Discipleship Deep, Rich, & Rooted: Bringing

Bringing, or stewardship, isn't necessarily the first thing someone thinks of when they think of discipleship. Robert C. Heerspink in his excellent book Firstfruits: A Stewardship Guide for Church Leaders (Barnabas Foundation, 2008) helps us clarify what stewardship really is and how it is linked to discipleship. Heerspink writes:

Stewardship is first and foremost a lifestyle rooted in grace that expresses the fruit of gratitude. That means stewardship is closely linked to discipleship! Stewardship is all-embracing obedience in which we care for and carefully use all the gifts and resources God has given us. In our lifestyle of stewardship we follow Christ and become more like him in our daily walk of faith (p.11).

These words expand ideas on what stewardship is and why it plays such a significant role in the lives of followers of Jesus and members of God's family. Discipleship: Deep, Rich, & Rooted offers a rich opportunity for congregations to explore what it means to be good stewards of money, time, God's creation, and the gifts we offer up to Christ in service. Because each ministry is unique and contextual, stewardship will look different in each setting; but we can all encourage, empower, and equip each other to be good stewards of what God has given us and offer responses that reflect our call to discipleship. As disciples in Christ and leaders in the church, we must also frame our responses by looking to the Word of God for instruction.

Bringing Time

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Listen to, and reflect on, Scriptures that address our beliefs and worship:

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"I'm too busy; I don't have time to lead that Bible study" or "Our child has an 11:00 a.m. soccer practice; we just can't make it to worship." Sound familiar? Let's face it, most of us can make time to study and worship. It comes down to spiritual priorities. Are your time with God and your walk of discipleship limited because of your lifestyle choices?

Dorothy C. Bass, editor of the book Practicing Our Faith: A Way of Life for a Searching People (Jossey-Bass, Inc., 1997), has a complex and thoughtful proposal for those of us who find too little time for our walk of faith. She suggests we reclaim the Sabbath. In her chapter of the book called "Sabbath Keeping," she defines Sabbath, goes through the biblical history for it, and talks about the cultural, economical, and political pressures that we accept and choose to honor. Reclaiming Sabbath would mean big changes in our lifestyles, but here is the reward:

Rest and worship. One day a week--not much, in a sense, but a good beginning. One day to resist the tyranny of too much or too little work and to celebrate with God and others, remembering thereby who we really are and what is really important. One day that, week after week, anchors a way of life that makes a difference every day (p. 89).

Prayer: Dear Lord, you have given us this time on earth. Help us not to squander it. Thank you for the newness of each day. May we live each day to glorify you and to help others. Amen.

Believe

Congregations

  • How can we help disciples understand that Scripture can empower them to make their time spent with God in worship and ministry a priority in their lives?
  • Have you every done a study or retreat with a focus on Sabbath rest or Sabbath keeping? What might that look like and include?
  • How does Heerspink's definition of stewardship (opening paragraph of this section) shed light on how we should view our lifestyle choices and use our time as disciples in Christ and children of God?

Leaders and Consistory

  • What one initiative or step we can take to focus on the stewardship of our time?

Live Out

In hard economic times, Fair Haven Ministries in Hudsonville, Michigan, undertook an innovative and very effective stewardship experience. The lead pastor preached on Jesus' parable of the talents and began handing out five thousand dollars in $100 bills to anyone who--as an individual, family, or other group—wanted to take up the challenge of multiplying their "talents."

More than 67 people took up the challenge. So many people came forward to get the bills that they ran out. Amazingly, other people in the congregation started taking $100 out of their pockets right then and there and kept the giveaway going.

Some of the ways people got a big return on their investment included:

  • A fun and games night fundraiser at a local athletic center raised over $12,000 to help a family whose six-year-old had cancer.
  • A retired painter took on painting projects and gave all his earnings to the cause.
  • A small group set up a doggie spa and gave the proceeds.
  • A Guitar Hero competition reached a younger crowd.
  • A church small-group pooled their bills and organized an NCAA March Madness opening round event. They got a local food service to donate $3,000 in snacks and invited the local community to watch the Thursday and Friday opening round games on big screens at the church. People were simply asked for a donation, and $3,000 was raised.

Ultimately the seed money brought back more than $50,000 in donations. Most of the money went to three local nonprofits: Hand 2 Hand, which sends school kids home with a backpack full of food each Friday; a local Love Inc.; and Children's Hunger Fund, a ministry that delivers meals to people in need.

Church leaders found it interesting that giving in general at Fair Haven had never been as high as was during this stewardship experience. They believe that God blessed the congregation in light of all of the extraordinary giving that church members did in their community.

Bringing Talents (Spiritual Gifts)

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Healthy congregations are gift-conscious congregations. Believers don't just fill a pew; they are called to ministry. They use their talents and spiritual gifts in the work of the church.

