Generous Stewards — Collaborative and Collegial

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            Generous stewards often seem to interact and engage in ministry through networks of diverse folks – more like being part of a movement than a single organization. For example:

  • Cooking Up English, in Austin, TX, is a local church ministry that uses cooking to help non-English speakers learn more about the language, while building community between longtime church members and those new to the area.
  • Presbyterian Peace Fellowship in Stony Point, NY, brings together seven communities in different nearby towns that focus on various aspects of peacemaking, from urban gardening and immigrant support to young adult programs and storefront prayer gatherings.
  • Healthy Vines, in Corona, CA, is collaboration between local and public-school gardens, to help children learn about farming and enjoy locally-grown produce.

These ministries are examples of what I see as a third set of core attributes of generous stewards – they are collaborative and collegial.

When we try to live intentionally as stewards – enjoying, sharing and managing what God has entrusted to us – we often develop collegial relationships that cross over old-time boundaries for the sake of a larger purpose. An article about attracting Millennials in ministry (those born roughly between 1980 and 1995) says the bottom line is that they want to be part of a collaborative community that empowers and releases them to create new ways of doing church and connecting to others.1 But Millennials are not the only age group looking for this approach. Many congregations are popping up these days, which Phyllis Tickle refers to loosely as the “Emergent Church.”

Emergent or otherwise, whenever two or more of us gather in Christ’s name, stewards of the Good News and all God has entrusted to us tend to work with one another in a mutual, flexible way that strengthens the whole. May you find yourself in increasingly collaborative and collegial ministry relationships!

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

1 – Chris Folmsbee and Brad Hanna, “What Millennials Crave and How the Church Can Relate,” Circuit Rider, May/June/July 2015, pp. 24-25.

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Generous Stewards — Curious and Creative

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Who knew that curiosity might have anything to do with stewardship? I hadn’t thought about it that way. But some scientific studies approach curiosity not as a predilection or character trait, but as a behavior. As such, it shows our “stewardship of attention” 1 – how we choose to pay attention to certain people and situations. When we are curious about others and ask open-ended questions, we can learn and grow, and improve others’ lives, as well.

This is Part Two of four blogs about some primary attributes of generous stewards. Yes, they are cooperative and connectional – and they’re also curious and creative.

Two broad-based studies focused on what Millennials (those born roughly between 1980 and 1995) look for. 2 They want interaction with people in relationships that are diverse in theology, race, ethnicity, etc. And they are curious, seeking experiences and unafraid of risk. They hope to leave the world a better place, including social justice issues, environmental ethics, and local and global physical wellness.

But while Millennials stand out for these things, they aren’t the only age group to desire them. Curiosity is “the desire to approach novel and challenging ideas and experiences,” 3 to increase one’s personal knowledge and engagement. And we all want that, to differing degrees. But when people actively reach out to follow their curiosity, they tend to have better relationships – they connect more easily with strangers, they are often better at “reading” other people’s verbal and nonverbal cues, they are usually less aggressive and enjoy socializing more. 4

It’s no wonder that curious folks – generous stewards of attention – tend to be creative, then. Because they’re willing to learn from other people and to cooperate and connect with others, they end up helping to create new ways to relate beyond old roles and expectations, and new models of ministry that involve risk and flexibility.

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

1 – For more on “stewarding attention,” see the three-blog series under that title by Jason Misselt at www.luthersem.edu.

2 – Cited in Folmsbee and Brad Hanna, “What Millennials Crave and How the Church Can Relate,” Circuit Rider, May/June/July 2015, pp. 24f.

3 & 4 – Jill Suttie, “Why Curious People Have Better Relationships,” http://greatergood.berkeley.edu.

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

Lynne Twist for Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday

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Oprah’s “Super Soul Sunday” this April 23 will include Lynne Twist, inspiring blogger and author of The Soul of Money. I was so moved by her blog, “Super Soul Sunday with Oprah” that I made the following comment:

“Lynne, I was thrilled to read your response to being interviewed by Oprah for this April’s Super Soul Sunday. Navigating the world of money can be hugely challenging, whether we come from our U.S. obsessed “money culture,” or from impoverished situations like those of Oprah’s Leadership Academy graduates. It takes attention, persistence and intentional gratitude to mature in the very traits you have and recognized in Oprah: spiritually grounded, loving, smart, and incredibly generous.

“A key aspect of growing such generous souls is telling ‘rallying stories:’ experiences that inspire hope, and trust in God’s abundance. When we reflect on learning from our own experiences and share what we’ve heard from others, we encourage healing in our relationship with money in an amazing ripple-out way. Thank you for your own grounding and the way you share rallying stories about generous stewards with so many of us in the process!”

Lynne Twist’s site is http://soulofmoney.org. Another great resource is Rebekah Basinger’s www.generousmatters.com.

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub