The idea of generosity is simple and appealing to most people, but living into it can be complicated. Unfortunately, past experiences and our ideas about money can disrupt embracing this important value of who we are to become as followers of Christ.
Let’s explore five simple ideas to help reorient thinking about generosity.
1. Cultivate Curiosity
Think about how you feel when you're generous and be curious about it. It feels good, doesn't it? Moreover, notice how your outlook changes and the power of scarcity thinking diminishes. To cultivate a culture of generosity, it is important to help others to become curious as well. Generosity, like scarcity, is infectious. When you share and celebrate instances of the impact of generosity, it reinforces and reminds people of the joy and transformational impact for both the giver and receiver.
Have you ever experienced an offering talk where the speaker asked everyone to close their eyes and silently imagine what is being felt by the giver or the recipient in the story being told? Try it. Think of a moment of impactful generosity. Close your eyes and imagine the feelings of both the giver and receiver. What might the receiver feel if they were told this “cup of cool water” was offered in the name of Jesus Christ? Imagine now what the one who is offering the cup is feeling? Curiosity opens our eyes to see beyond ourselves to the world that God yearns for us to embrace and the people we become as we do.
2. Appreciate Our Abundance
Generosity is not complicated. It's the act of sharing a portion of the time, talent, or treasure provided by God for us to steward and enjoy. Nevertheless, with all the messages in our culture about how much “we deserve this or that,” all of us need to be reminded our God provided bounty.
Parents often teach their children about the idea of abundance with toys. They explain that some children don't have even a single toy. As the child recognizes their abundance and imagines being a child without toys, they inevitably are more open to sharing. The same holds for adults. We must remind ourselves and those we lead of our abundance of God-given time, talent, or financial resources to experience the gratitude necessary to experience joyful generosity.
It is rare to experience truly generous people for whom gratitude is not a primary motivation. At Horizons, we like to say generosity is grounded in gratitude. Let’s use the gift of time as an example of our abundance for which we should be deeply grateful. Most of us have paid vacations, a couple of days off each week, and 8-9 hour workdays. In fact, US workers average just 34 hours per week over the year, which provides an abundance of disposable time compared to workers in low and middle-income countries in Asia, Africa, and the Americas who not only work longer hours but also suffer from lower pay, greater job insecurity and more “working poverty“ (poverty despite regular employment), and have fewer guaranteed leaves. Compared to much of the world, Americans have an abundance of time which provides the opportunity to steward for our pleasure and furthering God’s work on this earth. Appreciating our abundance is a huge step toward a grateful heart. Gratitude is a huge step toward becoming generous.
3. Model Generous Behavior
As any parent or educator knows, children model behavior but so do adults. The science behind behavior modeling and social learning theory demonstrates that people emulate positive (or negative) behaviors, especially from those they relate to, respect, or admire. Therefore, as a leader, it is crucial that you model generous behavior in an authentic and transparent way. The more you model generosity, such as sharing the percentage of your income you give to the church and sharing your journey of growth in giving in ways people can relate to, the more likely they are to model your behavior. This is where authenticity and transparency come in. If you clean up the messiness of your journey to the point your listeners can’t relate to your experience, you are unlikely to see much change in their behavior. But when they hear you also wrestle with wants versus needs or how the voices of scarcity sometimes threaten your resolve to be generous, they can relate to your story, increasing their curiosity, interest, and self-reflection. The resulting softening of the listener’s heart may be all the Holy Spirit needs to embolden them to take a step of faith closer to Christ.
4. Reflect on Your Relationship with Money and Possessions
Modeling generous behavior reinforces the concept of generosity as a verb. You may find it easier to talk about giving time and talent, but to grow a healthy culture of generosity, you will need to face the topic of money head-on. The challenges we face in our culture and within ourselves are not new. I believe these ancient struggles are the reason that Jesus made our relationship with money and possessions one of his most frequent teaching topics. Most of us have to overcome some negative baggage from past experiences in order to personally foster a healthy relationship with money. Give careful thought to your emotions when thinking about publicly modeling generous behavior and sharing transparently about your personal relationship with money. Be curious and prayerfully seek the origin of the stories you tell yourself. Ask God to search your heart and bring to mind the source of any reluctance, fear, or shame you may be feeling. For those seeking to reframe their relationship with money and generosity, I recommend reading Henri Nouwen’s speech called a Spirituality of Fundraising.
5. Celebrate Generosity in Your Community
People respond positively to encouragement. One of the most helpful actions you can take as a leader is to catch people being generous with their time, talent, or financial resources and thank them. But don’t focus on their gift or service, instead, thank them for the impact they are making. When appropriate, share in an offering talk or in other communication channels the story of a single life that was changed through their service or giving. On occasion, ask a volunteer or donor to share how they felt about giving time, talent, or money for the sake of another. Create opportunities to honor volunteers who work tirelessly to help your ministries succeed and the givers who fund the efforts. Look for ways to build personal relationships with key volunteers and financial leaders, such as asking over a cup of coffee why they give or serve, where they first experienced generosity, what inspired them to be generous, or what they feel God is doing with them. Invite them to share their wisdom about an opportunity or struggle facing the church. Hold regular vision casting gatherings to express gratitude through stories of the impact and to share upcoming ministry plans that will provide even more exciting opportunities to transform your mission field.