United Mission Matters

2nd Edition, March 2024


We hope you enjoy our second edition of United Mission Matters - this quarterly publication aims to share the valuable insights of our Regional Executive Ministers, local churches, national partners, and others on matters related to Discipleship. In this newsletter, you'll find a wealth of resources, inspiring stories, and insights into how churches throughout the United States are dedicated to instructing and engaging with their communities to align with Jesus’ mission in our neighborhoods.

Transactional or Transformational Giving?

By Rev. Stacy Emerson

In his chapter on “Stewardship of Money and Finances” in the book “Beyond the Offering Plate,” David P. King writes: “We have a tyranny of measurement when it comes to financial stewardship. Within churches, we measure attendance, programs, annual budgets, and giving trends. When we focus on these measures alone, our narratives are often misguided…measured in this way, financial stewardship remains a means to an end. [However], for stewardship made whole, giving is a way of life. Framing giving as discipleship shifts the paradigm from the needs of our institutions to the passions and practices of individuals. We have refocused from transactional to transformational giving.” (“Beyond the Offering Plate,” p. 43-44)


While many of us focus our stewardship conversations in the way King describes, the transactional nature of such a perspective is severely limiting. It feeds into a scarcity mindset and fuels our anxiety for never having enough. When we engage giving and generosity as the heart of discipleship, however, we have an opportunity to expand our thinking and our hearts. Stewardship then becomes more about our efforts to link into God’s holy work with and through us in the world. It becomes transformational. This kind of reflection helps us turn our focus away from the sustaining of an institution and toward the partnership of mission and ministry God has placed in our keeping—as individuals and as congregations.


The stewardship of our money and finances is about the purpose and use of these things in relationship to God, community, society, and economy. It is important then, to be mindful of how we talk about stewardship. If we focus only on the transactional nature of our giving, we lose its meaning and purpose in our narrative. Instead, in our stewardship conversations, we would do well to seek out the stories, the meanings, and the power found in the calling of God we work to fulfill together. There we will find light and hope, love and justice, mercy and blessing. These are the things that transform us and others in God’s grace. In God’s economy, these are the riches beyond telling.

This article was first shared as a Generosity Project reflection - The Generosity Project is a collaborative effort between ABCUSA, regions, and local congregations. The Generosity Project aims to help pastors re-frame the conversation around stewardship and generosity in their congregations. Bi-monthly blogs help support new growth and understanding as we deepen our ministry and discipleship.


Rev. Stacy Emerson is the senior pastor of the First Baptist Church in West Hartford, CT and the Stewardship Consultant for ABCUSA. She is also the Coordinator for The Generosity Project.

United in Christ - Rooted in Love!

Written by Rev. Mark Click

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, so you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).

The words of Jesus Christ provide a needed light to us, His disciples in an age of so much division, conflict and rage. We live in a very broken world, where wrong is called right, and right is called wrong. People are so confused, looking for hope and direction.

Jesus instructs His disciples to “love one another: just as I have loved you.” The power of unconditional love has the ability to change our broken situation(s). The world chooses to respond to hate with hate and hurt with hurt, but Jesus calls us to change the narrative. We are to respond to hate with love! Yes, it may sound foolish, even ridiculous to you. But, God sending His only Son into the world to DIE for sinners (the ungodly) and for Jesus Christ to lay down His life for those who’d rejected, cursed, and were crucifying Him is the very nature of God.

Yes, we’re called to die to ourselves. Our priorities. Our desires. Our selfish attitudes. We are called to be a reflection of The Light (Jesus) and become a light in a dark world. Don’t be silent in a world of hurt, hate and injustice, but speak up for the right with grace and love and become a voice of love and hope. A light shining in the darkness and then … “By this all people will know that you are my disciples …”

Don’t lose your way, but show others The Way (John 14:6).

Watch our video, The Way of Discipleship | Giving, below:

Where You Find Great Gratitude You Find Great Generosity

From our Archives - Written by Rev. Lisa Harris-Lee

In Jesus Christ, all things hold together. This is a promise of harmonious interdependence that is echoed throughout the promises of God and the hope of salvation that we are eternally united with God. Humanity and divinity, heaven and earth, visible and invisible, past-present-future, the seen and unseen, the tangible and intangible, personal and communal, mission and stewardship, generosity and gratitude are all held together in Christ.


How do we hold generosity and gratitude together?


By giving with God in mind. Can we tell a story through our giving that ties back to our gratitude to God? Can we create an opportunity through our giving for someone to draw someone closer to God or become a better witness for God? What if these questions became the litmus test of how we give and what we give?

By remembering how generosity and gratitude are woven together in Biblical narratives.

In John 4, the woman at the well generously shared with the people in her village the good news of the Messiah’s presence because she was grateful she had an encounter with Him.

In Mark 14/Luke 7, the forgiven woman generously broke the alabaster jar and anointed the feet of Jesus because she was grateful for His grace.

In Luke 15, the father of the prodigal son generously hosted an extravagant party because he was grateful his son was alive and returned home.

In Luke 17, the man healed of leprosy generously thanked and worshipped Jesus because he was grateful for his healing.

