Generous Stewards — Cooperative and Connectional

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            I got to thinking: What are the primary attributes of generous stewards, as they manage, share and use the gifts God has entrusted to them? For me, it comes down to four sets of “C”s.

The first set is “cooperative and connectional.” Generous stewards tend to choose connection over competition with others. An intriguing article in The Guardian 1 noted several studies of this behavior. It says we have strong influences that foster competition. It starts in schools, where the emphasis on exams and attainment can instill the idea that success is about doing better than others. And it’s reinforced in many of our workplaces, where employees compete for performance-related awards.

But research at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School shows that “’givers’ – people who help others without seeking anything in return – are more successful in the long term than ‘takers’ – who try to maximize benefits for themselves, rather than others.” And there’s a growing body of evidence (including at the University of Warwick) that when people feel happier and more connected, they are more productive at work.

Ministries that emphasize cooperation naturally lead to a sense of connection. For example:

  • Victory Memorial United Methodist Church in Guymon, OK radiates connection with a strong mission mindset and a huge clothing ministry; financially supports local services for seniors, the hungry, and the homeless; are committed to international mission; and host a four-year-old Hispanic congregation.
  • The Slate Project, a young church in Baltimore, MD, is a joint project of the Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church (USA), and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. One denomination donates the space, another gave several years of fund, and two others provide staff. Participants gather both online and in person, pray and read Scripture together, host an open mic night for people to share their stories, and invite artists to work with them for a season.

Cooperation and connection naturally lead to spiritual outreach, which one ministry consultant 2 says has two key elements:

  • Focus on personal faith experience of God, and the transformation God can bring about; and
  • Relationship to our daily lives, including education, health, childcare, legal matters, family relations, and mental health. He concludes, “It’s about real people with real needs, and real spiritual resources.”

As stewards of God’s Good News, and of our relationships with one another, how do we foster cooperation, connection, and spiritual outreach?

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

1 www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2015/mar/20/key-to-happiness-not-competition

2 – Michael Rivas, a consultant for the United Methodist National Plan for Hispanic and Latino Ministries

Pursuit and Possessions

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             Jesus says that what we pursue is what we treasure (Luke 12:33-34). The trouble with pursuing wealth as a source of security, adds author Sondra Ely Wheeler, 1 is that “it usurps God’s role as source and measure and guarantor of life.” By contrast, Wheeler notes, the Book of Luke lays out “a confidence of ultimate blessing so complete as to free people from compulsion about the material needs of their lives.”

This combination of confidence in God and freedom of living empowers us to pursue God’s Reign. It keeps us from chasing all the things that people otherwise see as ultimate measures of life: status, power, invulnerability against others, and business as usual.

Luke gives no single rule when it comes to what Jesus says about living with possessions. “Sell your possessions” is one reply (Luke 12:33-34). Other statements are to be generous to the poor (Luke 21:1-4), choose volunteer poverty (Luke 12:38), and refuse to call anything your own (Acts 4:32). Apparently there’s no one formula for us all; we have to figure out what is most effective, given our unique pursuit of God’s Reign in the lives and circumstances God has entrusted to us.

This can sound like bad news, in that there’s no one formula for us all – we have to figure out for ourselves what is the right relationship for us to have with the things we own. But in another way that’s also Good News: we keep working out how we can receive, give, and use our possessions for God’s purposes, in our lives and for everyone else’s life, as well.

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

1 – Sondra Ely Wheeler, Wealth as Peril and Obligation: The New Testament on Possessions (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995), p. 71

Millennial Givers

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            Thanks to Gary Hoag at www.generositymonk.com, 1 I learned about some key findings from “The Generosity Project” 2 sponsored by the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability. The report is based on an online survey of 16,800 givers to non-church Christian ministries. Twenty-two percent of those were Millennials, ages eighteen through thirty-four.

I emphasize Millennials’ participation because four of their findings were distinctively related to that group:

  1. They feel hopeful about giving – Millennials are much more likely to feel hopeful after giving to a ministry for the first time – as well as invested, satisfied, confident and generous. In fact, they’re twice as likely to feel generous at that time as Baby Boomers (ages 56 to 76).
  2. They give in traditional ways – While they are more likely to give online or on social media than older generations, Millennials are as like, or more likely, to use traditional channels, as well. Their top way of giving is through monthly support.
  3. They are inquisitive – While 90 percent of all ministry givers research the organization before giving online, 87 percent of Millennials ask other people about the organization, and 73 percent check out a third-party website, as well.
  4. They give because of who they are – Although 33 percent of older groups give because they were asked, only 21 percent of Millennials respond because the ministry asked them. By contrast, 52 percent of Millennials say they give because of who they are, versus 48 percent of older donors.

These numbers bode well for churches and ministries seeking to reach Millennials with their visions of ministry and reports on consequent changed lives for Jesus Christ.

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

1 www.generositymonk.com, April 19, 2017 daily meditation

2www.ecfa.org/PDF/ECFA_Generosity_Report_2017_EXEC_SUMMARY.pdf

Generosity Heroes

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           Generosity isn’t about what we do with things; it’s about the heart. A generous heart gives quality time to listen to another person, gives follow-through compassion to act on concern for far-away people, gives personal involvement and practical resources to people in need and creatures in danger. And there are plenty of people who demonstrate generosity just by being who they are.

