Created To Be a Steward
Fourth Quarter Resources
Contributed by Rev. Dr. Mike Hunter
By limiting our own understanding of stewardship as pertiaining only to money, we fail to comprehend its power to change not only us, but the world. – Bruce Barkhauer
When we invited Mike Hunter to offer thoughts for the last quarter of 2021, we agreed that our emphasis should be on the expression of stewardship as faith sharing/evangelism. As stewards of the “many colored graces of God”, we are called to share all of our gifts, including the gift of the gospel itself. In a season where we feel the heightened tensions of divison in our country, the shifting of the machanics of “doing” church in the midst of a pandemic, and a general sense of frustration/helplessness to fix the “big issues” of our day, it is a good time to remember that we are a people of hope.
The identity statement of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is “To be a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world”. If this is who we understand ourselves to be, then this is clearly our time! The Center for Faith and Giving deeply believes that holistic stewardship grounded in the biblical witness addresses more than money, but also the “big issues”such as climate change, racism, poverty, war, and the negative impact of the concentration of wealth among a tiny fraction of people (half of the world’s wealth belongs to 1% of the global population).
The scriptures address all of these things and sets before us in the first chapter of Genesis that our exestenital identity is that of a steward. It is not only who we are created to be, but what we are created to do. To be created in the image of God is to be charged with ruling in the world the way that God rules in the cosmos – for the benefit of all that has been created. This means that our faith calls us to care for the earth, to care for one another, and to value each living thing as God values them. It means to keep the resources flowing because the world was created with enough to sustain life. Our calling is to preserve life, not destroy it; to move resources where they are most needed, not hoard them in our own fear of scarcity.
We find the security to share not only from an awareness that there is “enough” – an abundance that reminds us we can work six days but have “enough” provision for seven, but in the Divine affirmation that says “I delight in what I have made” (it was all “very good”!). We have the sustaining love of God which is more powerful even than death itself. This is the news that we are stewards of – the very heart and hope of the gospel. In times of brokenness we are called to introduce people to a God of wholeness. Stewardship therefore means sharing our faith. These meditations are meant to guide our thinking in the last quarter of the year to remind us that church is not transactional, but transformative.
Notes on the Fourth Quarter Resources:
Mike was gracious enough to produce four months of reflections rather than just three! Rather than have these overlap with the end of the third quarter resources, we decided to hold them back and make them available as background materials. We encourage you to read the notes for September and to consider how carefully Rev Hunter has utilized his grounding thoughts around 1 Peter 4:10-11 to organize his offering to us.
This is not a pre packaged program designed to take out of the box and run for 4-6 weeks. This is material for reflection meant to tease out questions for the church leader and members about how we share and what we share about our faith. How are we inviting others into a relationship, rather than a membership with the church.
Some of you may be looking for more traditional resources for financial campaigns. We have those elsewhere on our website. Our recommendation is to look at materials we created for 2020 if you want worship and preaching resources and an outline for moving to a financial commitment Sunday. Faithful, Hopeful, Loving includes modifications for hybred worship, which given the rise of the Delta variant of COVID 19 as these materials are being released, may be more beneficial to you. The materials are free.
About our Contributor
Rev. Mike Hunter has been involved in ministry in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) beginning in 1978, and was ordained by Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in 1995. Mike has served Disciple congregations in Lufkin (78-92; 2000-09) and Tyler (92-2000) and Midland (2009-2021) in times of numerical and spiritual growth.
In 31 years of ministry in East Texas, Mike has championed numerous building programs, congregational growth programs and pastored a congregation that served as a shelter for the evacuees of three hurricanes! Katrina, Rita, and Ike.
Mike is a certified/degreed educator and has additional distinction as a “CCA Fellow” (Certified Church Administrator) with the National Association of Church Business Administrators (NACBA) and The Church Network.
Regional Committee on Ministry for the Christian Church in the Southwest and was elected as chair of this group for a four-year term in 2019-2022.