In Luke 19, Zacchaeus generously gave half his possessions because he was grateful Jesus saw him, accepted his hospitality and brought salvation to his home.

In every account, the grateful one and the giver were the same person. There are those who are motivated to give because of the gratitude expressed to them for the gift. The greater generosity is by those who give because of what has been given to them.


In no case did Jesus, demand the expression of generosity. The generosity flowed as response of their gratitude.


How many gospel stories can you identify that join together gratitude and generosity in this way?


How do you say, “Thank you?”

In "Learning the Way – Reclaiming Wisdom from the Earliest Christian Communities," Dr. Cassandra Carkuff Williams (ABHMS Director of Discipleship) offers a powerful story about the connection between gratitude and generosity.


For Valentine’s Day one year, I did a children’s sermon in which I gave each of the children a flower as a reminder of God’s love for them. With wide-eyed smiles, they proudly and carefully carried their little treasures back to their pews. Later, as Sunday school began, one of the adults arrived huffing, “I am so ashamed. Not one of those children said ‘thank you.’” She was late for the adult class, because she had taken time to admonish the children for their oversight. After class, one by one, remorseful children shuffled their way to me to apologize and say, “Thank you for the flower.” No happy saunters. No smiling eyes. My response to each child was, “ I appreciate your words, but I already heard you say thank you. I ‘heard’ it in your smile and in the way you handled your flower.” The children may not have expressed their gratitude in the “right” way but genuine thankfulness had emanated from them. The children’s gratitude had issued from their belief that I had given them flowers simply to show them love – no conditions, no expectations. Once the “should” entered the equation, the authenticity of their celebration was replaced with perfunctory words.


Christian community deals not in obligatory politeness and pretense but in the currency of real gratitude. Gratitude is an earthly, irrepressible, lived response to the love of God freely offered through Jesus. (Learning the Way, p. 98)


Be careful to consider that every expression of generosity you offer could be planting seeds of gratitude that bloom into acts of generosity that far exceed their expression of gratitude to you.


Are our calls to generosity invitations to remember all God does and has done? If your offering appeals are commanding, demanding and guilt-filled they are not invitational. Our calls to generosity are sometimes couched in the language of obligation and duty [should and ought] when they are better positioned in the language of gratitude and invitation [remembrance and come close].


Consider occasions you have been most generous and what inspired or motivated that act of generosity? Were you generous because you were grateful for the generosity poured into your life or were you generous so that someone would list your name among donors, offer a special seat or say, ‘thank you’ to you?


The Rev. Lisa R. Harris-Lee is director of American Baptist Home Mission Societies’ Healing & Transforming Communities unit, and joined the ABHMS staff in September 2008.

United Mission Matters Zoom Event

We recently held a two-part United Mission Matters Zoom Event with Dr. Gary Comer, author of “Soul Whisperer: Why the Church must Change the Way it Views Evangelism.”

In the interactive sessions, held on January 25th and February 22nd, Dr. Comer shared insights on redefining evangelism in today’s cultural context. Drawing from his extensive experience, including planting two churches and serving as the church planting coach for the Christian Missionary Alliance, Dr. Comer emphasizes a paradigm shift from mere “telling” to a more engaging “drawing” approach.

Watch the recording from the January 25 event here.

Watch the recording from the February 22 event here.

Have We Lost Something?

By Rev. Dr. Paul Bailey


For the majority of Hebrew history, the primary act of worship in the temple or tabernacle was to bring an offering. A sacrifice was offered to celebrate a festival or to atone for sin or to give thanks for the harvest or in the case of Mary and Joseph, a blessing for the birth of their child. Why do you go to worship? To hear a good sermon? Inspiring music? Or maybe to introduce family and friends to the Gospel?

For many years now, the act of making an offering in worship has been fading. Our American personal finance system has become cashless. I remember a cartoon that imagined ushers rolling a table with a credit card machine along the pews during the offering collection. It was inevitable that church offerings would move out of worship and into electronic deposits. Most find the method helpful in the normal course of commerce, so why not church? It’s good for church, as regular giving becomes more consistent and convenient. Add in COVID and those who still brought an offering were directed to offering boxes at the entrances and exits. The passing of an offering plate has slowly become part of our past.

Have we lost something?

I am not suggesting a return to ushers and plates, but could the experience of making an offering continue? The form of the offering was never the point for God. An unblemished lamb was just a symbol of our devotion. More than once, we are told “…the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart…” (Psalm 51:17). “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice and acknowledgement of God rather than burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:6). The New Testament even invites us to make ourselves the offering, “…to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God.” (Romans 12:1).

How could the spirit of an offering be reflected in worship in our electronic world?

