Mature Disciples supporting new givers

Mature Disciples supporting new givers

By Laura Heikes

My mother became a Christian when I was four. From that day forward, we were in church every Sunday…almost. Stewardship Sunday was the one day Mom encouraged us to skip church. Now that we are both pastors, we hope our people don’t feel the same way we did. But we know they do.

Stewardship has become a dirty word. November brings with it the lurking threat of sermons on giving. At best, people treat it like a trip to the dentist: they sigh and try to imagine they are somewhere else. At worst, they go missing. Why does stewardship feel like a root canal instead of an invitation to deeper faith and worship? And how might we change that?

Last summer, I was appointed to Bee Creek United Methodist Church, a young congregation in the hill country outside of Austin, Texas. What began eight years ago in a living room is now a church of 400, almost half of whom joined through profession of faith. This means that half of the congregation either has no idea what stewardship is, or a vague feeling of unease related to televangelists they have seen weeping mascara and stealing from grandma. The other half thinks they know what stewardship means, but would rather be at the dentist.

So last year we shifted the focus from budget and money to people and discipleship. We asked ourselves how we could help the congregation grow closer to God through practicing generosity. And could stewardship be fun instead of tedious? The solution occurred one day as I listened to NPR. They announced a matching gift for all first-time contributors. The phones lit up.

Our church adopted this “secular” idea. We liked how it promised to draw the congregation together for a common purpose: growth in generosity where everyone took a step together. New Christians were invited to make a giving commitment for the first time. Mature Christians would encourage them by providing a match above their normal pledge.

Seasoned supporters were personally approached to offer a matching gift of $250 for a first-time giver. Of dozens who were asked, not a single person declined. In fact, several matching donors gave more than requested. Others approached us to ask if they could join the matching group.

The response far exceeded our expectations. The previous year, we had 75 individuals and families who returned a commitment card. That number increased to 91 with the new plan. In one year, we saw 18 first-time commitments. In a year when our membership grew by two percent, the number of stewards increased by 23 percent!

Among the new supporters was Ben, who joined by profession of faith in the fall. The match “encouraged me to try to give more,” he said. “I had a set amount in my head I thought I could afford, but when I heard about [the match], I thought I could do a little more.” Jennifer and her husband have two preschool children and a tight budget. They “liked the idea that our first $250 would be matched. So when asked, we decided to put our contributions in writing with a commitment. We now put our cash in an envelope to track our contributions (we never did that before).”

Mature givers also felt involved and challenged. Folks who might be tempted to skip “Stewardship” Sunday were invited to become a part of encouraging the next generation of believers. Deborah and her family provided four matches. “Doing a pledge for the first time can be scary,” she said. “I decided to encourage new pledgers with a match to celebrate their commitment. There is a lot of blessing in giving.” Joe and his wife, who are retired, agreed to match a family. He and his wife realized “the Bible is full of examples where small beginnings lead to magnificent results.”

Would this idea work in your community? There is a danger that it could seem gimmicky and therefore be off-putting. Talk with your leadership about the idea well beforehand, and choose a matching amount that won’t intimidate first-time givers, but still provides an incentive.

Also seek to have the pastor personally invite mature givers into the process. Share with them how people reach their giving potential slowly, and the first step is the hardest. Help them see how they can help, and then ask for their support.

Remember, your mature givers are not always your largest donors. In our church, matches came from families at a variety of income levels, from construction workers and retired teachers to business executives. One told me the reason she gave is “because you asked me. If I had just heard it in church, I probably would have not done anything.” After agreeing to match one person, she ended up sending a check for four!

Stewardship should be an invitation to worship, joy, and thanksgiving. And why shouldn’t it be fun? Last year at our church, it was. May you also find new ways to invite people, at whatever stage they are in their faith, to grow in their generosity.

Laura Heikes is pastor of Bee Creek United Methodist Church in Spicewood, Texas. She participated in the Lewis Center for Church Leadership’s Lewis Fellows leadership development program for young clergy in 2008-2009.This article is reprinted by permission from Leading Ideas, a free online newsletter of the Lewis Center for Church Leadership of Wesley Theological Seminary and available at


Mature Disciples supporting new givers

Thy Kin-Dom Come

By Liza Kittle

At the 2012 General Conference, the Women’s Division (the leadership organization of United Methodist Women) will petition the worldwide church to become their own separate general agency called United Methodist Women, Inc. If this action is passed, the impact on women and women’s ministry in the UM Church may be dramatic.

Currently under the mantle of the General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM), the Women’s Division has operated somewhat autonomously throughout its history. They have raised and managed their own monies, set their own policies and procedures, and virtually monopolized women’s ministry options for women within the church.

While becoming a separate agency will prove beneficial to GBGM, which has experienced oppressive control by the Division for many years, its effect on evangelical women seeking other forms of women’s ministry cannot be ascertained.

United Methodist Women is the only officially recognized women’s ministry within the church. For nearly 40 years, membership has declined from 1.35 million in 1974 to the present level of less than 600,000 members. This number represents less that 15 percent of the total women in the UM Church. Attempts for official acceptance of other women’s ministries at General Conference have repeatedly failed due to intense lobbying by the Women’s Division.

Even in the midst of the church’s new focus on building vital congregations, offering choices for women continues to be resisted by the Women’s Division. It is a frustrating dynamic, especially considering the ideals of diversity and inclusiveness that are so valued by the denomination, and the fact that UMW is reaching a very small audience of women.

Regardless of the organizational changes that the Women’s Division is pursuing, their theology remains the same. Their emphasis has been on changing the world social order, rather than promoting the personal healing and transformation that can be experienced through a relationship with Jesus Christ.

The spiritual teachings will undoubtedly remain based on feminist, womanist, and mujerista theologies. The social justice agenda will remain politically partisan, embracing a liberal, progressive worldview.

How do we know this is the case? We know this through the track record of the Women’s Division, including: the resources produced, the Bible studies offered, the activism undertaken, and the speakers invited to United Methodist Women events.

At the recent 2011 National Seminar held in Birmingham, Alabama, in August, the featured Bible study teacher was Dr. Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz. She is one of the leading advocates of mujerista theology, an offshoot of feminist theology that emphasizes the liberation of Latina women under male-dominated power structures and injustice.

Central to the concepts of mujerista theology is what Dr. Isasi-Diaz calls “the kin-dom of God.” She replaces the biblical references of “the kingdom of God” with this new phrase, explaining that she rejects the word kingdom for two reasons. “First, it is obviously a sexist word that presumes that God is male. Second, the concept of kingdom in our world today is both hierarchal and elitist.” She prefers the word “kin-dom” because it “makes it clear that when the fullness of God becomes a day-to-day reality in the world at large, we will all be sisters and brothers—kin to each other.”

The concept of “kin-dom” of God is evidently supported by Women’s Division leaders, as Deputy General Secretary Harriet Olsen used the terminology in her closing address at the 12th Assembly of the World Federation of Methodist and Uniting Church Women held in Johannesburg, South Africa on August 15, 2011.

Redefining key biblical terms is a common practice of feminist theologians. Dr. Isasi-Diaz rejects the biblical meaning of “repentance” as a turning away from sin towards holiness. She explained that “it is not a matter of regret, guilt, and shame…because to demand admission of guilt and repentance before forgiveness may well throw us into a cycle of death and violence.” She said that “the Christ” had two goals:”radical inclusivity and upsetting hierarchies.” She is thankful that feminism “carried out the social gospel Great Commission and helped revert power to the community.”

Is this the theological foundation women within the UM Church are looking for? Is this the avenue of deliverance for lost and hurting women? Is developing a personal relationship with Jesus Christ no longer in the language of the Women’s Division? Unfortunately, evangelical and conservative women within the UM Church have virtually no official outlet for pursing other women’s ministry options.

