Archive for category Uncategorized

The Importance of Transparency and Storytelling in Your Church

by Bo Prosser

Organizations that demonstrate qualities including transparency, responsibility, and reliability are most trusted, according to those surveyed in the Ipsos Global Trustworthiness Monitor for 2022 (Johnny Wood, World Economic Forum). 

People join organizations and churches they perceive to be successful. They become dissatisfied when they perceive mismanagement. Transparency means sharing information about the administrative and ministry work of the church without deception or misinformation.   

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines transparent as “free from pretense or deceit: frank; easily detected or seen through: obvious; readily understood and characterized by visibility or accessibility of information especially concerning business practices.” 

So, does transparency of financial matters apply to churches?  Absolutely! 

Transparency includes, but is not limited to, church finances, church expenditures, and the work of the church. This does not mean that every check that is written must be approved by the body.  Nor does it mean that every item in the budget must be detailed exactly. However, it does mean that we give people enough information to make sound decisions about their support for the church. 

People today give us their trust based on two distinct attributes: competence (doing good work for the growth of the church) and ethical behavior (doing the right things that make a difference in the life and relationships of the church). People give us their money for the same reasons. Without trust, we don’t have the ability to forge successful empowering relationships. Without trust, we won’t have the resources to produce effective and quality ministries. 

Frank Newport of the Gallup organization reports that in 1975, 68 percent of Americans believed that organized religion could be trusted. “As recently as 1985, organized religion was the most revered institution among the list of institutions Gallup tracks” (Newport, 2019, p. 1). By 2019, the church had reached a new low, with only 36 percent having confidence in its leadership. 36 percent. Pastors should be concerned.  

Politics, moral scandals, social issues, social media, and finances are all polarizing for churches across our country and in our congregations. The Covid Pandemic has also been an unexpected source of constant tension within churches. Church leaders must use every tool available to move beyond these sore spots in their congregations.  

And there is nothing worse than conflict arising over money matters in the church. Being transparent not only builds trust but also holds everyone accountable.  Examine the communication patterns of your church. What are the obstacles to transparency? What or who is not allowing the major items in the church ministry and the major events in the church’s calendar to be shared openly and clearly? These are questions that you must deal with in order to communicate transparently and to deepen trust in your congregation. 

Transparency revolves around four areas of the church – people, processes, organization, and technology. It’s about predictability and consistency. Transparency builds trust. Building trust takes a while. The promise itself only builds trust if we are delivering on our promises. If the church leaders say that there is $100,000 in the church budget for doing missions overseas and then the money is diverted for other causes without good cause, trust erodes. If the church leaders don’t represent the causes of Christ to which the church is committed, trust erodes. Strengthening trust means saying what we will do and then doing what we say. Trust may be freely given; yet trust can disappear quickly. 

If members can see their gifts being used for the intended purposes, they tend to be more satisfied and trusting. If members trust those in places of leadership using funds as expected, they will give regularly and perhaps with more enthusiasm. This trust may also lead to members being more involved in the church’s activities. This means a deeper involvement in church ministries, Bible studies, and missions. And most especially, this will lead to the deepening of relationships leading to a more profound sense of community.  

If members feel more at home with their church community, they also tend to give more. Not everyone increases their pledge or tithe; not everyone wants to obligate themselves considering unpredictable financial circumstances. However, greater participation resulting from transparency will lead to an increase in giving overall. Some of your congregants will be happy to engage the administrative processes and participate in leadership activities, financial decision making, and committee responsibilities. Remember, not everyone wants to see how the “sausage” is made, but they do expect quality “sausage”! 

You may have seen the same things happening in your church. You may have many people giving; yet these same people will not commit to a pledge or tithe. Rather than focusing on the tithes and offerings needed by the church, focus on the stories of what the church is doing because of the tithes and offerings. Be more transparent, tell stories, let this become personal.  When we put faces and names to the needs and ministries of the church, people respond.   

As people feel more comfortable, as we are more transparent, God’s Spirit begins to move in ways that we cannot explain. Perhaps trusting one another, loving one another does indeed lead to growing givers into generous givers. Perhaps as relationships grow deeper and enthusiasm builds higher, money in the offering plate increases too

James Jordan contributed to this article.  He is a CPA and professor of Church Finance at Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, GA.  You can see a presentation by James Jordan, Transparency Leads to Greater Giving.

The communications office of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship contributed to this article. 

