January 27, 2012

Beyond Three T’s

Over the holidays I read the book Reclaiming the Great Commission by Bishop Claude Payne and Hamilton Beasley. The book describes a transformational model that Bishop Payne, clergy, and lay leaders developed and introduced during his episcopacy with the Diocese of Texas (1995-2003). The model challenges all of us—individuals, congregations, judicatories, and denominations—to move away from a maintenance orientation and embrace “the missionary power of first-century Christianity” in twenty-first century churches.

Among the many points in this model around which I personally found new energy is Bishop Payne’s approach to resourcing mission and ministry.

Is anyone else tired of time, talent, and treasure? Try “time and talents, love and compassion, effort and dedication, and whatever funds (we) can provide.” (p.123)

For me, this approach has a quality of servant leadership that I find particularly attractive now, in this season of annual meetings, elections of lay leaders, vestry and bishop’s committee retreats, and too often, difficult discussion and painful decisions about the annual budget.

Let’s take a closer look:

Time and Talent: I’m glad these are presented as a single unit—we rarely contribute our time to do nothing, and it is impossible to exercise our talents outside of time. Lay leaders make a significant commitment to spend time exercising their talents in leadership and discernment. As baptized members of the Body of Christ, these leaders are called to set the tone and be “attitude leaders” in the congregation for calling forth and celebrating the many offerings of prayer, presence, gifts, and service the congregation receives.

Love and Compassion: This one is probably my favorite. When we name love and compassion as resources that are present in our congregations, the cultural shift from maintenance to mission comes alive. If we understand ourselves as loving, compassionate stewards of the Gospel and of one another, our attitude toward capital and legacy stewardship shifts: it moves away from fundraising for the building and instead becomes a commitment to investing in long-term hospitality and radical welcome as we live the Gospel together in a building that needs some work.

Effort and Dedication: I don’t think I have ever visited a congregation and not heard a clergyperson or lay leader say, “It’s amazing how hard people work here. We have so many dedicated members who give their all to make things happen.” It’s true. The members of our congregations are living out their baptismal covenant in more ways than we can count. Clergy and lay leaders hold a precious trust as stewards of these invaluable ministry resources, ensuring that the gifts in their midst are called out appropriately, brought forth gladly, used wisely, and celebrated as faithful offerings.

Funds: And only now do we come to money. In this model, money is no longer something that we have to have because we have to have it. It is a tool, a means, a vehicle. What used to be the “third rail” of congregational life is now the Third M undergirding mission and ministry. As we move beyond maintenance and understand all that we do in congregational life and parish administration as having mission and ministry at its driving core, money simply makes more sense. As grateful and generous givers, our money follows our hearts. It’s that simple.

This is exactly the radical shift that we see in this week’s Gospel reading.

James and John are sitting in their boat, mending their nets. They are practically poster boys for maintenance thinking: This is what they do. It’s what they’ve always done and it’s probably what they would continue to do for the rest of their lives unless something really dramatic happens.

Then something really dramatic does happen. Jesus calls to them.

But notice what James and John do next: They do not say, “But we’ve never done it that way before.” No. The brothers hear the words of Jesus invitation, and they go.

How is your congregation hearing Jesus call to you? Are you content with mending your nets or are you prepared to take on new challenges in service of the Gospel? How will you engage the time and talent, love and compassion, effort and dedication, and funds with which you have been entrusted in this new year?

This blog post first appeared on the Mainestewards blog and is reprinted with permission.