Generous Stewards — Cooperative and Connectional

Standard

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

Advertisements

Apportionments One-Liners

Standard

ONE-LINERS ABOUT APPORTIONMENTS
FOR YOUR CHURCH BULLETIN OR NEWSLETTER

1
Apportionments are our shared connectional ministries a way to reach out to transform lives beyond the reach of any single congregation.
2
Not a tax but real, live ministry! Through Apportionments, we sustain vital work through hundreds of channels nearby and around the world.
3
Thanks to our apportionments, more than 800 fulltime mission personnel work on our behalf around the globe, when disaster strikes, in ongoing ministry and self-development, as the Body of Christ at work in the world.
4
Giving is an act of faith: faith in God at work through the multiple ministries of the United Methodist Church in the world.
5
Ministry comes in extended forms, when we give for Christ’s work beyond our local community through Apportionments, sharing through our church’s worldwide connection.
6
Apportionments are people who serve others in the name of Christ on your behalf.
7
Apportionments change people’s lives, renew them, save them and give them hope.
8
Our network works! Apportionments are people committed to Christ through our connectional system of ministries.
9
Apportionments mean people of faith are in mission for Christ’s church in the world: our way of living out our faith.
10
“Apportionment” means “a portion meant for others”, in our district, conference and around the world.
11
Thanks to our Apportionments, the Conference Center is a gathering place for ministries beyond the work of conference staff. In any given year, dozens of groups use the building in West Sacramento, coming from our local churches, districts, conference and denomination. Thanks to you, we have a gathering place to share.
12
Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians that our good works cause others to praise God, for this is proof that your deeds are as good as your doctrine. Apportionments allow members of our faith to connect with one another in doing good deeds are the world, every day.
13
When an earthquake strikes San Francisco, the United Methodist Church is there with relief. When a typhoon hits Hawaii, or an earthquake tears apart El Salvador, the United Methodist Church is there with relief. When a hurricane blows through the Carolinas, or floods ravage the Midwest, the United Methodist Church is there with relief. Our Apportionments help clothe, feed and house people in need, all because of Jesus.

Mission Shares Part 2: The Local-Global Balance

Standard

Okay, so it’s an art keeping local and global ministries in a healthy balance. But paying our Conference Mission Shares helps us hugely on both fronts.

To begin with, Mission Shares help us fight consumerism. Yes, our whole society swims in those waters. But the consumer attitude can seep into our churches – like the view that when we give financially we’re buying the church’s services instead of participating in God’s work. We can see ourselves as recipients, even consumers, and that “if some services are good, more are better.” We can assume that the local church exists to serve us, and “you get what you pay for.”

But regular, intentional participation in our Mission Shares reinforces a different viewpoint: that it’s an honor to participate in God’s work in the world. As we hear how they support life-changing situations, they also give us a sense of hope, knowing that we are actually doing something specific to help transform people’s lives.

For example, Mission Shares empower Congregational Development work in this Conference: not only creating new worshipping faith communities, but also helping existing churches revitalize by reconnecting with their local communities. The “Nu Places for Nu Faces” course prepares members to strengthen new churches, while the Conference Lay Servant Ministry equips United Methodist to be a force for revitalization in their churches by teaching, training and leading in all facets of congregational life.

Second, Mission Shares remind us that we are baptized into the global Church. When we were baptized, it was not into a single congregation or even a particular denomination. It was into the Body of Christ worldwide, beyond all partisan labels. When we pay our Mission Shares we give “a portion meant for others” (hence “Apportionments”) so the whole Body of Christ can heal, grow, and transform this world, both nearby and far away from our front doors.

And third, our Mission Shares help us express our United Methodist vows. The more aware we are of where our money goes and what ministries it empowers, the more we can pray for one another, be present to one another in direct and indirect ways, and offer our monetary gifts, our personal service of involvement, and our witness to the power of the gospel in our lives.

All this presumes that God – the true Sovereign of the universe and Redeemer of our souls – really does transform people’s lives through our connectional giving. If you’re still not sure of that, ask any Yellowstone Conference leader about where they see God changing lives, congregations and communities. Then check out http://www.umcgiving.org to glimpse where our General Conference Apportionments go. Through our Mission Shares, we participate in an exciting local-and-global ministry, spreading out from right outside our door, all the way around the globe!

