By Randy Bowman, Conference Treasurer
I have recently been reading a book entitled (in a purposefully provocative manner) “The Vile Practices of Church Leadership.” It was written by Rev. Nate Berneking, the Treasurer of the Missouri Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church. In his chapter on Congregational Generosity, Nate included thoughts that really resonated with me – thoughts on the connection between prayer and generous giving. Here are some of his words:
“I’ve…never seen a church develop a sense of generosity and openness without an intentional prayer life. I always present it like this: Assume that prayer has no supernatural effect. Assume that God just doesn’t work like that, that there is no direct phone line. Then, imagine two congregations: one refuses to accept the skepticism, constantly praying to be generous, asking God to bless the local community and world through their work. They pray that God will make them more generous, that God will open them to do more, to give more, to work and serve more. Then, imagine a second congregation made of people who are only ever skeptical, who never pray for generosity, who simply attend worship and Sunday school, but never actually utter words of petition for more generosity or for more good work. Even if the skeptical church is right in its doubt, which congregation is more apt to be generous?
…You might…doubt direct connection between prayers uttered and answers God gives. You might…think of God as…transcendent, beyond our comprehension. You might even imagine God only in terms of mystery. In that case, our prayers are utterances of our desires that have their root in the mystery, but that require a partnership between the mystery and our own created, concrete selves to bring to fruition. Even if you have this less-magical concept of prayer, it is still absolutely critical to growing in generosity.
Prayer practices…are ways to tap into the mystery, ways of growing closer to the transcendent, whatever God may be. In making that connection, we find that we open ourselves. If connecting to God requires a posture of openness, nothing is more consistent than learning to be more generous, more open with our things and money. One practice (prayer) opens our souls to listen for the mystery. The other (giving) opens us in pragmatic ways, reminding us that the world is safer than we thought, that the mystery has the capacity to protect and hold and even provide us with all we might need…
Giving begins with intentional prayer.”
These thoughts and the ways that lives are changed through our resulting generosity are what are important. So, thank you for your generous apportionment giving. But for those who want numbers, our year-to-date apportionment contributions through September are shown in the following graph:
For the first 9 months of 2017, our churches contributed 59.4% of their apportionments. As you can see from the detailed report, this was 0.1% below last year and 0.2% below our average apportionment contributions through September for the last ten years. The South District improved 4.6% from last year, the West District was up 0.3%, the East District was down 0.5%, and the North District declined 6.0%. Nine churches have not yet been able to make any apportionment contributions for 2017. Based on results for the first 9 months of this year, we currently project an overall year-end apportionment contribution percentage of 85%-87%.
Remember that apportionments are a way to look beyond just ourselves. Please do all that you can to help our churches and our ministries continue to change lives by contributing apportionments as fully as possible in the last 3 months of 2017. Thank you all for your commitment; it truly provides the financial stability for our connectional programs to work.