It’s clear from reading Acts 2:42-47 that the early church was a generous church—and not simply generous, but contagiously generous. Scripture offers no hint that generosity was considered a burden; rather, it was a privilege. The people responded immediately by selling their houses and not considering material possessions as their own. The people freely gave and shared so that no needy people were among them. Such generosity was not dictated by the government or enforced by law; instead, it was done in response to one another and to God.
In contrast, people in churches today can be filled with personal hang-ups to giving. Some might express concern about how the church might use “their” money, neglecting the authority issue that we discussed in an earlier article. Others might consider suggestions that people bring a tithe as an Old Testament concept rather than a New Testament concept, ignoring Jesus’ words in Matthew 23:23 about not “neglecting the former.”
Others might complain that church staff is paid too much. On this point, I would agree, and not because of the amount of our paychecks, but the intensity of our calling. We can’t believe we get paid for our ministry in God’s service! We sold out to Jesus and want to spend the rest of our lives telling others about him. The fact that we get paid to do so is amazing!
For the sake of perspective, consider that if most church staff members were employed as teachers in the local school system, they would receive a raise. As it stands, many on the staffs of churches moonlight by mowing lawns, refereeing games, serving as substitute teachers, fixing cars, or driving for Lyft to make room in their budget to live out their calling.
But the greatest hang-up can be summed up by the often-used phrase, “All the church cares about is my money!” A pastor friend tells a story about a coach who approached him and said those very words. My friend’s response was bold and enlightening. He turned the tables on the coach by accusing him of only caring about money! He asked the coach if he negotiated his contract (because the pastor didn’t). The pastor said he had to pay every time he attended a game, otherwise he couldn’t even enter the arena. Beyond charging for tickets, the coach’s team engaged in multiple fundraisers. There were special parking spots for high-level boosters, a special food-filled hospitality room for big givers, and (of course) those same folks received the best seats closest to the floor.
At a church, by contrast, there is no entry fee, no season tickets, no special room for big givers, no special parking or privileges. At church, we counsel people, feed people, serve their kids, minister to engaged and married couples, visit them in the hospital, and conduct their graveside service . . . all without ever sending them a bill.
Generosity is a core concept of the New Testament church and here are four ways to promote it.
1. Preach it. We can’t expect the church to become generous unless we preach generosity boldly and with deep conviction. If we preach on marriage, people lean in, because a high percentage of marriages are headed for divorce. We preach about pornography because statistics show that 60 percent of people are engaging in it monthly. In most churches, 75 percent of folks are struggling in the area of giving. This means we have an issue, especially if we believe God expects us to be generous.
2. Celebrate it. Many churches have stopped passing offering plates or buckets for fear of offending someone. While much of our giving is now done online, it still must be a high priority in our services as a demonstration of our love for God and our acknowledgement of what he has done for us. It’s a moment to declare we are his and we seek to give back to him; it’s not a time for hiding our blessings from him or minimalizing them.
3. Exhibit faith, not fear. Proverbs 11:24-25, 28 says,“One person gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed. . . . Those who trust in their riches will fall, but the righteous will thrive like a green leaf.”Scripture tells us the righteous live by faith. Righteous people trust God, they believe God, they believe it is more blessed to give than to receive, and they believe you can’t take it with you, but you can send it on ahead.
4. Step out. Stepping out in generosity can look different for every person. One person might give for the first time. Another person might start giving consistently for the first time. It might mean giving sacrificially or tithing for the first time.
John 6:5-13 tells the incredible story of the multiplication of fish and bread from a boy’s lunch. That story can teach us three things about stepping out. First, your gift may not look like much, but God can use it in a mighty way. Our possession—our gift—simply must pass from our hands to his hands. Second, even though a gift may seem small, it can bless multitudes. And third, we must recognize that the crowd witnessed and benefited from the miracle, but the boy who gave the fish and bread was an integral part of the miracle. Be part of the miracle!