November 29, 2013
By Phil Maynard
As Christ poured himself out for us, so we who follow him must pour ourselves out for others — by being liberated to live on less . . . in order to bless others more. How does the church cultivate extravagant generosity? I’m borrowing from Andy Stanley, pastor of North Point Community Church, who says we should Preach it, Teach it and Celebrate it.
Preach it: Begin with the need of people to be liberated from a lifestyle of financial anxiety and selfishness encouraged by a culture of materialism, consumerism and easy debt. 32% of Americans are unable to cover a $5,000 emergency without going into debt. A Parenting Magazine” poll of its readers indicated that 49% of respondents could not cover even one month’s expenses if they were to miss a paycheck. The number one cause of divorce is conflict over money. More young adults filed bankruptcy last year than graduated from college! Clearly it is “normal” in our culture for people to be out of balance when it comes to money and things – which is why Jesus spoke so often about this topic! We should too, not manipulatively to raise the budget, but with compassion because people are hurting and need to learn to live God’s way in relationship to the stuff in their life. The tithe is one of the historical spiritual disciplines of our tradition that helps liberate us from our addiction to stuff and force us to be intentional about how we spend the other 90%. Those of us who preach need to read and listen to others in order to develop a language and way of addressing this critical area of discipleship.
Teach it: This is an area I initially neglected as a pastor. It is cruel to motivate people from the pulpit to be financially compassionate or to tithe when their financial life is so out of whack that they honestly can’t respond – unless your congregation is also teaching people how to live financially in a more Biblical and savvy fashion. Two small group ministries that can help are Crown Financial Ministries (www.crown.org/) and Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University (www.daveramsey.com/fpu/home/). While both ministries teach similar content, my bias is for Dave Ramsey’s material because it really lively and I have seen it used more effectively. In a time when the economy is struggling, this can also be an excellent way of connecting with unchurched persons in your community. The congregation I attend also teaches extravagant generosity in their policy that only persons who tithe can serve on the finance committee and only persons who are either tithing or will sign a covenant that they will become a tither within two years can serve in leadership.
Celebrate it: what gets celebrated gets duplicated. Celebrate the people who are in Financial Peace classes and when they get out of debt. Give them opportunities to share what this means to them. Start a junky car club. Celebrate the congregation’s generosity by constantly saying “thank you.” The best time to do that is when you can connect the dots between people’s giving and life-changing ministries. Dollars follow mission. People don’t want to give to pay last month’s light bill, they want to give to causes that really make a Kingdom difference in people’s lives.