Generosity as Discipleship: Do Campaigns Still Work?
Generosity as Discipleship: Do Campaigns Still Work?

By Julie Bullock

I was asked a question by my good friend Jerry Harris (lead pastor of The Crossing in Quincy, Illinois) the first time we spoke on the phone a few years ago: “Julie, do campaigns really still work? I mean, I know you have to say they do because it’s your job to do them, but do they still work? Shoot me straight.”

An hour of vibrant conversation ensued as I sat in an airport lounge in Dallas and had the privilege of sharing with one of America’s great pastors why yes, campaigns—or generosity initiatives, as I prefer to call them—do in fact still “work.”

But in the realm of church giving, “work” is a subjective term that must be defined in a much deeper way than we might think. Mere quantifiable measures—though abundantly evident in these initiatives—are not the only thing by which we should define our success as we evaluate our efforts. Our desired outcomes as pastors and church leaders should be much deeper than that.

So why is this even a question among pastors and leaders, and why do I believe so passionately in the answer? Let’s explore that.


‘Campaign’ Connotations

The word campaign evokes all kinds of emotions in church folks—most of which, unfortunately, are not positive.

For church pastors and leaders, the word campaign might call to mind a time when you received so many emails accusing you of “always talking about money” that you eventually had to ignore your inbox for a while. It might conjure up a time when you felt so much pressure to perform perfectly at every banquet, in every sermon, and in every living room conversation that you never saw your family and you felt as if life were being squeezed out of you instead of poured into you. It might evoke a time when you overpaid for stale chicken at the local country club just to entertain your largest givers at a commitment banquet so they would give big and you wouldn’t need to continue worrying about the balloon payment on your church’s mortgage.

And the negative connotations don’t just reside in you . . . they might also reside in your people.

For people in your church, the word campaign might evoke a time when a pastor came to their house and slid a commitment card across the table and said, “What about $40,000, Bob?” It might remind them of a time when they didn’t feel valued for their current level of giving and felt instead that all the pastor cared about was squeezing more out of them. It might bring to mind a time when a certain outcome was promised as a result of giving—such as a building being built or a debt paid off—but when that didn’t happen, they felt as if they had been caught up in some type of Ponzi scheme.

These are not positive feelings, but they are familiar ones. People may have felt these things at your church or a previous church, and any of these can be a reason pastors and churchgoers alike often aren’t overjoyed at the idea of a “campaign.”


The Campaign: A Powerful Spiritual Tool

The real issue may be the way we approach a campaign rather than the campaign itself. A campaign can be a powerful spiritual tool. It can help people focus for a specific period of time on an important aspect of their faith that often gets trivialized to an amount or percentage. As we know, generosity is so much more than that.

When we embark on a campaign—or generosity initiative—we have a tremendous opportunity to change and affect the way people interact with God in their giving.

For many people, giving is merely a transaction, quantified as an amount or a percentage. These folks think—and perhaps have even been told—that the more they give or the larger percentage they give, the closer to God they will become. That is a works-based, output-driven mentality, not one that is gospel-based and input-driven. What do I mean? Consider this:

If one person gives 30 percent and another gives 10 percent, some may assume the person giving 30 percent is more spiritually mature than the person who gives 10 percent. In fact, some pastors and leaders even teach this—that the larger percentage of money you give to God, the closer to him you become. That actually isn’t in the Bible. Knowing someone’s output percentage doesn’t tell me a thing about what’s going on in their heart.

Many would say of the 30 percent person, “They must have a deep relationship with the Lord to be giving like that.” It is possible, however, that they just make a lot of money and don’t have many expenses! I don’t know if 30 percent is sacrificial for them or not. I have no idea about their situation or their heart. From a pastoral and evangelistic standpoint, I want to know why they give. Don’t tell me why you give 30 percent, just tell me why you give. What is that input motivating your output?

Jesus warns against this type of “output pride”:

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Luke 18:9-14).

Jesus isn’t interested in an output void of an input. He isn’t interested in mere numbers or percentages without heart and meaning behind them. In fact, the apostle Paul shared in his letter to the church at Corinth that when we give, we aren’t just giving to fund something. When we give accompanied by our confession of the gospel—i.e., with an “input”—it actually overflows in expressions of thanks to God, and other people see God because of it. (See 2 Corinthians 9:12-14.) This happens not because we paid for them to see God, but because they were able to see God through the why of our giving, through the input.


The Heart Behind a Commitment

A campaign, you see, is a powerful opportunity to help people focus on the inputs of their generosity. A campaign should challenge each person to examine the heart that is behind their commitment so the lasting effect of their generosity is experienced far beyond the duration of the campaign. The things that truly move the needle of generosity discipleship are scriptural principles that lie behind our giving—things such as priority, preeminence, surrender, love, grace, and many other inputs. Pastor, teach on those principles instead of focusing on and motivating on mere outputs alone.

Tell more stories of the why, not the what. Film more video testimonies of givers, and don’t ever ask them about their amounts or percentages. Ask what this commitment means for them. Ask where it comes from. What motivated it? What will sustain it? Nourish people in the Word through generosity retreats and interactive settings, not in building drawings and 3-D fly-throughs.

Vision tools aren’t bad in and of themselves. When God gives a vision for kingdom expansion to you, it is important. But we aren’t giving to something so much as we are giving from something, and the apostle Paul and Jesus are both clear about that.

Be encouraged, Pastor. You have a huge heart for your people and want to see them grow. This campaign can be a season of incredible growth if you’ll let it. Yes, campaigns do still “work.” And I think you’ll find you will like them a lot more than you expect. Build your campaign not on vision and dollars, but on the Word of God. You can’t go wrong with that.

Julie Bullock is a senior generosity strategist with Generis.

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