Generosity Needs More than a Sermon: Ongoing Teaching is the Key to a Lifestyle Shift
Published on 11/27/2012
by Andy Williams
Most pastors dread giving an annual, obligatory tithing sermon. For the pastors at Westside Family Church in the greater Kansas City area, it was no different, so the pastoral team decided to take a different tack. “While teaching about giving from the pulpit is one way to encourage generosity, we realized that this alone wouldn’t get the job done. We needed to get back to basics” shares Lead Teaching Pastor Dan Southerland.
Westside’s pastoral team had a goal to build generosity, but simply telling people to be more generous wasn’t very effective. They knew that generosity was a natural outcome of maturity—so the leadership energized a focused and intentional effort to build biblical maturity in their congregation.
Executive Pastor Dan Chaverin observes, “We discovered that most churches are teaching-centric, not learning-centric, so we completely revamped our discipleship methods to provide clear ‘Next Steps’ to help learners identify exactly where they are, and to exercise their specific, practical steps of maturity.” Each step is designed to move people beyond simple knowledge and emphasize application of their gifts and calling to build up the church and lead others toward Jesus.
“Authentic Christ followers clearly understand their unique calling and they apply their time, talent, and treasure to build the kingdom” notes Westside’s Next Steps Pastor Brian Phipps. So the focus at Westside has become the stewardship of building authentic disciples.
The result? Generosity at Westside has increased each year for the past four years—even during a difficult economy. Giving to mission outreach outside the church has doubled, and hundreds more Westside members are now actively involved in serving the church and community.
Tools that Speak to Hearts
Church leaders who focus on generous giving find that once-a-year pledges or capital campaigns don't do enough to foster the lifestyle they want to see reproduced in their people. Without practical, focused tools to teach the principles and practices of a generous life, church members will likely remain unchanged in this matter of the heart.
"We have never shied away from talking about money," says Terry Busch, executive pastor of Centre Street Church in Calgary. "However, I think we've frustrated people by talking about what they could do and should do without giving them the tools they need to learn how to do those things."
For church leaders who echo Terry's sentiments, there is good news. The storehouse of tools to teach generous giving and biblical stewardship is rapidly expanding—with solid off-the-shelf resources that are being refined to meet the needs of modern-day churchgoers.
Churches that are ahead of the curve in developing the teaching component of a generous culture start their teaching at the top with staff and leaders. And they address a full spectrum of needs—from those in financial crisis to the most wealthy individuals and the 80% in-between.
Teaching that Covers the Full Spectrum
Churches that are serious about biblical stewardship and generosity know they can't focus just on those in crisis on one end of the spectrum, or the most affluent on the other end. Generous living is a topic that knows no age limit or economic status.
For churches that are setting the pace in cultivating a generous culture, leaders not only talk a good game; they are the first to model biblical stewardship and generosity. Some church leaders model a generous life by giving up their salary during months of special giving, or donating 20% of their time to causes outside of their congregation. As Chris Willard, director of generosity initiatives for Leadership Network has put it, "Generous churches are led by generous pastors. It is essential that church leaders model generosity and giving for their people."
Westside has had hundreds of people fortify their financial stewardship through Crown Ministries and Financial Peace University classes. These tools, when applied by growing Christ-followers, provide skills to effectively manage income, spending, debt, and savings. Dan Chaverin observes, “Our belief is that the church has all the resources it needs—it’s our responsibility to encourage our folks to steward and release those resources to their highest use to build the kingdom.”
In trying to address the needs that exist across the economic continuum, Gateway Church in Southlake, TX is intentionally working to meet the needs of four groups:
• People in Crisis
• People who Need the Basics
• People who Have Healthy Financial Lives
• People who Are Wealthy
Gateway's Gunnar Johnson says that while most of the resources being produced address those in crisis well, material for those who are financially healthy is still the most neglected field in stewardship training.
"These are typically 30-somethings with fairly disposable income," Gunnar says. "They want to know, 'What does the Bible say about me?' We want to help them grapple with the questions, 'How much is enough? Why has God given me this surplus?'"
For those in need of immediate financial help or even ongoing benevolence, churches are taking some innovative approaches. Some require anyone who receives charitable contributions to attend financial training classes or meet with a financial counselor.
"While we may provide emergency funds in crisis cases, we really believe that solid Biblical training is a much more effective long term gift." says Centre Street's Kervin Raugust. " Providing access to things like Financial Peace University will give both the practical and Biblical help that will really make a difference."
Church leaders say those who are wealthy are often the most difficult to serve in the area of stewardship. But many leading generous churches are navigating their way and beginning to provide helpful ministries to those with financial means.
Many churches are establishing foundations to aid the wealthy in planned giving, as well as workshops on topics such as tax laws and their impact on long-term investments. Some church-based foundations are developing new initiatives for giving, such as life insurance as a gifting tool, setting up wills and facilitating estates.
Gateway has developed a unique twist for some of its well-to-do members with a "Boardroom" Stewardship Series for several of the church's CEOs, business owners or significant managers in the marketplace.
The groups of 10 meet once a month for three to four hours in the corporate boardroom of a group member. The meeting is run by business leaders, with a goal of providing accountability and encouragement in a non-religious setting.
"They give each other encouragement and accountability regarding family, relationships, morals and travel," Gunnar says. "They help each other be successful, not just as a giver, but with every aspect of life."
This is an updated version of an article that originally appeared in Advance on 11/28/2006
Tools of the Trade
A quick rundown of resources to help churches develop generosity and biblical stewardship:
Contagious Generosity by Chris Willard and Jim SheppardThis book highlights the best practices gleaned from real-life church leadership situations and shows how church leaders can effectively cultivate a culture of generous giving in the local church. It explains why some churches are experiencing unexplainable ministry growth and unprecedented church funding
Financial Peace University
This 13-week video series by radio personality Dave Ramsey is a biblically based accountability class designed to teach families how to get out of debt and stay out of debt.
Good Sense Budget Course
(Willow Creek Association)
The goal of the Good Sense Budget Course is for each participant to commit to and begin developing a biblically-based budget or "Spending Plan."
Managing Our Finances God's Way (Saddleback Church in partnership with Crown Ministries)
A seven-week, video-based small group study that inspires members to live debt-free and/or manage finances in a way that enables them to respond to God's calling.
Momentum is a church-wide journey that will transform the way your church views money and giving.
The Treasure Principle, Fields of Gold, and Generosity
Numerous innovative churches have distributed free copies of the books The Treasure Principle by Randy Alcorn (Multnomah), Fields of Gold by Andy Stanley (Tyndale House) or Generosity by Gordon McDonald (Generous Church) in conjunction with a message series.
Generous Giving is a privately funded ministry that seeks to encourage givers of all income levels, as well as pastors, church and lay leaders to experience the joy of giving and embrace a lifestyle of generosity.