Tags: , ,

Begin Retirement with a Year of Jubilee by Rev. Dr. Paul Bailey*

August 3, 2022
I was under the impression that ancient Israel never actually practiced a Year of Jubilee, but I think I just had one. It was the first year of my retirement. After over 40 years of pastoral ministry, a friend suggested that I not jump into any new commitments. I imagined boredom, but I found that the tasks of the Year of Jubilee described in Leviticus 25 overlapped remarkably with the transition to retirement.

The first time I heard the popular concept of life in thirds was from Leonard Sweet at a conference at Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School in 2016. The first third of life is growing up. Adult children may come home. Marriage and career goals finally settle in around age 30. The second third of life is adulthood, when you make your mark on the world with career and relationships. You contribute. Then you enter your 60s and you have another third of your life ahead. I suggest that before you jump in, consider a Year of Jubilee.

Leviticus 25 gives the most detailed description of that 50th year when Jubilee, the ram’s horn, is blown and “…you shall hallow the fiftieth year and you shall proclaim liberty…” (25:10). It was intended to be a time of restoration and freedom. Debts were to be canceled. People returned to their ancestral homes. You rested from the work, not to be idle but to be holy. Consider how those tasks correspond with a transition to retirement.

Letting go

In Leviticus 25, we learn that all debts were forgiven. It might be nice to be financially debt free in retirement, but we may carry debts we owe to spouses, families, and even ourselves.

I saw my doctor not long after retiring, and I teased that maybe I should go back to work because I didn’t seem to have these health problems when I was employed. He gently suggested that maybe my work was covering up symptoms I was ignoring. I had health debts to address.

There are spiritual, emotional, and professional debts. My career and work seemed unfinished when I retired. It felt like I had run the race but not completed the course. It took a year of Jubilee to work on getting free of that debt, reviewing and celebrating my life’s journey.

In “The Gift of Years,” Joan Chittister wrote “…Regret is a temptation. It entices us to lust for what never was in the past rather than to bring new energy to our changing present. It is a misuse of the aging process. One of the functions—one of the gifts—of aging is to become comfortable with the self we are, rather than to mourn what we are not.”[i]

For the ancient Hebrews, the year of Jubilee was not meant to be a long planning session for the future, nor a long break only to return to the past. It was to make them holy. They were different. Their world was different. When retirement comes, take a Year of Jubilee.

During Jubilee, I had to let go of stuff, too. Books needed to go even though I could tell you the story and people connected to each one. I have a cross that a child made for me, a record player that doesn’t work with scores of Christian records that kept my faith alive. Others see junk, but those things are my life. I realized I held on to some of them out of a sense of indebtedness to those who gave them. I can choose to let go of them and do it with respect. M. Craig Barnes, in “A Diary of a Pastor’s Soul,” described creating a Wall of Witnesses, pictures of family and influencers in his Christian life.[i] There are also pictures of stuff on my wall, now.

Ancestral home

The Year of Jubilee was a time to reconnect with your roots. “…you shall return, every one of you to your family.” (25:10) The Hebrew people would unite with family members and share family stories that needed to be passed down, especially from those advanced in years. The act of returning to the ancestral home inevitably would have created times for questions.

Retirement meant I was the repository of the family history. I recorded stories, especially those that told of God’s faithfulness. I asked questions, especially of the elders. And maybe more importantly, the Year of Jubilee was a time to record my story.

Rest

It was a year for the land to rest (25:4), and consequently, for the people too. Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible’s note on Jubilee says, “The Lord frees his people not for unbroken idleness, but for the redirection of life towards [God’s self].”[ii]

Rest may involve keeping a journal for your thoughts, reading, spending time outdoors, trying new things, meeting new people, if and when you want. Better yet, listen to what God wants to tell you rather than what others want you to do. Not doing is a way for the new to enter in.

Spiritual renewal

People in Jubilee also had to depend on the Lord to provide what they needed to live, “…to eat only what the field itself produces” (25:12). The year was a test of faith, for both the Hebrews and me. Parker Palmer refers to functional atheism as “the belief that the ultimate responsibility for everything rests with us.”[iii] Spiritual renewal begins with rejecting that lie. More religious activity had become a way to appear spiritual and avoid God.

