To celebrate or not to celebrate… that’s not the question. The right question is: how do we celebrate generosity appropriately?
Over the past few years, many of you have heard me speak about how to develop a culture of stewardship and generosity… we need to preach it, teach it, celebrate it and model it. It’s been interesting to note that both lay people and pastors are least comfortable with the concept of celebrating. I think that is partially because the topic of money is very secretive within our culture. I also think it is because we aren’t sure what celebrating generosity is all about.
Why should we celebrate generosity?
Whatever we celebrate reinforces a value in our minds and hearts. Whatever is celebrated regularly in your church often becomes most valued by your church. When we celebrate generosity it reminds us that God is transforming hearts, minds and lives through the resources that are invested in kingdom service.
Throughout scripture, both in the Old Testament and the New Testament, we find stories of individuals giving as well as corporate giving. Here are a few examples:
• In Numbers 7 we read about the gifts of individual leaders given for the dedication of the altar.
• In 1 Chronicles 29 we read the story of the abundant giving of the people for building the temple.
• Mark 12 recounts the story of the widow’s offering.
• In 2 Corinthians 8 Paul tells the Corinthians of the generosity of the Macedonian churches.
Pastor Bob Coy of Calvary Chapel, Fort Lauderdale, offers four insights into the value of using intentional congregational celebration to challenge the leadership and the congregation to change their attitudes from a minimalist, 10 percent approach to giving to wholehearted surrender of all we possess to God’s ownership and disposal:
1. Through celebrating the cause of Christ, we place our priorities with his kingdom instead of with our personal gain.
2. By celebrating integrity in finances, we keep ourselves from abuse of resources.
3. By celebrating generosity, the church comes together to see what giving actually does for the kingdom, enjoying the privilege of obedience together.
4. Finally, through celebrating frugality, we set aside as many resources as we can for God’s work, storing up our treasure in God’s work rather than personal gain.
What does celebrating generosity look like?
First, let’s look at what it isn’t. It’s not about recognition. It’s not about publishing donor lists in categories of highest givers to lowest givers. It’s not about dedicating a wall of the church to display donor plaques or even putting signs on items that have been donated. And it’s not about asking Mr. and Mrs. Smith to stand up in front of the congregation to tell how much they give.
Celebrating generosity inappropriately will communicate the wrong message. But that doesn’t mean we simply shouldn’t celebrate. It does mean we need to figure out how to do it in a way that communicates the right messages.
Celebrating generosity appropriately starts with the right motivation. Our celebration should be based on our desire to glorify God. This must be central to the message we communicate. Matthew 6 reminds us that if we give, pray or fast for the wrong reasons – the praise of men – it is not pleasing to God. But when we give, pray and fast for the right reasons, God will reward us.
It is important that we shift from a fundraising mentality where givers are seen as donors and are giving from “their” resources and are often motivated in some way by self-interest, to a stewardship mentality where givers are seen as stewards, giving back to God what is already God’s and who are motivated by investing in eternal things. As we make this shift in our minds, the vocabulary we use and the way we celebrate generosity will change.
As we relate stories of generosity and thank people for giving of their time, talents and treasure, we need to always be connecting the giving to God who gives us the ability to do so. “But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand.” 1 Chronicles 29:14. When David rejoices and celebrates the generosity of his people, he begins by praising God and giving Him the glory.
To celebrate generosity appropriately we need to consider what Biblical truth we want to communicate. In the story of the widow’s offering, Jesus wanted to teach his disciples that the size of the gift doesn’t matter to God but rather the level of sacrifice and the motivation behind the gift.
Paul in 2 Corinthians 8 uses the story of the Macedonian churches, not to make the Corinthians feel guilty, but rather to encourage them to complete their giving in faith. “I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others.” 2 Corinthians 8:8
How and when can we celebrate generosity?
My hope is that for each of us, celebrating generosity appropriately will become a natural part of our communication, both personally and as leaders within our church community. Here are some ideas of how and when we can celebrate:
• Expressing gratitude to God and to others. Let those who teach your children at church know how much you appreciate them and what they do.
• Thanking God for His provision.
• Thanking people for their gifts of time, talent and treasure. Thank someone when they open a door for you. Thank your family for helping with chores around the house.
• Every time you have a ministry “win” it can be correlated to people’s generosity. Use these moments to reinforce the value of their stewardship and generosity in transforming lives and investing in eternity.
• When an offering is taken, be intentional about what is said/prayed at these moments. Thank God for His generosity to us. Thank people for their generosity with God in their giving. Use this time to remind people that through their giving they are making eternal investments. Their giving is not to the church. Their giving is to God through His church.
• Relate stories of generosity for the purposes of encouraging others. Stories can be told by the givers, receivers, or by an observer. As leaders we need to be careful to ensure that our storytellers are motivated by the right reasons and choose to tell the stories for the right purposes. A humble spirit and a Godly focus are crucial.
For additional information on celebrating generosity check out the Generous Churches resources from Leadership Network (www.leadnet.org) as well as Generous Giving (www.generousgiving.org).
Joanne Bell is the Stewardship Ministries Director for The Free Methodist Church in Canada. Please visit www.generoussteward.org for more information and ideas. You can contact Joanne at [email protected]