Mike has extended continuing education in preaching, program development and stewardship. Mike has written stewardship materials and led stewardship workshops for local congregations.
He is the creator of a resource for small to medium size congregations for administrative ministry coaching. Mike speaks and leads workshops across the country. Mike recently joined as a consultant with the Center for Healthy Churches.
In May, 2021, Mike accepted a call to First Christian Church, Houston, as Transitional Senior Minister.
Mike is married to Enid Hunter, an accomplished double reed soloist and recently retired elementary music educator. They have two married daughters. Most importantly our two girls have both made us grandparents, in 4 ways: Cadence, Oden, Zoey and Xander! Mike and Enid love RV camping and enjoy the southwest and the mountains.
1 Peter 4:10-11
10Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received. 11Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God; whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies, so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ. To him belong the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.
Serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.
Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God…
Whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies…
So that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ.
Do the background work.
Stewardship and giving is usually the greatest unexplored area for churches and clergy. Nonprofits, Universities, and hospitals have a far better understanding of potential than churches.
Clergy: Get to know the executive director of one of our community’s first-rate nonprofits to visit with you about how they do fund-raising and how they relate to their donors.
First quarter 2021 studies show an increase to giving. Is an increase your experience?
How too many of us communicate giving:
I get frustrated reading newsletters of church after church that tell me how the men’s group is going to have a breakfast on Saturday and the women are going to have a bazaar next Thursday and the youth will have a dance next Friday after the ball game. Then over in the corner, usually separated by a bold line so that it stands out, I see financial statistics, which usually indicate that a certain amount was needed, and a lesser amount was received, and that there is a deficit of something, with a quote underneath, “God loves a cheerful giver.” I want to ask…” what have I got to be cheerful about?”
 Not Your Parents’ Offering Plate, J. Clif Christopher, page 12.
Serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.
Serve one another…
…with whatever gift each of you have received.
Labor Day weekend. Not exactly the high attendance moment in the life of the church. Not the best time to launch something new. Most savvy churches either start their fall program push when schools resume, earlier and earlier in August for most, or the church delays the start until after Labor Day three-day weekend clears.
Labor Day. Pay attention to all the labor gifts we too often take for granted. Servers in restaurants, for example. Think about the last time. Do you remember your server’s name? Recall something of their personality?
How you treat a waiter says a lot about your leadership. Cameron Brooks
25But Jesus called them to him and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 26It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, 27and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; 28just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.’
How does your giving serve?
Think of the restaurant metaphor. The table and the people at it, are the world. We, you, and I, are the waitstaff and we are inviting them to God’s banquet of love and grace.
What we are is God’s gift to us
What we become is our gift to God. Eleanor Powell
In his book Be Known for Something, my friend Mark MacDonald talks about Discover Your Thread.
The Thread is what you should be known for. Not some mission statement in a document no one reads. Not some past preacher’s slogan they brought with them and applied it to you, and you accepted it out of courtesy.
But what are you? What is your DNA? What would disappear from your community if your church ceased to be? Simple. 1-5 words. Memorable. Emotionally charged. Benefit driven, from your audience’s perspective.
Don’t know it? Don’t have it? Don’t know how to find it? Threads are developing all around you in real time. GoFundMe is a great example. Tragic fire happens in a community, and someone launched GoFundMe. A small town in the Midwest sees an injustice and with no desire for attention puts donation buckets by every cash register in the area. J.J. Watt sees his city destroyed in Hurricane Harvey and helps to raise millions of dollars and leads by example in the process. The Human Society runs a 30-second add explaining its mission with few words, makes it memorable, emotional, benefit driven. And it does well.
What is your congregation’s thread? Take the time this fall to process your thread uniquely for your congregation. Bring it to life with short sharing that our previous generations might have called “testimonies”. Week of Compassion does this well. So do several of our special offerings designations.
But what is your thread, Christian Church, Somewhere, America?
And what if we all shared those threads with each other? Let’s be known for that!
Everyone has a gift, some even several. What is yours? How are you using it?
