The other day I was going through an old box of papers, pictures and frames, and I came across something meaningful. It was a copy of my membership certificate in the United Methodist church. I was in 6th grade at our church in Union City, IN. For those of you who don’t know, Union City, in Randolph County, is a town split by the Indiana-Ohio border. Part of the town lay in Indiana, and part in Ohio.
It was dated 1968. That was the year the United Methodist Church was born. That means the entire tenure of my church life has been in the UM denomination. As I stared at the certificate I remembered the vows—prayers, presence, gifts, and service. I also wondered at all the changes that have come during those years, especially these most recent days, when the very nature of what it means to be United Methodist has undergone such discussion—and sadly, division. The irony was not lost on me that the church I love is now as split as the town I had lived in.
My whole life and ministry have been matched by the decline of our church—in numbers, in societal influence, and in evangelism of those not walking in faith. It is easy to blame this or that, the liberals or the conservatives, the contemporary or the classical worshipers, or whatever faction which we dislike. However, staring at my certificate, the question I wondered is how I used my time, how I used my intellect, how I used my money, and how I used my abilities so that the church could stand strong in just the kind of world for which the church was called.
Yes, I was doing a kind of stewardship audit. God has given me a lifetime of gifts, jobs, friends, foes, choices, opportunities, trials, and blessings. So many moments have passed through my hands. As a pastor, so many churches were there for me to bless. I wondered about all of that.
Mostly, though, I wondered about the future. I can’t change the past, but I can learn from it. God is not done with me or His church. The ministry will still be there, the moments will still present themselves, the lost will still be looking for a home, and the mission will still need my first dollars and best efforts.
Whatever kind of life you have, and whatever church you live in, you are the steward of both. Serve faithfully. Give freely. Take care of yourself as you take care of others. Make a difference. Live in responsible joy. Be the kind of steward who knows how to receive grace as easily as give it away. Do this and you will have done well.
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Director of Development
United Methodist Foundation of Indiana