by Ben Panter
This spring we hosted our first Generosity Principles class, a 4-week book and video study from Andy Stanley’s book, How to Be Rich. That name may make you do a double take, but it makes sense from the primary passage of the study, 1 Timothy 6:17-19:
To give you a quick summary of the big idea, it’s Andy Stanley’s premise that this passage applies to pretty much all of us in our North American context. But the fact that most of us (including myself) tend to read “those who are rich” and then skip on down the page because that clearly doesn’t apply to us, means that even though we are rich (check the stats), we don’t feel rich. And since we don’t feel rich, then we often aren't good at being rich. And Andy clearly doesn’t mean “be rich” as in, drive fancy expensive cars, take luxurious vacations, etc. “Be Rich” simply means living according to God’s specific commands for the wealthy. And also, this is not just about giving more money to the church. Certainly tithing is a part of spiritual growth and obedience (and the book covers that), but the focus of this book is a much broader focus on a lifestyle of generosity, and how God’s commands on generosity to us are centered in making sure our hearts do not enshrine our finances. The book is very inspiring, and it’s hard to imagine anyone reading it and not coming away without a bigger picture of God and His purposes for His money through each of us.
Ok, obviously there’s a lot more in there than that, and I would highly recommend the book, but that’s not what this post is all about. Really I just wanted to share some of the challenging thoughts and fun we had in the group of about 10 households that went through the class.
First, a challenging thought that came up in the group discussion. The question was something like, “Why is it so easy to overspend in categories like food and entertainment? Do we ever overspend our giving budget?” POW! Straight to the heart. At least for those of us who live on a monthly budget (which I highly recommend), it is easy to categorize our giving into safe, manageable chunks that we never stray from. But if we spend a little extra at the grocery store, or going out to eat or for a special family outing, we just roll with the punches. So when was the last time I overspent my giving category? When have I been generous to the point that I had to reallocate money from my entertainment, vacation, or bathroom remodeling funds? And an even less comfortable question, “should that be more of the norm than the exception?”
At this point you may be thinking, “why was this a good question? This class sounds uncomfortable.” But this was part of the purpose of the class, to encourage and CHALLENGE one another towards greater generosity. And yes, this question is absolutely a challenge. But the truth is, I don’t want to be in a Bible study on any subject that says I’m doing good enough and there’s really no reason to change what I’m doing. If our spiritual walk is a constant journey, then I should expect to undergo consistent growth and change. Certainly this growth is God’s work in us, but for me that has often been most visible through the practices that I keep.
Ok, while that first point was challenging, I hope this next one is encouraging, or even exciting. Another purpose of the class was to stretch each of our capacities to give by providing extra opportunity to give. So as a class we participated in two generosity exercises. This first was purely anonymous. We teamed up with the widow’s ministry and as a group gave towards helping the widows how they saw fit. Each week people in our group were able to put cash in an envelope and add it to the pile. Week over week the envelopes got added and at the end of just 4 weeks we had collected several hundred dollars to give!
The second exercise was to broaden our perspective, so we chose to give a gift through Compassion International. You may be familiar with their child sponsor program that has often been presented at church, but they also do gifts of animals, business supplies, clean water, etc. So we decided to do Chickens! (watch a quick video about chicken donations below) We printed up a poster of a farm and each week we took a moment to ask people to tape on the number of chicken donations they decided to make that week. We did this publicly because we want to encourage each other in our giving. It’s not an opportunity to boast, it is a chance to say “look at what we can all do when we’re thinking generously!”. Well, again, at the end of just 4 weeks we had given 15 gifts of chickens! What an incredible work to be a part of.
And here's one final thought. Maybe you're community group should think about doing a giving project together. You can find an opportunity that you would like to support and give toward as a group. You might be amazed at how encouraging it can be to walk side-by-side with others in a generosity adventure.