Multiplying Gifts (Hint: It's not about the fishes)
Young people as agents of God's abundance
“We had to get out of the way.”
It was a distinct moment of realization for the adult leaders of the Tennessee Conference Young People’s Ministry as they worked with their students on the annual Youth Service Fund grant process.
“The youth had such a clear sense of missional impact, we just needed to get out of the way and give them the space to exercise that insight” shares Director Brad Fiscus. “When we did, they made good and tough decisions to send money to strong disciple-making projects rather than just the fun, recreational or trendy ones.”
These were youth who knew the real goal of fundraising from a Christian perspective: connecting people in generative relationships in order that they may more fully participate together with God’s work in this world. And with that clear vision at work, young people connected with the United Methodist Church continue to serve as agents of God’s abundance.
Historic programs like the Youth Service Fund have offered United Methodist adults and youth a platform to partner together in generating missional dollars from youth, for funding the imaginative ministry/service projects led by youth. It’s a process that makes space for youth to drive deep discernment on how best to gather resources, and how best to share them.
And it’s a process that has been so successful, sometimes the rest of the church wants to borrow it! Tennessee’s Young People’s Ministries leaders had to get good at saying a friendly but firm “No” each time other good mission projects of the United Methodist Church asked if the Youth Service Fund team could take a break and just raise money for other campaigns for a while.
By setting up a solid infrastructure, preserving that space from which youth could lead, and then getting out of their way, adult leaders have made room for young people to guide the church into relationships that resource amazing ministry around the globe.
Not About the Fishes
You see, we sometimes forget (but our youth and young adults remind us) that the money isn’t what multiplication of gifts is all about. The story of the loaves and fishes (Matthew 14, Mark 6, Luke 9, John 6), for instance, isn’t really about loaves or fish. It’s about people willing to sit down together, share what they have, and create a community.
The young adults of the Wesley Foundation at Purdue University are honing their skills at creating those kinds of community connections that lead to an abundance of resources for ministry with one another in the world.
Glen Robyne, Purdue Wesley Co-Director, knows that many young people start out shy when asking for money. So he and Wesley leaders constantly remind students going on mission trips, or preparing to lead a new part of their campus ministry that an invitation to give is really an invitation to experience ministry together.
“There are people in your life who want you to minister to the world in these ways. And, if they support you, they can participate vicariously through you even if they aren’t capable of doing this ministry themselves anymore.” Robyne tells Wesley participants.
This invitation is to participate together, not just to donate to each other.
Multiplying ONE Way At a Time
In order to encourage such generative relationships Purdue Wesley has created what they call the WesleyONE campaign.
Simply put, they invite alumni, supporting churches and other contributors to pledge one significant practice that will connect them with the students and the ministries of the Wesley Foundation. For example, persons are encouraged to:
Pray for the Wesley Foundation and its ministries for 15 minutes at least once a week.
Give to Wesley 1 percent of what has been given to you. In other words, as you faithfully give 10 percent of your blessings and wealth to your local church, consider giving 1 percent of that support directly to Wesley.
Support/attend at least one Wesley Foundation event per semester. Perhaps you can help provide food at the Homecoming alumni cookout, or host a retreat or trip at your local church or adopt a project at Wesley.
These and other “one” practices help create the beginnings of longer lasting relationships between supporters and students. And, as Glen celebrates, many contributors expand their practices into multiple “one” ways of supporting the Wesley as they continue to connect with students.
The WesleyONE campaign is a reminder, from a community of young people, that all our church giving should really be about giving of oneself, and not just about giving of one’s stuff. As one Purdue Wesley student who comes from a family of limited financial means has noted, if she wasn’t connected to people who prayerfully help her put resources together through the WesleyONE campaign and through tools like REVGO, then some of this ministry would be out of reach for her.
10,000 Hours of Multiplying
Many youth and young adults connected with the United Methodist Church are well on their way to becoming experts at creating relationships that lead to multiplied gifts. They use a variety of practices, platforms, networks, tools and strategies to connect people with one another. They are teaching the church how to be agents of God’s abundance, by recognizing the generative power of Christian community.
Back in Tennessee, at the recent Warmth In Winter Event, young people successfully gathered $20,000 (and achieved their #makeBradbald goal). $5,000 will be designated for local tornado relief efforts, and $15,000 goes into the Youth Service Fund for ongoing support of youth-led mission, ministry and outreach.
These young people are reminding all of us that giving isn’t about the gifts, it’s about the relationships those gifts celebrate and the ministries they enable.