Clarkie was born into the depression era. Never left her small county seat hometown. Lifelong Disciple. She had a small two chair beauty shop in the back property of her modest home. Capacity to give in modern financial terms was never her gift. Her gift was the giving of herself. Mostly measured in pies.
Pies. Coconut and chocolate. Meringue piled high. Crust from scratch.
Every birth of a child into the congregation. Pie. Every death. Pie. Graduation. Pie. Surgery or other hospital stay. Pie and pie.
It was such a personal gift. Not picked up in the bakery isle, it was hand crafted. Hours in the making. Not only did it taste to die for, but everyone also cherished it because it was not just pie, it was Clarkie giving a part of herself. She came to sit with you at your table. She offered herself to you in a way that you ingested her goodness into your very life.
Every Sunday when I come to the table, I think of the loaf and cup in just those personal ways. The memorial gift is how we ingest the loaf and cup. We should see our gifts in just that way. Perhaps you have the capacity to make a significant financial gift, perhaps you have a voice that when you sing inspires all who hear, maybe yours is sneaking the fussy child in the pew in front of you a small piece of candy (with parent permission) and your smile matches that of the child, and they can’t wait to see you next Sunday.
Or maybe you make pie. I miss Clarkie. I miss her pie. I hope to be a small slice of my God given gift to my church and my place in this world. Because the world needs more pie of God’s abundance.
Reconciliation Special Offering Week 1
God has not called us to see through other.
But to see each other through. Author Unknown
Love your neighbor. If you’ve spent more than 10 minutes in church, you’ve heard it. Hardly a week goes by that some variation isn’t said, done, or lifted.
34I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’
We are measured as disciples by how we love. Let that soak a minute. How is loved offered is how we are known.
Take the time this week to make the words of this scripture specific and personal. Who are your neighbors, literally? Many churches don’t know. Have never met them. Not reached out. Meet them on a non-Sunday. Do something good for the neighborhood. One church I know has a pet park and sets a day aside to bless them. Another has opened their campus to families with special needs children. They come from all over. Tutorials. ESL. Food pantry distributions. Partner with the elementary across the street. Who is your neighbor?
Then unpack that love word. Showers for the homeless is an emerging new act of love new my current location. Welcoming patients who are in town for cancer treatments are among our neighbors and the target of some of our love.
Too many right now are making weapons and buzzwords out of reconciliation needs. Racism. Poverty. Justice. We’re supposed to see them all as destinations for our love.
The world needs us to mirror God, love, and care for neighbor as never before.
If reconciliation is God’s chief business, it is ours. E. Stanley Jones
 Be Known for Something. Reconnect with Community by Revitalizing Your Church’s Reputation. Mark MacDonald.
Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God…
Your gifts can speak volumes.
Sermons We See
I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day.
I’d rather one should walk with me than merely tell the way.
The eye’s a better pupil and more willing than the ear,
Fine counsel is confusing, but example’s always clear.
And the best of all the preachers are the men who live their creeds,
For to see good put in action is what everybody needs.
What is in our hands is the chance to respond to God’s call. To put our skills and our wills to the task of discerning the opportunity points, the places, and times for change effort and to add our gifts to God’s church in this time of change. How God uses our gifts we cannot predict.
World Communion Sunday
Many years ago, I led several wilderness based weeklong canoe trips for youth groups. We partnered older youth as mentors with those incoming to the youth group, front and back of the same canoe for 3 days and nights on the river. Campfire every night, vespers and communion led by the outgoing seniors.
One night as we were preparing for communion, all facing the fire and away from the worship area, as the group was singing, I noticed two adolescent racoons easing their way toward the makeshift table with loaf and cup. The artisan bread and well protected and kept dry bread for the occasion were only seen as significant food for the animals of God’s kingdom.
With gentle body language the group continued to softly sing yet turn around to take in the other group that had joined us. We watched them as mirrors of ourselves as the pair was so gentle as they went about exploring and partaking of the table elements. No one suggested we stop them. We just watched and in no small measure took in that God’s world of communion was much larger than we had so recently considered.
