It’s a Modern Day Parable of the Talents

Post a Comment » Written on December 7th, 2002     
Filed under: News
By Craig Pinley

CHICAGO, IL (December 7, 2002) – A North Park Theological Seminary (NPTS) professor once gave eight seminary students $10 each and told them to “steward it” over the course of a term.

One student gave his share to another student’s family who struggled with financial difficulties. Another, who described himself as a “tither,” gave a dollar at church and spent the rest. A third student – a “percentage giver” – gave two dollars to church and spent the rest. A fourth said he was afraid he would lose the money, so he hid it in his sock drawer until the professor asked for the money back, even though no such requirement had been made.

The educational value of the stewardship project was deemed “money well given” by seminary professor Richard Carlson, who decided to take the idea a step further. In 2001, he submitted a proposal to Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC) President Glenn R. Palmberg to use some of newly developed stewardship education funds for a similar experience during this fall’s stewardship class. “I think wrestling with a no-strings attached significant amount of cash will teach them not only of the stewardship of money, but of relationships and how decision-making can be done wisely or foolishly in life,” Carlson wrote.

Days later, Carlson was given $1,500 in an envelope and he divided the cash among three teams in a stewardship class. The group of 20 was told to spend the money as teams and report back at the end of the term.

Team #1

Members included Martha Berg, David Bergstrom, Darrell Cooper, Matt Dyment, Andrew Fortuine, Sarah Hillabrandt and Melissa Wall. “The team stated in their report that they went from thinking that $500 was a lot of money to thinking of how little it seemed to be,” said Carlson, who serves as an ex-officio member of ECC’s Stewardship Commission. “They knew that it was a ‘god issue’ because only God could transform a little into something big.”

The team established three basic criteria in determining how to spend the money: (1) it must be a spiritual investment that can yield fruit; (2) the money must be used to benefit someone related to their own circumstances as a seminary student, and (3) the project must be about more than money – it must be personal.

After much discussion, the team decided to send books to the Baro Bible School in West Ethiopia, which offers theological education for Sudanese refugees. They coordinated with the Northwest Conference to ensure an adequate delivery system with minimal cost. “They entrusted the money to another agency, in effect,” Carlson said. Team members sent personal letters and pictures to introduce themselves to the school. They also donated 50 books they contributed (from their own book supply) to go along with the purchased books.

Team #2

Members included Joan Collins, Peter Hartmark, Larry Kamphausen, Bonnie Jean Miller, Quentin Mumphrey and David Noren. Carlson said team members “originally invested the $500 into a credit union to accrue interest while they were discerning what to do. They used three criteria in determining how to steward the money: (1) it had to go to one place/individual where the most benefit could be gained; (2) it must be a local place/individual; and (3) the matter would be prayed about every Tuesday as a group.”

The diversity of this team’s members seemed the most pronounced of the three, added Carlson. Miller and Hartmark are Anglos from Lutheran backgrounds. Joan Collins and Quentin Mumphrey are African Americans with no Covenant background, and David Noren was a Swedish exchange student at the time. Given their diversity, it wasn’t surprising to Carlson that this team took the longest amount of time discerning what to do. “My sense is that it turned into a prayer group,” he said. “I think that was because of the influence of particular people in the group who are prayer warriors.”

Members agreed on three options for investing their $500. They finally decided to use the funds for a tutoring program for youth at nearby Immanuel Covenant Church, where Miller was an intern. The team sent a letter and a check to Immanuel describing the gift’s purpose and how the money came into their possession. In their summary they described how the process had united them.

“The remarkable thing about this team is that, through their prayer, they came to very common discernment about where to send the money,” Carlson said. “I know there were other places that people felt strongly about, but the power of God in prayer brought cohesion to a very diverse group.”

Team #3

Members included Becky Erickson, Jannie Mollerup, Joel Oyoumick, David Pope, Roy Stehley-Matthewson and Chris Williams. Erickson, who worked in a cross-cultural ministry to Chinese students at nearby Evanston Covenant Church, asked if the group would support her church’s ministry to Chinese students, said the report. The primary need for that ministry was Chinese-language Bibles. “Team number three considered many options,” said Carlson. “They wanted the result to be long lasting, measurable and with maximum results from their gift. They enlisted the help of the Bible League (a worldwide outreach program headquartered in Chicago) who offered to distribute Chinese Bibles overseas.”

After a time, team members decided to use their resources to help purchase Bibles for both the Evanston Chinese group and for others in China. Members decided to publicize the project with a brochure to be given to the entire seminary community. Williams wrote the document, said Erickson.

The brochure shared the New Testament story about the Parable of the Talents and the team encouraged fellow classmates and seminary faculty to help with the unique fundraising effort. Each brochure contained a ‘golden dollar’ that symbolized a talent given by God. The brochure asked that each recipient should receive the dollar and multiply it for the Chinese Bible project.

Brochures, which cost $100 to produce, were distributed both inside and outside the seminary community. Those who participated in the project were to turn in funds by November 26. As a way to conclude the fundraising drive and celebrate God’s goodness, team members planned a celebration event that evening. The team put $100 toward the festivities and earmarked an extra $150 to buy Bibles written in both Chinese and English for the Chinese fellowship at Evanston Covenant.

“We made an announcement at coffee time (between seminary classes) and talked about what we planned to do,” said Erickson. “Every week we would put up an announcement reminding people about the plan. Almost all of the brochures got used in various ways. They not only went into the seminary body, but also into the wider community as they got excited about our excitement.”

The group also found an anonymous donor who promised to match whatever funds they raised. The team finished with $2,100 with which to provide Bibles.

“Richard (Carlson) assigned teams sort of at random and the team I was assigned to,” said Becky Erickson. “All of us were quite independent thinkers and yet none of us felt threatened by the others. We all had different gifts and yet no one tried to manage each other’s gifts. We trusted each other to do what we said we’d do. And we would take each idea and would enlarge it.”

This third team had no idea how the fundraising idea would pan out, but things happened behind the scenes that helped the effort. One day, a seminary student’s spouse was listening to a local Christian radio station and heard an advertisement about the Bibles for China project. The announcement said that an anonymous donor would match any funds that were pledged by a certain date.

On the night of the celebration, team members were pleasantly surprised to learn how God had multiplied their efforts. Overall, $2,100, including the rest of the team’s money, went to purchase and distribute Bibles both to Evanston Covenant and abroad.

“The Lord put all the pieces together and I’m sure He had a good time with it,” said Erickson. “It was fun. Some people had used the money to do something to get more money – one lady used the dollar to buy ingredients to make cookies to sell at church. We hoped the one talent would go tenfold and that’s almost exactly what happened.”

For Erickson, the stewardship class experience reminded her to trust God more. “Sometimes we think we have to be such responsible stewards and micromanage,” she said. “But when we let go of this and let God take care of it, God made it so much bigger than we could’ve dreamed.”

Carlson said that he was blessed by the cohesion of the groups and their gladness in giving to others. He also appreciated the manner in which the experience opened the group to questions that might not have been discerned by any one individual. At the very least, it put the New Testament story of the Parable of the Talents in a whole new light.

“For the most part, they gave in addition to what they received (their own books, the money to throw a party), they took risks (in producing the brochure, for example) and each group thought this was God business they were in,” said Carlson. “I want to do it again.”

Copyright © 2011 The Evangelical Covenant Church.

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