Generosity is a beautiful thing.
Several weeks ago, I witnessed its powerful effects after a series of deadly tornadoes carved a 165-mile path of destruction across western Kentucky and other parts of the mid-south. Homes, businesses, church buildings, and entire communities were leveled.
Within only a few hours, churches in my association began to ask how we could help our neighbors out west. After considering several options, we decided to raise money for the local associations directly impacted by the storms.
I did not publicly share a goal for the special offering, but I secretly hoped that we would raise at least $5,000. Within twenty-four hours, I realized that I had underestimated the generosity of our association’s churches. By the end of the week, we had collected a total that exceeded $26,000! That was five times the total I had in mind! By God’s grace and the generosity of our churches, we were able to send nearly $3,000 to nine different associations in western Kentucky.
Just a few weeks later, I witnessed generosity’s powerful effects once again. This time, small portions of eastern Kentucky received heavy rains and experienced a devastating flash flood. While there was no loss of human life, there was significant damage to dozens of homes, including the destruction of one pastor’s house and considerable damage to another church’s heating and cooling system. Within twenty-four hours, I began to receive phone calls from associations, churches, and individuals offering to send help.
Indeed, generosity is a beautiful thing. It is a blessing to the one who gives and the one who receives the gift.
And yet, many in the church have never truly experienced the blessings of generosity. They may drop a $20 into the offering plate from time to time, but they have never experienced the joy of abundant generosity. Whether they realize it or not, many folks in the church have fallen victim to one or more “generosity killers” – a term I first heard used by Art Rainer. Here are four of the most common:
Debt is the #1 killer of generosity. Many church members would love to be more generous with their finances, but they cannot do so because they have so much debt. As Rainer states in his book Find More Money, those with credit card debt carry an average balance of $15,000. College graduates now leave college with a degree and an average of $37,000 in student loan debt. Families often purchase homes larger than they need with mortgage payments larger than they can afford.
As a result, every extra penny goes toward paying down their debt, and very little is left over to give to their church and other worthy causes. Even if they want to be more generous, they are a slave to their debt. As Proverbs 22:7 rightly states, “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is a slave to the lender.”
Without a doubt, debt is the #1 killer of generosity.
Some church members aren’t generous with their finances because they are too busy storing up treasures on earth rather than investing in heavenly treasures. Their heart’s desire is the accumulation of earthly possessions, and they spend most of their finances in the pursuit of those possessions (Matthew 6:21).
Ultimately, this person has become a servant to his money and possessions. Jesus states the case plainly in Matthew 6:24: “No one can serve two masters, since either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”
For the one who loves money and serves money, he will not be willing to part with much of it. His desire for the things of this world will choke out his desire to advance God’s kingdom through being generous with his finances.
Some Christians struggle to be generous because they regularly question if a particular need is legitimate. An individual may approach them for financial help, but they fail to provide aid because they suspect the individual may use the money for something other than the stated reason. They may hear a desperate plea for the church to give generously during a business meeting, but they doubt that the church’s finances are as bad as the Treasurer says. They may meet a missionary who asks for financial partners, but they question if it really costs that much to fund the work.
Denial kills generosity.
One final way that a church member’s generosity is threatened is when they distance themselves from the life and ministry of their church. Sometimes this detachment is intentional, especially in the day of pandemics and online-only services. At other times, it’s less intentional when work schedules and children’s extracurricular activities pull them away. Unfortunately, the result is usually the same in either case: out of sight, out of mind.
It usually doesn’t take long for the detached church member to disengage financially. They’re not present to hear reminders of all the ways that their regular giving is advancing God’s kingdom locally and globally. They’re not present to hear about the unexpected need that has arisen among one of the families in the church. They’re not present to hear about the changed lives resulting from the ministries of their church. When they’re not present to listen to these things, it’s much easier to pull back on their giving when their personal budget gets tight.
However, the church member who remains engaged in the life of the church will be less likely to pull back on their generosity. They see the impact of their financial gifts, and they know they are making a difference in their community and around the world. They are more willing to make personal sacrifices to fund the Great Commission.
Resuscitating Generosity: Tips for Church Leaders
You’re likely familiar with these generosity killers if you’re a pastor or church leader. You often struggle with how to combat these realities in your church. Here are some practical tips for resuscitating generosity in your church:
- Teach about generosity. Some pastors shy away from teaching or preaching about money altogether. Avoid that temptation. Plan a preaching series about generosity. Teach about how God loves a cheerful giver. Teach about how their generosity fuels the Great Commission locally and globally. Remind the church that Jesus taught more about money than just about any other topic.
- Identify generosity killers. Help your church members to identify what is killing their generosity. Use the above list as a starting point. Are there any others that you would add to the list? Include a description of your list as you teach about generosity.
- Develop practical strategies to resuscitate generosity. Offer a class to help church members learn how to get out of debt. Show them how to make a budget. Develop a strategy to show them how their gifts to the church fuel the Great Commission. Be as creative as you’d like!
- Evaluate your efforts. Are members paying down their debt? Are they sticking to a budget? Are they giving more to the church and other worthy causes? If so, you’re on the right track! If not, what needs to change about your strategy? Do you need to offer a different type of class? Does the material need to be a 12-week class instead of a 6-week class? Develop a strategy to resuscitate generosity, but make sure it’s a flexible strategy!
Resuscitating Generosity: Tips for Individuals
If you’re an individual that recognizes your level of generosity is not where you’d like it to be, here are some tips for resuscitating generosity in your personal life:
- Start giving. God wants the first fruits, not the leftovers. Therefore, the best way to resuscitate generosity is to start giving, even if you can’t give much at first. Developing the habit of regular giving is half the battle. Art Rainer describes the Takeoff method to increase your giving to your local church from 1% to 10% of your gross income in 12 months.
- Attack debt. If you have any debt, attack it with everything you’ve got. Use the debt snowball method to knock it out as quickly as possible. If you’re unfamiliar with the debt snowball, the basic idea is to pay off your smallest balance first while paying the minimum payment on everything else. After you pay it off, combine that payment with your next smallest debt and so on. (Google “debt snowball” if you need further explanation.) And once you’re debt-free, don’t become a slave to the lender again.
- Be sensitive to those who ask for help. Don’t automatically assume ulterior motives of individuals who ask for help. You can’t see their heart, nor does God expect you to. You may certainly ask some questions to discern if it is a legitimate need, recognizing that sometimes helping actually hurts by enabling poor decisions or patterns of behavior. However, if you’re going to err, I’d recommend erring on the side of generosity.
- Be intentional. Don’t just wait for needs to come to you. Seek them out. You’ll discover needs all around you.
- Learn about your church’s kingdom impact. Ask your pastor about how the church is making a kingdom impact locally and globally. Learn about the missionaries your church supports. Listen to their stories. As you do so, you’ll likely take steps to give more, not less.
- Set aside “kingdom money.” In addition to your church offerings, set aside some “kingdom money” each month to be used to meet needs as they arise. That way, you’ll be prepared to be generous in advance.
Generosity is a beautiful thing. How can you bless someone else with a gesture of generosity today?