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Stewardship

Support the Retired Ministers & Missionaries Offering

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Support the Retired Ministers & Missionaries Offering

The roots of the Retired Ministers and Missionaries Offering (RMMO) originated in the mid-1930s, when American Baptist congregations received a Communion Fellowship Offering on the first Sunday of each month to support retired ministers, missionaries, their widowed spouses and elderly clergy within their churches. In 1977, American Baptist Churches USA launched RMMO to continue this appreciation of God’s service.

The offering is rooted in thankfulness and honors the individual acts of support and faith that recipients have shown to their congregations and communities. This year’s theme, Extending Our Hands to Our Neighbors, illustrates the importance of being there for one another and remembering we are stronger together then on our own is central to the Christian faith.

We hope you will join us in honoring God’s committed servants. Please feel free to download or print from the PDF’s provided. (Available at this LINK)

Thank you for your continued support.

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A Higher Way: American Baptists and Our Neighbors

A Higher Way: American Baptists and Our Neighbors

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength

and with all your mind” and, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27)

 

Dear ABCUSA sisters and brothers, greetings in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord! As I write to you today, we all would acknowledge that recently our country has experienced a great deal of turmoil, pain and stress.

What are we witnessing? A lack of civility in both discourse and behavior cuts across all strata of our society, and extends even to the Presidency itself. Prejudice and xenophobia threaten to become policy, in ways that are not only unjust, but destructive of basic American core values. Immigrants are seen as a threat and not a blessing. Racism, rightly considered “America’s original sin,” has reared its ugly head in too many disturbing ways. The January 2018 shut-down of our federal government symbolizes the polarization and dysfunction of our political institutions. Schools suffer violence, and innocent children are murdered. Politicians, celebrities, newscasters, sports stars, doctors, and yes, even clergy, have been guilty of sexual harassment and abuse. Months after hurricanes devastated Puerto Rico, much of the island has no electrical power, while traffic lights, thousands of homes and many church buildings still require repair.

As representatives of the Kingdom of God envisioned by Jesus (see Matthew 5-7), we must not remain silent as our American society falters in upholding cherished principles, and this is why I am writing to our ABCUSA family. Although my remarks are my own, I have asked our Regional Executive Ministers and the Board of General Ministries’ Executive Committee to speak into this letter. Many have shared advice and counsel, and have also expressed support for the letter. I would like to thank them all for their insights and encouragement.

Each one of the issues raised above deserves thoughtful consideration and prophetic response, but in this letter, I wish to address an underlying theme that may provide our leaders and churches with a perspective by which to faithfully address all of them.

In brief, our culture suffers from a form of spiritual amnesia. Having forgotten or ignored the Baptist and biblical core conviction of the infinite worth of every human being because we are all made in God’s image, many movements and individuals no longer act as if loving one’s neighbor is a fundamental and necessary manifestation of a just and healthy society. We are so quick to judge, denigrate, criticize, attack, and assume to be superior to those with whom we differ. There is precious little grace, courtesy and mutual respect remaining in American discourse and life. We must recapture these virtues which can resupply society with much needed social capital. This failing applies to both the President and Congress, to political and social conservatives and liberals alike, to Republicans and to Democrats, as well as to those of us who are part of religious communities.

If we believe that all people are precious to God and equal to one another, we must reject prejudice, hatred, racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and other forms of bigotry. If we believe that political democracy best expresses the civic equality that is demanded by our Baptist belief in soul freedom, then we must abandon “the politics of personal destruction” which in contemporary culture demonizes all who disagree with us, preventing healthy discourse, problem-solving and thoughtful compromise.

If we believe in the equality of all human beings, we can celebrate religious, ethnic, cultural and linguistic diversity as a gift that enriches us all. We can defend the right of others to be safe and free, even if we do not see eye to eye on political matters (Baptists have held this position since colonial times). We will befriend the stranger and immigrant and protect the powerless. We will treat others with caring, respect and generosity. We will re-discover the art of speaking the “truth in love” and not in anger (Ephesians 4:15). In other words, we will embrace Jesus’ call to “love our neighbor as ourselves.”  