Almost with holy timing, just as the song finished, the pair of God’s creatures quietly made their way out into the darkness…and so did we.
And so do you.
Week of Ministry Begins
World Mental Health Day
This is a two for one Sunday. It is August as I write this, and the world is as involved as it can be in this Covid moment in the Olympics. Simone Biles in recent days has stepped back from competition, citing mental health and selfcare as one of the motivations. The healthy among us have affirmed the choice. How many of us practice such selfcare? Truthfully, too few clergy can honestly say they always make selfcare a priority. Burnout among clergy in the first few years of ministry remains high. If you are involved in these materials in your ministry, step back, take a day or two. Your stewardship campaign will wait.
Churches, if someone in addition to the ministerial staff is also reading this, hopefully you started planning back in late August for this second week of October to affirm your clergy. Employees of all kinds appreciate affirmation. I confess I’ve long used gift cards and other monetary contributions directed towards me, but I’ve kept almost all the notes and cards, especially those that were very personal and unpacked a successful relationship moment. Clergy are among the most vulnerable and the last 18 months have not been kind to any of us. Take this week to write love notes of all kinds to each other, to your pastors, and pastors, to your churches. One of the most moving things that welled up in me a few years ago was I said out loud that I loved our church. When I said it, the people in the pews knew I meant it in a personal way. If we do stewardship well, God’s love will come bubbling up out of us, congregations and clergy, and an amazing array of gifts will come pouring out, and the kingdom in that place will grow.
And you will be healthier for it.
But what’s in it for us?
The brief question that is the pivot point in board rooms and relationships. The question and its answer can make or break deals among the power brokers in places I can’t possibly imagine. It is the question of power politics when the ultimate hope of benefit gets swept aside and it is in this week’s lectionary Gospel as a clear case study.
James and John want their faith to come with benefits in the time ahead. Ok, Jesus, we get that you’re going to come into something significant. We need just one thing…when it gets really good for you, we want to be right there with you…as close as your right and left.
Faith with entitlements. James and John weren’t the first and certainly weren’t the last. As it relates to gifts, even the Internal Revenue Service knows that’s not appropriate:
A charitable donation is a gift of cash or property made to a nonprofit organization to help it accomplish its goals for which the donor receives nothing of value in return.
A gift for which the donor receives nothing of value in return. Except I disagree with the IRS. I believe we do receive something in return when our service or contribution helps a child discover faith for the first time in a Lenten Pastor’s Class. I think the heart is moved when a church surrounds a family in tragedy or walks beside that baby not just in a service of dedication but in the years that follow. Scores if not hundreds grasp a glimpse of the holy when you turn loose of a space that previously was something now outdated, and you feed the hungry every week.
Souls are fed…not just those that receive, but those that do the giving.
This passage was one of the low points for those that followed Jesus. It was a teachable moment for James and John the rest of the twelve…and it is today for us. Give with no strings attached and let us know the unexpected gifts you receive.
I found a note under my office door at the conclusion of worship last week. There is not a more vulnerable moment for most clergy than on Sunday just after you’ve attempted to speak on behalf of faith. Thankfully it wasn’t a complaint, and it was signed, so it past the first right of refusal to read test that I learned decades ago.
It was an article from a major newspaper in what I must assume was part of the religion section of that Sunday’s edition. The headline: Just Half of U.S. Households Gave to Charity.
It had a sticky note attached from the person who slipped it under my door: A continuing challenge for the church. How do we address it?
I would start by suggesting that the offering plate of the church in 2021 and beyond looks little like the offering plate of our parents and grandparents. Too often there is a disconnect these days between the church and the giver and fewer and fewer are (1) well developed spiritually in the area of financial giving, (2) even less comfortable speak and teaching about such things, and (3) get tripped up by thinking they need to do fund raising. Several outcomes derive:
*Reduce stewardship to a single Sunday in October or worse, a cluster of connected Sundays. Congregants are savvy to this. They often plan fall “vacations” for a few weeks until the beatings about dollars eases.
