On a clear, cool Fall Sunday morning a young family makes their way to the altar of a local United Methodist Church. They had been attending the services for three months. After conversations with the pastor, and prayerful consideration, they made the decision to become members of the congregation. As they approached the chancel rail of the church the pastor met them with a smile. He asked them to face the congregation as he introduced them. Then he asked them to re-affirm their commitment to Christ by remembering their baptism, and promising to be loyal to the the United Methodist Church by doing all in their power to strengthen its ministries. [UMH, page 37-38] After their re-affirmation of commitment to Christ and the church, they were asked the traditional question that is asked of all who join United Methodist congregations. “As members of this congregation will you faithfully participate in its ministries by your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service, and your witness?” (UMH, page 38) Their response was the same response every United Methodist has given as they began their discipleship journey. “I will.”
Each time a new member makes that commitment in our congregations, we as United Methodists, are challenged to renew our commitment and join their voices with a resounding, “I will.”
It all begins with the promise: “…will you faithfully participate in ministries by your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service and your witness?” Your response of “I will” is the first step in an incredible Wesleyan journey to fulfill the core purpose of your congregation. How can each person faithfully fulfill their church’s mission of making and growing disciples of Jesus Christ? They begin in prayer, and continue by being present in study, worship and fellowship. They celebrate their giftedness from God by being faithful financial disciples. They become the hands and feet of Jesus at work in the world, and proclaim the word of God both spoken and lived out in a world that hungers for the love of God.
Conversations about stewardship and giving are viewed by some in the church as taboo. If giving is mentioned only once or twice a year in a congregation, there is often an admonition that “all we ever do is talk about money” at church. Giving is often viewed as “too personal” to be discussed at length in the church. By making stewardship and giving a forbidden subject Christians give money a mysterious power outside the bounds of theology. In essence it is given god-like tendencies. The truth is that stewardship is more about spiritual growth than financial strength or weakness. It is time that modern Christians celebrate their role as financial disciples of Jesus.
The celebration of financial disciples begins by establishing a healthy theology of stewardship or giving. Everything we have comes from God, and living out that giftedness in the world is vital to responsible discipleship. Jesus’ words in the Gospel of Luke were both a truth and a challenge. “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Luke 12:34, New International Version] The treasure that a Christian posesses is a gift from God to be activated in love from the heart. The theology of giving is best lived out in the church in three ways. First, as an act of worship. Both the Old and New Testaments talked about the offering of our gifts in the context of worship. Most of those vignettes were in the temple, and were clearly acts of corporate worship. Secondly, giving is an expression of faith. Not only does the Christian recognize the generosity of God in the bountiful gifts they receive, but also in the giving of those gifts they faithfully fulfill God’s purpose in the world. Finally, stewardship and generosity are a spiritual discipline. It is easy for modern Christians to have a serious disconnect between faith and money. A healthy theology of giving helps us remember that our stewardship is about spiritual growth. William Sloane Coffin began a stewardship sermon at Riverside Church in New York City with the following introduction: “I have not come today to raise money for the church, I am here to remind you who you are.” Stewardship and giving are not transactional. Giving should be transformational for the church, for the world, and most of all of the faithful financial disciple of Jesus. “I Will”, these two simple words in response to God’s call in our lives can transform our lives, our church, and our world for Christ.
Rick has over 35 years of experience working with churches and non-profit boards. His passion for visioning, strategic ministry planning, functional- and gift-oriented board structures, leadership development, and the creation of cultures of innovation are refreshing in the world of churches and institutions. He is an experienced teacher, preacher and presenter in a variety of settings. He has served as a minister in churches from 15 members to 4,500 members; he has taught philosophy, ethics, Old Testament and New Testament on the college level, and currently works with leaders, boards and pastors as a strategic ministry coach. He has served on a number of church-related and community boards, and is committed to the vision of empowering people to live out their vision and purpose.