Three Powerful Reasons to Emphasize Holistic Generosity
By Chris Willard with Warren Bird
Growing your church and your people in generosity is important to you—and us. That’s why Leadership Network has developed HUB:Generosity for larger churches who want to accelerate generosity and stewardship. For more information, go to leadnet.org/generosity-hub.
The increasing focus in churches the past few years on stewardship, budgeting, financial planning and the like has had a huge impact for good. I’m passionate about expanding the hearts of people to live generous lives.
On the other hand, my friend Jack Alexander thinks stressing the financial side of generosity has created an “imbalanced narrative”—an uneven story.
Jack’s walk with God began 40 years ago on a business trip in Australia when a pastor challenged him to follow Jesus with a life of radical generosity in all areas of life, not just money.
“I hear people say the Bible mentions money 2,350 times and that Jesus talks about money more than love,” says Jack, chairman of the Reimagine Group, an organization that uses story, film and biblical truth to inspire people toward holistic generosity. “I always wonder where they’re going with that.”
That’s because for God, Jack says, generosity isn’t about money. It’s much bigger than that.
So Jack offers three powerful reasons to strive for holistic generosity in our churches that goes beyond a focus on finances.
Jesus wants us to give our first and our best
That pastor 40 years ago challenged Jack to give God “everything you have, everything you are, everything you will be and everything you will have.” That brings to mind the passage in Malachi 1 where God chastises the Israelites for giving blind and diseased sheep—what Jack calls the “good sheep and the stinky sheep.”
“In the current generosity narrative, I don’t hear a lot about giving God your best,” Jack says. “It’s the idea that when we give God our best, that’s when we’re really worshipping. That scares me when I see that 30, 40, 70 percent of people in churches aren’t giving financially.”
“You wonder, are people really worshipping?”
Jack sees a powerful connection between giving God our first and best, and giving each other our first and best. If we aren’t doing it for Him, we probably aren’t doing it for each other. We’re likely giving God and each other our leftovers.
Jack tells the story of a pastor who met the need of a neighbor by giving him an old weed trimmer and buying himself a new one. After reflecting on the concept of giving God and each other our first and best, that pastor went back and bought a new trimmer for his neighbor!
Jesus modeled that kind of generosity
This is a simple concept we can’t deny when verses like 2 Corinthians 8:9 sink in. Although Jesus was rich, “for our sake He became poor.” He gave up even the glory of heaven for us. In Jack’s words, He didn’t give from his excess, but of His very essence. He gave everything He had and everything He was.
“I see in churches where people are giving from their excess and not their essence,” Jack says. “We’re not becoming poor.”
For Jack, there are two ways to become poor:
- Give away what you have
- Give away who you are
“God in his wisdom knows that our heart is going to follow our treasure,” Jack says. “That’s why the ultimate in giving our treasure is giving our first and best.”
A pastor once told Jack about an elder in his church who was giving an internal organ to a young man who was dying of a disease. “Becoming poor is often about more than money,” Jack adds.
Money isn’t important to God, but He knows it’s important to us
As Jack and his group have worked with over 1,000 churches, they’ve developed what they call the Generosity Pivot—the point where people understand and live out that generosity is not just about giving our stuff. It’s about giving ourselves.
Three passages of Scripture nail this down for Jack. In Matthew 5:24, Jesus tells us to leave our gift at the altar—don’t give—in favor of being reconciled to a brother. In Matthew 23:23, Jesus teaches that we tithe even our herbs and spices, but we neglect the weightier gifts of justice, mercy and faithfulness.
The ultimate scriptural backdrop for Jack is 1 John 3:16, where John says Jesus laid down his life for us and we are to lay down our lives for each other.
“J.I. Packer said, ‘Generosity is the focal point of God’s perfection. It’s the single attribute through which all of His other excellencies are being displayed,’ “ Jack says. “He’s not talking about money. We are to lay down our lives for our brother and sister. That is the essence of a generous life.”
Generosity Strategies and Tactics is an ongoing series brought to you by Leadership Network thanks to a grant from the Lilly Endowment. To learn more go to www.leadnet.org.