How many people, when asked for impressions of Bible-believing Christians, would choose words like “generous” and “compassionate” and “sacrificial”? According to studies, the answer is: almost none. We can’t blame it all on bad press. It’s time to look in the mirror.
Yes, it is true that American Christians give more than American non-Christians. But it’s hardly time to pat ourselves on the back. Christians only give 2.43 percent per capita. They gave one third more of their wealth during the Great Depression. In fact, data shows unambiguously that in the past forty years, as American Christians have grown wealthier and wealthier, their debt has grown larger and larger, and their giving smaller and smaller. As one observer writes, “For Christians in the richest nation in history to be giving only 2.43 percent of their income to their churches is not just stinginess, it is biblical disobedience.”
In a culture where constant consumerism and extravagant excess are celebrated and advertised, even promoted as a patriotic duty, the profound need arose for ministries that could provide solid biblical counsel on how wealthy Christians could steward their wealth and not-so-wealthy Christians could escape debt. These are worthy goals and worthwhile ministries. Some have done exceptional work.
Still, some piece of the puzzle is missing. Church giving has not risen, “stewardship” campaigns are like pulling teeth, and the “Generosity Movement” has been limited and largely confined to the wealthy.
When the battle is being lost—and it is—we question the strategy. And, we should. After all, generosity and stewardship is not about money in the first place. It’s about something deeper than that. It’s about our image of what it means to be a follower of Jesus.
Sure, you may be less stingy than your neighbor. But we’re not called to live a little better than the Scrooge down the street. We’re not called merely to live debt-free. We’re not even called to live like no one else. We’re called to live like Jesus.
The questions are not: Are you a satisfactory steward? Or can you be guilt-tripped into giving more? The questions are: Are you generous like Jesus? Are you yearning to live a Christ-like life of abundant self-giving?
When we have more, and give less, than ever before, something is amiss in our hearts, and in the vision of gospel living that animates our churches. We view tithing as a dusty old rule, a two-thousand-year-long guilt trip to nowhere. We view generosity as a luxury of the rich, like sailing and wearing plaid shorts at the country club. And we view stewardship as primarily a matter of financial management.
What if generosity is something much more than that? What if generosity is at the heart of God?
The truth is this. We were created in the image of a self-giving God. Our Creator didn’t need us, but our very creation—the creation of all things—was an act of overflowing generosity. We don’t deserve anything. The fact that we have a single moment of life, the fact that we have breath, and food, and families, is because God is generous. And God is so extravagantly generous that He not only gives us being and sustains us in being, not only gives us lives and homes and families and jobs, but even gave us Himself in Jesus Christ, and gave us salvation on the cross and new life in the empty tomb.
God’s generosity is unlimited because His love is unending and His storehouse of blessings is abundant—and so our generosity should be unlimited because His love is unending and His storehouse of blessings is abundant.
In other words, generosity is not something we can choose, or choose not, to do. It is who we are, who we are created to be. God gave us to ourselves so that we could give ourselves to one another. God gave Himself to us in Christ, so that we could give Christ in us to others. Generosity, in other words, is at the heart of our creation, our salvation, and our purpose.
That’s why we set out to Reimagine Generosity. What would it look like, we wondered, to resource pastors and churches with materials that help talk about generosity from a wholistic perspective – not a topic with a silo around finance? What would it look like to walk people on a path from transactional to relational to sacrificial generosity – the kind of generosity we see modeled in the life of Christ?
The results we began to see were extraordinary. We barely talked about money—we talked about the heart—but churches started giving multiples more than they had ever given before. Stories poured in of people showing extravagant generosity with their possessions. But not only money. Volunteerism soared. People gave of themselves in ways that were at times intuitive and at other times entirely surprising. Church cultures started to change.
So now, we are trying to get the word out: Generosity is the new apologetic. It’s the antidote to the devouring poison of materialism. It’s the tangible expression of God’s love in the world. Generosity is at the heart of the Christian life. Generosity like Jesus is not a criterion to make us feel bad about ourselves. It’s an invitation to be ourselves, to become who we are, to live the life that is truly life.
It is time to Reimagine Generosity.