Faithful community: How we learn it, live it, teach it

The Rev. Dan Dick, director of connectional ministries for the Wisconsin Annual Conference, says three beliefs are critical to a congregation's faithful stewardship. The good of the whole is greater than any individual's; the congregation — not just the pastor — owns the church's mission and vision and supports it with energy, spirit and resources; and both clergy and laity equip, empower and enable all members daily to live their faith in the world.

Ultimately, Dick says, believers are called to be faithful to God and good stewards of "God's grace and God's will, manifest in us as gifts for ministry in and through the community to produce the fruit of the Spirit."

Money, he explains, is just one of those gifts. The Rev. Bill Barnes, co-lead pastor at St. Luke's United Methodist Church in Orlando, Fla., agrees.

"Faithful stewardship is living into the unique giftedness that you are from God and the talents that you have from God and using them for the kingdom, even as you would use your money," he says. "It's money, but it's [also] time; it's serving with your spiritual gifts, offering yourself to others, being present with others in need."

For Raúl Alegría, president of MARCHA, the national Hispanic caucus of The United Methodist Church, to say "all of life" is to be literal, to include people, all other living creatures and the planet itself.

"We are called to be stewards of God's creation, of the persons God has placed in our lives or in our life faith journey," he says. "The environment and the natural world are God's creation. The people of our world are God's children, and we have a responsibility as stewards for them."

The Rev. Katie Murphey, associate pastor at Metropolitan Memorial United Methodist Church in Washington, says that congregation has "raised the bar" to help members take their vows more seriously.

"I did a lot of research that showed increasing expectations actually led to increased growth, specifically in closing the 'back door' of the church, where people come in and join, but then leave because they're not connected and not sensing any of the difference they expect to come from the church," she says.

To counteract that phenomenon, the church launched a 16-week membership program, still in its pilot phase, that asks prospective members to complete eight membership classes before they join and eight afterward. They must also practice ministry related to each vow.

"We're focusing on holistic stewardship of the good news," she says, "to make disciples who actually have their talk, walk, pocketbook, focus and skills proclaiming the value of shalom in word, action and presence."

Barnes believes younger people particularly are getting the message.

"They understand that making a difference in the world is more important than making a difference in your banking account," he says. "When you look at what millennials want to do with their time, with their talents, I have great hope because they will be changing the culture."

Tita Parham, writer, editor and communications consultant based in Apopka, Fla.

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