"Spiritual gifts" refers to special abilities given to each believer by God through the power of the Holy Spirit. Spiritual gifts empower each and every believer for the work of ministry, for the building up of the body of Christ, and to the glory of God. How important is the stewardship of our talents and gifts? In gift-conscious congregations no one feels left out; each person is a vital and essential part of ministry because she or he is using God's gifts, as God wills, in the right place at the right time. All share in the body of Christ.

Gift-conscious congregations grow spiritually and numerically as members live into and out of true discipleship. Elizabeth O'Connor in her book Eighth Day of Creation: Discovering Your Gifts and Using Them (Word Books, 1971), writes: "No community develops the potential of its corporate life unless the gifts of each of its members are evoked and exercised on behalf of the whole community" (p. 8).

Believe

Congregation

  • How can we regularly provide studies that educate the church community on the biblical basis of spiritual gifts?
  • How can we use Heerspink's definition of stewardship to encourage and empower disciples to use their spiritual gifts in ministry?
  • How are people supported in using their gifts now? How can we provide more opportunities for believers to explore using their gifts in ministry?
  • Do we equip disciples for gift-based ministry? If so, where it is effective? If not, where is it needed? Should we do more? How? When? Where? Who has the gifts to help make this happen?

Church Leaders and Members of Consistory

  • What one initiative or step can we take now to further or bring into focus the stewardship of our gifts?

Prayer: Dear God, in love you gave humanity the greatest gift, your son, Jesus Christ. His sacrifice on the cross has paid for all our sins. Because we belong to him and because of your love for us, we now offer our gifts for your purposes. Amen.

Live Out

Implementing a process to help others identify their giftedness for ministry doesn't take any special training or a large budget, just a willing heart and a call from God. Our pastor had approached me with the idea of presenting a gifts ministry discovery class. Since I was a stay-at-home mother of six children, the youngest being two-year-old triplets, he was a little reluctant, but felt God was directing him to me. Little did he know that God had also been preparing me. I agreed to look at the materials and soon found that I was very passionate about helping others identify the unique qualities that God had given them to minister in specific ways.

As I answered God's call, I discovered this was the place I could best use the spiritual gifts, abilities, life experiences, and personality traits God had given me. As I stepped out and began working with individuals and groups, God provided the energy and the time I needed. I experienced a deep sense of satisfaction as I encouraged a construction worker to share his faith with a group of single-parent boys as they spent a day fishing; helped a very busy mom with toddlers discover ways she could minister to the children at the Red Cross shelter by providing after school treats each week; and gave freedom to a long-time Sunday morning welcome hostess to understand she was in mission when she pursued her desire to help others in Alcoholics Anonymous, just as she had been helped.

Helping others find their ministry really doesn't require a seminary degree or a position on the church staff. It just takes a willing heart and a dependence on the One who has given you the characteristics to equip you for his call.

—Yvonne Hagood, Springs Community Church, Colorado Springs, Colorado

Bringing Treasure

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Discipleship and my money; what does that mean? In these difficult economic times, most organizations are struggling just to maintain their budgets, and the church is no exception. Is the hard reality that we as disciples in Christ are holding back from our stewardship responsibilities to the church as one way to trim our personal budgets?

A collection of writings compiled and edited by Michael Scut and titled Simpler Living, Compassionate Life: A Christian Perspective (Church Publishing Inc., 2006) includes an article by Evy McDonald called "Spending Money as If Life Really Mattered." In the article, McDonald refers to the time from the post-depression American boom era to the present and offers this disturbing commentary:

A theology of consumption began to invade our culture--and our churches. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, we wandered away from the foundational teachings of Jesus-sharing our wealth, identifying with the marginalized, living a life of grateful stewardship--and began to identify our worth with how much money we made or how many possessions we owned...Rituals of communion have been replaced with rituals of consumption. We ask ourselves: Who do we worship? The Gospel of Matthew warns us that "Where your treasure is there your heart will be also" (Matt. 6:21). All too often our treasures lie tucked away in the department store sale (p. 60).

Old Testament teachings and the ministry and teachings of Christ remind us that to tithe, to give a portion of our money back to God and the church, is our responsibility as children of God and disciples of Jesus Christ. Hopefully we see this as a privilege and an obedient, loving, and grateful response. It's our relationship with Christ that frees us from the power and control that money has over us. The story of the widow's offering (Luke 21:1-3) reminds us that how we use our money reflects our spiritual priorities. Amid all the financial turmoil, how can we in the church understand what it means to be, and remain faithful in being, stewards of God's money, sharing it in ministry with others?

Believe

Congregation

  • How is giving money to the church linked to discipleship?
  • Which Scripture passages and parts of Heerspink's definition of stewardship help define why we should tithe or give a portion of our personal income to the church and its ministries? How can this empower us?
  • How do we encourage and promote tithing/monetary gift-giving in our congregation? Can we do more? What? How? When? Who has the gifts to help?
  • What have we done to educate and equip our congregation on the practice of tithing/monetary gift-giving? Can we do more? What? How? When? Who has the gifts to help?