I allowed God to speak in someone else’s sermon. My wife and I started waking up to Father Mike’s Bible in a Year podcast, listening to Scripture in new ways. I posted questions for meditation, like Jesus’ healing question: “What do you want me [Jesus] to do for you?” (Mark 10:51). As the year went on, I could finally hear God telling me again what I had heard so personally, so long ago: “I know your name and I love you.” It was how my faith began.

A fresh start

When people ask me about retirement now, I tell them I finished my year of Jubilee and I am open for new things. For the Hebrews, the year was not meant to be a long planning session for the future, nor a long break only to return to the past. It was to make them holy (25:12). They were different. Their world was different. When retirement comes, take a Year of Jubilee.

*Rev. Dr. Paul Bailey retired a year ago from the Eastwood Baptist Church in Syracuse, NY. In addition to over 40 years of pastoral ministry, he was an adjunct instructor in Communications at Onondaga Community College for 15 years.

Tags: , , ,

Focus on Conversation, Not Conversion by Kira Dewey – goodfaithmedia.org

Many Christians today demonstrate the belief that it is up to themselves to “save” their non-Christian neighbors at the expense of loving and civil conversation.

While Christians verbally acknowledge their own fallibility and God’s saving grace, their behavior tends to reflect the opposite. Instead of sharing the gospel in a loving manner, they force their religion on others with dogmatic insistence on “saving” them.

Behavior like this is an unfortunate factor in the loss of civil conversation between those of differing opinions, to the point that people will either repeatedly turn their opinion into sermonic- or downright barbaric- arguments — or avoid discourse entirely.

Last year, my sister dual-enrolled in Valencia Community College in Orlando, Florida, to take child development classes.

When one of her professors learned my sister was homeschooled, the professor shared about being on the board of directors for an all-girls Muslim homeschool co-op. She asked my sister to meet with them and discuss their different religions over zoom, since both schools were still fully online in the wake of the pandemic.

Although she accepted the offer, my sister was terrified of the interaction. She had never been asked to engage in a conversation on differing religions, and she feared accidentally misspeaking or saying something “incorrect” about her faith. But mostly, she feared whether a conversation between a Christian and Muslims would be civil.

Fortunately, the call was a beautiful success. Everyone came openly and honestly with insatiable curiosity, unafraid to ask questions about each other’s faiths. They asked my sister why there were so many denominations of Christians and what made them each different. She asked them why they wore hijabs, and why some covered more of the face and some less.

What she took away from the conversation was that neither group tried to convert the other. There was no preaching, shaming or condemnation — merely curiosity and a willingness to share their faith with each other.

Through this conversation, my sister was reminded that it was not her job to save people. Only the Holy Spirit has that power. Her role was simply to answer the girls’ questions and share her faith — and learn about theirs in return.

After watching her engage in such a beautiful conversation, it broke my heart to realize that such an occurrence seems to be the anomaly buried beneath news articles, Instagram stories and Facebook posts with no other purpose than to take sides and convert unwilling listeners.

The beauty of genuine conversation has been lost in today’s society. But hope remains.

At Palm Beach Atlantic University, students in the Supper Honors Program have founded a Socratic Club with the specific purpose of fostering an inclusive and conversation-driven community.

Holding forums several times monthly, all students are invited to spend the evening in conversation, each night focusing on a different controversial, pressing, or “hot-button” topic.

Students from multiple sides of the issue are always present, and all are allowed to speak their minds. While everyone is allowed to express their opinion, the forums are strictly conversation-based — disrespectful words, actions and shutting down of other’s beliefs are strictly prohibited.

In this environment, students are able to engage in open-minded conversation, hearing differing opinions and coming to understand different points of view without the fear of someone trying to convert them to a specific mindset.

Libby Carroll, my fellow Ernest C. Hynds Jr. summer 2022 intern at Good Faith Media, has taken a similar course of action.

In her article “Recapturing the Lost Art of Civil Discourse,” she recalls how she and her Baylor classmates founded the group “Table Talk.” Their purpose, she declares, is explained in four parts:

  • Promote empathy through civil discourse on a myriad of controversial topics.
  • Educate Baylor students by exposing them to opposing viewpoints.
  • Respectfully engage in difficult conversations.
  • Uphold the freedom of speech and the exercise thereof by fostering civil discourse.

Is this the key we’ve been missing?

Perhaps this is the key the modern world is missing. Perhaps, if the world wants to share their beliefs with others, the key is not seeking to immediately convert. Maybe the key is engaging in conversation without expectations, strings attached or bickering, where others can learn from us — and we can learn from them.