  • Prayer Offerings – The posture during times of prayer could be with hands open on laps, as if our prayers were offerings. Written prayers could be placed in offering plates. In the silence of a congregation at prayer, people could be invited to speak a name or place or condition out loud, so the prayers seem like incense rising to God.
  • Special Gifts – Preparing an offering at home to bring to worship adds to its meaning as a gift to God. During Thanksgiving, people can be asked to post a gratitude on a board as they enter the sanctuary. Leftover candy from Halloween can be brought to church and later mailed to college kids. Christmas presents “for the church” could be wrapped in left over paper (markers or toilet paper or cans of coffee). Or on one annual Sunday, the congregation could be asked to bring an actual financial donations for a specific purpose. 
  • Praise Offerings – Invite the congregation to call ahead if they would like to share a word of praise about a celebration or joy or answer to prayer. Calls to Worship and opening hymns could be sung with arms out or linked with others.
  • Commitment Offerings – An insert in a bulletin or card on a table could be prepared to give people opportunities for acts of service, “your spiritual act of worship”. What will be your “non-financial” offering in the New Year.

I was a teenager usher once on the Sunday we changed the clocks. A new couple arrived not knowing the service was coming to an end. They sat down as we were closing the service with the offering. I don’t think they saw it this way, but maybe they came for the most important part.

Rev. Dr. Paul Bailey retired in 2021 from the Eastwood Baptist Church in Syracuse, NY.

Generosity is Counterintuitive

From our Archives - Written by Rev. Steve Bils

As an airplane pilot I spent the majority of the time flying and navigating according to visual flight rules. I could see the horizon so I could fly straight and level. I could see the highways and other landmarks on the ground so I would know where I was and where I was going. However, there were times when darkness or haze obscured the horizon or when distinguishing landmarks was difficult (such as over water). At these times I was still able to fly and navigate safely because I could rely on my charts, my instruments, and the air traffic controllers to tell me where I was and that I was flying true and level.


As a young pilot one of the difficulties that I had to overcome was the natural tendency to trust “the seat of my pants” when it seemed to contradict what my instruments were telling me. Often when my instrument panel told me I was flying straight and level my inner ear made me feel like I was banked one way or the other. If I ignored my instruments and relied on my feelings I would bank in the opposite direction, eventually getting into such a tight diving turn that I would spiral out of control.


In 2 Corinthians 5:7 the Apostle Paul tells us that “we walk by faith, not by sight”. I believe this means that when navigating this life there are times when our spiritual chart and divine controller tell us that we should go one way, but human senses and instincts tell us the exact opposite. For example, “he who would be greatest among you, let him be your servant” directly contradicts the intuitive human wisdom that has many aspiring leaders stepping on their colleagues and kicking them to the curb in their attempt to get to the top of the hill.


One of my favorite definitions of faith is found in the epistle to the Romans where Paul describes Abraham as one who “did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith . . . being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform.” (4:20, 21) The Bible records the stories of men and women who, by faith, were certain of many things they could not see, feel, taste, hear or smell. The eleventh chapter of Hebrews is a litany of such heroes of the faith. In spite of the conflicting messages they were receiving from their human senses, by faith they stayed the course charted for them by their God, and “obtained a good testimony” that we are encouraged to follow.


Nowhere is the tension between the divine “chart” and the human senses so strong as in the arena of generosity. Too often the biblical promise, “If you give . . . your gift will return to you in full measure, pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, and running over. Whatever measure you use in giving, large or small, it will be used to measure what is given back to you,” is ignored, and the conventional human wisdom that says “whatever I give away is just that much less for us to use for our needs” becomes the controlling guide. Whether it is an individual or a congregation determining how they are going to use their financial resources, this tension is always present. By faith we know that “he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” but our “inner ear”, our “seat of the pants,” will attempt to cause us to question its validity and spiral out of control.


Allow me to paraphrase the exhortation that follows the descriptions of the lives navigated by faith in Hebrews, “Having received the testimony of so great a cloud of witnesses, let us join them in running with confidence the course that has been charted out for us, laying aside the sin of unbelief which so easily ensnares us.” We can’t safely walk by sight in a world where the darkness and haze has obscured the true horizon. We must trust our divine instruments and hear our spiritual traffic controller if we hope to successfully finish our course with joy.


As you face questions about your financial stewardship and generosity, meditate on these directions from our “chart.” Notice how they take a divergent path from what “the seat of our pants” might be telling us.


One person gives freely, yet gains even more;

another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty.


A generous person will prosper;

whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.


People curse the one who hoards grain,

but they pray God’s blessing on the one who is willing to sell.


Proverbs 11:24-26


Rev. Steve Bils has served as the Executive Minister of the American Baptist Churches of the Central Pacific Coast (originally ABC of Oregon) since 2009. Prior to moving to Portland, he served as the Associate Executive Minister of ABC of Nebraska, devoting a large portion of his time to his work as the Minister of Mission Support.

Visit our United Mission Toolkit

United Mission offers a straightforward yet purposeful way for American Baptists to actively contribute to a collective fund dedicated to mission and ministry. A significant portion of United Mission funds directly aids the mission initiatives and ministries of the 33 ABC regional entities, the Office of the General Secretary, and the Board of General Ministries. These entities operate under the guidance and input of our member congregations. United Mission funding serves to bolster endeavors at every level within our denomination, extending to our common mission fields. Moreover, specific portions of United Mission are allocated to support essential services provided by our national ABC partners.

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