Church Leaders and Members of Consistory

  • Is there one initiative or step we can take now to further or bring into focus the stewardship of our money? What is our commitment?

Prayer: Dear Lord, we cannot begin to give back in proportion to all you have given us. Help us be good stewards of our money and to use it as you would have us use it. Amen.

Live Out

Souper Bowl of Caring seeks to transform one of America's most anticipated cultural events--the Super Bowl football game, in early February--into one of America's most significant weekends of giving and service. Young people in churches hold large soup pots to receive $1 donations from worshippers on or near Super Bowl Sunday. Each group then sends all the proceeds to a charity of their choice that is addressing issues of hunger and poverty. One recent year, youth groups across the U.S. reported nearly $5 million in contributions. (That's your one other task: reporting--not sending!--your proceeds to the Souper Bowl organizers.) There's no cost to your church or youth group, yet there is a wealth of information (stories, practices, logos, t-shirts, the whole deal) available to help you carry out this service project. Just go to www.souperbowl.org for more information or to register.

What you do and how you do it can be as simple or as complicated as you want to design it. Here is how it was done at Reformed Church of Linden in New Jersey, as reported by their youth advisor, Diane Nazimek:

On Souper Bowl Sunday the youth of our church collect money in soup pots after our worship service, but we also have some fun selling meatball subs to the members of our church! Adults at the church donate homemade meatballs and the youth help prepare the sandwiches. We sold them warm so we can eat them right after church, but most of our members like to save them for later in the day when watching the football game! Our donations are donated to the Linden Interfaith Community Food Bank!

Bringing Care for Creation

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"How far will you go to be green?" "It's easy being green." You can add sentences that express this focus right? Concern for the environment has become a big issue, politically, scientifically, and in communities and homes around the world. It is also a growing concern in the body of the church. After all, God created the world and gave us the responsibility and privilege of caring for it. The authors whose works are collected in the book Living the Good Life on God's Good Earth (Faith Alive Christian Resources, 2006) invite and help equip Christians to live out their calling to be caretakers of the earth in their daily lives. In the first chapter of the book, "Christian Theology and Creation Care," writers Steven C. Bouma-Prediger and Bret Stephenson describe discipleship and the caring for creation:

...caring for creation is an integral dimension of Christian discipleship. Earth care is part and parcel of what it means to be a Christian! At stake is nothing less than the loving care of the earth and its creatures, a proper understanding of God, and the integrity of our faith itself (p. 13).

We each can do our part in our own setting to educate each other on why it's our responsibility to care for the earth, and equip each other to preserve and care for it. We as the Christian community also have to call all people to action.

Believe

Congregation

  • Have we offered opportunities to study the Bible and what it says about our responsibility to be good stewards of the earth and why it is our privilege to do so?
  • How can Heerspink's definition empower us to claim our responsibility and celebrate it?
  • How can we raise an awareness of the critical issues surrounding the care of creation?
  • Have we offered opportunities to educate and equip disciples on the stewardship of God's creation?
  • How can we call people to action?

Church Leaders and Consistory Members

  • What one initiative or step can we take now to reflect our concern for and care of God's creation?

Prayer: Creator God, you made this good earth. As disciples in Christ create in us a firm commitment to daily honor, preserve, and care for your awesome world. Amen.

Live Out

Members of a Holland, Michigan–based ministry held an event that made it easy for people to get rid of appliances and electronics without damaging the environment. They kept 25,295 pounds of "e-waste" from ending up in local landfills.

The event was sponsored by West Michigan Creation Care and took place in the Hope Church (RCA) parking lot for four hours on a Saturday. The discarded electronics filled two trucks, two vans, and a trailer.

Peter Boogaart, a member of Third Reformed Church in Holland, spearheaded the event. Boogaart oversees West Michigan Creation Care, which is an ecumenical ministry. Fonda Green from New Community/Fourth Reformed Church in Holland, and RCA associate for diaconal ministries Steve DeYoung also helped with the event, along with people from local Methodist, Presbyterian, and Episcopal churches.

"This event was a hands-on, practical means to demonstrate our group's care of creation," says Green. "It was one of many ways to bring together our discussions about Scripture, God's love of creation, and our belief that responsible stewardship of that creation is a vital act of faith."

Creation Care partnered with Comprenew Environmental, a nonprofit electronics recycler, to hold the event. Comprenew disassembles electronics and makes sure components are recycled or disposed of properly. Improper disposal is a growing problem: Electronics contain toxins such as lead, mercury, and cadmium, and all of these can leak into ground water. Cell phones, for example, contain lead, arsenic, nickel, cadmium. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, one cell phone can pollute 40,000 gallons of ground water.

Resource

Giving Magazine. Ecumenical Stewardship Center.
This annual stewardship magazine contains numerous articles ("Who's Minding the Children?" "Giving in Anxious Times," and more) and a stewardship campaign ("More Than Enough").