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Giving time and service

Isabella Tinte is a young adult United Methodist. She actively serves her congregation — in large part because of what she experienced as a child and teen.

"Growing up in the church, I've always been surrounded with so many 'ates' and 'kuyas' (older sisters and brothers)," Tinte says.

"They were my teachers at VBS. They were members of the praise and worship band. They were my leaders at Christmas Institute, a winter camp for young people where they can grow spiritually and develop leadership skills. They came to serve as my role models in life whether they realize it or not."

They are much of the reason she now serves as a member at Beacon United Methodist Church in Seattle.

"Their constant presence and service in church leadership inspired me to follow their footsteps and become a role model for the next generation of youth. Today, I find myself leading worship, teaching the children at VBS and training to be a leader at Christmas Institute. I believe that leading by example – through our actions — is how we leave our mark on the world and how we can inspire others to continue the faith."

When asked to serve on a church committee, volunteer for an event or lead a mission opportunity, how likely are we to say "yes" to these opportunities? Do we view the giving of our time and talents through the church as opportunities to live out our discipleship? Are these times to make real our membership vows and our understanding of who we are in relationship to God, to one another and to the world?

Whether you live at a frenetic pace, overextending yourself to the point of exhaustion or are the type who is most comfortable budgeting your time, one thing is certain: As Christians, we are called to be good stewards, balancing the resources given to us by God.

"A life of discipleship requires all three things – time, talent, treasure," says Kelly West Figueroa-Ray, a United Methodist doctoral candidate in religious studies at the University of Virgina. "Devoting these to the church is part of a full life of discipleship. Discipleship is not a hobby, but a way of life."

Many people say they want to make the world a better place today and for future generations. They live out that desire by volunteering with Habitat for Humanity, supporting GoFundMe projects or providing scholarships for young people to go to church camps and leadership events — and by serving through the congregations of which they are part. The call to serve Christ as a member of the church carries with it commitments lived out by serving God and neighbor.

Time is essential gift

In the United States, there are over 1.1 million nonprofit organizations — and approximately 370,000 churches, competing for volunteer hours, writes Clif J. Christopher in Not Your Parents' Offering Plate (Abingdon Press).

For churches and faith-based organizations, volunteers are a lifeline essential to accomplishing their goals and carrying out their mission and vision. Earlier this year, Independent Sector, a leadership network for nonprofits, foundations and corporations committed to advancing the common good, estimated the value of a volunteer hour in 2015 at $23.56.

"As a new faith community, we rely almost exclusively on volunteers' contributions of time and talent to make our digital and physical programs possible," says the Rev. Matthew Johnson, "but it is more than reliance, it is a relationship." Johnson is founder of the Portico Collective, a collection of new faith communities based in Naperville, Illinois.

"By involving volunteers in crafting of our programs, we have a chance to include a variety of voices and perspectives. It is humbling to experience people volunteering their time and talents to an idea you conceived. I think it is what turns ideas into ministry. It is validation that the Spirit is at work in what you are doing."

How might you begin to invite others to join in the mission of your congregation? Simply reminding them of their membership vows is likely not enough.

Amy Webb, who forecasts digital trends for nonprofit and for-profit companies, has said, "Our culture is changing pretty dramatically...That sense of 'I need to give out of obligation' — I don't know that it's going to be around 20 years from now."

Any book on donor cultivation and stewardship discussing what motivates people to give time or money to an organization or institution will offer a list similar to this:

  • Belief in the mission
  • Regard for leadership
  • Fiscal responsibility of the organization

A church can identify, nurture and support cheerful givers of time and talents, as well as treasure, by:

  • Showing there is something to be cheerful about.
  • Helping people identify their spiritual gifts — and the places of service likely to bring them joy.
  • Recognizing the active disciples called volunteers in your congregation and community and inviting them to share their stories.
  • Demonstrating how the ministries through which people are giving time and service are changing lives.

Generosity, Missouri Bishop Robert Schnase says, is an aspect of character, extending beyond the act of giving financially. It is not a spiritual attribute someone acquires apart from the actual practice of giving. It becomes discernable through action.

While United Methodists promise to support the church with their prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness, they recognize that God does not need these gifts. What God desires is a faithful response, a joining in mission and ministry that responds to God's love and grace.

As leaders inspire more and more of their congregation to give of their time and talents, they will see disciples being made, the world being transformed — more and more young people like Isabella Tinte following their example.

Cultivating generous people

Church leaders can cultivate a spirit and culture of generosity that includes giving from all of one's resources — resources that include time, talent, money and others.

The Old Testament tells of God's people being asked to give the first and the finest offerings. An apropos question for laity and clergy alike today is, "Are we giving God our best? What are we sacrificing? How are we making ourselves uncomfortable — stretching ourselves to give — to be able to serve God and neighbor?"

Here are some ideas for beginning to shift a congregation's culture around generosity:

Tell stories. The Message has a beautiful retelling of Matthew 13:10-17 and why storytelling matters: "A lot of people, prophets and humble believers among them, would have given anything to see what you are seeing, to hear what you are hearing, but never had the chance."

Inspire, don't guilt trip. Coercion and guilt are not good bases for giving or creating environments where the Holy Spirit can move. Rather than focus on a dire financial situation, present opportunities to give time and resources to allow the congregation to offer hope through the church's ministries. People of faith and hope do not allow fear to dictate their actions. Show that we are people who have faith in a God bigger than our fears.

Increase the number of ways you ask people to give. Put yourself in the pew. What does the average churchgoer in your congregation hear about giving? If they were to come just six times a year, what would they infer about how to participate in the life of the church? They might hear of your fall and spring stewardship campaigns, automatic deductions for their monthly tithe and online giving. Would they also hear of opportunities to serve through the church, opportunities to lead and ways their generosity extends beyond the church building?

Sophia Agtarap is a media consultant and freelance writer living in Nashville, Tennessee

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