Maybe a ten percent tithe for some of us isn’t really so extravagant at all. Maybe those of us who are richly blessed and have the Spiritual Gift of Generosity need to re-prioritize our giving – dig a little deeper. Maybe some of us who are richly blessed need to cultivate this Spiritual Gift.
After finding out that someone had nominated me to serve on the Stewardship Committee at my church, I thought – What is it about me that someone thinks would qualify me for this ministry? Without an answer to that question yet, I went ahead and said, yes, anyway when I was asked because I had told my pastor that I was willing to serve in whatever capacity the nominations committee thought appropriate. Subsequently, I felt called to sign up to teach in my adult Sunday school class on the subject of generosity. Maybe that was a coincidence, maybe not. But something was stirring within me about the subject.
I agreed to go to a leadership training program a couple of Sundays before scheduled to teach my lesson. There, I signed up for the finance breakout session following the keynote address. It was the closest thing to stewardship and, as it turned out, it was what everyone in group wanted to talk about. After an excellent presentation on budgeting and auditing, the lecturer asked if there were any questions. One man raised his hand then stood to ask, “Are there any here whose churches are not struggling with finances?” Silence. Every United Methodist church represented in the Dallas Metro District that day was struggling. The first question was: Why? The next was: What can we do about it? Answers to the first question came from others; all I could do was sit and listen; I had no clue. One man said, “I think it’s because church attendance is down.” Another said, “I think it’s because all the generous givers are dying off.”
I considered all that I had heard that day, then I started preparing for my Sunday school lesson. I ignored the chapter in our study guide book, Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations. It mostly talked about why we should all tithe according to Scripture passages from the Old Testament. That whole idea seemed out of date to me — judgmental. I prepared a PowerPoint presentation to guide and facilitate discussion on generosity. I was prepared, I thought. But just before teaching, I told our pastor what I was planning to teach. He told me to tell my class that generosity is a Spiritual Gift. Hmmm, I thought. I had not heard that idea before, and I almost considered not showing my PowerPoint at all, but basing the lesson entirely on that one idea, that generosity is a Spiritual Gift. If that were true, I thought, since giving is less than it once was, is the current generation spiritually deprived? And, if so, why?
What are Spiritual Gifts? I knew on the spot that I had to talk about that. I had to talk about it because my pastor was right. We need to know the role that each of us has to play in the financial work of the Kingdom. While all of us are called to give, God has ordained some people to be super-givers. Check out this passage from Romans 12:6-8, which deals with spiritual gifts in the church:
6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; 7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.
Many of the things that Paul lists in this passage are spiritual gifts that we are well familiar with: Some people are gifted in prophecy, others in serving, others in teaching, others in encouraging, etc. In fact, you may have spent time in your church or on your own studying these spiritual gifts, trying to determine which of them is most active in your life. But did you notice, hidden in the middle of verse 8, the scripture mentions generosity? “If it is giving,” the passage says, “then give generously.” Wow.
I went ahead with using my PowerPoint, intending to weave into the presentation the idea that generosity is a Spiritual Gift. My first slide listed the Chapters in our study guide book and the title of the day’s lesson. I announced that I was departing from the study guide approach to the subject.
- The Practice of Radical Hospitality
- The Practice of Passionate Worship
- The Practice of Intentional Faith Development
- The Practice of Risk Taking Mission and Service
- The Practice of Extravagant Generosity
- Excellence and Fruitfulness
My next slide was this, the definition of extravagant.
- Lacking restraint in spending money or using resources.
- costing too much money.
- exceeding what is reasonable or appropriate; absurd.
My next slide simply asked the question: What is the most extravagant thing that you’ve ever done concerning money? Everyone who responded to the question mentioned things that they had done for themselves… expensive cars, ocean voyages. I was thinking about the money I gave to my church years ago to create a quite garden for people to rest in, to meditate in, to pray in. I called it the Grandmothers’ Garden, dedicating it to the memory of my own dear grandmother. Why? I thought. Why do I remember something that I had given away rather than something I had purchased for myself? I don’t know the answer. But, in all humility, I suspect it’s because I am part of that generation of generous givers that gentleman in the finance class I sat in on mentioned. Others in my class are younger than me. They are very much in the Baby Boomer generation. Not to brag, but I barley made the cut; having been born before the end of WWII, I’m officially part of the Mature/Silent generation – the Greatest Generation.