God calls Christians to share the gospel — but if instead of sharing it with love, we stuff our views down other’s throats, then we are unknowingly and vainly usurping the power of salvation only found in Jesus Christ.

Our job is not to save others; it is to share God’s love. By engaging in conversation mirroring Jesus’ loving conversations with others, we can better fulfill our mission and live the way God intended us to live.

Tags: , , ,

Common Courtesy Not So Common by John D. Pierce* goodfaithmedia.org

It seems that common courtesy is just not very common.

I am not yearning for some romanticized, yesteryear version of politeness that only exists in aging imaginations. I’m talking about the overt, socially acceptable public ugliness that has exploded in recent years.

One doesn’t need Dick Tracy or Sherlock Holmes to see this behavior being modeled after the harsh and often fact-less political rhetoric that has triumphed.

Petty name-calling, threats of harm as well as racist undertones and overtones have fueled an overall sense of license for acts that otherwise would be considered inappropriate and condemned. Instead, ugliness and even violence get cheered on as justified.

Even many of those not participating in the most public and harshest versions of self-indulgence and fear-based hostilities seem to embrace the idea that treating other persons respectfully is unimportant. This is especially true when those with unacknowledged privilege treat those unlike them as threats.

While courtesy is not a distinctly Christian practice, showing basic consideration of others is easily extractable from the teachings of Jesus. If Jesus said and showed anything, it is that all of humanity is of equal value and to be treated with love, grace and mercy.

One cannot love a broadly-defined neighbor as oneself — which Jesus said is half of everything God wants us to be and do — without giving them respect and care.

Often Jesus’ emphasis was specifically focused on providing sensitive and active responses to those who are most vulnerable or in greatest need. Being courteous and kind is at the heart of doing unto others as one wants done to oneself.

Some of this basic, respectful behavior is rooted in the “don’ts” of not demeaning others or not projecting blame on the innocent or not misspeaking of someone when the truth is readily available. The weapons of lying, cheating and ridicule can and should be laid aside.

One way to check our own propensity for selfishness, defensiveness and insensitivity toward others is to take note of our simple, daily behaviors. To what degree do we routinely act in ways that are considerate of others?

My longtime friend Andrew Stone, a high school guidance counselor, posted in social media some brief recommendations recently. He deemed this advice a “graduation speech,” but it’s applicable to all.

Among the routine behaviors of consideration, he counseled: Always return the shopping cart; tip generously every time; hand your money to the cashier rather than throw it on the counter; and don’t hit the car parked next to you with your door.

The one which I think shows the true heart of a person, he advised: Go out of your way to be nice to people in the service industry. Nothing gets my blood boiling like watching customers treat service personnel disrespectfully.

Staff shortages throughout the hospitality industry reveal both a history of mistreatment in many cases as well as their value to our frequent, often daily, experiences. These are people — not our servants.

This includes hotel housekeeping staff who can use the generous tip we leave behind more than we can.

The roadway is another place where some of us (I confess to impatience here.) need to be more considerate. Andrew recommends learning the rules of a four-way stop, and then abiding by them.

He notes, “It’s not a race.” And, I must add, we now have a growing number of traffic circles to navigate.

These are really just ways to be human. But they align with being human as Jesus taught and lived — with an orientation toward common good over personal advancement at the expense of others.

My friend Andrew concluded with, “Follow your heart, always.” However, we must ensure that our hearts are “right” with an orientation toward offering grace and love in the same ways we want to receive them.

There are appropriate times and places for confronting evil, calling out destructive forces and countering falsehoods that bring harm to vulnerable people. Doing such is not unkind. But neither does it negate our need to respect others.

“Little acts of kindness” can be underrated. Because not doing these things (or doing the opposite) send a larger message and reveal a broader reality of self-absorption which is at the heart of the biblical concept of sin.

It’s unconvincing to claim a commitment to a loving and generous God when one’s attitudes and actions are not loving and generous. Such poor behavior within Americanized Christianity conveys a deity who is not loving and generous, but angry, exclusive and petty.

Most of us were taught in childhood to “Be ye kind one to another” (Ephesians 4:32 KJV). Such courtesies don’t expire with age.

As Glen Campbell sang in a 1969 crossover hit: “The kindness that you show every day will help someone along their way.”

John D. Pierce headshot
John D. Pierce
Executive editor / publisher at Good Faith Media.

www.goodfaithmedia.org

Tags: , , ,