a time.

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

1 missionalchurch.org