I love what Rebekah Basinger said once on generousmatters.com: “Forget the trope about the left hand knowing what the right is up to. It’s time to celebrate lives lived generously, to make heroes of those who share selflessly, to sing the praises of folks who embody the Golden Rule.”

So who are these generosity heroes for you? They may be people in the headlines, or those who are always behind the scenes, local folks who make good things happen, or those who work on our behalf on the world scale. Let’s forget the left hand / right hand business, and sing their praises!

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

What Makes a Ministry Trustworthy?

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When people want to give to a ministry to improve people’s lives, they need to know they can trust that organization to follow-through in the ways they promised. But how can they know your church or other nonprofit organization is doing the right things with the money they have given? The answer includes not only money, but also relationships and showing Jesus’ love.

Using gifts for their stated purposes – Whether people’s gifts are large or small, most donors feel a sense of personal investment, and want reassurance that their donations are making a difference in the way the church said it would. Stories about changed lives and circumstances can make a world of difference, rippling out among ministry supporters in a powerful way. Check out your organization’s listing on www.guidestar.org or www.charitynavigator.org to see how they say it has operated financially in the past.

Financial transparency is essential for any ministry. Church leaders need to discern how much detail some of their members or participants may want to see, and make that information accessible to them. In addition, conduct that is accountable and transparent earns the trust of the ministry’s employees, which creates a positive workplace for them, as well.1 The Internal Revenue Service has certain requirements for what must be publically disclosed, but a church can also create a “best practices” statement that addresses issues and values up front.

It’s also about relationships, not just use of finances. Positive experiences with core transactions can bring givers a sense of confidence in your church’s effectiveness, as well. For example, an article in Nonprofit Quarterly 2 says that the way the church or organization asks for and receives charitable contributions, how it uses its assets to benefit society, and the ways it promises mission commitment into the future all give donors a sense of its legitimacy.

Trust goes beyond relationships, as well. In a study of 16,800 givers called The Generosity Project, a nonprofit ethics organization 3 found that “overall, givers are twice as likely to say they give because they’ve been blessed as to say they give because their gift makes a difference.” In addition, 71 percent of their givers were more likely to consider giving to a ministry if it showed the love of Jesus. And for those donors who were Millennials, they were “ten times more likely to support a ministry that shows the love of Jesus than any other guiding trait of ministry service.”

May your ministries show themselves to be trustworthy in all of these ways!

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

1 = www.councilofnonprofits.org/tools-resources/financial-transparency

2 = “The Public’s Trust in Nonprofit Organizations: The Role of Relationship Marketing and Management,” by Herrington J. Bryce, in https://nonprofitquarterly.org

3 = www.ecfa.church

Resurrection Generosity

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Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

On this Easter Day, I was thrilled to read today’s meditation from www.generositymonk.com. He cited Franklin Brookhart about “Resurrection Gratitude and Generosity.”

“The resurrection of our Lord is the paradigm of the way God works,” says Brookhart. “Resurrection means fullness and abundance of life – all of life. . . .” This statement aligns with what I see in the world these days, as well as within us human beings: God entering into deadly places and transforming them into opportunities for new life. Whether it’s an addict’s turnaround to claim a new beginning, or people saving lives in the midst of the devastation of war, in all sorts of places God inspires and empowers us to choose life and give and receive generously out of who we are.

Brookfield continues, “I am convinced that resurrection gratitude is a key component to maturity in the spiritual life . . . – the resurrection generosity of God.” Resurrection generosity, yes! It’s the deep generosity of God, Who loves us so much that God shocks and invites us into new life. And it’s that quality of generous-hearted living to which we are called, in turn – receiving little resurrections time and again, and gratefully responding in the all the daily ways we can.

A joyous Easter to you!

Betsy Schwarzentraub

Holy Week Writing at Mount Hermon

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It was an amazing way to enter into Holy Week, recalling Christ’s last week here on earth as Jesus of Nazareth. I joined about 300 people – writers, agents and editors – for the Christian Writers Conference in California’s Santa Cruz Mountains. Mount Hermon is a glorious site filled with both young and ancient coastal redwoods: an inspiring place for walking, writing, worshiping, and consciously being with God.

 Mount Hermon is a place already filled with good memories for me, since our family rented a cabin here several times when I was young, and one weekend a year our entire congregation would close the church building and take over these campgrounds for worship, learning and community.

 But I have cherished it differently the times I’ve come for the Christian Writers Conference, and especially this year. Yes, individual appointments with editors have given the opportunity of a lifetime, as we’ve come with our book proposals and writing ideas. But the most moving dimensions have been seeing so many people for whom the passion to write is normal, and worshiping together as Christians with this common call. The variety of theologies and church brands made no difference, as we knelt on common ground – particularly inviting Jesus Christ to enter into our spiritual Jerusalems once more.

 Holy Week can be an emotional roller coaster, between the depths of sacrifice and self-giving that Jesus gave us, and the Easter glory yet to come. It reveals the extremes of faithful human living in response to God’s incredible grace. In the face of all this, how can we strive to be anything less than stewards of God’s grace?

 Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub