Faithful Community: Gifts and giving go beyond money
Mission team members from Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church take a break from construction work for an important event: celebrating the birthday of the widowed homeowner.
COURTESY DAVE KNAPP
God loves a cheerful giver and United Methodists are givers.
In biblical times, people gave and tithed the actual products they grew or made – grain, wool, vegetables or oil. It would be hard to justify only financial giving by looking to Scripture.
"Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house, and thus put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts; see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing" (Malachi 3:10, NRSV).
United Methodists give generously of their financial blessings, but many don't stop there. Many also give of their time and talents and from their hearts.
Dave Knapp is a member of Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church in Tipp City, Ohio. He found his passion for serving others through participation in mission trips from the church.
Knapp, owner of a successful car dealership in Tipp City, had an epiphany one Sunday morning as the offering plate went by.
"I know it's important to be a faithful steward with our financial resources," he says. "But when the offering plate was passed one Sunday morning, I heard God speaking to my heart, ‘Put yourself in that basket, Dave.'
"I remember hearing the sermon in a whole different light after that," he continues. "I knew I had to step out of my comfort zone and serve. I knew I had to step out in faith and do something."
That something for Knapp was to join a mission trip team going to serve survivors of Hurricane Katrina in Slidell, La.
"God has given me a bold spirit," he says. "I'm a car dealer for goodness sake! So, I will gladly go wherever he sends me. The first two times I went to Louisiana, I held back a little, watching what others did. I honestly felt uplifted staying in the background."
As a corporate CEO, Knapp is in charge of a large company every day. He found not being in charge a welcome change. By his third trip to Louisiana, though, he knew God wanted him to do more. God wanted Knapp to lead some of these mission trips.
More mission opportunities followed. Each time Knapp has cherished his time ministering to people who need to see God's love in action.
Dave Knapp (right) led the complimentary oil change team, one of many services offered as Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church observed Change the World Weekend.
COURTESY GINGHHAMSBURG UMC
"What I love about being on God's agenda is that I get to live above the noise," he says. "I can turn off the corporate and just focus on the spiritual. It's refreshing and beautiful."
It's ironic, but Knapp discovered, "When I left my comfort zone, I stepped into the place I am most comfortable," he says with a laugh. He found where he most loves to be.
For Knapp, being a faithful steward with his finances is good, but he sees God using him best outside the church building, serving others.
All can serve in, outside church
Serving outside the walls of the church is also the way Cesie Delve Scheuermann sees God most at work.
Cesie Delve Scheuermann (in blue) walks in a fundraising event for Imagine No Malaria during the 2014 Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference.
OREGON-IDAHO CONFERENCE/GREG NELSON
A member of First United Methodist Church in Salem, Ore., she works as a consultant in stewardship, development and grant writing. She also writes a blog, "Inspiring Generosity," for the Oregon-Idaho Conference website, www.umoi.org/blogs.
Scheuermann sees her congregation serving its city through a quarterly event, "Saturdays of Service."
"One thing our church is very good at is understanding it's equally important to serve the church from within and to serve our neighbors from without," she says.
"We encourage our members to serve God and each other through participation in worship, music, committees, teaching, child care and other jobs," she says. "It takes all of us to help the church organization function well.
"But we also encourage our members to serve Salem and the rest of the world," she continues.
"We make sure that each member of the family has a way to serve appropriately. For example, adults and youth might go out and clean up a dirty street, pick up trash, clean up a park, serve a meal, pass out water, something like that. We teach our church children about the joy of serving, too. They have put together backpacks for school kids. They've helped at the humane association. We want them to see serving as a normal thing."
Scheuermann says Salem First teaches about serving the world.
"We have members who are missionaries in Kenya working at a hospital through the (General Board of) Global Ministries' Zoe Project," she says. "We give our money, of course, but more importantly, we give our fervent prayer support to this ministry."
Ability plus desire equals duty
Herbie Krisle, a 25-year member of Collierville (Tenn.) United Methodist Church, has been sharing her gift of song with fellow church members since she could walk and talk.
"I can't remember a time in my life when I was not involved in choral music at my church," Krisle says. "My parents began taking me to church as soon as I was born, and as a toddler, I was part of the kids' choir. I've been singing in church ever since."
COURTESY HERBIE KRISLE
When Krisle was a college student in Arkansas, she often pulled double choir duty. She would sing at her home church, then leave and go to share her beautiful soprano voice at a nearby small church.
"I really felt like helping that church was a way to give back to God," she says. "I still feel that way. I have always seen choral worship as an integral part of the worship experience. I have been blessed with the ability — and desire — to sing, so I have a duty to serve in that capacity."
Krisle says being involved in the choral music program requires a great deal of commitment on a weekly basis for the choir members.
"There is a least a two-hour rehearsal midweek and two hours on Sunday morning," she says. "Sometimes it's even more than that depending on our church season. When we have multiple Sunday morning worship services, the choir is expected to be at each one. Our worship leader encourages excellence in all of us."
Krisle believes that for most of her fellow choir members, rehearsal time often is as much a time of worship as is the Sunday service. It's during rehearsal they begin to take the music into their hearts and God speaks to them through the music.
"I think most of us look at our service in music as worship," she says. "I believe that even during rehearsal, we are giving our gifts and talents.
"I feel like I serve my fellow church members by sharing in leading worship," Krisle continues. "The spirit with which we sing helps those in the pews sing with more gusto and dedication. I believe the anthems, while not performances, bring all worshippers nearer to God. I hope that our voices bring all worshippers to the throne of God while we sing."
Polly House is a freelance writer based in Nashville, Tenn.
Words of witness needed
"Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary."
This famous quote, commonly attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, has been used by countless preachers (myself included) to illustrate the importance of living out one's faith in daily activities and encounters. Christians must "walk the walk," and sometimes this quote is understood as discouraging words.
However, as the 2008 General Conference worked through proposed legislation, delegates realized and agreed that we do need words and changes were made to the membership vows.
Previously, when a person joined a local United Methodist church, they vowed "to faithfully participate in its ministries by their prayers, their presence, their gifts and their service." These were the means by which Christians in the United Methodist tradition were to embody their faith. All four components are means of sharing the love and hope of Jesus Christ with others. General Conference determined that we also needed to be intentional about verbally connecting the individual and congregational stories to God's story.
Since Jan. 1, 2009, new members of United Methodist congregations promise to participate in that church's ministry by their prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness.
We live in a society becoming increasing secular. The percentage of unchurched people is rising rapidly. We can no longer assume that people know the Gospel story, have ever been told that God loves them, or that they see our service and mission work as a response to the love we have experienced through Jesus Christ.
There is a tremendous amount of fear associated with the thought of "witnessing." What if I come across as pushy? What if I am rejected? What if I cannot answer their questions? Because many United Methodists experience high levels of discomfort and anxiety around verbalizing their faith, pastors and other church leaders need to help them articulate their stories and provide safe opportunities for practice.
Does your congregation regularly practice sharing faith stories or naming where they have witnessed God's activity in the world? How might you do so?
The Rev. Heather Heinzman Lear, director, evangelism ministries, General Board of Discipleship, Nashville, Tenn.