Betsy Schwarzentraub

Written 7/2013 for the Yellowstone Conference UM Foundation

Mission Shares and the Local-Global Balance by Betsy Schwarzentraub is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Mission Shares Part 1: Long Arms and Jesus’ Feet

Standard

God doesn’t work just with United Methodists. We can glimpse God’s activity all around us! So why participate in God’s work through our Apportionments, or “Mission Shares”? For starters, it has to do with long arms and Jesus’ feet.

First of all, our Mission Shares really do support mission.  “It’s an amazing thing when people in rural Montana and Wyoming can be part of the things going on in Angola, Cambodia and Mongolia,” says Sally McConnell, our Yellowstone Conference Missions Coordinator.

Yes, our Mission Shares support hundreds of fulltime missionaries here and around the world, but Yellowstone has a special relationship with three of them. We know they’re real people in real situations, and they keep in touch with us. For example, Ken Koome, missionary in eastern Angola, will visit churches in our Conference this September 4 through 16, traveling from Montana to Cody, Wyoming within that time frame. Watch for dates and locations so you can hear him.

The “Mission Inside and Out” event this spring was another great example of bringing our mission connections home.  Jim Gulley, our missionary in Haiti, shared stories about the work being done and affirmed the long history this Conference has with them by providing money and sending mission teams. And local churches brought their contributions, as well. For example, the people from Missoula brought supplies for Family Promise, which helps homeless families, including school and health care supplies.

Second, Mission Shares reach beyond where a single congregation can go. Without our ministry connections, even the most mission-minded congregation only has one arm’s-length for direct, hands-on mission. But thanks to our worldwide network, all kinds of collaborative ministries are taking place, far beyond one congregation’s normal reach.

The Mission Extravaganza at Annual Conference Session this June not only raised a lot of money for Imagine No Malaria, but also raised awareness of human needs and of our great resources when we work together. Imagine No Malaria is an exciting second-mile effort (not part of our Mission Shares) where our denomination has teamed up with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and others to wipe out malaria around the globe. But this “extra effort” would not be possible if it weren’t for our existing mission network already in place, church-to-church and Conference-to-Conference, across the United States and elsewhere.

Third, Mission Shares put Jesus’ priorities into action. Jesus’ life and ministry embody love of God through love of neighbor. His Risen Presence and ongoing witness urge us to pay particular attention to people on the margins of power. So our Mission Shares have much to teach us about the gospel (what Paul calls “spiritual blessings”), even as we share our material blessings with them.

For example, together we support the Blackfeet United Methodist Parish, by providing the salary for a pastor who serves three congregations on the reservation. The Parish has a strong youth group there, and provides a clothing bank and other community services.

Speaking of youth and young adults, Mission Shares also support Campus Ministries here in our Conference. The students gather not only for worship and fellowship, but also for personal mission. Just this past January, a campus ministry team went to Haiti to help out.

Fourth, Mission Shares help us guard against turning into a club. They sustain people who live and work in our Conference to help us make connections with others. They help us fight against the tendency to become inwardly-focused, and so keep us being the Church, Christ at work in the world.

One of these Conference resources is Sally McConnell, our Conference Missions Coordinator. She keeps churches connected and helps bring them together to brainstorm responses to mission emergencies both nearby and far away. She raises awareness of needs and resources, and coordinates our responses. “It’s not glamorous, but somebody needs to do it,” she says. “There are good things happening all over, but it’s hard to put it all into words.”

So Mission Shares aren’t just a practical way of doing ministry together. They support honest-to-God mission. They give us a whole network of ministries that extend our reach. And they keep us living as the Church, focused on Jesus’ priorities.

Betsy Schwarzentraub

Written 7/2013 for Yellowstone Conference UM Foundation
Mission Shares: Long Arms and Jesus’ Feet by Betsy Schwarzentraub is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Connectivity

Standard

A new publication launching this month called Brain Connectivity is a peer-reviewed journal by neuroscientists to help people understand how the human brain makes connections. The connections include when the brain is healthy, but also when it is dealing with disorders such as Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, stroke, and depression. The start of this new journal coincides with a new neuroscience initiative on brain connectivity, funded by $40 million in research grants from the National Institutes of Health.