According to a new Barna study, The State of the Church 2011, “no population group among the sixty segments examined has gone through more spiritual changes in the past two decades than women.”

Church attendance by women has dropped by 11 percentage points, down to 44 percent. Weekly Bible reading has plummeted by 10 points down to 40 percent. Women’s involvement in volunteer church activities has fallen 9 points and Sunday school attendance has fallen 7 points.

The only religious behavior that increased among women in the last 20 years was becoming unchurched—that rose a startling 17 percentage points.

Women still define most of the family traditions; thus, a drop in church attendance by women means a drop in attendance by men and children as well. This significant change must be addressed by our churches. Reaching women means reaching families for Jesus Christ. Reaching women is one essential key to church vitality.

There is now, more than ever, a need for alternative, Biblically-based women’s ministries within the United Methodist Church to reach this declining demographic. This is a need Renew and other women’s ministries stand ready to help meet. The time has come…thy Kingdom come

Liza Kittle is President of the Renew Network (, P.O. Box 16055, Augusta, GA 30919; telephone: 706-364-0166.


Mature Disciples supporting new givers

The difference that Jesus makes

By Rob Renfroe

I spent the first ten days of August in India, landing in Delhi, spending a day seeing the Taj Mahal, and then seeing what God is doing in the cities of Hyderabad (4 million residents) and Patna (6 million residents in India’s poorest state of Bihar).

It would take a lifetime to describe the history, the religions, and the culture of India. Most apparent are the overcrowding and the poverty. Wherever you go, you see people. And you see poor people. Some selling rice or lentils, hoping to make enough money that day to feed their family. Others sleeping on the streets—some with blankets, others without. And still others, begging—mothers, children, men who are crippled or blind.

Ten days in a country of 1.2 billion people doesn’t make me an expert. But this I know for sure. Jesus is the hope of India.

Sometimes, liberal Christians who pride themselves on being open-minded, will say that all of the world’s great religions are pretty much the same—just different paths to the same God that teach pretty much the same truths. Those who say that have most likely taken a comparative religion course. But I’m pretty sure they haven’t been to India where the culture has been fashioned by, and is today permeated by, Hinduism.

More than one of our Hindu guides told us proudly “we have 330 million gods.” Read that again. 330 million gods. Looking into a Hindu temple was heart-wrenching. Mothers were there with their children, kneeling before idols with their offerings. One popular god is Ganesh, “the elephant god” who brings good fortune.  His image bears a human body and an elephant’s head. Others knelt and worshipped Hanuman, the monkey god—again with a human-like body but the face of an ape. Our guides were particularly devoted to the one they called “the monkey god” because he brings wealth and prestige.

One night we met in a house church in a slum outside of Patna. Seventy believers were crowded into the house of a man who had been converted from Hinduism. It was difficult to worship that evening because nearby a loud and lively Hindu service was being conducted. The service was devoted to a fertility deity—and the idol receiving worship was sexually provocative and obscene. This is what you see in India.

But there’s more. The caste system is still very much alive.  From the time of their birth children are told who they are and that they should never strive to be more. One caste is known as “the rag pickers.” They will subsist all their lives picking up discarded rags and then selling them to whomever may want to purchase them. Why is this their lot? Why should they aspire to nothing more? Because Hinduism tells them that in a previous life their deeds merited such an existence in this life.

In India, I couldn’t help but think about Jesus over and over. He picked common people, like fishermen and tax collectors, to be his disciples and to carry on his work when he was gone. The outcasts of first century Judaism—the lepers, and the blind, and the lame—Jesus never told them they deserved their lot.  He told them about a God who loved them.  And he did the unthinkable.  He touched them.  And he healed them.  And he called them to be his disciples and his friends.

Jesus loves Hindus, Muslims, and Christians. At the same time, let’s be clear that not all religions are the same. We can respect all people but we cannot accept all belief systems. We cannot call darkness light. And a religion that has people bow before idols and tells the lowest of society that they deserve to be crippled and blind and to be nothing more than rag pickers for the rest of their lives—that kind of religious oppression is darkness. And it breaks my heart to think that people live in that kind of hopelessness and despair.

