God often uses crisis to awaken the hearts of church leaders to the essentials of life and ministry. In this case COVID has stripped ministry of facilities, physical connection and finances and forced us to move beyond our preferences and programs to our mission and motives.
If you think about it, God has given us the opportunity to free our thinking and discover new pathways to advance in many areas, but perhaps none greater than the opportunity to help the church become more aligned with the mental maps of Jesus regarding our possessions and generosity.
Leaders are being forced to wrestle with the unhealthy pre-pandemic mindset of growing congregational giving as a necessary but laborious task to fund the church’s vision. Now they face the uninspiring urgency of growing giving to simply keep the church afloat – and to do it primarily online without the physical Sunday gathering. That is a lot of pressure to put on leaders in the midst of uncertainty and instability.
Despite feeling all this pressure, I am convinced that the focus on growing giving is the wrong focus. I think it will prove unproductive and unsustainable.
Attempting to grow giving will not be enough. Perhaps we are being given an opportunity to return to our original calling as leaders – to be multiplicative, intentional, disciple-makers.
According to the teachings of Jesus, the affluence that many of us depend on to keep our churches going may be one of the biggest challenges to being disciple-makers in our churches, with our people.
Not pornography. Not abortion. But possessions.
Listen to these words from the Master: “How hard is it for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God” (Matthew 19: 23). Do we really believe this is true in the most affluent country in world history?
- Our affluence has trapped our churches through church debt, the pressure of monthly overhead and keeping the organization running.
- Our affluence has trapped Christians designed to grow into the likeness of Jesus through self-improvement, self-help and individualism.
After surveying over 20,000 Christian givers and working with thousands of U.S. churches over the last 16 years, I believe a large percentage of Christians and churches in America are “enslaved to our surplus.”
The problem is like the church at Laodicea and we are blind to it (Revelation 3: 14 – 22).
Within this pandemic, our hearts long to go back to normal. But if our churches and our people are enslaved to our surplus, are we truly thriving as Christians and churches? Do we really want to go back to this? Within this pandemic, our hearts long to go back to normal. But if our churches and our people are enslaved to our surplus, are we truly thriving as Christians and churches? Do we really want to go back to this? Within this pandemic, our hearts long to go back to normal. But if our churches and our people are enslaved to our surplus, are we truly thriving as Christians and churches? Do we really want to go back to this?
What if the pandemic represents an opportunity to break free from “growing giving to keep the church going” to “unleashing disciples who follow the ways of Jesus free from the enslavement of surplus.”
What if a movement of true Christian stewardship and generosity arose in the West that actually embraced the ways of Jesus when it comes to our possessions and our generosity?
We call this Whole-Life Generosity. Its core themes include:
- Generosity overflows from a clear view of our generous God. (2 Corinthians 9:8)
- Jesus shows us the model and motivation for generosity in his life, ministry, death and resurrection. (2 Corinthians 8:9)
- In response to God’s loving provision, disciples of Jesus are called to live simply so that others around us can simply live. (Matthew 6: 34)
- We are immersed in a world system that runs counter to Jesus’ ways — one that seeks to produce fear, anxiety over scarcity, identity based on consumption and the normalization of individualism and self-focus. (I John 2: 16)
- Money and possessions are not neutral. They can own your soul. (Matthew 6:24)
- Jesus intended that the church—the body of Christ—function as social mechanisms where life-giving activities are nurtured by means of generously sharing our possessions with our brothers and sisters in our local community. (Acts 2 and 4)
- Jesus desires for us to live with a posture and practice of biblical reciprocity among our brothers and sisters in the global Church. The early church was marked by relational generosity and also reciprocity — those who had much gave so that those who had the least were not lacking, with the expectation that those who had much would in turn receive the same treatment should they ever find themselves in a place of lack. Our affluence in the West should provide for the global needs of others. (2 Corinthians 8: 13-15)
It’s undeniable. We are in the middle of a great transition in the West. Perhaps God is leading us into a new era of true disciple-making where disciples and churches break free from the enslavement of surplus. Where generosity becomes a natural fruit of fully devoted followers of Jesus. Where churches become communities where generosity flourishes out of love for our local and global neighbors.
Do we really want to go back to Western, individualistic, nominalism? Or would we re-imagine a new way forward that is both more ancient and authentic to the radically generous Rabbi from Nazareth?
Want to go deeper in Whole-Life Generosity? Download the e-book Generosity Reset at https://www.generouschurch.com/reset.