By Pastor Mollie Dvorak
In the fall of 2020, St. Mark Lutheran Church was invited to be a part of a class at Luther Seminary. Professor Terri Elton approached me about St. Mark’s participating as a church site for her innovation class. This course addresses the adaptive challenges congregations and nonprofits face with a missional imagination and a disciplined approach to faithful innovation. Students develop capacities for discovering adaptive challenges, practice using design-thinking, gain capacities for leadership agility, and learn theories of innovation. As a part of the course, the students use these learnings to address an adaptive challenge in a specific ministry setting.
St. Mark chose the challenge of stewardship. As we worked with the assigned small group from Luther Seminary, we discovered that the biggest challenge was seeing stewardship as a way of living and not just a once a year “ask” from the church. After a church survey and further conversations, the small group presented an idea to our church called “It’s The Little Things”. Through monthly challenges, our members could practice being stewards with creative hands-on experiments. We were granted a stipend from Luther Seminary’s Stewardship Leaders Program to pay for all the materials we would need for each monthly challenge. What a gift! Each month we provided congregation members with stewardship challenge cards with a scripture verse and related experiment, along with all the materials needed to complete each experiment.
Monthly Stewardship Challenges
Some of these challenges included:
- Love Others
- Give someone a small treat to show love for others in our community
- Give up something you regularly spend money on—coffee or going out to eat—collect that money and bring it in to support our sister church in Tanzania
- Write an encouraging note to someone who needs to hear it. (In addition, this can be sent as a text message.)
- Provide a packet of yeast for members to bake with—reminding them that sin is like yeast, it grows, it’s something small that can affect our relationship with God and others. The bread then can signify communion and the forgiveness of our sins. (See example here)
- Creation Care: Encourage neighborhood clean ups and planting seeds to be stewards of God’s creation (see example here)
- Sabbath Rest: The experiment of intentional rest—provide a small candle to light and think of it as a gift from God we get to unwrap each week.
These small monthly experiments encouraged St. Mark to participate in stewardship in a holistic way.
Successes and Opportunities
So far we have had a mixed bag of responses to these challenges, and we have learned a lot! I think our biggest challenge was the on-going programs and celebrations that needed our attention took precedence over the monthly challenges. As a result, “It’s the Little Things” was pushed to the side when “regularly scheduled programming” took place.
- We developed all kinds of hands-on experiments connected to particular biblical texts that enlivened the concept of stewardship as a way of life, all year long.
- We developed a way to get the challenges and supplies to members of the congregation—never an easy task to develop a new process!
- As a result of this project, some congregation members are eager to see what will be offered so they can engage each month.
- This opportunity gave us a monthly reminder to snap out of the routine and try something new!
- We loved working with the seminary students and are grateful for their creativity in the ever evolving church.
- Engaging the congregation for a shorter, defined time period like Advent or Lent might be a better way to keep the energy flowing for a project like this.
- In addition, finding a group of people who can take this project and make it theirs is important. This is because making sure people have what they need when they need it is labor intensive.
- We have an opportunity to figure out easy ways for congregation members to share their stories.
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About the Author
Pastor Mollie Dvorak has served as pastor at St. Mark Lutheran in Circle Pines for 3 years. Since day one of this call her motto with St. Mark has been “how will we know, unless we try?”
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