March 15 - 21, 2004  

Stewardship of the Gospel


If there's a silver lining to the slow erosion of membership and donations in Mainline churches, it's this: We are rethinking our mission and strategies for the 21st century.


Church members bemoan the closure of congregations and the decline of influence of their denominations, but something much more fundamental is at stake: The Gospel itself.


Sure, in many situations decline is due to factors beyond local church control, such as decline in population, shifts in demographics – even traffic patterns. But in our hand-wringing and soul-searching, it’s worthwhile to ask: Are we good stewards of the Gospel?


If the Gospel is the food that provides spiritual nourishment, then churches are like restaurants where people come for refreshment. Those of us in Mainline churches can ask ourselves why our patrons are leaving even though Americans are dying of spiritual starvation and finding all sorts of ways to satisfy their hunger.


For instance, a new survey by the Barna Research Group shows individual Bible reading, home-group meetings and personal prayer are way up. But at the same time, Religion News Service reports church attendance has dropped 12 percent in the last 10 years. See the problem? (Check out all the Gleanings items, this week focused on church growth.)


Meanwhile the new National Council of Churches yearbook reports continued brisk growth for the Mormons, while losses continue for Lutherans, Presbyterians, United Methodists and other Mainline groups.


The decline in membership and money is spurring Mainline churches to get off the couch and try new approaches. The Christian Science Monitor reports the United Church of Christ and United Methodists, among others, are now venturing into television ads – the very medium Mormons began using heavily some years ago. Agape Press cites a study showing that more and more churches are incorporating contemporary and alternative worship styles into their congregational life. 


Some traditionalists decry the techniques as “selling out,” but that’s too simplistic a dismissal. Advertising is just another way of shouting the Gospel from the rooftops. Innovative worship brings the Gospel to the culture of the people, instead of asking people to adopt the church’s culture in order to receive it. Paul did as much, as he says in 1 Cor. 9:22-23: “I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the Gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.”


Now that’s stewardship.


 -Rob Blezard, Editor and Webmaster (

New This Week, March 15 - 21
Faith Raising, Not Fund Raising

Saddleback Church, the folks kindling excitement in churches nationwide with the Purpose-Driven Life, reveal their stewardship secrets. "Our strategy for guiding that stewardship development infuses every level of the faith-formation process, starting with understanding the character of the God we're to become like. John 3:16 tells us "For God so loved the world. … he gave." God's nature is to be a giver. As disciples conform to His character, they grow in their desire to give." From


 The First Fruits of Ourselves
Even when choosing a church or our jobs in the church we tend to think about what we are going to get out it instead of what we could give. We need to give the first fruits of our time and energy too, and to give it where God needs it.  In Dana Reardon's weekly reflection.




Grace & Gratitude Grow Givers

"This money, this talent, this time that I have is all owned by the one who shaped and fashioned me into his child. It all belongs to the one who made me and who claimed me in holy baptism. When I have settled this ownership issue then I have settled some very basic issues about my life. I have settled the issue of life's basic direction. So I am pointed in the direction of how I can best be shaped by the potter who fashioned me." By the Larry Smith, from the Lutheran Laity Movement




 Open Your Eyes, Use Your Gifts
"So how do people see Christ today? Can you cause a resurrection appearance of Christ for someone? Others (especially non-believers) can perhaps recognize God in the world around them, but they can only learn of Christ by seeing Christ in you. As you live the StewardLife, be a resurrection appearance of Christ for someone this week."  StewardLife from the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod



 'Blessed Are the Greedy:' The Morality of Global Trade
"Rather than being anti-globalization, religious critics of globalization are better described as alter-globalization; that is, they favor a deeply interconnected world in which the needs of people and the environment come before the needs of multinational corporations that benefit the relative few.  In short, they teach an inversion of the current model. It's the difference between pushing for fair trade, rather than settling for so-called free trade, a classic misnomer because of the protectionist nature of the world's economic players, both major and minor."  By Ira Rifkin in Sojourners.



The Full Text of Jimmy Carter's Talk
Last week we featured an ELCA News Service story about Jimmy Carter addressing the 16th Nobel Peace Prize Forum at the ELCA's St. Olaf College. Here is the full text of his speech -- compelling, thoughtful remarks. A good read.