Wherever faithful people have made Jesus known, societies and cultures have been raised and bettered. Hospitals have been built. Schools have been started. The hungry have been fed. And that is exactly what we see in India.

Christians make up 3-5 percent of the population, but their influence is unmistakable. We saw children who once lived on the streets, now living in a Christian orphanage. It’s hard to describe the beauty of these children. We were their honored guests and they joyously sang and danced for us. They quoted long passages of Scripture. Their eyes are alive and their clothes are clean. That’s Jesus, the hope of the world.

We visited a school created by Christians. Many of the children who attend come from huts made out of grass in nearby fields. Their parents make $3 a day. But the children we spoke to dream of being engineers and doctors and nurses. And the work in their school notebooks—the mathematical formulas, the physics theorems, the literature notes in two languages—spoke volumes. These children will not be condemned to huts and field labor. Their gifts will be used and their lives will be full. That’s Jesus, the hope of the world.

And then there were the malnourished children still living in the poorest of conditions. But every morning, a young man gets up at 3 a.m. to make 18 quarts of soy milk for them. And when he’s done, he puts the pail on the back of his bicycle and he pedals 12 miles to give them what may be the only nourishment they receive for the day. And he tells them about a God who loves them. And he does all of this because he’s a follower of Jesus. And Jesus, he puts such things in the hearts of his followers, because he is the hope of the world.

Rob Renfroe is the President and Publisher of Good News.


Mature Disciples supporting new givers

Meeting with the Bishops‘ Unity Task Force

In order to keep the lines of communication open between evangelical renewal groups and the Council of Bishops, a gathering of representatives from both entities will take place in Chicago on October 21, 2011. This is a follow-up meeting to one that took place two years ago.

In November 2009, leaders of the renewal groups within the UM Church met with the Bishops’ Unity Task Force to share their concerns about the unity of the church and how the Church can move forward in mission together. The same task force of Bishops had previously met with a group representing the Reconciling Movement and the Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA).

The evangelical leaders spoke with the Bishops about (1) the theological differences that divide the church; (2) events at General Conference that have caused concern; and (3) activities and decisions outside of General Conference by United Methodist leaders that have created divisions rather than unity.

Good News President Rob Renfroe and Vice President Tom Lambrecht attended the original meeting in 2009 and both will be present for the October meeting in Chicago.

We believe that the Council of Bishops should be fully aware of the concerns of grassroots United Methodists. That is why we have created a blog that allows lay and clergy to express their hopes, beliefs, and concerns about the future of the UM Church. That future is threatened by bishops who are speaking out against the time-honored, Biblical position of our church on marriage and sexuality, by annual conferences that are encouraging the violation of our Book of Discipline, and by clergy who are promising to disobey the covenant that they had sworn to uphold.

The soul of the United Methodist Church is at stake. In this time of crisis for our church, we are having to decide whether to remain true to Scripture and the 3,000-year-old moral teachings of our faith, or cave in to a culture bent on excluding God from the public arena and making up its own standards of moral behavior.

We hope that you will utilize this site to tell us what you would like us to tell the Bishops. To participate, you can go to and add your voice. The Revs. Renfroe and Lambrecht will read your comments carefully and prayerfully consider them in formulating their conversation with the Unity Task Force in October.


Mature Disciples supporting new givers

Transformation After Trial

By Diane West

When I was informed that Jimmy Creech had recently released a book of his “memoirs,” Adam’s Gift, I thought about whether or not I wanted to read it. I was raised in First United Methodist Church in Omaha, Nebraska, and my family and I were very much involved in the situation that transpired there over a decade ago when Creech was appointed to the church as its pastor and was eventually put on trial for conducting a high-profile homosexual union ceremony. This storyline is one of the major topics in the book. Even though it was not really something upon which I wanted to spend my time, I concluded that I should reflect on his book in light of my firsthand experience.