*The brief period of asking is so out of context for how the church behaves the rest of the year that folks feel pressured, and guests leave with the first impression feeling that all this church talks about is money. Which is still one of the main reasons young adults don’t go to church.
I know it sounds automatic, but we’ve lost the ability to connect generosity to a mission. A specific mission.
People know about specific missions. GoFundMe does it every day. JJ Watt did it after Hurricane Harvey. When you make people aware of the mission, people respond.
In churches I’ve served it has been a highlight church life to identify areas of God’s work and put a face to it. The elder that receives more than they offer during a shut-in visit. The youth that comes back from camp and can articulate a faith decision. VBS experiences. Reconnections after hurt. The list is endless.
You have a treasure trove of stories. When the mission connects to the heart everything else works out. We should stop digging for the treasure and spend more time unearthing and telling the heart stories.
Many churches about this time in the church calendar are in the frightful completion of their stewardship program. Perhaps it’s no accident that Halloween is close by. Treasurers are scared.
Still other churches are making community connections this week to help children have wholesome alternatives to more violent expressions of the holiday.
For this week means that All Saints Day is just around the corner. It is a season of renewed pastoral care of families that have lost loved ones. Hopefully your church has a way to remember them. I write those families early in the month, inviting them to send pictures of their loved ones. We expand the invitation to all families who may have lost someone in the past year, and we remember them visually in worship and both remember their gifts and lift the challenge to follow likewise. In Memoriam at the Academy Awards is among the highest watched and reshared sections of the evening. There is a reason. It is good to remember. See your remembrance as an act of stewardship.
 The poem is public domain.
 The Starter Kit for Mobilizing Ministry. Leadership Network. Loren Mead
Whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies…
The first Sunday in November can be a Sunday where churches remember their saints, especially those who have passed away in the past calendar year. Include not just those in active membership but invite your faith families to submit those in their family’s they’ve lost. We should remember them.
But it can also be a day where you remember the living saints.
In a previous church setting, the congregation worked for months to develop and promote a capital campaign. It was an appropriate ask in the right moment. In just a few days after the project was delivered to the congregation, the church office received a slightly crumpled envelope with what appeared to be aging handwriting. Inside was the newsletter article, clipped out and circled in the sentence asking for financial support for the project. Clipped to that was a crisp, new dollar bill. One dollar.
And the inscription written on the back of the clipped article: I can’t give a lot, but I wanted to give the first dollar toward my church continuing the grow.
It was well known in context that this was the widow’s mite in this congregation. The action by this saint was momentum launching for the entire church as they successfully underwrote the project.
Scripture teaches us, so too, do saints. It is not the size of the gift; it is the significance of the gift that changes things.
Thanksgiving Special Offering
Thanksgiving and the holidays are just around the corner, and it is on this Sunday, tucked between All Saints and Thanksgiving we place the General Offering that highlights higher education. There are always print, digital, and usually video resources offered for congregations to use. How is your congregation connected? Has someone attended a Disciple related higher education institution? Do you have clergy that have a beginning in your church?
Have someone come and speak, share in the first person, create an over and above scholarship program through Christian Church Foundation to endow scholarships to Disciple related schools.
It is Thanksgiving Week. Many schools have already recessed for the holiday. Some of your folks may be traveling. Others may be traveling to you to be with family grounded in your community.
Among my favorites is to have a Thank Wall for the whole month of November. From All Saints until Advent, have a place where post-it notes can have simple sentence prayers of thanks. Insert them in the bulletin if you have one. Place a stack in the entrance area. Allow time in worship to fill them out. Week by week they grow. Ask adults to write them out for those that don’t yet write. From shut-in to 2-year-old, capture them.
Arrange them in a mosaic. Many of them will become powerful 2 sentence sermons. The mosaic will have power as an image, too. Capture it. Preach it. Keep it alive. Update it. Make Thanksgiving a yearlong celebration.
