Wednesday Recommendations: Favorite Brennan Manning Books

There are so many Brennan Manning books and none of them are anything but life-changing. With that said, here are a few of my favorites if you are new to Brennan’s work.

The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out– This is Brennan’s key book.  I think that most of what he says in his other books is basically found here.  His other books just dive deeper into certain elements of this book.  The heart of the book is the heart of Brennan’s work–that God loves you like crazy.  We are all ragamuffins before God.  We are sinners desperately in need of God grace and able to do nothing to gain God’s grace.

Ruthless Trust: The Ragamuffin’s Path to God– In this work Manning talks about the defining characteristic of a Christian faith– trust in God.  This is not just an emotional reliance on God but a total dependence on God’s grace for everything.  What does it mean to live a life of trust?  To live without anxiety?

The Importance of Being Foolish: How to Think Like Jesus– This is a book about changing the way we think.  This may make us do things that seem foolish to the world.  Power becomes unimportant.  Wealth becomes unimpressive.  In the end all that matters is the love of our Fathe

Reflections for Ragamuffins: Daily Devotions from the Writings of Brennan Manning– This is a daily devotional with clips from various of Brennan Manning’s books.  Get ready, because Brennan had a way of saying something even in a paragraph that could make you chew it all day long.

All Is Grace: A Ragamuffin Memoir– Brennan Manning died in 2013.  After his death I got his memoir on audio cd.  I found it so inspiring.  Manning was mistreated as a child.  He was an alcoholic and fell back into drink a number of times.  He tried to get to God by living in a cave, living with the poor, and teaching in college and seminaries. Through all the ups and downs he came to learn of God’s radical love and grace for him.

 

There are so many other good books by Brennan Manning.  Start one soon.

DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA HOW MUCH GOD LOVES YOU?

This Sunday I started a sermon series inspired by the work of Brennan Manning.  I have not planned the series.  I am just returning to some of the great stuff from Brennan that has inspired and shaped my faith.  This past Sunday I preached about how much God loves us.  You can listen to the sermon HERE.  This blog is from that sermon.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Do you have any idea how much God loves you?

God loves you as you are and not as you should be.

God’s love is not an investment in what you could be because you will never be what you could be.

God’s love is not based on you at all.  It is based on his own love.

Paul says that God’s love is unknowable.

God knows every bad thing you have done and still love you.

God loved you from before time began.

God calls you a son or daughter and in you he is well pleased

If you were a lost sheep, God would leave the 99 and venture out into the wilderness to rescue you.

If you were a leper, God would touch you and make you well.

If you were a prostitute, God would save your life and forgive you.

If you have run away from God, he will run to you and throw a banquet for you.

If you lived your whole life for yourself and then became a Christian, you still get the same payment as the workers who had worked the whole time.

If you feel like an outcast in society then know that Jesus accepts you like he did so many outcast people that he sat at a table and at with during his earthly ministry.

If you have had a rough and colorful past then you are in good company. All of Jesus’ best friends are like that.

Jesus died on a cross for you- not humanity in general, but you in particular.

In fact, if you were the only person in the world Jesus still would have gone to the cross for you because he would rather die for you than live without you.

God holds you in his arms and with a perfect love says, “I love you and you are mine.”

God is absolutely crazy about you!

Wednesday Recommendations: Clergy in Film

I love good movies, so for this blog post I thought I might share my 5 favorite movies with pastors as key characters.  There are plenty of movies with pastors and clergy type characters that I may blog about later, but here are my favorites.
             

> Keys to the Kingdom- This is a classic.  Gregory Peck portrays a priest who does not follow along with the status quo very well.  He ends up as a missionary to China.  He goes through a lot there but ends up serving and doing a lot of good.  I especially love the struggle that the priest goes through over his ministry.  He has not become popular or won many souls.  He returns to Scotland at the end of his life and lives in obscurity.  But he does have an impact on the community in China and that is enough for him.  Outstanding!

> Pale Rider- Clint Eastwood plays a priest comes into a gold mining town.  Through his kindness and hard work he begins to offer hope and life to this run down group of prospectors.  But this hope also begins to tick off the political powers in the area.  As the movie goes on, it becomes clear from his cool nerves and excellent fighting skills that this drifter was not always a priest.  I love the idea of being a priest and a gunfighter, but more than that I love the way this priest brings hope to the daily lives of so many.

 

               

 > The Mission- This movie centers around Robert Deniro who is a very rough slave trader.  The man has an encounter with God and gives his life to serving a mission with a priest played by Jeremy Irons.  The story of the slave trader’s redemption is slowly overtaken by the struggle of the politics of the day.  The missionary work was tied to colonization to a point that the political powers feel they can control the mission.

> Martin Luther- This old black and white movie of Martin Luther is so good.  I have always found Luther’s story interesting and compelling.  This movie shows the historical facts and the social and political background of Luther’s story.  I don’t think many people have seen this one, but I love it.

> Luther- This is a recent edition of Luther’s story.  It does a good job with the story, but its strength is the human element of Luther’s story.  It portrays Luther’s struggles, dangers, and ultimate resolve in a way that moves me every time I watch it.

What are your favorite films or shows with pastors or priests in them?

Stewardship: Types of Giving

budget-153512_640

When most people think about church giving they often think about money that goes in the offering plate every Sunday.  In reality there are generally 4 types of giving.  John Maxwell speaks of them as pockets of giving.  Basically people have money in certain pockets that they will give to certain things and not other things.  Here are the 4 pockets or types of giving:

General giving– This is the giving that happens week by week and month by month in the offering plates and is used for the usual work of the church.  This used to be based on annual pledge cards but I have noticed a general aversion commitment cards.  I think that people’s jobs tend to be in flux so they have trouble knowing.

Special giving–  Sometimes there are specific and immediate needs that come up in ministry.  This could  include emergencies at the church or in the community, a visiting missionary, a music program, a denominational special offering…  Very often people will give to a special cause if they are asked and if it is a something they value and believe in.  My dad had a visitor in his church a few years ago who happened to be visiting as my dad was making a plea for funding several kids to summer camp.  It turns out that this person had a valuable church camp experience growing up and has always wanted to give that to someone else.  He ended up giving a big donation and funding camp for several youth.  We are not good about asking for these kinds of gifts.  The reality is that some people want to give to special causes and we in the church need to give them a chance to.

Campaign giving– This is special giving for a 2-3 year period for a major project for the church.  Many times these are building renovations but I have also heard of churches doing campaigns to pay down their debt, build an endowment, or even start a new ministry.  Churches are often scared of these kind of programs because they think it will hurt their general giving.  In reality these kind of campaigns can generate excitement and giving habits that increasing general giving.  A consultant can be very helpful in this process.

Planned giving– This is the area I still need to learn the most about.  This is end of life giving.  Has anyone talked to the people of your church about remembering the church in their will or estate?  The Presbyterian Church (USA) normally dedicates the first Sunday in May as Wills Emphasis Sunday.  This kind of giving can be valuable for both the church and the person.

My experience so far it that generosity breeds generosity.  In other words, the more types of giving that your church engages in the more giving generally increases.  If your church is only doing one of these, I suggest you try another.

How is your church doing in each of these areas?

Stewardship: 5 Things to Think About

IF

In my last blog I talked about the need for the church to rethink the way it talks about money.  For this blog, I am sharing 5 things to think about when dealing with stewardship in the church.

1. Utilize the call to the offering. -Every Sunday the pastor or someone else gets to stand in front of the congregation and ask people to give.  Often this 20-30 seconds is boring and routine.  But this is a great moment in the service to shape the giving of your church. How could you use that moment to help your people think about money in a Christ-like way?

2. Get testimonies pertaining to the mission of the church. – This is a great thing to incorporate the call to the offering.  Have people share stories about how they have seen or experienced the mission of the church being lived out.  Find every reason to talk positively about God’s work in your midst.

3. Stop publishing your financials in every bulletin and newsletter. – I understand why people do this. We think it makes people want to give because they know about the need.  The reality is that it only puts people into a mode of giving to keep the organization open. Here is my own experience.  We stopped putting the financial in the bulletin almost a year ago.  What we did was begin posting the weekly giving and attendance on a bulletin board so that people who wanted to know could see the information.  At first a few people were bothered, but now, interestingly enough, I never even so those people looking at the numbers.  They cared when it was constantly in front of them, but when they had to go get the numbers they did not care as much, but they also felt secure knowing they could get the information when they needed it.  Now guests are not scared off by our low summer giving weeks.

4.  Start giving quarterly giving reports. – Many churches only give an annual report to members of what their giving has been for tax purposes.  This is a mistake.  People do not always realize that they have not been giving regularly.  Good practice is to give a quarterly update so that people can see how they are doing.  I recommend adding a letter of thanks with that letter.

5. Consider online giving. – This is the way of the future.  A lot of young people do not have cash or own checks.  I do not.  Even a lot of older members are now paying bills online.  The fact is that when people do not come to worship then they often do not give.  This is evident when summer giving is so low.  I have heard that it greatly benefits churches who get the consistency of online giving.

Here is a bonus: Say thank-you.  If we only ask, ask, and ask then we are basically like a 2 year old.  Thank-you’s are a blessing both from the pulpit and in hand written notes.

 

 

Stewardship: Why People Give

Most church people I have talked to would expect charitable giving in the USA to be down. The statistics say otherwise. In fact, charitable giving per capita has remained basically the same for decades. In other words, the amount of money people give in comparison to what they have has remained constant. What is not constant is the number of places that they can give. The number of non-profit agencies competing for charitable giving goes up every year. So giving stays about the same while the competition for those dollars is growing and shows no sign of stopping.

The church is losing this battle in part because it does not understand why people give while non-profits are studying why people give.

Smart_Hymn21_Generosity

 

J. Clif Christopher shares in his book Not Your Parent’s Offering Plate about research into why people give to charities. There have been a number of studies done looking at why people make charitable giving decisions. These are not limited to churches but also to other non-profits. In study after study asking people why they made the gift choices that they did, three answers float to the top. These three are always there and always in the same order. Knowing them will change how you communicate about stewardship.

They are 1. Belief in the mission of the organization. 2. Trust in the Leadership. 3. Financial stability of the institution. Let’s look at these each briefly.

1. Belief in the Mission of the Organization—People make giving decisions primarily based on what the organization does. People want to know that their gift is going to go to a great purpose. Most importantly, they have to believe that the purpose of the organization is a purpose that they also believe in.

2. Trust in the Leadership—Like it or not, people judge an organization based on its leadership. Givers report that trust as crucial to their giving decisions. People want to know that they can trust the leaders to follow through with the mission to which they gave.

3. Financial Stability of the Institution—People don’t want to give to a sinking ship. They want to give to an organization that is going to be around and accomplishing its mission for a long time.

Non-profits understand these reasons.   Watch a commercial from St. Jude’s. It is normally a story told by an important person about a kid who desperately needs the research that your donation goes to pay for. They clearly state their mission.

When your college or seminary gets a new president or professor or board member, they send out big announcements because they want their donors to know who the leadership is.

All non-profits have bad quarters and bad financial reports, but you never hear those publicized. But when a non-profit has good numbers they put it in all of their material.

Now, think about how we talk about finances in our churches. How often does someone stand up in October or November and say something like this:One_the_offering_plates_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1737653

“Uh-oh. I have bad news. We are in trouble again. We are $x,xxx behind on our budget and if we don’t step up then we won’t make budget for the year. I want to encourage everybody to give what they can.”

Think about what we have just communicated to the church.

1. You just communicated that the mission of your organization is to stay open. That is not a very compelling mission. There will be a few committed members that will respond to that kind of plea, but young people won’t. New people won’t.

2. You just destroyed people’s trust in your leadership. Didn’t we have this conversation last year? Why do we always get behind at this time of the year? Couldn’t anyone see this coming?

3. What about the financial stability of the institution? You just announced that you were in trouble. If you are like many churches you probably even publish every week in the bulletin and every month in the newsletter how bad things are. Stop it. Fear is not a Biblical motive for giving. It may help you in the short run, but finances based on scare tactics will only ensure your long term financial demise.

Here is the fact- as non-profits get better at asking for charitable donation, the church is hurting itself in the way it talks about finances.

In my next couple blogs I will talk more about how to respond to this information, and I cannot express enough how critical the J Clif Christopher’s book is for pastors and leaders.