The most recent issue of the Baylor journal Christian Reflection was on the theme of “generosity”. There were contributions on the generosity of “spirit”, Paul’s views on the subject, how congregations differ on the matter, doing away with “comfortable guilt”, as well as paintings, poems and songs on the topic.
No one argued that it was wrong to be generous—a Christian and even human assumption is that giving is good. There is probably even an underlying assumption that the more a person gives the better Christian that person may be. This, of course, is not said that bluntly, but it surely is often inferred.
One emphasis in the journal was on “congregational” giving, a somewhat abstract notion but easier to talk about than individual giving. The article outlined a seven step giving path, starting with “give something” and ending with “give beyond the tithe”. The emphasis was on planned giving in a regular manner throughout the year and then increasing the amount each year. There were many other practical suggestions, such as encouraging members of a congregation to share future bequests or by developing “multiple income streams”. The author was a “campaign consultant, planned giving director, and generosity coach”.
Paul’s example was one that all missionaries like—he was not unduly apprehensive about asking for help from the churches he had helped to establish. Of course, Paul spoke (or wrote) in the context of “generosity” and encouraged his audience to never grow weary in doing good. But Paul was also willing to work for his income and his needs were different when he was in prison—it was more difficult to make tents there.
We have gone to several business meetings at our church. Recently, at one such meeting, the treasurer’s report showed that the budget would not be met for the year unless there was additonal giving. As soon as the word was out, the deficit was recovered, and more besides. But, in the meantime, the finance committee has reduced the budget for next year. They were being cautious and “good stewards”, but it seemed to me, that if the financial needs had been known earlier, the congregation would have responded positively and we could have increased the budget for next year.
Our church also has been considering expanding the sanctuary and building additional facilities. However, there has been no campaigns for the money that these plans entail. That puzzles me.
Historically, as Wycliffe missionaries, we were told that we could offer full information about our work, but that we could not directly solicit funds. We have followed that strategy, although it has now officially changed and the mission and its members ask for money often and up front. There is nothing subtle about it!
When we were living in Papua New Guinea with the Kewa people, one of the first words we heard and learned was gi “give (it) to me/us”. We were living in a poor community as far as material things were concerned. At that time we had more clothes and shoes than the whole village, plus an axe, bush knife, soap, matches, kerosene, blankets, tinned food and other desirable objects that were beyond the buying capability of the people. They had no money and no source of income except what we paid them for carriers and domestic help. However, we seldom heard the word kala “give (it) to someone else” because once an item was in the “possession” of someone it was shared or loaned upon demand.
Over the years, people have been extremely generous to us and we didn’t have to ask. Sometimes we felt that we had very little, but we never had to beg or eat moldy bread (on many occasions we did have to cut the mold off the bread before we ate it). Our daughter went through college (an expensive private college) and graduated with minimal debt. Our son and his wife have been missionaries for many years, have raised three children, and have seen the Lord supply their needs, despite expensive living conditions in Australia. In short, God has been very good to us and has encouraged us to be generous to others.
Granted, I have worried at times about our income and expenses. I wondered how we would cope once we retired. But we are now living in a very comfortable townhouse (courtesy of our daughter and her husband) and recently received a large one time inheritance gift. God prompted us to give half of it away and we are thankful that we could. Are we being generous? I hope so—but it is insignificant compared to how generous others have been to us.