Year C seems to suggest that God offers so much more than we could ever want or need. The Christ gift is the ultimate example of that gift.
November 28-Advent 1
The Epistle is helpful to begin our Advent season. And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. I Thessalonians 3:12
We’ve not yet cleared November, and everyone is bombarding you with the countdown clock to Christmas. How many shopping days? Do we have our family traditions all mapped out? Everything speeds up when we should work for it to slow down.
Sanctuaries become decorated; Advent wreaths help mark the time. We’re still again working uphill against Covid and all the other connection robbers in this moment.
Abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. Brainstorm in your congregation. How is your love for one another “abounding”? How is your love for all “abounding”? What need this Christmas is going unmet in your community?
Truth is you will have to work at this. Another clock is counting down, the one treasurers and finance committees are watching. How will you end the year? You’ve known for 11 months the fiscal year is closing. You’ve known longer than that the season of Advent was approaching, be sure you focus of abounding love. Not just at Advent, but all year long. Take the longer view of God’s gifts and also take the longer view of your church’s capacity to give. And love each other, and others.
So that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ.
Bonus for Stewardship leaders in the local church.
You and your pastor should write to your congregation at least 5 times a year. Write, as in paper, personally addressed and USPS delivered to your entire congregation. Write them at the end of each quarter. Share with them the victories and the missional accomplishments of that interval. Thank them for their participation and service. Talk about presence, prayer, service, and yes, their financial gifts. Each time have the financial person in your congregation attach their confidential statement of giving.
At the end of November when 11 months are known, write a letter. Let them know a yearlong summary of significance. Point toward the new year. Help them to know the current giving status in the church. People will assume without knowing that everything is ok. Let them know. Practice transparency all year long. Please don’t start now. Make a note to start in the new year and do it all year long. It might look like this, though, when you get to November next year:
Dear Members and Friends,
I really have no words to describe much of what has happened in 2020.
None of us do.
And yet, amid the events that describe 2020 is also the strong witness of your faith. We cannot thank you enough for all the ways you have continued to be church.
While many of you are worshipping digitally, you continue to financially support our church. Through your contributions to the church, exciting ministries continue to take shape. A few highlights of this year:
*Children’s Learning Center has carefully resumed operations and currently stands at 95% occupancy. Their work continues to bring new families into relationship with FCC. Many of those families now describe us as “their church”.
*Supporting our intern’s seminary expenses, that continue safely online.
*Supported the application for a PPP loan. That loan was secured, funded, and just last month was totally forgiven. It was a one-time event that helped stabilize the church and CLC.
*Setting records of help, in numbers of people and pounds of food, through the Food Pantry, while having to totally change delivery method to drive up, because of Covid.
*47 children adopted through the Chalice Fund Christmas Program.
*Trunk R Treat, Drive by Santa, and a modified Night in Bethlehem will all take place in a matter of days.
All of this is because of you.
Enclosed with this letter is your 11-month statement of contribution. Please review it and keep it for your records. Please the administrative office if you have any questions. In January, you will receive a complete summary for your permanent records.
Your church is being a good steward of the funds entrusted to it. We hold your gifts in sacred trust to complete the ministries and priorities of our congregation.
We have a great history of having amazing Decembers and we are asking you to help this year be another amazing year end. We won’t make future budget plans until we see how successfully we end 2020 because we remain committed to sound financial practices.
We appreciate you. We thank you for your continued support. Join us in prayer as we look forward to what God will do next in this amazing church, even now.
For the rest of the church.
Find a way to be Christmas to someone you don’t know. Ring a bell. Adopt a child. Get a group together to sing carols to shut ins or the local nursing home (yes, follow Covid rules). But extra at the grocery store and drop in the collection box.