In the Bible, loving one’s neighbor is a manifestation of godly wisdom. Imagine what kind of a society we could experience if we applied this wisdom to our political discourse: “A person who lacks judgment derides one’s neighbor, but a person of understanding holds their tongue” (Proverbs 11:12; my paraphrase). Consider what policymaking would look like if we applied this admonition: “Do not plot harm against your neighbor, who lives trustfully near you” (Proverbs 3:29; see also Zechariah 8:16-17). Immigrants, for example, are our neighbors, not our enemies.

How might we as a Christian movement, made up of local churches and individual disciples of Christ, live out Jesus’ command to love our neighbors?

In regard to our witness concerning racism, I encourage all American Baptists to travel to Washington DC for a potentially historic religious service and demonstration on April 4, 2018, in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the death of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Denominations and organizations from across the theological spectrum are coming together to affirm that we believe in an America that exemplifies racial justice and harmony. I will be there, and I hope American Baptists will support this ecumenical affirmation that all Americans are our neighbors. For more information, see rally2endracism.org.

In response to the status of undocumented immigrants, I would remind us that many are members of American Baptist churches all across the country. They are our sisters and brothers. Seek them out, love them, express solidarity with them, demonstrate compassion and care. Although legitimate differences of opinion exist amongst us regarding immigration policy, I would encourage us to support the continuation of the legal visa status of Haitian, Central American and other temporary legal immigrants. We can encourage Congress and the President to extend a pathway to legal status and eventual citizenship to children who came to the United States with their parents, and who may now face either deportation or separation from their parents. If our neighbors are loved by God, we must embrace them regardless of their legal status, remembering that Abraham’s offspring were immigrants in Egypt, and that Jesus himself was an immigrant whose family had to flee persecution.[i]

Surely, we all agree that all forms of violence,[ii] including sexual harassment and human trafficking, are anathema to our understanding of the Kingdom of God. If we believe that men and women are equal in God’s eyes, we cannot excuse sexual abuse and harassment. In the near future, the Office of the General Secretary, in cooperation with other ABCUSA ministries, hopes to launch a creative new initiative as a resource for churches who are already addressing these concerns, or may wish to start doing so.

American Baptists are committed to journeying alongside our 114 Puerto Rican Baptist churches, and we are well on our way to raising one million dollars in One Great Hour of Sharing Disaster Relief funds for the island. Working with the Iglesias Bautistas de Puerto Rico region, American Baptist Home Mission Societies is doing a great job in coordinating our rebuilding efforts. Send a work team! Furthermore, we invite your church to enter into a three year sister church relationship with one of our Puerto Rican congregations, culminating in face to face visits to celebrate the faith of our Puerto Rican friends at the 2021 Biennial Mission Summit in San Juan. You will soon receive details on how to become a Sister Church. As a matter of justice and compassion, let us share with our elected representatives that we believe our government must do more to restore the island’s economy and infrastructure.

I welcome feedback from you. Would you please share with me what nationalities and cultures are represented in your congregation? I believe we are a far more diverse spiritual family than we realize. Is your church reaching out to immigrants, both documented and undocumented, in loving and creative ways? Send me your stories! Are you willing to stand up against racism? Come to Washington DC on April 4! Is your church willing to befriend a sister church in Puerto Rico? We are all blessed by spiritual companionship and support.[iii]

In closing, I would encourage us all to ponder James’ admonition: “If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing right!” (James 2:8).

Yours in Christ,

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Practical Advice for Increasing Your Church’s Giving

All but a few churches in the Region are struggling with their finances. Giving is down, expenses are up. Many of the ensuing financial discussions focus on what should be cut to meet ends. We need more insights on how to increase income.

I had a recent discussion about church finances with a pastor who is always trying new ideas to improve his church’s effectiveness. He exclaimed, “Our giving has increased significantly in the past year. In fact, we used to have a small emergency fund. Our giving has been so strong that we quadrupled the size of the emergency fund in the last year.”