The story told by Jimmy Creech in his book is about his journey over the past several decades. He begins with a story about “Adam,” a gay man who comes into his office crying one day in 1984 over the news that the General Conference of the United Methodist Church had just passed a new policy to prevent “self-avowing practicing homosexuals” from being ordained and appointed (pg.1). From this point forward, Creech recounts stories of his own “sexual awakening,” which are surprisingly graphic to the point of being unnecessary, proceeds to try to discredit each reference in the Bible referring to homosexual behavior, talks about how he basically changed his mindset regarding homosexuality, and describes how he acted on his new beliefs in his various ministerial appointments.

By the time I reached the end of the book, the text struck me as a rather desperate attempt to use emotion and sloppy “facts” to persuade the reader to empathize with the writer and his cause and to be emotionally obligated to adopt his point-of-view. There is also, of course, a recurrent theme of attempting to marginalize and trivialize the mindset of those who disagree with him, as though they are the ones whose convictions are violating the intent of God laid out in the Bible and the order of the church as determined in The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church. For example, Creech refers to the Confessing Movement as, “part of the global emergence of militant religious fundamentalism that seeks to hold onto archaic cultural structures of power” (pg. 108). He cannot seem to get past the fact that “lack of understanding” on the part of those who disagree with him is not the reason for their disagreement.

I kept waiting to see a redemptive story appear in Creech’s book, but it simply never did. A few passages sadly stood out. Creech says, “Although my mother and father were devout, they were not rigid in their beliefs. They taught me that our way isn’t God’s only way, but that there are a variety of people and religions in the world, all deserving as much respect as our own” (pg. 5). He also refers to “…the spirit of Methodism’s founder, John Wesley, who gave priority to piety over dogma and doctrine, and to social responsibility over purity and personal salvation” (pg. 13).

When referring to his ordination in the United Methodist Church, Creech says, “My application was not approved without controversy and resistance.  Interestingly, this was not because of my theology. No one on the Board of Ordained Ministry seemed troubled by that, although I was told there was ‘too much horizontal and not much vertical’ in my understanding of God and the church. What caused the board difficulty was the length of my hair” (pg. 24). Also catching my eye was a comment made by Creech about a meeting with a parishioner from First United Methodist Church in Omaha “the day after Easter, which marks the mythic victory of God’s new order of life and freedom over the old order of oppression and death” (pg. 108, emphasis mine).

Days of my time could be spent addressing and correcting the many statements in this book attributed to my family and friends, as well as the situations described. There is a lot of selective memory, the taking of words and circumstances out of context, and flat-out embellishment, all while hiding behind the façade of “love.” It simply isn’t worth my time to sort through all of that, and I will not.

I’m surprised that a publishing company associated with a reputable university would publish a book where there are so many errors and assumptions. For example, Creech clearly doesn’t even know the people he wants to misrepresent well enough to refer to them by their correct names, and regardless of what he so righteously assumes, he doesn’t have a clue about their family relationships, their history of involvement in the church prior to his arrival, or the status of the family and friendly relationships with those who would call themselves homosexual. He is more interested in labeling them and trying to make them look like the minority, the “fringe,” and “subversive.” His many assumptions, “facts,” and recollections are sloppy, at best.

So, you may be asking, what prompted me to write about Creech’s book. To begin with, I think it is important for me to say that the ordeal that transpired at First United Methodist Church in Omaha upon Jimmy Creech’s appointment had a profound impact on my life. It changed me in wonderful ways of which I never could have fathomed.

Through this experience, my understanding of who Jesus is, as my Savior, was finally revealed to me. I had searched for this answer for quite some time, but the answers were not to be found in the social gospel to which I was exposed.

Through my searching of the Bible, discussions with Christians, and visits to biblically-sound churches during the turmoil my church was experiencing, I finally was able to see that Jesus was more than a “story” and a cultural preference. He became my living Savior, and the only One whose opinion really mattered. I developed a real, vital relationship with him that changed everything. Before, I knew “of” him. Now, I knew him.

