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

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

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

White Helmets in Syria

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white-hats-syria-carrying-personGenerosity reaches a whole new level when your life is on the line – and when you’re saving someone else’s life at the literal risk of your own. That’s what the “White Helmets” are doing every day in Syria, as they voluntarily rush in after the bombs have hit. The rescuers don’t care about a person’s religion or politics, just their ability to survive.

So far, 141 White Helmets have died in the process of saving more than 73,530 people by pulling them out of the rubble, even as the bombs were still raining down. More than fifty bombs and mortars land on some neighborhoods each day.

A piece about the White Helmets on a television news show prompted me to find their website at www.whitehelmets.org. There I heard about a new Netflix documentary called “The White Helmets,” which is available for streaming on Netflix. There’s also an opportunity to learn more about the U.N. Security Council resolutions against barrel bombs and chlorine bombs, and a place to petition the U.N. to follow through on those resolutions in some way with the Syrian government.

Jesus said, “No one has greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” The White Hats are giving their lives for all who are in harm’s way. This is the basis of generosity: living out God’s compassion.

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

Generativity

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Stephen Post and Jill Neimark wrote a fascinating book called Why Good Things Happen to Good People. It shares some exciting scientific research proving a connection between doing good and living a longer, healthier, happier life. In it, one new discovery for me was generativity.

Apparently the term generativity was first used by psychologist Erik Erikson. Since then scientists have used it to mean selfless giving to others, particularly for future generations. So “generativity means nurturing others so that they are better able in turn to manifest their own gifts of love,” 1 Some of their scientific findings include that it:

+ Links to spirituality,

+ Gives better health habits in middle age, and

+ Connects to social skills, empathy and self-esteem.

A key researcher noted that “good deeds allow us to see the good in our own nature, [and] to develop a certain confidence about ourselves that helps us through difficult times.” 2

Generativity is a fantastic word! Of course the concept is not new, to Christians at least, but it encapsulates so much for us as stewards – related to our care for the earth, planned giving, our personal dreams for our children and grandchildren, and a desire to expand God’s ministries through how we live our lives.

Generativity – may you find examples of it in people all around you, and encourage it in your own living, as well!

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

1 – Stephen Post and Jill Neimark, Why Good Things Happen to Good People, p. 46.

2 – Paul Wink of Wellesley College, who did a longitudinal study of 200 high school students from the 1920s to the present; ibid., p. 50.

Propel: Involvement and Generosity

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I just wrote a book review for next year’s Giving magazine on Clayton Smith’s new book, Propel: Good Stewardship, Greater Generosity. The theme of that issue of Giving is “Living Generously,” and I hope you’ll order it online at www.stewardshipresources.org this fall. But there are a lot more ideas from Propel than I could pack into that review, and one is the connection between involvement and generous giving.

“Involvement is a vital indicator of generosity,” Smith says. “Those who are active members of smallPropel Clayton Smith groups, classes, and leadership groups donate eight to ten times more to our church than those who do not get involved.” While his numbers are dramatic I think that’s no surprise, since generosity is generous-hearted living, not just financial giving. For example, when people give their skills and in-kind gifts to helping others, their time and concern to neighbors, or their advocacy and care to strangers, it all comes from the same generous heart. Generosity is not about giving money to a church; it’s about trying to follow Jesus in every dimension of our living.

“Generous living is more often a measure of one’s soul than of one’s pocketbook,” Smith says, quoting Gordon MacDonald’s Secrets of a Generous Life. MacDonald goes on:

People who live generously share a firm conviction that a generous portion (that’s the generosity part) of what they have must be strategically given (that’s the stewardship part) for the betterment of others and for the advancement of God’s kingdom. . . . Stewardship is at the heart of the discipline of generous giving.

When we’re grateful to God for God’s love and the gift of Jesus Christ, our desire to be generous in return pervades every part of who we are, not just the money part.

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

A Reminder from the Birds

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These past months the wild birds have been everywhere, first seeking whatever they could to build their nests. When much of the U.S. was still battling snowstorms, Northern California began to see spring. Thankfully we’ve had enough rain this year to cancel the current year’s (although not long-term) drought. Mornings have been filled with birdsong In the Sierra foothills, and through the day the soon-to-be avian parents picked up bits of hay, sticks, goose fluff, our horses’ hair strands, and even some hay-bale twine to build their nests.

The sparrows in our barn built one new nest and reinforced two from last year, and laid their eggs. In one stall the babies hatched and matured to the flying stage. The five babies formed an excited flying circus along with their mom and dad, as we fed and tended the horse beneath them. Under the eaves of our home, one nest is full of babies alSwallow 3most ready to fly. We’ve been able to see them perched on the string of lights in front of their nest, as the parents hurriedly fly back and forth to feed them.

All their activity reminds me of Jesus’ words in Luke 12 and Matthew 6, where he notes how God feeds and cares for the birds of the air. Like those bird parents, we are to nurture the young in each season, but not be consumed by worry. We are all precious and valued by God at every point in the rhythm of life. The trilling birdsong each morning is a lovely reminder of how we need to go to work providing for one another each day, but also to trust in God, Who sustains us through it all.

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub