Stewardship Table seeks to empower ministries



Our Focus
The ministry focus of the Mississippi Annual Conference is to make disciples of Jesus Christ by connecting to more people, more younger people and more diverse people (MP3).

By Woody Woodrick
Advocate Editor

MP3 players can generally play recorded music from a pair of power sources: an electrical cord or a battery.

The Mississippi Conference’s own version of MP3 — the conference mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ by connecting to more people, more younger people and more diverse people — also has two power sources. Those are God and stewardship. The new group charged with developing stewardship within the conference says it intends to gear resources toward making sure the mission doesn’t run out of power.

“Our task is to identify our resources and analyze their current uses to align them toward our (mission),” said the Rev. Eddie Rester, leader of the conference’s new Stewardship Team, which held its first meeting Nov. 6.

“The big thing that came out of the meeting was our gaining an understanding of the work that’s in front of us,” said Rester, pastor at Parkway Heights United Methodist Church in Hattiesburg. “One of the early ideas is looking at how we can work with (the Commission on Finance & Administration) in the coming months and years in terms of how we develop resources as resources remain scarce. Not just in raising funds, but using what God had given us.”

Rester said one issue discussed at the meeting was helping get the stewardship message of developing both financial and human resources to the local church and individual level. The Rev. Denise Donnell said churches need to return to using a term it often avoids.

“We, as a church, have gotten away from tithing,” said Donnell, pastor at Greenville Revels UMC. “We don’t use the word ‘tithe’ as much as we should. That’s part of our covenant relationship with God. By tithing, we grow spiritually as well as by numbers and economically. We’ve got to get ourselves in line spiritually, and then other things will follow.”

She cited Matthew 6:33 as a guiding verse for stewardship.

Both pastors said over the ensuing months and years, individuals, churches and conferences will need to be creative in how resources are developed and used.

“I was really impressed with the meeting and meeting of the minds; coming together to make sure we can live out the mission the Mississippi Conference has adopted,” said Donnell. “In order to do that, there are some things we’re going to have to do differently, particularly in terms of new church development. We have to be good stewards of the gifts given to us by God so we can go forward in the mission of the church.

“The reality is we are living in a world where we’re facing a huge economic crisis. Everybody is facing the pain of not having enough money. Churches, too, have to make sure they make the best use of their resources and make sure they can multiply those resources.”

Rester said the Stewardship Team will work with CF&A and the Mississippi United Methodist Foundation in helping churches educate their members about stewardship. In 2005, the Annual Conference and Mississippi United Methodist Foundation launched its first stewardship emphasis with a series of workshops about personal financial and congregational health. The workshops, entitled “Good Sense” and “The Characteristics of Healthy Congregations” identified Biblical stewardship as the “fuel” for congregational ministry engines. The results of these workshops led, in part, to the creation of the A2 Indicators. 

Bishop Hope Morgan Ward and Jerry Mitchell, then Director of the Foundation, saw the incredible need for educating our Annual Conference about Biblical Stewardship. That focus continues.  This year the Foundation continue to sponsor Stewardship Academies that involved numerous churches sending representatives to three weekend seminars. Two were held this year and the third is scheduled for March.

However, given the economic crisis, an even great focus on Biblical stewardship is needed.

“We’re talking about things we can offer in terms of training for churches and working with the foundation on training,” Rester said. “We need to listen to the needs of churches and individuals around the conference, and that will guide our work across the conference.”

“We’re going to use whatever help we can find. If it requires a new way of creating or doing something, our group is willing to do that.”

Other core members of the team include the Rev. Andy Stoddard of Ripley, Neville Vanderburg of Olive Branch, the Rev. Lauren Porter of Utica and Lisa Michiels of Biloxi.