Then tell your world why you did it and how it made you feel. Not a means of look at me, but rather share how God moved in you. Share that in your church. What would Advent look if every Sunday someone took 3-5 minutes to share a “where I saw God this week story”. These are the gifts that endure. Not the ones under the tree, the gifts that come from the heart, the gifts that change others and change you in the process.
Christmas Special Offering
Most small to midsize towns across America have traditional events about now in the busy calendar. Christmas Parades, community displays, carol sings and more. Is your church visible in those? Present to give away hot chocolate or candy or meet a need? Yes, Covid alert inserted here. Who knows where we will be? Don’t stop before you start. Make the season have a context that flows through your community.
The epistle for this date is one of my favorite scriptures. There is an outstanding choral setting of this passage, too. I thank my God when I remember you…
For almost two years now, our season of light has had too much darkness…if we allow it. The very message of Advent is the darkness cannot overcome the light. Darkness cannot keep the light from shining. Tell your light stories this week. I would imagine as you read this, you are already recalling persons for your church that are just light givers. Tell those stories. Replicate those people. Have those light people mentored youth and children? There is an opportunity here.
This week also begins the two-week emphasis on Regional Ministry. As someone who has been active in regional leadership for over 20 years, this is another area that we say too little about and we sadly relegate it to the very busy, very fast past, noisy and overcrowded last few weeks of the year.
Decide now to pencil in your regional presence at least 2 times in the new year. Get the region to send you print and/or video testimony of the good that is ongoing in your Region. They do camps, for youth and children, they step in when churches are hurting, they lead search and call, they are pastors to your pastor in meaningful ways. If you get to this season and you don’t have a connection with the region, mark it now for a priority in the new year. It will bless of you when you do. We are all church together.
Christmas Sunday. The Sunday prior to Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Churches are putting a bow in the season now. You are in your final countdown. You are already showing signs of burnout, too many cheeseballs and holiday parties, everything is starting to taste the same.
Many of you are about to travel. You’ve made travel plans; you are fretting over travel plans and some of you are dreading the annual pilgrimage.
Perhaps Hebrews can be helpful to hear in this context:
Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,
‘Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
but a body you have prepared for me;
in burnt-offerings and sin-offerings
you have taken no pleasure.
Then I said, “See, God, I have come to do your will, O God”
— Hebrews 10:5-7a
The witness of those who came before is long and powerful. The participants of the season are well known. Mary. John the Baptist. Shepherds. Magi. Jesus himself. Over and over the seasonal picture points to the bigger picture. Advent, even Christmas Eve and Day are not the ultimate destinations. There is a life. There is a resurrection promise. There is a future hope. Abounding love doesn’t end in a few days. It is just beginning.
A more recent development and dilemma I think is what to do with these days when they are bunched around the weekend. Do you do Christmas Eve and call it good until the New Year? Do you scale back on December 26? I can’t answer that for you, but I can give you my answer: A mentor taught me long ago people don’t need the preacher’s permission not to come to church. If I can get there, chance are some will come. And in that looking to the least of these, I’ve discovered people who have no family, and they want a Christmas Eve and/or Christmas Sunday place to go. I remember in one setting two young adult visitors came walking into our sanctuary, smiling, and saying how they had knocked of 4 other church doors before finding one (ours) open on this particular day. So, we may scale back, but we don’t miss an opportunity to be the church known for having the doors unlocked when Christmas is nearby. You may be the only Christmas some people know this year.
December 26, Christmas Sunday
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
You’ve made it to the last Sunday of the year. Many of you are buried under the wrapping paper mountain. You may even have family still in town. This Sunday in many places is known as preacher out of town Sunday.
Thankfully, the gift of this seasons doesn’t so quickly disappear. This Sunday, do a quiet review. How did your faith sing this season? Your actions, word, deed and giving, how did it reflect the Christ gift? What has this journey done to reshape your life in a meaningful way, in ways that will long outlast the shallow new year resolutions.
God’s love is boundless. Live like that. Boundless love. Someone near you may need to see that boundless love sermon in your life.
 The 2020 11-month letter I coauthored while serving FCC, Midland, TX.