By Jim Nieman
Mark Jones is glad he opted for a simple devotion one week in the midst of his sermon series on generosity. The decision resulted in a finale that had greater impact, and which, at the same time, garnered quite a bit of positive press.
Jones opted for the devotion one Sunday when “horrific weather” swept through the Bardstown, Ky., region and Nelson Christian Church saw lower-than-average attendance.
But that set things up nicely for the final message, Feb. 3—which happened to be Super Bowl Sunday—when Jones called in a pizza order from the stage early in his sermon, and then toward the end of it, presented Papa John’s pizza delivery driver Stephen Greenwell with a $717 tip after being handed an extra-large pepperoni pizza and some breadsticks.
The tip money came from all the loose dollar bills and change given in that morning’s offering. Jones then prayed for Greenwell and his family.
News and media outlets in and around Bardstown have been covering the story all week.
“It’s been way bigger than I expected,” Jones said. “I have preached sermons that I felt had more impact on our church, but this message has gotten more outside attention than any other.”
The tip was a serious application of a “building bridges” philosophy Jones stresses continually to his church.
“Our mission statement says, ‘We exist to love God, love people, and build a bridge to Jesus,’” Jones said. “[It’s] taken from the Great Commandments and the Great Commission. We talk a lot about building bridges instead of walls. So, I’ve said all along that generosity builds bridges.”
Jones also stressed Sunday that generosity is motivated by love, not selfishness. He said when people give cheerfully, they honor God and, and that can create a ripple effect of kindness and compassion.
For the sermon series, Jones focused attention on 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 to teach about the power of generosity. Takeaways from the messages included:
1. The tighter you hold on to Jesus, the easier it is to let go of everything else.
2. What we do with our money now will have impact years from now.
3. God gives us more than we need so we can help those who have less than they need.
That final “bottom line,” as Jones calls them, played out on Sunday in the tip to Greenwell, who has two small daughters and has been working as a delivery driver for the past six months.
Jones is quick to confess that blessing a pizza delivery driver with an extra-large tip to drive home a sermon point is not original to him. (Jones credits his friend, Shelby Christian Church discipleship and small groups pastor Kevin Comp, among others, with doing something similar long before him.)
“I told our church [other churches had done this], . . . but I knew it was something they had never seen before. I had told people to bring some cash that day. They would not have to turn loose of it, but I knew they would want to be involved in something special.”
He was right.
“Our church was super excited about this. Not only did they give $717, but we had our largest single-day offering in the history of our church, over $5,800!”
Jones has been a pastor for more than 30 years in Kentucky, Indiana, South Carolina, and Georgia. He has served with Nelson Christian Church, which averages about 140 weekly, for a year and a half.
Jim Nieman serves as managing editor of Christian Standard.