Does your stuff impede your true blessing?

I’m reluctant to call the circumstances I enjoy “blessings” because that implies that God favors me over others who are not experiencing a similar rain of goodness.

And yet, in my work helping Christians to grow in generosity, it is hard to find another word that better describes the basket of tangible stuff for which I express gratitude daily, and with which I ought to be generous.

So if I’m encouraging church members to become newly aware, freshly appreciative, more generous and ultimately to understand the relationship of their faith life with their “stuff,” what better word can I use than “blessings?”

I’m trying. Among many unsatisfying synonyms for “stuff” are words such as baggage, junk, gear, things, effects, luggage, objects and paraphernalia. None of those work in helping us gain a perspective of generosity and appreciation to God who provides.

But in my search one synonym in particular forced me to rethink my relationship to the “things” with which I surround myself: the word impedimenta.

Yes, the very things we surround ourselves with, that fill our lives and garages, shelves, walls and closets, that we consider essential stuff, or even “blessings,” can be an impediment to a life lived with freedom and flexibility. All of the energy and attention required to accumulate, arrange, protect, maintain and insure our “stuff” can impede our development as spiritual beings.

We have no energy left to furnish our spiritual house when we devote so much to our stuff. An “impediment” is baggage that retards our progress. And yet, the baggage that impedes us also defines us. The longer we live, the more baggage naturally accrues to us, like barnacles to our hull as we ply the sea of life.

Do you ever feel if you could just unload some of your baggage you would be free to do something that would satisfy your deeper longing? Do you want to teach but can’t give up your executive job because a teacher’s salary won’t support your large house?

Would you retire if you didn’t have six years left to pay on that dream car you’ve lusted over since you first felt the rumble of eight cylinders as a teen? Maybe you wish you could help a poor child attend church camp this summer, but you just replaced a room of “old” furniture.

Your church is growing and needs your help but you’ve got a big bare spot on a wall perfect for that original three dimensional art piece you just saw at the show downtown. You have coats for cool weather, cold weather and frigid weather, but you need one for rainy cold weather so you can’t buy a coat for the person who has none. Impedimenta.

Americans are dragging so much baggage along with us that storage is a $24 billion business. Bloomberg reported in December 2014 that the U.S. had 48,500 mini-warehouse facilities, with a combined 2.3 billion square feet of space – or seven square feet for every man, woman and child in the country.

According to the national Self Storage Association one of every 10 households in the U.S. rents a unit. It’s not uncommon to spend more to store items over time than the items are worth.

In an emergency, our relationship to stuff can change dramatically. Precious cargo crossing the sea becomes so much ballast to cast overboard when the ship is in danger of sinking. Settlers crossing Rocky Mountain passes in the 19th century tossed goods out of the wagon when the horses could not pull the weight.

What “blessings” are you willing to shed so that you may take the next step toward a life defined by freedom and generosity without impediment?

Write me at normanjameson@gmail.com to start a conversation about generosity in your church.

Using a consultant strengthens annual stewardship efforts

‘It was different because it was better’

It takes more than a tithing sermon from Malachi 3:10 to create an effective annual stewardship campaign in your church.

An effective effort requires a major time commitment to plan, enlist volunteers, establish committees, design materials, conduct meetings and prepare sermons. Ministers serious about issues larger than raising a budget – such as teaching stewardship and leading a congregation to grow in generosity – must do all of this while keeping all their other ministry plates spinning.

This is where I can help you.

Two pastors of churches that recently conducted highly successful annual stewardship campaigns utilizing the resource development services of The Columbia Partnership confessed that they could not do it all.

Davis Chappell, pastor of the 8,000-member Brentwood United Methodist Church, realized he had “so many wheels turning” in his second year at the megachurch that “I really needed someone I could count on who could help us.”

“As a pastor, you say you can do that in addition to your other duties, but you cut corners,” Chappell said. “The more you have someone who can take some of that off you the more successful you’re going to be.”

Chappell led the church’s annual giving campaign the previous year himself and saw growth. “We could do it ourselves,” he said. “But we’re stronger when we have a consultant who comes in to help.”

Bruce Cochran, pastor of 250-member First Baptist Church of Seymour, IN agrees with Chappell that the professional help they received increased their effectiveness, developed leaders, freed them for regular pastoral duties and resulted in significant financial gains to support church ministries.

Cochran said the difference in conducting their campaign internally as they have done, or in using a TCP consultant “was polish, professionalism, efficiency and comprehensiveness.”

“It was different because it was better,” Cochran said. “It was communicated better, participation was better, and it was not just the pastor standing up and saying we should do this.”

First Baptist’s priority was to return to the place where it could again devote 20 percent of its income to missions – an historical standard the church had to back away from during the recession. Results were so positive the church is again giving to missions at that generous level.