The following information, part of which I shared with my class, comes from Dr. Jill Novak from the University of Arizona and Texas A&M. Here is a link to the information which appears at the Marketing Teacher.com website. The URL is: http://www.marketingteacher.com/the-six-living-generations-in-america/ Mind you, the following do not describe everyone in the two oldest living generations. The characterizations are general in nature according to Dr. Novak.
Mature/Silents, born 1927- 1945, went through their formative years during an era of suffocating conformity, but also during the postwar happiness: Peace! Jobs! Suburbs! Television! Rock ‘n Roll! Cars! Playboy Magazine! Mature/Silent men pledged loyalty to the corporation, once you got a job, you generally kept it for life. And they are the richest, most free-spending retirees in history. They have a strong sense of trans-generational common values and near-absolute truths. They are disciplined, self-sacrificing, and cautious as well.
Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, come in two sub-sets: 1. the save-the-world revolutionaries of the ’60s and ’70s; and, 2. the party-hardy career climbers (Yuppies) of the ’70s/’80s. These are the “me” generation. They tend to be self-righteous and self-centered. They have bought it now and they used credit to do it. They’re also too busy for much neighborly involvement, yet strong desires to reset or change the common values for the good of all. They want change, but aren’t so keen on changing themselves.
Even though their mothers were generally housewives, responsible for all child-rearing, women of this generation began working outside the home in record numbers, thereby changing the entire nation as this was the first generation to have their own children raised in a two-income household where mom was not omnipresent.
The aging of Baby Boomers will change America almost incomprehensibly; they are the first generation to use the word “retirement” to mean being able to enjoy life after the children have left home. Instead of sitting in a rocking chair, they go skydiving, exercise and take up hobbies, which increases their longevity. The American Youth Culture that began with them is now ending with them and their activism is beginning to re-emerge.
Yes, the Great Givers are a dying breed.
My next slide quoted Scripture – Matthew 6:21: For where your treasure is, your heart will be also. I asked my class what it is that they most love about our church. Almost everyone said that they love our Sunday school class best. One lady said, “Our great missions program.” Had I been asked, I told the class, I’d have said, all the opportunities that the church affords to be in service to others: The Caregiving Ministry that I lead, The Children’s Program that our little great granddaughter derives so much from, The Helping Hands Ministry, The Handy Man’s Ministry, The United Methodist Men and The United Methodist Women. But then, others in my Sunday school class, though engaged in many different missions and ministries, are mostly Baby Boomers, the Me Generation.
My next slide addressed the dual problem of a rising cost of living while the disposable income in most households has long been on a downward trend. Yes, the Consumer Price Index – Unchained has been up and down, the chained index has gone up and up with the costs of education and healthcare skyrocketing. Why is this? As a retired teacher of economics I can tell you that the unchained index reflects actual spending – the substitution phenomena. When people have less disposable income, they spend less or substitute preferred goods and services for something else.
It’s like the elderly halving their prescribed medications, cutting their pills in-half to make them last longer, this so that they can afford to eat too. It is true that many in our society today are struggling. So I was not surprised when one of the ladies in my class shared that she knows her married daughter and her daughter’s husband have to squeeze hard to be able to afford giving the church just fifty dollars a month. Forget about tithing. Giving ten percent of their disposable income would mean they couldn’t afford to put gas in their cars to get back and forth to their jobs.
So, it becomes clear why many churches are struggling financially in today’s world. It is clear too that they will struggle more and more in future years, at least until the economy improves for the middle class. In the meantime, what are we to do? Well, I suggest that those of us who are blessed with more will need to give more. Maybe a ten percent tithe for some of us isn’t really so extravagant at all. Maybe those of us who are richly blessed and have the Spiritual Gift of Generosity need to re-prioritize our giving – dig a little deeper. Maybe some of us who are richly blessed need to cultivate this Spiritual Gift. After all,
Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
~ 2 Corinthians 9:7