I did not need to read this book for closure of any old, gaping wounds or to answer any questions I had about my own faith or point-of-view. My closure came a long time ago in the person of Jesus Christ, who brought me, and many of us who lived this experience, into a new life of salvation, deeper faith, and fellowship.

However, the fact that a book such as this was even written, and that the legitimate parts of the stories told about within it even transpired, is deeply troubling for the United Methodist Church.

Social justice is, without a doubt, very important. At the same time, it needs to be taken in context and with the entirety of what God has revealed in the Bible about sin, salvation, and redemption at heart. It seems as though, however, that a particular version of “social justice” has been allowed to consume the theology of many within the United Methodist Church.

There is some type of mental block for Creech and his supporters when it comes to understanding people who believe in the United Methodist stance on human sexuality, marriage, and homosexuality. We are not unenlightened, uneducated, or uncaring just because we do not agree with Jimmy Creech or his view of “social justice.” We are not bigoted, homophobic, abusive, or afraid of the “truth.” These types of statements and characterizations only show the desperation of those who want so badly to convince others to agree with them, that they will resort to personal insults and labels to do so.

While it is unfortunately true that there are many instances where people of the church have not treated each person’s need for redemption with the appropriate grace and sensitivity it deserves, that does not change God’s perspective on sin and redemption, and it takes nothing away from the work He can do in transforming lives.

Let me be clear. I do not write out of “love” for the United Methodist Church or for any particular denomination. Instead, I am motivated out of a deep concern for what has transpired and what continues to fester within one of the denominations in which God is still choosing to reach people whom He can call His own.

I have not been keeping an account over the past decade of names, what was said, or what was done to me, to my family, or to others I know. Frankly, I don’t care about that. I never did. It was far more important to the “opposition,” as Creech calls those from First United Methodist Church in Omaha who broke away during the ordeal that occurred there, to move forward and work positively for God and to be a part of where He is working to bring souls to salvation through Jesus Christ. That is our passion and our calling.

Living Faith United Methodist Church, which was born out of this struggle, has been richly blessed. My story of finding Jesus as the Savior is only one of many. Through this experience, some found their real faith for the first time, some renewed their faith, and others realized their need to contend for their faith. Our relationship with Jesus is more than just an hour spent on Sunday morning, as we strive to live up to the name we chose for our church.

We will gauge our success by how well we are planting the seeds for God to water and grow, not on how many members we have on our membership rolls. How can we force people to listen to God? All we can do is be faithful and provide the tools to allow that to happen.

Relevant Sunday school classes for all ages, Bible study groups, a fantastic VBS program written in-house that had every inch of our building bursting at the seams, are all signs of the vibrant life that the living Savior can bring to a church. As it says in Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

The United Methodist Church seems to be missing the point that a narrow version of the “gospel of social justice” alone isn’t working. It doesn’t have the power to change lives or conquer sin.

If the focus was on the Gospel of salvation, through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and it was put back at the heart of the United Methodist Church, wouldn’t more lives be changed? Is it not a red flag that the United Methodist Church bleeds members like an open wound? A watered-down gospel has sold more than a few souls down the river. Members will continue to be lost as they wisely look for the message that can transform their lives elsewhere.

Other than its sloppy portrayal of many of the events that transpired and comments that were made in regard to the events involving the ordeal at First United Methodist Church in Omaha, there were no surprises in Creech’s book for me. Instead, I was reminded once again of how important and absolutely imperative it is for the United Methodist Church to turn its eyes back upon the Jesus of the Bible, who can speak nothing but the truth. That truth will redeem the souls of all who are willing to hear and follow him and should never be watered-down, distorted, or silenced!


Diane West lives in Omaha, Nebraska, with her husband and two sons. She is a member of Living Faith United Methodist Church and is passionate about seeing Christ impact the lives of those within the United Methodist Church.