The Brentwood church also gives missions high priority and dovetailed one of its satellite churches into its annual campaign effort with Larry Sykora.

“The benefit of having Larry to help, as opposed to a ‘fundraiser,’ is his pastoral experience,” Chappell said. “He’s not going to do anything to embarrass us. He brought us a pattern and a stick-to-it-iveness.”

Chappell said stewardship is about trust, first an expression of trust in God and then of trust by the donor in their leadership.

“That’s a blessed burden,” he said. “We’ve got to live up to that.”

During their annual campaign the church did not emphasize a financial goal or the need to fund a budget. “We pointed out that the stronger our generosity the deeper our outreach,” Chappell said.

The result was a growth in commitments of “roughly 340” new giving units and an $800,000 increase in committed gifts. “That is “really significant” for us, he said.

The satellite church, which was conducting its campaign at the same time, saw an increase of 65 percent – or $100,000 – which was “enormous.”

“They had never done an operating campaign,” Chappell said. “We are very, very excited that our daughter outpaced us.”

Chappell encourages pastors to address stewardship as a spiritual discipline. Besides, he said, “everybody’s talking about money” and the conversation is better directed from the pulpit than in the parking lot.

“The only thing worse than a church that always talks about money is one that never talks about money,” he said. “I’ve never known a person who accidently tithed. Discipleship is not an accident, it’s an intention.”

In Seymour, Cochran originally was planning a capital campaign but he liked the idea of “getting a head start” by doing an annual giving emphasis first. TCP consultants are finding many churches electing to teach generosity through annual stewardship before beginning a capital campaign.

After an outstanding success in their annual giving effort, First Baptist held a Legacy Campaign and secured $600,000 in planned gifts through which they will fund long-term physical plant and mission needs.

TCP consultants like me are ministers with extensive consulting experience in churches of many denominations, and non-profits of diverse focus. For a no-obligation conversation, call me at (919) 607-4991 and we’ll discuss the possible.

 

When the wind blows

As a cyclist, I’m always aware of the wind. Thinking of the wind today reminded me of living in Oklahoma where a constant, ceaseless wind never leaves you alone.

Like a pushy neighbor, wind squeezes uninhibited and uninvited through the slightest crease in your front door, obtrusive, obnoxious, constant, leaving behind a layer of dust, like empty bottles and potato chips after a loud party.

Leaning against wind on the soccer field, it snaps and flaps my pants legs like an old mother beating her rugs.

Short, stubby trees lean chronically north, backs to the strong south wind like bent old men looking for a seat. Trees don’t develop long torsos, don’t’ extend long arms into the sky. Trees keep their arms down and hands close to their breasts.

I know it’s windy in Oklahoma because one day it stopped blowing and I fell down.

I was told that in the Dust Bowl days people hung wet sheets over closed windows. Yet they still found dust – in their refrigerators! Today Oklahomans just run a dust rag over the counter and tell the kids to button up.

Face the wind and its roar against your ears and blocks other sounds. Like a hot, dry towel it wraps itself around your head and draws until our face feels like the peeling separated from yesterday’s orange.

Your face shrinks into a permanent scowl. Your lips curl inside protectively, and squint against the onslaught of dust.

Through downtown buildings devil wind lurks against the wall and jumps onto the sidewalk to flip up a frilly dress, then roars down the street, scattering papers and blowing off hats.

Firemen say the wind evaporates moisture so fast that prairie grass can be tinder dry an hour after a soaking rain.

Cyclists get so excited by a tail wind they must take care not to ride it so far in an hour they cannot return in a day, struggling against their benefactor gone bad.

Oklahoma’s wind is bare knuckled and hairy chested, unencumbered by any subtlety. It clings to you like a too friendly dog or an ugly date. It grinds off tooth enamel and makes contact lenses torture.

Big trucks blasting through the wind are a blessing to other drivers. Although empty semi trailers have been capsized by wind on the Arizona desert, you don’t think about that when you struggle up behind a moving air dam like a big truck.

Wind is buffeting you, drowning out the radio, and you’re pulling against it like a swimmer against the tide. Suddenly the truck’s vacuum pulls you into its protective pouch and your world grows silent, smooth and easy.

Oklahoma wind gets to newcomers. They’re not used to wind flipping their car hood against their windshield when they check the oil, or chasing their wigs across the yard, or searching the neighborhood for their trash cans and small dogs.

We may not be Oklahoma wind rookies, but winds still catch most of us, sometime. A death, unwanted transfer, church conflict, downsizing, child’s problem or spouse’s health are all winds that can sweep us like tumbleweeds over barren plains.

You can roar in frustration and anger, throw up your hands, pull your hair and give up the ghost.

Me? I’m going to slide in behind a big truck.