facebook script

Can't find something?

We're here to help.

Send us an email at:

[email protected]

and we'll get back with you as soon as possible.

Are we sustaining members?

People holding small plants

Sherry Parker-Lewis explains that we give because we are held, carried, and supported by the One who saves. Our gifts are our embodied gratitude.

Sr. Director of Church Relations, United Methodist Foundation of Michigan

I first heard the invitation to be a “sustaining member” from my local public radio station. If my husband and I scheduled a monthly gift of support, we would sustain the station’s work. If we enjoy the programming offered, why shouldn’t we give money to keep the station going?

Today, we are overwhelmed by the number of appeals we receive to be sustaining members. The invitations come from local and national nonprofits by mail, email, social media, and QR codes distributed at events.

These invitations have made me think about our commitment to regular giving at our home United Methodist church. We participate via electronic fund transfer (EFT). Our gift is deducted from our checking account each month and sent to the church’s account. When church leaders make plans, they know that we, and others like us, are committed to funding our church’s ministry.

Are we sustaining members?

To sustain is to support, to assist, to encourage. One could conclude that we sustain the church’s ministry through financial gifts. And yet, we know that the church, the body of Christ, is sustained by God’s Spirit working in and through us. We look to God, who sustains our very being. We refer to the mystery of the Trinity as Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. Who is sustaining whom? Does being a sustaining member mean that we hold control to lift the church or let it down? This perceived power shift makes me uncomfortable.

There are biblical examples of people sustaining one another. Ruth supported Naomi (Ruth 1). Dorcus cared for the widows (Acts 9). Those appointed as deacons in the early church tended to the needs of the faithful (Acts 6). However, the Bible is clear about God’s powerful, sustaining presence. The psalmist sings, “I lie down and sleep; I wake again, for the Lord sustains me” (Psalm 3:5, NRSVUE).

The promise of God’s support is for all our days. I personally celebrate the promise from the prophet Isaiah: “Even to your old age I am he; even when you turn gray I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save” (Isaiah 46:4).

In Romans 11, the Apostle Paul writes that Christians were once wild olive branches now grafted onto the life-giving tree of Christ. He cautions, “Don’t brag like you’re better than the other branches. If you do brag, be careful: it’s not you that sustains the root, but it’s the root that sustains you” (Romans 11:18, CEB).

Are we sustaining members?

The etymology of the word “sustain” goes way back to the Latin. It is the compound of two words: “from below” or “up” (sus-) and “hold” (tenēre). To be sustained is to be held up. This is the work of God through Jesus Christ.

We do not give to Christ’s body, the church, because we’ve decided to sustain it as if we had the power over God’s intentions for God’s people. The work of the church will continue, with or without us. “For in [Christ] all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers — all things have been created through him and for him” (Colossians 1:16-17). We give because we are held, carried, and supported by the One who saves. Our gifts are our embodied gratitude.

For more ideas on how to grow sustaining members of your local church, email me at [email protected].

Last Updated on April 24, 2024

The Michigan Conference