Okay, so I am not a neuroscientist. I’m not even a scientist. But like most of you, I have a lot of experience in the church. And the more I read about brain connectivity, the more it reminds me of the “connectivity” among us as a connectional church.
What got me thinking about connectivity was a statement about the impact of physical exercise on the brain. A recent study found that one year of exercise can give a 70-year-old the brain connectivity of a 30-year-old, improving the capacity to remember and plan and the ability to deal with ambiguity and do multiple tasks. Amazing!

If anybody is multitasking, it’s the United Methodist Church. Like the brain, the church has complex, interrelated units that were designed to be both “functional” and “effective” (to use neuroscience terms). Experts of all sorts have different theories as they map out how we can best work with one another, just like scientific experts do about brain mapping. In our denomination, the word “connection” has become an issue of structure for some folks and a set of perceptions about our general (worldwide) agencies for others.

So it might help us to think about connectivity instead in order to respond to more primary questions, such as:
* What is our healthiest pattern of linking to be both functional and effective in transmitting life? (Structure is a secondary question) and
* How can we network to process information from ministry to ministry, communicating what works best from place to place as we seek to make disciples of Jesus Christ?
I am using a metaphor here, but it seems to fit. Connectivity concerns the nervous system in our physical bodies, so it’s no surprise that talk about living connectivity in the church makes us, well, nervous. But if stewardship includes how we steward relationships and even how we steward the church, then it’s worth stepping outside the old connectionalism box.

Your partner in ministry,
Betsy Schwarzentraub

Written 12/8/2011 for the General Board of Discipleship
of the United Methodist Church

Ways Local Churches Can Increase Their Apportionment Payments and Lift Up Our Shared Ministries Connectional Giving

Standard

+ Highlight one Apportionment category in worship on the second Sunday of each month, with a special offering for that ministry. Publicize beforehand in church newsletter, bulletin, and bulletin board. Emphasize the 4 Annual Conference Apportionments over four months, the 2 Jurisdictional Apportionments together one month, and the 7 General Church Apportionments over 7 months. One churchwide event can feature a speaker who’s involved in a district ministry to present the district askings.

+ Break down your yearly Apportionments figure into an amount per week, and send that amount in weekly to the Conference Treasurer. Use the breakdown amounts to publicize the purpose and cost of our connectional ministries.

+ Think of all the personal connections to each dimension of ministry. Invite that person or someone related to the ministry to come speak in worship. For example, invite someone from your District Council on Ministries to share what our district askings are doing to transform people’s lives.

+ Borrow a Connectional Giving Display from your district or the CA-NV United Methodist Foundation, to have it up in your own local church for a specific period of time. Invite Connectional Giving Interpreters or Stewardship Associates from the Foundation, active or retired clergy, or clergy in Extension Ministries to come speak. Invite someone to speak who is involved in a ministry near you, directly or indirectly supported by the District or Annual Conference.

+ Hold a Church Family Night to highlight the eleven new Mission Initiatives of our United Methodist Church! Contact the Foundation or one of the Connectional Giving Interpreters to make a presentation or bring part of the “In Mission Together” video. You may choose to have one event for each of the four areas of the world. Or you can show a little about each country in one shortened presentation. (Provide separate video movies for the children to watch that night.)

+ Invite your local church Lay Leader to meet with the District Lay Leader (who is also a Connectional Giving Interpreter) and your Lay Member of Annual Conference Session. Work together to draft a local church connectional giving interpretation plan, then reshape it together with your pastor. Invite area clergy on extension ministries and retired clergy to join the team.

+ Call our Conference chair for missionary itineration, and set dates for missionaries to come speak to your local church, cluster, or district

+ Connect our Apportionment giving with United Methodist Women’s studies (Schools of Christian Mission and Reading Program). Talk with the leaders of your United Methodist Women about having a UMW program on our connectional giving, including the UMW Caring Connection.

Written 2/2007 for the California-Nevada Annual Conference