By Stormy Scherer-Berry
Romans 12:3, 6-8
“3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.
6 We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith;7 ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching;8 the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.”
Most of us would agree that a trait of the devout Christian is to be generous to others as Christ was generous to us. The Bible, however, gives seemingly contradictory messages about generosity and how we are to deal with it. In his famous passage in Romans 12 (above), St. Paul indicates that some of us are called specifically to be givers and that we have been given grace toward that end.
The other end of this spectrum is reflected in Acts 2:44-45. On the Day of Pentecost, St. Peter speaks to all those gathered together, resulting in this:
“44 All who believed were together and had all things in common;45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceedsto all, as any had need.”
Today, over 2,000 years later, we do not feel that God wants us to sell all of our possessions and live communally. We are all called to tithe 10% of our income, but that is not connected with generosity. That is God’s instruction for all Christians to help us understand and remember that all we have comes from God in the first place.
Paul’s wisdom, then, must speak to a different insight. In my church, I have a well-to-do couple who rarely ever do anything but attend worship and other functions. In spite of this, they are a vital part of the ministry of the church. They have set up an investment which pays a set dividend to the church every quarter. Without this anticipated income, the church budget would suffer. These two members are generous because God has given them the grace to help the church in this way. They are called and equipped to minister in generosity.
In a past church, I had a man who would voluntarily contribute to needs as they arose. If the church needed a new electronic speaker system, he would see that the system was purchased. When the church was unable to fund a children’s program director, he saw that this budget item was covered. He was also called and equipped to minister in generosity.
You may know people like this. Far from being uninvolved in the church, they are fulfilling a specific ministry ordained by God and need to be uplifted and affirmed as wielders of the gift of generosity.
Many of us fall somewhere between these two extremes: God is not calling us to give literally everything we have, nor are we assigned and equipped to share major gifts. We are the “middle givers.” Paul’s letter to the Corinthians gives us insight and a way forward: “Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” [2 Corinthians 9:7]
“The bottom line” in accounting is the final result of computations and analyses. The bottom line for Christians and giving is this:
- Affirm, support, and nurture those who are called and equipped for the gift of generosity. They are graced by God for this ministry.
- In your own way and as you are prayerfully led, be generous to those around you and to the church. God will also bless you in this selfless endeavor.
For the pastor or ministry leader trying to enhance giving in his/her congregation, these suggestions might be helpful:
- Share the above information on major donations one-on-one with potential large donors. Pastor them by helping them discern how God is calling them to be generous.
- Affirm to your entire congregation the biblical tenet of tithing 10% of income. Do this through preaching, praying corporately, and personal counseling. While tithing is not being generous (it is a requirement of the devout Christian), it helps to train people’s thinking toward uses of their money for God’s work.
- For the “middle givers” (the majority of your congregation), help them look beyond tithing by offering/suggesting needs which can be met through generosity, whether for the church itself or for individuals in need.
- Tithe and give at least some of your income to help others. Without boasting, let it be clear that you as a pastor or ministry leader are doing this, and you encourage other members to join you. You cannot preach or teach about generosity without personally setting the example.