Okay, he had my attention. So, I asked, “What did you do that made the difference.” His response was, “We changed the way we take the offering, and how we talk about giving.” Then he listed these practical pointers:

1. We give a small message, or talk, prior to taking the offering at every worship service. Sometimes it is a Bible verse about giving. Other times it is a brief story about a person’s life that has been changed through a ministry of our church. We use these brief messages to cast vision and show how their giving regularly funds our efforts to fulfill the vision God has given us.

2. When a member or new attender starts giving for the first time they receive an encouraging letter from the pastor. This reinforces this important step of discipleship, which is a foundational part of their journey into spiritual maturity.

3. Every quarter we send out a letter to each person who gives. The letter reports what they have given to date. It also thanks them for their regular contributions. Additionally the letter reinforces how their investment in the church’s ministries is resulting in transformed lives.

4. We stopped asking people to give to all kinds of special offerings. Instead, we ask them to give regularly and faithfully to the General Offering. This way, they learn that it is their giving that sustains our ministries including the missions organizations that we support.

5. It is important to make giving as easy as possible. Many people have moved to online bill paying and fewer people write checks. Realizing this we searched for the best online giving app. We test drove many and settled on one that is really easy, www.securegive.com. Over 1/3rd of our contributions come to us online.

6. I stopped talking about tithing. Mind you, I still believe in tithing. But, the reality is that few people actually tithe, that is, give a literal 10%. It seems so far out of reach. Instead, we talk regularly about taking the “next step in giving.” We say things like, “If you are presently giving 1% of your income why not take a step of faith and start giving 2% of your income.” As a result, more people have increased their giving.

In closing out my conversation with my pastor friend he said that these six simple steps has revolutionized their giving and increased his church’s income. As a result their ministries are fully funded and they are expanding their reach. As I listened to his simple outline I was reminded that often it is common sense attention to details like these that can result in a dramatic increase in effectiveness. I trust that you will consider adopting some of these practices to assist your congregation in increasing its giving. 

~ Charles Revis, Executive Minister

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Gardening and Generosity

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Gardening and Generosity

Terry Oliver, Stewardship Consultant, ABC-NW

“Remember this – a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop.” (2 Cor. 9:6)

Those of us who enjoy working in our gardens in these spring days know the delight of finding some “volunteer plants” coming up from last year’s crops. They seem to grow on their own from some roots or seeds that were buried in the ground and survived the winter. And yet none of us would dare to think that those volunteer potatoes, onions, or squash would provide a sufficient crop for the needs of this year’s harvest! Rather, we go back to work on the garden bed, pulling weeds, tilling the soil, and planting new seeds, bulbs, or vegetable starts. We are preparing for another summer of watering, feeding, and weeding our gardens so they produce the bountiful crops in the fall we so enjoy!

Growing generosity in the hearts and lives of people in our congregations has a lot in common with gardening. It is always a joy to have people “on their own” respond to the grace of God in their lives with expressions of giving.  We often rely on stewardship education from the past to build faithful giving habits in the lives of our people. However, the results in terms of the “harvest” are often way less than needed to fund our vision and the ministries that are important to fulfill that vision. 

How much better to go to work in the gardens of grace of our congregations, and prepare the soil, pull the weeds, and plant the promises of God’s provision in an intentional way that facilitate the harvest we need to do God’s work. More specifically, spring is a great time to plan for things we would like to do this coming fall to teach, witness, model, and invite people to step into the value system of God’s Kingdom, of which generosity is a central value. Just as August and September are too late to plant your backyard garden, it is also late for stewardship planning.
If you would like fresh ideas to build conversations about growing generosity into the culture of your congregation this fall, please feel free to contact me, and I’d be happy to help you address that conversation.  Remember always, “God is faithful!”

Pastor Terry Oliver, 253-732-1869, terryro@hcc.net

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Mistakes Churches Make When Making Their Budget

This is the time of year many churches are setting their budgets for the upcoming year.  Many of these churches make some common mistakes that affect their ministries.

Recovering a Lost Art: The Annual Stewardship Emphasis (Part One)

National studies of financial giving patterns of congregations report that churches which conduct an annual stewardship education and commitment emphasis receive about twice as much of the percentage of per capita giving of its members as those which don’t.