May 22-28, 2006


The happiness factor

OK, Pastor. You preach the gospel in its purity and administer the sacraments with fidelity to the Scriptures. You see evidence that the Word of God is working in your congregation. Good job! So now what else can you do to help your congregation members live better, more fulfilled lives?

Help them to be happy.

How? Community. After you've perfected ministry of Word and Sacrament, transform the church a place where they can make friends, find companionship, interact with people who have the same values and interests. Studies show that people are happiest when they have lots of what Harvard researcher Robert Putnam calls "social capital" -- measured in the degree to which they have good, trusting relationships with friends and family.

And when it comes to happiness, social capital is much more valuable than money capital. In his research, Putnam found that while Americans have gained much income in recent years, they simultaneously lost social capital as our culture became more mobile, more fragmented and more isolated. As a result, happiness declined even as income rose. (Click here to read about Putnam's research and how it is inspiring Canadian officials to action. Read other articles about happiness in Gleanings.)

Other studies show America is not alone in this phenomenon of declining happiness and rising income. UK researchers say 52 percent of Britons in 1957 considered themselves very happy, whereas only 36 percent do today  (click here to read a report). At the same time, Britons have three times as much income today than in 1957 -- when England was still recovering from World War II.

Churches can lend a hand by helping our members to build up "social capital" with one another. Here are some ideas: Form small groups, arrange retreats, hold potluck suppers, make coffee hour a regular part of church life, host family game nights, offer "marriage builder" classes, plan a great annual picnic, appoint several mentors to new members, offer community day care, go on field trips to museums and shows, organize a bridge/chess/Monopoly/dominoes/backgammon club and tournaments.  

In John's Gospel, Jesus says he came that we would have life with more abundance Churches can help lead the way.

--Rob Blezard, webmaster and editor.
(Want to reprint this message? Permission is granted to publish the message for local, nonprofit use. Please drop me a line to to let me know you're using it, and be sure to publish it with the following notice: 
(c) Copyright 2006 by the Rev. Rob Blezard, webmaster for the Stewardship of Life Institute, Used by permission. )

New This Week:

Thomas Berry: Ethics and Ecology
In this address, theologian Thomas Berry frames the issues of environmental stewardship. "The natural world surrounding us is simply the context in which human affairs take place. Our relations with this more encompassing community are completely different from our relations to the human world. In the presence of the human, the natural world has no rights."  Click here for "Ethics and Ecology." From the Environmental Ethics and Public Policy Program.

The Practice of Stewardship: A Spiritual Discipline in Response to God's Grace
"The practice of stewardship begins with hearing the Good News of Jesus Christ. It is the power of the Holy Spirit working through Word and Sacrament that changes our hearts and wills so that we become the generous children of God. ... Stewardship is everything that we do after we say, 'I believe.'" A good essay from Gary Hedding, assistant to the bishop of the Northwest Synod of Wisconsin.  Click here for "The Practice of Stewardship," from the Association of Lutheran Resource Centers.

Personal fulfillment versus fulfilling God's purposes
 "I have been thinking a lot about what it means to be stewards of the mysteries of God. We talk a lot in stewardship circles about using our gifts. And each of us has great gifts that can be used for the glory of God. But the Gospel is a greater gift and all the others are in service to it." Click here for this column from Pastor Dana Reardon. Click here to peruse columns from her archives.

For Youth! 10-10-80: Empowering Steward Leaders
It's a problem facing many a parent and congregation: How to teach youth to handle money responsibly. This program inspires young people to give 10 percent, save 10 percent and spend 80 percent. Good lessons for people of all ages. Includes free online materials and a DVD available for a nominal cost of $5. Click here to learn more about 10-10-80, produced by three Lutheran Synods in Wisconsin, the ELCA Department for Communication and Augsburg Fortress Publishers, with funding from Thrivent Financial for Lutherans. This week's Treasure Chest offering.